I’m Just a Traveling Man

1. To go from one place to another, as on a trip; journey.
2. To be transmitted, as light or sound; move or pass.
3. To advance or proceed.

My young, hot wife (she made me say that, but it’s true) and I are currently in the process of moving from one of these United States to another. It is a considerable distance, and all the accompanying aches and pains of selling a house, finding a rental, and notifying everyone about our change of address are causing us no little stress. Not to mention packing up over 2,500 books. (Okay, so I’m bragging a little).

But one good has come of it. All of this has gotten me to thinking about travel as it appears in our much beloved genre of science fiction and fantasy. Tolkien, as we know, wrote an entire trilogy that encompassed one very massive and difficult journey in which Frodo and his companions get from Hobbiton to Mordor, with several detours in between. Star Wars and Star Trek use fancy names (hyperspace and warp) for what is essentially faster than light travel, and their spaceships can cross vast distances in a mere eye blink giving the reader or viewer vast new worlds to explore with every “Engage” out of Jean-Luc Picard’s mouth.

But no matter the method or route, one thing is true. There is always some form of travel in a story.

Characters move from point A to B, sometimes stopping off at points C and D along the way. This might take place on the physical plane, or it might even be a journey of the mind. Sometimes that travel is forced upon them, such as when the evil overlord forcibly seeks a character’s destruction and he is forced to flee. Or sometimes it is a choice, as when a young boy finds his destiny is to be something greater than the pig boy he always thought he was through the intervention of a friend or good-natured wizard. What usually ensues is a lengthy journey, fraught with danger.

Even tales that seem to take place in only once city or region often have travel. The characters may not move from city to city, but they do move from quadrant to quadrant, house to house, room to room. Admittedly, these are not necessarily huge aspects of a tale, but they do happen. And of course, there is always the journey of the mind. Even stories which seem to take place entirely within one character’s skull have flashbacks or move from image to image in their mind, with different locations for each.

Even stories which seem to be static in time are traveling somewhere. Paranormal fantasy actually moves both forward and backward. It looks into history to find things like vampires and werewolves, the creepy crawlies of the imagination that mankind has devised, and brings them forward to our present era. Even stories like Harry Potter travel backward in time to when we as a race believed in true magic, and gives it a modern context.

Travel is important because without it, stories would be static, dull and boring. We need for characters to move from place to place, to see new sites, to traverse into the unknown. This is especially true for science fiction and fantasy. Why? Because these two sub-genres are by their very nature in motion. Science fiction looks to the future, how we as a human (or not-so-human) race are moving forward into the future. Fantasy, on the other hand, often looks backward, traveling in a historical direction, reliving romantic ideals of bygone ages.

And then within the stories of these genres there is another level of travel. The hero or heroine grows and matures, using the physical journey that is major part of any story and its new experiences to change into new character. And it is not the end result of that change or reaching the end of the route that we love so much in our stories, it is the process of getting there. As much as you love Frodo or Samwise at the end of The Lord of the Rings, the best part of the story is not the conclusion (which is satisfying), it was watching them get there.

This is exactly why we are always looking for more stories. If we were wholly content to see a character at the end of his story, we would never go looking for more. We pester authors with requests for more stories about a beloved character, not because we were dissatisfied with the ending to a tale, but because we want to that character to embark on a new set of travels, to go forward in space and time and become someone different in the second trilogy from who he or she was in the first.

Travel, the movement forward or backward in time, space, or even in the soul, is therefore at the very root of science fiction and fantasy. Without it, our favorite tales could not exist, and life would be very dull indeed.


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