The definingHigh Fantasy storyline. The quest means business.
Quests feature The Hero and a bunch of supporting cast members traveling across the world with a firm goal in mind: to recover a McGuffin, collect all the Plot Coupons, Save the Princess, defeat the Big Bad, locate a loved one or all of the above. Quite possibly an Impossible Task, to get rid of him. Will usually involve lots of incidentalminor adventures, running into oracles and wise men, fantastic creatures and damselsdispensingitems that may help you on your quest. A great device, because it allows the writer to do character interaction and showcase exotic locations, and give The Hero a good reason to Walk the Earth. Used mostly in a fantasy world, but can also take place in a modern or mundane setting with enough work-around.
Older versions just set the character off on his quest in the wilderness about them.
Often undertaken by Hitchhiker Heroes or people on The Homeward Journey.
The problem with such a story from a modern perspective is that they can actually tail off too much into the various side-stories and forget the main goal that the characters originally started out on. This was less of a problem before as Medieval writers often deliberately wrote a network of plots, subplots, and sub-subplots branching out like a tree. Examples of this are Spenser's Fairy Queen, Arabian Nights, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots separates The Quest from Overcoming the Monster. While both involve a journey, the Overcoming the Monster plot is far more focused on heading straight for the Monster (with perhaps a side quest for magic weapons), while The Quest concentrates on a variety of obstacles including Monsters, Temptations, Deadly Opposites, and a Journey to the Underworld. (This probably indicates that if the heroes don't realize there's a Big Bad to fight until after the halfway point, it's following The Quest plot.) Also, The Quest is the plot most likely to include companions (a small group, or just one companion - or, as with The Odyssey, a Red Shirt Army).
Compare The Hero's Journey.
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Anime and Manga
One Piece: A ragtag pirate crew seek out a massive treasure horde.
Pokémon: Ash goes on a voyage spanning the entire globe to bring glory to his name.
Wolf's Rain: Four wolves traveling the earth to find the fabled paradise.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure involves this in each of its eightparts. In Part 1, it is to kill Dio (who is an evil vampire) and destroy the Stone Mask, which can create vampires such as him. In Part 2, it is to kill the Pillar Men, the creators of the Stone Mask, and to stop them from obtaining the Red Stone of Aja. In Part 3, it is to rescue Holly Joestar by killing Dio, who survived from Part 1. In Part 4, it is to find and stop Kira Yoshikage (a serial killer) before he can claim more victims. In Part 5, it is to find the Stand arrow and to stop Diavolo from obtaining it, or killing Trish. In Part 6 it is to stop Pucci from realizing his plans and resetting the entire world. Part 7 starts off with the Quest being an Epic Race, but as it goes on it becomes a matter of finding the Corpse Parts. Part 8 is so far a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot focusing on various mysteries relating to "Josuke".
InuYasha: A group of demon slayers venturing through Japan to reclaim every shard of a shattered jewel.
Berserk, which started out as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge plot, has turned into one of these, as Guts and his companions seek the land of Elfheim in search of a cure for Casca's post-Eclipse insanity.
Dragon Ball started out as one of these, with Goku originally leaving is home with Bulma to find the titular Plot Coupons.
Common for the more "epic" stories in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Though there are many, perhaps the most notable variant is the one where Scrooge and/or his nephews search for a lost legendary treasure or something similar. These exist in more than one variant, too, from Don Rosa's historically well-researched stories to the Italian ones where Scrooge typically kidnaps his relatives to go along against their will to search for something bizarre like the key to time or the gigantic coins of the cyclopes.
The Goonies: A group of teenagers seek the treasure of One-Eyed Willy in order to save their town.
Yeelen ("Brightness"), Souleymane Cissé's 1987 classic of Malian cinema.
In Saint-Jacques… La Mecque, a group of siblings has to walk the Way of St. James together in order to inherit their mother's money, facing mostly mental and social obstacles.
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. Lord of the Rings was unusual in that, unlike the fantasy sagas that came after, the hero was not on a quest to acquire some item of great power, but to destroy one.
Even with that, Word of God states that Frodo failed in his quest when he was on the verge of completing the quest. The ring is only destroyed when Gollum takes the item in question.
In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Uriel is sent, as punishment, on a quest to find and deal with a vision that a Chapter Librarian had. The vision contained neither locations nor names for him to identify.
The Odyssey — possibly the first novelistic Quest in the West — to return home and defeat his wife's suitors.
Exodus — a quest to escape Egypt and found a new nation in the Promised Land.
In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the harper claims that the quest is not important, since the object must be a MacGuffin: it's Jason and Medea that matter, not the Golden Fleece. Donovan disagrees; the qualities of the object matter and affect the nature of the quest.
The narration at the opening of On the Razor's Edge describes it as a quest.
In Susan Dexter's The True Knight, Wren and her master are forcibly recruited to help retrieve the prince in swan form. After they escape the attack and realize that the queen will have Galvin killed for failure, Wren and Titch go to retrieve him.
The last book of Song of the Lioness has Alanna meeting several new companions as she goes on a quest for the Dominion Jewel so she can return to Tortall as a hero rather than a disgrace or a curiosity. It was added at the behest of Pierce's editor because "fantasy books always have quests," although the Jewel is mentioned in the subsequent series.
Live Action Television
In a two-parter on Criminal Minds, "The Fisher King", the unsub frames his crime in the pattern of a quest, including macabre clues and even a damsel in distress...one chained to a bed and scheduled to die if the team doesn't find her.
In the Doctor Who serial "Underworld", the Minyan crew's guiding principle is "The quest is the quest." They are rather stunned with success, but when they realize it will only take three centuries to get where they are going, they are delighted.
In "The Fisher King" episode of Merlin, Arthur goes on a Quest to get the Golden Trident and prove himself worthy of the throne. Subverted as it turns out Merlin was the one really on the Quest and the Fisher King gives him water from the Lake of Avalon. Arthur still gets the Trident and Merlin, Arthur and Gwaine are named Magic/Courage/Strength as a Trio by Grettir, the watcher of the bridge.
Every single hero myth ever, across any culture, relies on this. The Greeks and Romans had stories like Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules, and the Aeneid, with heroes being sent on quests by a god or a king. The Middle Ages had many legends based around knights going in search of holy objects or to save a kingdom or a damsel or something to that effect.
Wouldn't be a trope page without Order of the Stick, would it? The whole story is pretty much kicked off by Roy's quest to defeat Xykon. Needless to say, things got a little more complicated...
Overcoming the Monster turned out to be only the first Act; just finding out they have a Quest, to protect or destroy the Gates, was one of the obstacles they had to overcome. The Act I Monster, Not Quite Dead, is still there as an obstacle, so the final Act could easily turn back into Overcoming the Monster.
Homestuck. Build up, get through the gates, fight the denizens, kill the Black monarchs...though the kids are often more concerned with their own hijinks.