The Action/Adventure Genre

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Although I used The DaVinci Code as an example in my discussion of the mystery, suspense, and, thriller genres, Dan Brown’s novels might be more appropriately placed in the action/adventure category.

The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (NC) includes Brown’s The Lost Symbol (2009) in its list of Action-Adventure reviews. This explanatory note precedes the list:

Also known as the male equivalent of the romance novel, these books offer intrigue, edge-of-your-seat excitement, and exotic locales with characters who are smart, daring, often heroic, and sometimes evil.

Just how slippery genre labels can be, even for librarians, can be discovered in the list that follows this description of the action/adventure genre. One of the books. A Bad Day for Sorry (2009) by Sophie Littleton, is set in “a sleepy Missouri town.” and features a female protagonist in search of a missing toddler.

Agent Jeff Herman defines the action-adventure novel in terms of “premise and scenario trajectory.” The plot resembles the traditional heroic quest story, the monomyth as defined by Joseph Campbell:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. —The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Herman’s description of the genre evokes a 21st century setting:

Some stories are stocked with an array of international terrorists, arms-smugglers, drug-dealers, and techno-pirates. Favorite settings include jungles, deserts, swamps, and mountains–any sort of badlands (don’t rule out an urban environment) that can echo the perils that resound through the story’s human dimension. (Jeff Herman, Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents [2010], p. 893.)

The protagonist in this kind of adventure usually has a trusty posse helping him achieve the quest. Typically, one of the trusted group betrays the others.

A site called The Art of Manliness lists 50 “fictional adventure books” that belong in “The Essential Man’s Library.” Although the list does include the works of living writers, it is unexpectedly heavy on the classics. Kipling and Rider Haggard, for example, are well represented. Here’s a sampling:

The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling
She, H. Rider Haggard
Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
Inca Gold, Clive Cussler

A list of “The Ten Greatest Action-Adventure Novels” at Amazon yields these titles:

The Stand, Stephen King
Shogun, James Clavell
The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Team Yankee, Harold W. Coyle
Red Phoenix, Larry Bond

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4 thoughts on “The Action/Adventure Genre”

  1. I’m a bit surprised that there’s nothing by Ian Fleming on the list. I’d have thought his James Bond novels would fit the category well. For that matter, Kenneth Robeson’s “Doc Savage” novels should certainly make the cut (I’ve read quite a few of them) for action, adventure in foreign places, etc.

  2. I finished my first novel and I feel that it is in the action adventure genre, though trying to nail down what constitutes action adventure from mystery and suspense has been tricky. Several rejections from agents have said, “its not what they are looking for” but no word about it not being the correct genre. I am now going to submit it to agents who actually claim to represent action/adventure. My book is close to the Jack Reacher type story, although the protagonist is a geologist thrust in to unique international situations. The first in the South Pacific. I would definitely say Ian Fleming was in the Action Adventure, along with R. E Howard’s Conan. There IS a bit of discriminatory bias in literary circles. Some genres are not taken serious or at least given short shrift.

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