East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Adventure by Proxy

Leave a comment

I’ll write down a few sparse ruminations, if you don’t mind.
This post is tagged Armchair Adventuring, and this post is at the core if that tag.

You see, I just stumbled on a piece by a guy that recently discovered the joys of white-water rafting.
You know, that sport that consists in paddling down rapids in a big inflatable dinghy.
The guy I was reading really loves that stuff.


He’s pretty sure this is his sport.
He’d spend hours watching videos of people rafting.
Yes, he’s considering it a spectator sport.
Give thanks to the inventor of the GoPro camera.

The thing got me thinking along two very different lines.

Line the first – adventure by proxy was what granted Roy Chapman Andrews, Richard Halliburton and many other famous adventurers the opportunity to actually go adventuring.

Sand dunes in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region...

Sand dunes in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roy Chapman Andrews discovered early in his career that those that had the money to go and explore the Gobi desert looking for dinosaurs lacked the skills and stamina, but still enjoyed the fantasy.
He was quite good at making them feel like “part of the team” as they financed his expeditions with fat cheques. They remained in their penthouses in New York, he went in the Gobi desert.
As for Richard Halliburton, he was quite happy (and surprised) when he found out that there was people willing to pay to listen to him narrating his adventures on the radio, and eager to read his books about his travels. And I really wonder if those people, listening to Halliburton on their radios, ever felt like they were adventurers too, flying over Mount Fuji or visiting the Taj Mahal.

I read a lot of books by 20th century adventurers, and certainly some are so vivid they make us feel like we’re there – but still we are sitting in our chair at home, the most dangerous creature at hand our cat, any physical discomfort easily (hopefully) by opening a window or putting another log in the fireplace.
We are not adventurers.

acheron_the__ministry_of_thunderLine the second – as someone that writes adventure stories, I do trade in adventure by proxy.
What I do is create simulations (even more so when I write for games), to allow the readers (or the players) to feel like they are adventuring along with the other characters.
Not only so – to write adventure stories I must try and enter in an adventurous mindset, to get in the shoes (so to speak) of my characters, I have to feel the thrill to be able to communicate it efficiently.

Now the fun bit – both lines of thought converge in a sense of unease I sometimes feel, like a voice saying

I should not be here reading/writing this stuff! I should be out there doing it!

I think this is, at least in part, a case of personal regret – I spent the largest part of my life, after all, training in the same field of Roy Chapman Andrews; I feel I should be out there digging dead animals.

But more importantly, and more to the point, I think this feeling is proof that what I’m reading or writing is effective. It works, and it works the right way. It does communicate me not the illusion to be out there living adventures, but a desire, a need to be out there living adventures.
It can be painful, but it’s good.
Because that’s what adventure by proxy should do – it should push us to leave the couch at least one time, and try and go rafting down that wild river.
Otherwise, what we are doing is essentially unhealthy.

Without forgetting that Roy Chapman Andrews got his own Manhattan penthouse, in the end.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.