Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Rite of Passage

Two categories of Quest dominate fantasy writing. The external quest, like that of Odysseus, is more commonly found; but the internal or ROP quest – in which the protagonist, often an Ugly Duckling, moves from childhood through puberty (and/or Menarche) to adult empowerment, from Amnesia to self-Recognition, from ignorance to bliss – has become increasingly popular; and defines the central plot structure of many fantasies, and probably most of those written for YA readers.

The ROP may take many forms, though the underlying movement is from Bondage towards enablement, freedom, responsibility. A straightforward ROP tale will challenge its young protagonist with a dilemma during the solving of which s/he matures. Complexities and resonances begin to enrich the process when the ROP is conceived of as an Initiation of the Soul, a journey invoking a pattern of Departure, Absence and Return. This initiatory journey may be undertaken by a Childe protagonist without benefit of counsel; or by a person who wanders Into the Woods of a Godgame from which s/he returns wiser, with gifts, and perhaps married; or by a figure who, in order to Learn Better, must undertake a Night Journey towards difficult self-realization; or by a person, of any age, whose psyche is internally disordered, and who enters a psychic Underworld where the Archetypes of Jungian Psychology (in particular the Shadow) dance healing attendance; or by a Hero (e.g., Galahad), whose ROP is genuinely transcendental and leads towards a recoverable Grail.

The internal ROP may – in some literatures of the Fantastic – be embarked upon from within the psyche in such a manner that the experience can be understood as wholly subjective. In Fantasy, however, it is far more likely that the quest for selfhood will entail actual travel, actual confrontation, and actual return. One of the central strengths of fantasy lies precisely in this bias of the fantasy Story towards acting-out. The ROP in fantasy becomes a Ritual. It is part of the world, and it leads to a Healing of both hero and world. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.