Is there anything better than a good questing narrative? Merriam-Webster defines the word “quest” as “a journey made in search of something” or “a long and difficult effort to find or do something”. Just by adding a questing element to your story, you add stakes—a clear goal that your protagonist wants to reach, and obstacles standing in their way.
Joseph Campbell’s famous “Hero’s Journey” relies heavily on the concept of a quest. Our hero receives a call to adventure, faces challenges and temptations, and comes out the other side changed or transformed. This sort of structure is essential to become familiar with as a writer, and it is also a ton of fun to enjoy as a reader.
Here are some fantastic literary quests that will whisk you away on exciting adventures. A huge bonus is that you can read each of them for free online.
1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Dorothy Gale is just living her ho-hum life in Kansas with her dog Toto when a tornado sweeps them both away into the magical land of Oz. There Dorothy meets the Munchkins and Glinda the Good Witch, who tells her of the Wizard of Oz who will be able to help her get home. So she sets off on a journey to the Emerald City, meeting the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion along the way and facing off against the Wicked Witch of the West.
Even if you haven’t read the book, you are almost certainly familiar with this story thanks to the wildly popular 1939 film. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz follows a classic questing structure. Dorothy is thrown into an unfamiliar situation, has a clear goal (getting home), meets new friends, and faces obstacles.
Since this book is in the public domain, there are plenty of places you can read it for free online, including Project Gutenberg, Library of Congress, and Manybooks.
2) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
On a dark and stormy night, temperamental Meg and her genius little brother Charles Wallace meet an unsettling stranger. Thus begins Meg and Charles Wallace’s adventure through space and time, along with Calvin O’Keefe, one of the most popular boys at Meg’s school. They are searching for Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while working on a secret government project involving tesseracts.
Though this novel won the Newbery Medal—children’s literature’s highest honor—A Wrinkle in Time can be enjoyed by adults as well. In fact, the book got rejected by over forty publishers since editors thought the theology and quantum physics featured in the story would be too difficult for children to grasp. Thankfully, a publisher finally took a chance on A Wrinkle in Time, and now we have one of the greatest questing narratives ever written. As she embarks on fantastical adventures and searches for her lost father, Meg grows from an ordinary teen with no great powers to speak of into a true hero.
You can sign up for a 30-day free trial and read this one for free on Scribd. The book is only 256 pages, so you should be able to finish it in 30 days, easy. You can also read the graphic novel version, illustrated by Hope Larson.
3) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Just like everyone else, Wade Watts spends most of his waking existence plugged into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where you can play any game you want and roam 10,000 different planets. Somewhere in this virtual expanse, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of puzzles that will lead to a life-changing fortune and a huge level of power. The key to solving these puzzles is studying pop culture details of James Halliday’s favorite time period: the late 20th century. When Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle, the whole world is suddenly watching his every move—including powerful competitors who would kill Wade to beat him to the prize.
Ready Player One helped to popularize the litRPG genre, in which a protagonist acts mostly within some sort of game world. This is another questing story with a clear objective: Wade wants to solve Halliday’s puzzle and attain his fortune. He meets colorful characters along the way and encounters obstacles in the form of murderous rivals. There are also some stellar 1980s and 1990s pop culture references in there, which just sweeten the pot.
If you sign up for a 30-day free trial on Audible, you’ll be able to listen to the audiobook version of the book for free. I highly recommend it—Wil Wheaton’s narration is fantastic.
4) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Many years ago, the Elven-smiths created the Rings of Power and the Dark Lord Sauron forged the One Ring so he could use it to rule over all the others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and eventually fell into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Sauron has collected all the other Rings of Power, but still longs for the One Ring to rule them all. When Bilbo turned eleventy-one he disappeared, bequeathing the One Ring to his cousin Frodo with the instructions to journey across Middle-Earth and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.
A list of great questing narratives wouldn’t be complete without Lord of the Rings. With these books, Tolkien helped to define what a fantasy quest should be. We watch Frodo change from a hobbit who wants nothing more to live out his whole life in the Shire to a brave traveler who will face many fearsome foes and hardships. He and his band of companions have inspired scores of other fantastical, fictional journeys across the great unknown.
You can read The Lord of the Rings: One Volume for free on Amazon with Kindle Unlimited.
5) Haven by Kate Seger
When the world ends, Lola Lovecraft is able to escape into Haven. Haven is a virtual reality realm that was created to save humanity from extinction. But Haven doesn’t turn out to be the utopia that Lola was promised. In order to survive in this harsh new world, she’ll have to track down the ghost in the machine and defeat it.
Like Ready Player One, this book is a litRPG. What makes Haven unique is its post-apocalyptic angle. Using virtual reality as a literal haven in a post-apocalyptic landscape means that if things start to go wrong in the game, Lola can’s just unplug, which adds stakes to her quest. Video game and Dungeons & Dragons fans will appreciate that Haven’s world works more like a traditional RPG than Ready Player One with stats for various attributes like Strength, Dexterity, and Intellect. These types of stats allow us to literally see the strides Lola is making throughout her quest in numerical form.
You can read this book right here on Fictionate.Me. The first 3 chapters are available for free, or you can buy the whole book for just $0.99.