The Definition of Quest in Literature

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A quest is an adventurous journey undergone by the main character or protagonist of a story. The protagonist usually meets with and overcomes a series of obstacles, returning in the end with the benefits of knowledge and experience from his quest.

There are several elements to a quest in storytelling. Typically, there must be a protagonist, i.e. the "quester;" a stated reason to go on the quest; a place to go for the quest; challenges along the journey; and sometimes, the real reason for the quest - which is disclosed later on during the journey.

Examples in Literature

Can you think of a favorite novel, movie or play with a strong protagonist ready to go on a quest? Here are a few examples to get you started. In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is persuaded by the wizard, Gandalf, to set out on a great quest with thirteen dwarves desirous of reclaiming their ancestral home from Smaug, a marauding dragon.

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features protagonist Dorothy, who is on a quest to find her way back home. In the meantime, she's joined on her journey by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion who work together to find their way back to Kansas. Dorothy develops new understanding and self-knowledge during her sojourn of Oz, symbolized through her friends: brains, heart, and courage.

In literature that spans more than one volume, such as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or Pierce Brown's Red Rising, there will often be a quest for the protagonist(s) in each volume which are part of the overall quest of the entire series.  

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Flanagan, Mark. "The Definition of Quest in Literature." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Flanagan, Mark. (2020, August 27). The Definition of Quest in Literature. Retrieved from Flanagan, Mark. "The Definition of Quest in Literature." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).