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The Quest


Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Booker's Seven Basic Plots > The Quest

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The quest begins with the hero learning of a treasure or something of great value that is hidden or held far away. They may seek on their own behalf or are sent by others on the quest. They may be driven by greed for riches or by something more altruistic, such as needing to find a cure for a sick friend.

The hero has companions, typically one of four types:

  • An undifferentiated large group, such as Odysseus' soldiers.
  • A faithful companion, such as Sam in Lord of the Rings.
  • A challenging, contrasting alter-ego, such as Moses' brother Aaron.
  • A set of individual characters with their own stories, such as the escaping rabbits in Watership Down.

Together they set out into unknown, inhospitable territory, fighting monsters and having other side adventures along the way. There are sore temptations to give up the quest and dark places to endure. There are also places of rest and recuperation with external assistance provided when they need it most.

As with other plots such as Rags to Riches, there is often a false ending in the middle of the story where an apparent end to the quest is dashed and the journey must continue. The last leg of the journey likewise increasingly tests the hero, culminating in climactic action after which the quest succeeds and life is renewed.

The structure of the quest is:

  1. The call and preparation to leave.
  2. The journey, across perilous lands, strewn with opposition and temptation.
  3. Arrival and frustration as the quest is not completed.
  4. Final ordeals with an escalating series of trials.
  5. The goal is finally reached and the quest completed.


Questing, seeking something of value, is a deep human desire. Sensing a lack, something missing in our lives, we journey into the unknown not just to find something but also to create meaning and reconstruct our selves. In this way, quests may be associated with younger people or those who are going through some life transition.

There is a presumed return on investment in all our actions and the perceived size of the treasure is proportional to the effort of the quest. Yet some quests, perhaps many, end in disappointment. Robert Louis Stephenson, the author of 'Treasure Island' implied this when he said 'it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive'.

A purpose of the companions on the quest is to provide a contrast that highlights the courage and fortune of the hero. They get killed by monsters, succumb to temptation and display other human weaknesses. They may also sacrifice themselves so the quest (and the story) can continue. While experiencing such challenges, the hero never gives up and eventually wins through. Contrast also appears in the narrow paths between opposites, good and bad luck and the helpful and harmful people they meet along the way.

Examples of quests include Odyssey, Pilgrim's Progress, Don Quixote, Treasure Island, Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

'The Quest' is the third of Booker's Seven Basic Plots.

See also

Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' Monomyth


Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots, London: Continuum Books

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