We all know this trope. Frodo Baggins traveled to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Marlin journeyed across the ocean to find his son Nemo. Phileas Fogg went Around the World in 80 Days. Each of these characters had a purpose, something to find or a goal to attain. That’s what made each of these journeys into a quest.
In my exploration of the system of fiction writing, I’ve come across this trope quite often. TV shows, movies, books, poems, and short stories all employ it. In fact, I even found this trope in the Gospel of Mark. Since it’s such an ancient manuscript, I couldn’t help my curiosity.
Elements of a Quest
In my reading and watching, I’ve noticed a few key elements to the Quest Trope in storytelling.
- Call to Action – The protagonist is thrust into her destiny by a guide, circumstance/event, prophecy, etc.
- The Crew – The protagonist gathers a small group of people to help her reach her goal.
- Embark on a Journey – The protagonist and her crew embark on a journey.
- Lose Way/Become the Hunted – The protagonist hits a number of roadblocks in her journey. She may be thrown off track, hunted by the antagonist, betrayed by a crewmate, or something equally disheartening.
- Icarus Moment – Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, the protagonist arrives at a place where victory seems possible. Her goal is within sight.
- Near Miss – Something unexpected happens, or the strength of the enemy seems too great to overcome. Her goal seems unattainable.
- Success – The protagonist finds a hidden strength, or someone comes to the rescue. She accomplishes her goal/finds what she was looking for.
Of course, looking at the Book of Mark, I had to ask the question. Does Jesus’ quest follow today’s fiction model for the trope?
Let’s take a look.
Call to Action
The book opens with a prophecy from Isaiah. It speaks of John the Baptist as the messenger who would prepare the way ahead of Jesus. John baptizes Jesus, and after that Jesus begins his journey. The Call to Action is a little confusing here, because it seems that Jesus calls himself to action. In other gospels, he even has to convince John to baptize him (Matthew 3:13-15). Nonetheless, this is the prequel to his journey.
This one’s a given. Jesus’ crew is his disciples, of course. He asks them to join him in the first days of his journey.
Jesus and his crew begin an extraordinary journey throughout first-century Israel and the surrounding areas. This includes a number of jaw-dropping miracles, close calls with demon-possessed people and angry villagers, and a lot of stories and teachings that sound eerily similar to Aesop’s fables.
Losing Way/Being Hunted
Jesus starts to butt heads with the religious leaders of the day around halfway through his journey, and it only goes south from there. He has to leave towns and hide in the wilderness to avoid them, and even sneaks into one of the popular Jewish festivals undercover to avoid detection (John 7:10-12).
If there was ever an Icarus Moment in Jesus’ Quest, it was his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus somehow manages to gather a crowd of supporters miles out of town, and it only grows as he follows the road to Jerusalem. Talk about a first-century celebrity…
This one is debatable. It could be his death, the crucifixion, at which point the whole world lost hope. Anyone who believed in him was crushed. But it could also be the betrayal by one of his chosen crewmates. It’s not as final as the death, but it’s definitely the moment when all went wrong.
Another given, I would say, though it could be one of two: either his resurrection from the dead, or when he rose up to heaven some 40 days later. The point is that he won, even when all seemed lost.
A Quest for the Truth
Jesus’ story is certainly a strange one. Nonetheless, he seems to have followed a number of popular tropes from today’s fiction—including the Messiah Trope, as ironic as that is.
What do you think? Have you seen these elements of the Quest Trope before? Are there other common elements that I missed? For another blogger’s opinion on this trope, check out Katie Bachelder’s post!
And of course, do you think that Jesus’ story follows the Quest Trope?
Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know! Next time, I’ll be exploring another popular trope in fiction, and I’d love for you to join me! Subscribe now so you don’t miss it!