My Favourite Adventure Books

Stories about or set in foreign lands have always fascinated me. The idea of seeing new things both real and fantastical appeals to my imagination, and daring action is the cream on top. Though it has only words, a good story is an adventure by itself.

Here in no particular order are the adventure books that have made lasting impressions on me. They are about very different journeys on different lands and circumstances. However, they are all beautifully written and full of fantastic images.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgerssons by Selma Lagerlöf

This Swedish classic children book shows that the best way to teach geography is to shrink a boy to Thumbelina size and put him on a migrating goose. Well, it was a joke but when I was little, this is the book that sparked my interest in that faraway country in the North, and in foreign countries in general (though I have not visited Sweden, yet). The protagonist's point of observation from air as well as from land is an elegant way to showcase the beauty of the country in both sweeping and intimate manners.

Furthermore, the book is rich in descriptions and contains many colourful folktales. There are beautiful passages that make strong impressions such as the depiction of the protagonist's first flight with his goose companion Martin and his feelings seeing his homeland which he knew so well from bird's eye view the first time. Or the way how the simple plains enriched by human labour was compared to a bland woolen hem decorated by many gems. The tone of the prose is warm and affectionate, which shows the love and care of the author. The lively encounters with talking animals are an additional treat.

Illustration by William Schulz in the 1920 German edition with translation by Pauline Kleiber.
Illustration by William Schulz in the 1920 German edition with translation by Pauline Kleiber.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne

For quite a while when I was little, I believe the story was real. It was so compelling, especially with the details going into the mechanics of the mysterious Nautilus and the fantastic natural wonders the characters witness. Now I know it is just fiction but the imaginary journey does not lose its charm.

The book also has great re-read values to me. As I grow older, I gradually have better appreciation the greatness and darkness of Captain Nemo, the bitter dilemma between love for further knowledge and conscience of Professor Aronax, and Ned Land's frustration. Understanding them is a journey too.

In Desert and Wilderness by Henryk Sienkiewicz

In hindsight, there are a lot of biases in the story (mainly the white supremacist perspective and the black-painting portrayal of the native struggle against the British Empire), but it is probably unfair to fault the author for having views common to his time. Now on to the great things. The story appeals to the dream to be a hero of every teenager. What can be possibly grander than at the age of fourteen defending those important to you and leading them back home through Africa, the then unknown continent which was full of hazards like diseases and wild animals?

Kim by Ruyard Kipling

This is a book which I did not really like at first but ended up being very fond of. The plot seemed random and goes off-tangent often, but then I realized that was not the point. What is at centre stage is the places and the people. Through the events in the spiritual quest of a Tibetan lama for whom our young spirited protagonist was a champion, Kipling displays his understanding and love for India, the land where he grew up. All the customs, manners, beliefs, and supertitions of a country where many faiths co-exist are most vividly and good-naturedly portrayed. There are definitely signs of dangers and injustice but they are all trumped by the liveliness of the young inquisitive protagonist.

There are lovely gems in the book such as Kim's experience on the Grand Road of North India, the different reactions of the British to the cultural shock they experienced, and the fanciful "magic" shop. Also, the intergenerational friendship between the young protagonist and his elderly companion is most touching.

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