The Wondering Protagonist

I. Course description

Writers often use a physical journey to expose the internal transformation of a fictional character. In this class, we scrutinize fictional travel narratives by authors who use geographic displacement to expose internal, personal changes in fictional characters. How do the motivations and goals of a character alter and grow during a quest or a pilgrimage? Why would a writer choose a particular place, or a particular journey, to expose some inner-working of a character? And what do we, as readers, gain from their experiences? Is there a general model that travel narratives follow? We will draw upon a wide range of sources (literature, film, music, etc.) in our search for the wandering protagonist and create our own travel tales. Our ultimate goal is to construct a model, after Joseph Campbell’s approach to mythology, that might aid a reader in delving into fictional travel narratives. We will do this through guided observations of the literature and through directed writing activities designed to capture and portray our observations.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment
  • B.A. in English, B.S. in physics, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
  • Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics, University of Missouri-Columbia
  • email:
III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

Leonard da Vinci wrote: “It should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places in which… you may really find marvelous ideas.” This class gives gifted students a chance to step back, to look into the stains, to meditatively study the worlds presented to them by writers they are not likely to encounter in a high school class. They can take what they have already learned in their hometown classrooms and apply it deeply, creatively and energetically to a body of literature they have not studied before.

IV. Major topics covered

Week One: Before the Journey (Foundations)

  • Tourists vs. travelers: defining terms, comparing passages from guidebooks and fictional narratives.
  • Art as different means of imitation, manners of imitation: Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Elements of story: defining terms
  • Portraying man as better than he is / Portraying man as worse than he is: Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Identifying archetypes: after Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces
  • Writing about places: improving and clarifying descriptive writing

Week Two: Motivations for motion

  • Archetypes in dream-journeys and mythology: after Jung and Campbell.
  • Tragedy as the imitation of action, unity of plot: Aristotle’s Poetics
  • The journey in Greek mythology: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (excerpts) and Homer’s Odyssey (Book X: Circe)
  • Using the physical description of a place to communicate the change in a character.
  • Twentieth-century motivations: Potts, Bowles

Week Three: Embarkation

  • The nature of archetypes: collective consciousness? (Campbell, Jung, Nietzsche, Freud)
  • Elements of tragedy: Aristotle’s Poetics
  • The traveler and the critic: Huxley, Bowles
  • Escape, enlightenment and responsibility: Plato’s Cave Allegory from The Republic
  • How do we go about creating our own model?
V. Pre-requisite knowledge


VI. Learning objectives

Students will:

  • work together to create a general model of travel narratives
  • create and write their own travel stories incorporating ideas we have studied in class
  • constructively analyze the work of other students and major writers
  • discuss critically the major ideas expressed in the essays by Aristotle and Campbell
  • present, in light of the themes of our class, the major conflicts, journeys and character changes in an assigned piece of literature
  • organize a presentation of the ideas discussed in class
  • recognize and discuss critically the appearance and mutation of literary archetypes in an assigned piece of literature
VII. Primary source materials

The following texts are excerpted in a reader, available upon request (send an email to me):

  • Fussell, Paul. “On Travel and Travel Writing,” Norton Book of Travel.
  • Hesse, Hermann. “Author’s Note to Steppenwolf.”
  • Plato. The Allegory of the Cave from the Republic.
  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
  • Columbus, Christopher. “Journal from America,” Norton Book of Travel.
  • Aristotle. The Poetics.
  • Huxley, Aldous. “Why Not Stay at Home?” Along the Road.
  • Bowles, Paul. The Sheltering Sky.
  • Jung, C.G. Man and His Symbols
  • Potts, Rolf. “Storming ‘The Beach’,” Salon, Feb. 10, 1999.
  • Homer. Odyssey.
  • Ovid. “Apollo and Daphne” and “Opheus and Eurydice.” Metamorphoses.


  • “Run Lola Run.”;
  • “The Princess Bride.”


  • Mitchell, Joni. Hejira.
  • Simon, Paul. Graceland.
  • Kristofferson, Kris. “Me and Bobby McGee” (performed by Janis Joplin).
  • Henson, Jim. “Movin’ Right Along” (performed by the Muppets).
  • Simon and Garfunkel. “America.”

Additional materials: Maps, travel guides, tourist guides to major attractions, ticket stubs, masking tape, foreign currency, receipts in foreign languages, passport stamps

VIII. Supplementary source materials
  • Anonymous. The Way of the Pilgrim
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Coelho, Paolo. The Alchemist
  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness
  • Forster, E.M. A Passage to India
  • Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.”
  • Guevera, Che. The Motorcycle Diaries
  • Hansen, Brooks. The Chess Garden
  • Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha
  • Kerouac, Jack. On the Road
  • Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Strange Pilgrims
  • Neville, Katherine. The Eight
  • Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley
  • Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye
  • Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels
  • Tennyson, Sir Alred Lord. “Ulysses.”
  • Tolkein, J.R.R. The Hobbit
  • Whitman, Walt. “Song of the Open Road.”
IX. Computing and the Internet (if applicable)


X. Typical classroom strategies

Students will be exposed to different ideas about travel narratives through a number of different activities. They will be given time to read pertinent selections (roughly 15-20% of the entire class time is spent reading), and each student is expected to lead at least one 20-minute discussion during the class. Guests speakers will talk about personal travel experiences and pilgrimages. Creative writing exercises will use guidebooks, photographs and postcards. Descriptive writing exercises will take place in different environments. Ideally, the class will be held in a different location each day in order to allow students to relax their notions of the traditional classroom. The classroom itself will become a dynamic exchange of ideas and readings; in effect, the classroom itself will become a wanderer.