Monthly Archives: October 2012

First Stop: What is Travel Literature?

ALL ABOARD!

Folks I would like to welcome you aboard our travel train and I hope you have all come prepared with an open mind and a thirst for knowledge.  This blog has been designed for you to take a trip with me as we search out stories about travel found in American literature.  Now as the train is about to leave the station I would ask that you sit back, relax and enjoy!

Who would  have thought that coming up with a definition of “travel literature” would be so difficult!  After hours of searching however, I have come across what I feel is the best definition to explain what this blog will be covering in terms of travel literature.  This definition was developed by Jan Borm who states that travel literature is “a variety of texts both predominantly fictional and non-fictional whose main theme is travel”.  By taking this definition and focusing it on texts such as The Virginian, Looking Backward, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and The Grapes of  Wrath, I hope to be able to present a valid explanation of travel literature that can be found in such examples of American literature.

According to Metamorphoses of Travel Writing: Across Theories, Genres, Centuries and Literary Traditions there are different categories of travel literature and theses three different categories include: the classical model, the modern model and the contemporary model.  Throughout our travels we will hopefully spot these different categories hidden among the words

  • In the classical model the focus of the travel is “the return”.  The traveler is on a quest of duty where his main goal is to return home after the quest has been completed.
  • The modern model views traveling as a life style.  The traveler has no quest or destiny to spur his travels, but does so because he wants to.  Whether wanting to experience new destinations and experiences or escaping unpleasant surroundings, the modern traveler travels for the joy of it.
  • The contemporary model focuses on a more immediate travel, such as “travelling in the enclosed space of the city, the mind and the personality.”  The contemporary traveler will journey through familiar places or look within themselves and travel inwardly throughout their body to discover some unique quality or hidden characteristic.  This could either be a journey of betterment or betrayal.

Travel literature has been in use for centuries.  A popular British based travel narrative is that of Gulliver’s Travels written Jonathan Swift where in it, Lemuel Gulliver travels in search of work and narrates his journey and adventures in four parts.  Travel literature is also found in native cultures, however it is more commonly heard in the oral tradition.  An example of native travel literature can be found in the story about the Sky Woman and how she came to live on the Sea Turtle’s back.  Travel literature is so commonly used now a days that it can be found in every form of literature – not just in books, but on the internet, in television shows and of course in movies.

In the beloved films by Steven Spielberg, Indiana Jones is one character whose main story line involves mass amounts of travel.  Indy would fall under the heading off the classical traveler, as there is always a quest in which he must complete (e.g. finding the Arc of the Covenant or the Holy Grail).

So folks, travel literature is not just something found in musty old books, describing the travels of long ago, but can easily be found in modern society so long as you have the tools to spot it!

Next stop, Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

Works Cited:

Metamorphoses of Travel Writing: Across Theories, Genres, Centuries and Literary Traditions.  Ed. Moroz, Grzegorz and Jolanta Sztachelska.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 2010.

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