Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 13 - The Epic Journey

It's day 13! Today's the last day of the Canadian YA Lit Event (even though it's the 13th so hopefully you'll forgive me). I hope everyone's enjoyed the posts, the reviews and the Q&A's. And thank so much much to the authors who took part this year. :)

As with past years, I wanted to talk about something that's part of Canadian lit or perception of Canadian YA, and so I've settled on something I've discovered in so many books over the years.

The epic journey.

Canada is a pretty big place, and we've just about got it all, climate and ecosystem-wise. Mountains, prairies, plains, grasslands, shield, forests, taiga, arctic, maritimes. And our history is full of explorers, of people traversing mountain pathways and striding across endless fields in order to get from the east coast to the west. It's a big, wide, open space we have, and who among us hasn't ever gotten the urge to travel it? To see it all?

Journeys pop up so regularly in books. Quite often in YA it's internal, taking in what's around you, what's happened to you and others near you, and learning something from that experience. But a number of times in Canadian lit, it's an external journey. It's a mission to get from place to place. And the reasons for the journey often vary. Sometimes, to find someone or something that was lost. Sometimes, to hide something that must stay hidden. And sometimes, to find ourselves, to listen closely in the silence of nature.

One example that comes to mind so quickly is The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch. Raim must travel so far, across an endless desert under the brutal heat, in order to discover the truth about his broken oath and the shadow that follows him. It tests him, tests his strength and his will, his faith in those he once kept close to him. And when that journey ends, another begins. And another. And another. Raim stumbles along the way, he falls and falters, he wonders what it would be like if he have up, but he never does. He continues because he must.

Kate Boorman talked about this last year in relation to her book, Winterkill. How, to her, "[t]his land, while heart-breakingly beautiful, is incredibly harsh. It is something to admire and survive. The first people here knew that: they developed an intense understanding of the landscape and climate in order to flourish. The arriving immigrants had to learn—the hard way... A landscape that can sustain life and take it in dramatic ways fascinates [her]."

We often look at Canada in a kind of subdued awe. We see the paintings done by the Group of Seven, we read the poetry and the short stories, we listen to the true tales of harsh winters before Canada was called Canada. And we attempt to embrace it, to understand it. It gives to us and it takes away. It's bitter cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer. It pushes and pulls at us as we do to it. How can we not want to explore it, to attempt to uncover its secrets, its hidden gems, as it picks away at the shields we've wrapped around ourselves after years of city living?

I wonder what it is about journeys that still tug at me. They're everywhere in Canadian lit, so much so that I grow tired of them, but there's still something about them. Perhaps it's because of a book I read as a kid. It's about a girl who, after losing her father and gaining a secret message, heads off through the wilds of rural Upper Canada in order to find a general to give the message to. I think it's set around 1812, when Canada was at war with America. I can't remember the title, though, but I remember reading it over and over again. Her perseverance stuck with me.

Here are some other Canadian-authored YA novels that I could think of (there are many, many more that I either haven't read or can't remember) with some kind of epic journey, in case you're looking for more: Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts, The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe, and Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci.

The epic journey sticks with you after you read it. Sometimes it gives you a sense of wanderlust, gives you the desire to see what those characters saw, see if the sunrises look the same, if the trees and the rocks are still there. I think the epic journey pushes us to have our own, to see what we can't in the city, to experience something different. To travel without knowing who you'll meet along the way or how long it'll take you to get there. Or if, at the end, you'll even want to go back.

It's not just Canadian lit, of course. The journey is everywhere, because we're all human beings. We all have those same drives to create and explore and experience. I don't think it'll ever go away. There will always be places to go people to meet. Stars to discover, sunrises to watch. It will always be part of us.

What do you think about 'the epic journey?' What books with epic journeys have you enjoyed?

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