What isn't a road narrative: towards an ontological understanding of the road's importance: 07/19/18
In previous essays I have outlined what story elements make up a road narrative. I have also defined and enumerated 216 kinds of narratives built out of the elements I'm tracking. Now I am going to look at which stories at first glance appear to be road narratives but don't qualify.
As I mentioned in Getting there: it's the road, stupid, the road is the most important aspect of the road narrative. The road doesn't have to be literally present, but it most certainly has to be there metaphorically. The road (or lack there of) has to be an important driving factor in the narrative, in that there needs to be movement from point A to point B or hindered movement, or a desire for movement. One can be trapped and unable to actually travel and it can still be a road narrative.
If actual travel isn't necessary, it would seem that any and all narratives could be classified as road narratives. I admit, that I toyed with this concept for a while but there is an epistemological aspect to narrative analysis and I just knew that some books I had selected didn't qualify. This essay, then, is an attempt to back up that gut feeling with an ontological approach.
The key point is understanding that having a road present or even multiple roads present doesn't automatically make a novel a road narrative. Take for example Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochada. The cover features a desert highway at night. The opening scene is a naked man running down the middle of the 110 during rush hour traffic. At first glance this book should qualify but it doesn't.
There needs a desire for travel or if there is travel, perhaps a desire to not travel. Basically movement through space needs to be a driving force of the narrative.
In Wonder Valley there are four distinct plots in distinct places and times interwoven together by themes to tell a larger story of finding yourself. These places are all defined by nearby roads but these serve only as geographical markers, save perhaps for the one plot involving the college student who has runt to the desert after a fatal car crash.
Meanwhile, in Greenglass House and Ghosts of Greenglass House, Milo and "Neddy" and the characters in the books spend the entirety of the narratives within the confines of the Greenglass House grounds during two different Christmas holidays. Yet through role playing and arguments over local history and story telling the road is brought in doors and the extraordinary aspects of both Nagspeake (with its forever changing roads and landscape) as well as the possibility of the Greenglass House itself being unmappable on a smaller, more personal scale is made a central aspect of these narratives.
In Wonder Valley while the ensemble cast have moved around to their different locations and the roads they used are mentioned, the characters remain static both physically and emotionally throughout the duration of the novel. There is very little in the way of character growth, and whatever growth there is, isn't done in relationship to a road or in pathfinding. Meanwhile, Milo with Neddy's help does nothing but grow as a character and all of it is done through imagining that his home is a larger landscape laid before him with a magical road. It is in part his belief in the road that allows him to succeed in both books, even without ever leaving the confines of his home.
Moving forward, then, with this project, I will probably continue to review books I selected as possible road narratives on Fridays but I will state whether or not they qualify. If they do qualify, I will tag them with their placement in the road narrative spectrum by giving it a color. Or for more complex narratives, I will outline how its spectrum changes over the course of the book.