Grand Tour YKTTW Discussion

Grand Tour
Traveling around, learning new skills and meeting important people; returning home
Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2013-09-22 14:30:58 sponsor: kjnoren (last reply: 2013-11-21 02:06:33)

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YKTTW notes:

  • More tweaking of description, another example
  • Included a short discussion about the relation with The Quest.


A journey that teaches a man (or woman) about the world, and also teaches the world about the man (or woman). As such, it visits foreign places, stays there a while to see the sights and learn to know powerful and knowledgable people, and then continues on to the next place. In the end there is a return to one's home, and the character will be able to put their new skills, knowledge, and contacts to good use. Ie, it also acts as a Rite of Passage.

During the journey, the traveller will often band together with a few friends, and may receive the services of one or more guides or mentors—cicerones—who travel with them and knows quite a bit of the world and its inhabitants.

Since the usual goal is to reach new knowledge and contacts, it will last for quite a while—a proper Grand Tour will last months, and they can easily go on for more than a year. The journey will also generally not return back to any place that was visited earlier, and if so only for a short while (see Boring Return Journey). This also gives the Grand Tour a peculiar relation with fantasy literature: lots of fantasy builds on this tradition, and it can be viewed as the basis of the meme that the fantasy protagonist needs to visit every place on the map.

Not to be confused with Walking the Earth. Compare Road Movie and Road Trip Episode. See also The Quest, which easily can take the this form.


  • The Lord of the Rings codified the use of this trope in fantasy. Frodo leaves home with some friends and a faithful servant (Sam), acquires a knowledgable guide (Aragorn, later Gandalf and Gollum), travels to places of history (Rivedell, Lothlorien, Mordor, Gondor) where he meets powerful people, and then returns home to use his skills (freeing the Shire from Saruman). It uses the form of the Grand Tour, but also changes it in that Frodo didn't go on the journey as a teaching experience, and that he was so changed by it that he later left home again.
  • Letters to His Son is the collected—you guessed it—letters from Lord Chesterfield to his illegitimate son. They start In Medias Res, with the son just having started the tour. The Earl expected him to learn quite a lot on the tour - languages, manners, spirit, laws, economics etc.—but also warned him of the traps other young men fell into on their tour: Spending their time abroad in the company of other British noblemen, so they'd neither learn the foreign language nor anything else that they didn't know before, and become addicted to gambling, alcohol and whores.
  • Saturn's Children is a science fiction example of this. Freya travels between the planets of the solar system, learning new things. However, the journey itself didn't have a clear goal at the start, and she never really gains a formal guide, but follows clues on the past of herself, her sisters, and progenitor, and in certain ways are guided by them.
  • Played with in the fourth book of Chronicles of Prydain, Taran Wanderer, Taran travels around the land learning useful skills and getting to know valuable people—but the skills are very much practical and hands-on, and not cultured or celebrated, and the valuable people are of no particular status and usually overlooked.
  • In the Earths Children series almost every human culture has a rite of passage called a Journey, where the person travels far & wide to visit other cultures. One guy walked all the way to Africa & back, bringing his newborn son along the retun Journey. Another went to Asia and back.
  • Partially inverted in the The Sharing Knife series as well, book 3 and 4. Dag and Fawn leave on a great journey not to learn but to teach (though they do learn a lot), and they act as mentors and guides themselves for the motley group they gather around them during their travels. They also do not return home, but create their own home by the end.
  • In The Seven Citadels, Kerish's and Forollkon's quest follows this pattern quite closely, having to visit seven different wizards around a Mediterranean-like sea to pick up seven different PlotCoupons before returning home. Both characters learn and change a lot during their travels.
  • The first two books of The War Gods series (Oath of Swords and War God's Own), Bahzell and Brandark make one after having to flee their native lands, and then return home where they put their new contacts and knowledge to good use.
  • Given a parodic reference in Discworld, where Ankh-Morpork nobles go on a "Grand Sneer", where they learn their superiority over the other people on the Disc. Lord Vetinari went on one around the disk before settling into his role as Patrician and, this being Vetinari, he apparently taught some of the rulers he met along the way as much as he learnt.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: While Aang is growing his power and responsibility of being Avatar, he travels around the world with his friends, discovering problems of the world around them.

Real Life
  • Named for the semi-formalised Grand Tours that young British gentlemen did on the continent starting from the 18th century. Similar tours had been going on for a long time in many European countries, at least from the 16th century, but less formalised, and as outgrowths of the established religious pilgrimages.
  • In various countries there has been a similar tradition of journeymen leaving and working for various masters in other cities, though how common this has been has varied depending on country and time period. Note that the word journeyman doesn't refer to the travel, but to the right of demanding pay for each day's work.
  • Artists also had a similar tradition during this time, with similarities to both the gentlemen and the journeyman tours. The goals here was to seek out masters, but also gain contacts and experience.
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