In the 17th century distant travel was near impossible, yet Daniel Defoe constructs a tale so vividly realistic that readers believed Robinson Crusoe’s shipwreck in Trinidad was based on a true event. This tale of one man’s battle for survival against cannibals, mutineers, the elements, and his own solitude - with only his resourcefulness to rely on - was considered to be the first work of realism, the first psychological novel, and the first piece of fiction written in English. Needless to say it was an overnight success. Beneath the frenzy of adventure is a profound exploration of the British empire and economic individualism, which are still questioned today.
A multilayered adventure of epic proportions, Gulliver’s Travels became an instant success upon its publication in 1726. Swift’s novel explores the highs and lows of humanity, mocking every type of person and place along the way. Published only seven years after Robinson Crusoe, critics suggest Swift’s satire refutes how capable Crusoe was of lone survival, isolated from all the societies and cultures Gulliver encounters on his adventure. This tale has been reinvented countless times in a myriad of forms over the last three centuries.
Coleridge's epic poem transports us to an ocean alive with supernatural creatures and ghostly presences in the era of global discovery, the 18th century. Drawing links between poetry, science, politics, and philosophy the Mariner’s adventure explores the consequences of man’s violation of nature, symbolised by the powerful image of an albatross worn round his neck. Coleridge’s friend William Hazlitt claims this is ‘unquestionably a work of genius - of wild, irregular, overwhelming imagination’, and after getting the advance money from his publisher for this poem, Coleridge’s spirit of adventure led him to embark straight on an expedition of his own. This edition is brought to life with intricate illustrations by Gustave Dore.
The success of this novel at the end of the 19th century spawned a new literary genre of adventure: 'ruritanian romance', which is set in the most far flung of distant lands: imaginary ones. The genre takes its name from Anthony Hope’s fictional European country, Ruritania, and we have him to thank for inspiring comics like The Adventures of Tintin and films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, which are both set in fantastical European states. In his afterword to the Macmillan Collector’s Library edition Philip Ardagh states that The Prisoner of Zenda ‘is a tale for which rip-roaring might have been invented’; thrones are seized, King’s are captured, and identities are swapped all in a race against time which ‘doesn’t take itself too seriously’.
Robert Louis Stevenson was a pioneer of adventure novels - inventing the tropes of an 'X' marking the spot and a peg-legged pirate when he wrote Treasure Island in the 19th century. In this novel, Stevenson follows a perilous treasure hunt across the ocean, narrated through the eyes of young Jim Hawkins. Treasure Island has been retold through television and film more than fifty times and served as inspiration for Peter Pan's nemesis: Captain Hook.