Today, Pat Bertram returns to discuss the journey and quest motifs in her new novel Daughter Am I. (To see yesterday’s discussion about gangsters and research, click here.)
Malcolm: Your protagonist’s obsession with her grandparents turns into an unplanned road trip that keeps getting longer and longer as one thing leads to another. Her old-timers, “elders” as you call them, like being part of a lot of reminiscing that leads the party from town to town at the drop of a hat. As Mary learns more and more about herself in the process, her trip is not only a coming-of-age experience, but a quest.
Pat: A quest is the heart of the story, and it has several different aspects. There is the quest in the mythic sense of searching for the magic elixir, finding it, and returning home to share it with those left behind. There’s the quest to find her heritage and herself. There’s the quest for truth and ultimately for justice. And, of course, there is the simple overt quest to find the treasure.
Malcolm: Readers and film viewers often think of quests as larger than life stories like “The Matrix,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” While Joseph Campbell, the originator of the “hero path,” as we now understand it, based his quest theories on the heroes out of mythology, he also saw the workings of the quest in the lives of everyday people who often don’t see their activities as mythic or heroic. It’s all a matter of scale. Mary Stuart isn’t a crime fighting James Bond or Jack Bauer, but her journey around the country is very much a quest.
Pat: I based my story on Campbell’s hero path, which I’ve been calling the mythic journey. The story follows the path of being called or drawn to the quest, going on the quest, finding illumination, and becoming changed. The characters are archetypes, not just gangster archetypes, such as forger, enforcer, con man, wheel man, hit man, but the ancient archetypes such as mentor, ally, shapeshifter, shadow, trickster. The ancient archetypes are harder to discern, however. For example, the shapeshifter in the person of Tim Olson doesn’t actually change shape, but to Mary, he seems to change whenever she gets to know him a bit more. Happy, of course, is the shadow, which represents the energy of the dark side.
Malcolm: In many ways, the shadow also represents the parts of ourselves we fail to acknowledge, so we repress them and become unconscious of them rather than dealing with them. Thinking of it that way makes Happy a wonderful and paradoxical character. But he’s not your first character to whisper in the ear of a protagonist on a quest. Your two previous novels involved main characters on quests. A Spark of Heavenly Fire featured a quest to track down the source of a dangerous epidemic racing through Colorado. More Deaths Than One featured a character trying to re-claim his own past. This is all more than accidental, I’m assuming, thinking in terms of quests.
Pat: I’ve been on a quest my whole life—the quest for truth and wisdom in a world that has too little of either. A large part of that quest, of course, is the quest for personal identity, and this theme shows up in all of my books. The quest to track down the source of the epidemic in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, is only the outer quest. The inner quest for all the characters is the quest to find themselves within the context of the epidemic and quarantine. In More Deaths Than One, the inner quest and the outer quest are the same—the search for his lost identity. Oh, and to find out how is mother could have died twice. That alone would send someone on a quest!
Malcolm: For Mary–like most on the hero path–the learning and personal transformation come through both the journey and the journey’s end. Let’s assume somebody wants to buy a copy of Daughter Am I right this minute. Where can they find it other than driving out to your house?
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