There is a trend in fantasy and adventure stories that I didn’t really notice until recently. I don’t even know what triggered this thought. Many adventurers start out in a simple, mundane job. This is mundane when compared to battling monsters and traveling across the globe gathering treasure. How does this origin impact the hero?
First of all, we can all tell what story this turns into. We are talking about the ‘hero’s journey’, which takes a person from a ‘normal’ life and drops them into a life where they have to rise to great challenges. Best example off the top of my head is Bilbo Baggins going from a quiet life in the Shire to a seasoned adventurer who faced down a dragon and survived a war. People love this kind of story because they can believe on some level that it could happen to them. We all want to be heroes, but we’re just waiting for that pot-smoking wizard to come knocking on our door.
Something that you DO NOT see as often is the effect the previous life has on that of adventuring. I can’t really think of any job skills that Bilbo used during his adventure or even if he had a job before he left. His skills are passed off more as those of all hobbits such as throwing and sneaking. This is where some stories can become flat because it comes off as the hero waiting for their calling. They weren’t doing anything prior to their adventure. I know we should only show the interesting part of their life, but the boring, normal parts can still be referenced.
People might be scratching their heads at why this is something I’ve been thinking about and I don’t blame you. It’s hard to imagine everyday skills being useful on an adventure where one really needs magic, combat abilities, and probably a few thief skills. Being able to cook or sew doesn’t factor into that. At least, it doesn’t when it comes to the meaty scenes, which is my point. A character doesn’t need to have solely adventuring skills, especially if they were pulled into the lifestyle. If anything, they would need some abilities prior to becoming a solid adventurer to keep them alive.
We’re also talking about depth here. An adventure who only knows specific skills to get them through dangers can be seen as flat. They just happen to only possess the knowledge and skills for their quest. They have nothing else about their existence. It makes them talking about their previous life rather empty too. Sure, an adventurer can talk at length about how he used to be a leatherworker. It doesn’t mean anything if they haven’t shown these skills. In fact, one would call this superfluous since it has no bearing on the character or story. This is probably why many authors don’t touch on the past life because they can’t see it being useful.
What else can these histories be used for? It gives the hero a place that they came from, but also a possible role to go back to. A hero can’t be an adventurer forever. Their final quest needs to be written eventually. If they aren’t going to be killed or rule a kingdom then they might just want to retire. It doesn’t have to be their original life, but some type of mundane lifestyle that would help them relax. Keep in mind that these characters have probably seen some horrible events and been pushed to their limits. Them wanting to settle into a quiet life isn’t unbelievable. In fact, you can easily see why they would want to spend their remaining years living in such a fashion. To do that, they need some type of skillset that would either make them money or keep them busy.
I haven’t done a lot with this in my own stories. The champions in Legends of Windemere all began as warriors or trained for their destiny. The Dawn Fangs were typically warriors, but it was clear that Bob used to work with horses and Chastity was more into business. Not that the vampires would reach the end of their quest. Anyway, I do tend to lean towards warrior and caster origins. Darwin is neither, but his situation is fairly unique since he tries to help and has trouble mastering skills. Still, I do want to add more mundane abilities to my characters. Just to give them a little more depth and a possible path after their adventures. Time will tell there.