Having just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and just bought On the Road by Jack Kerouac to read, I was originally going to title this piece roads and make a drawn out metaphor how we’re all heading down this road to some sort of end.
But then I remembered that a great many other books I have read are based around journeys that do not necessarily involve roads. Three Men in a Boat and it’s sequel Three on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome are both based around journeys that three men take. Boat involves a leisurely trip through the upper Thames that was fashionable in the late 1800s and the misfortunes the travellers must bear. This sounds negative but it is a very light hearted book (although there are two points where Jerome’s words will crush you flat). Bummel is the same premise, except this time the same three men are supposedly grown up and decide to take fashionable bicycling tour around Germany. Once again there is misfortune (side note: I think misfortune is staple of British comedy, but that’s a whole different blog to write) but once again, they make it home relatively unscathed.
Even one of the first pieces of Western literature, The Odyssey,is a Greek journey. Although this is considerably less funny than Three Men in a Boat, involving the death of several hundred people along the way and some substantial misfortunes (the death of Odysseus’ crew seems to outweigh the trouble that the three men have with tow ropes) the protagonist eventually returns to his home and restores order and all is well.
So obviously no matter how light hearted or unfortunate our journey is, we’ll get there eventually. This is what every “road trip” book or film has taught us, that no mater how we’ll get there eventually.
The Road proposes something far more terrifying. What if there is no “there”. No destination. McCarthy is so powerful when he writes because he purposefully avoids clichés. This journey has no destination. At first read, the end is unsatisfactory because it isn’t an end, it’s more of a pause. No destination is reached, the road, literally and metaphorically continues and the characters (and us) are involved in a terrifying race. The human race. This terrifying preposition is part of what makes the book terrifyingly good and what made me stay up until 2am when I was ill just to finish it.
The importance of journeys to our lives should not be forgotten. Whether it’s the journey from the bed to the fridge, or from school to work or the journey until death we all travel many. The many types of journeys portrayed in literature reflect this. Some will be long and arduous other short and light hearted and some may not end. We should relish and reflect on each one.