Adventurers with Mundane Jobs

The Simpsons

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.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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14 Responses to Adventurers with Mundane Jobs

  1. I suppose I get this concept, but I would hope the story would not continue much beyond the hero adventure part.


  2. L. Marie says:

    You have the best posts! I had to think back to stories I’ve read that mentioned mundane jobs. There are a number of fantasy books where the main character works as as a barista ( or bartender if either counts as a mundane job. There have been several librarians, teachers, and waitresses. I didn’t read this series but Amazon lists a janitor series:


  3. A past career can bring a lot of hidden dimensions, like you said. Not only the actual skills, but mental attitudes. Someone who worked in a market stall would have people skills (whether for diplomacy or deceit) and would be able to bargain for better prices on supplies, repairs, etc. A leather-worker could repair things for the group.


  4. V.M.Sang says:

    A very good post. You are spot on with characters not having mundane jobs.
    It got me thinking about what my characters would do when adventuring has finished.
    Carthinal, a mage, will go back to the Mage Tower and do magic research, while his fellow mage, Grimmaldo, will probably set up a magic shop, or become a performer.
    Asphodel will continue as a healer, of course, probably progressing to a high position in the Church.
    Davrael, as a Horselord, will get a job with horses.
    Randa and Thadora are members of the nobility, so will be running their lands.
    Basalt will continue in business with his partner as a metalworker.


  5. I like having a bit of the mundane included in my stories. One of my characters works multiple meaningless jobs to make ends meet. I like trying to tie her to the real world this way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. L. Marie says:

    You have the best posts! I had to think back to stories I’ve read that mentioned mundane jobs. There are a number of fantasy books where the main character works as as a barista or bartender if either counts as a mundane job. There have been several librarians, teachers, and waitresses. I didn’t read this series but Amazon lists a janitor series.


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