Go and look behind the Ranges —
Something lost behind the Ranges.
Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
The urge to explore is as old as Mankind, and in every generation, there are those who feel compelled to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before. It's easy to dream, but unknown lands can be dangerous, so only the boldest are willing to live that dream. Tales of these bold explorers are a favorite topic for fiction.
Before history even began, bold explorers (and the settlers who follow them) had reached almost every habitable land on the planet. Our oldest surviving tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh features the bold explorations of Gilgamesh the King, making this Older Than Dirt. In the Age of Exploration, starting in the early Renaissance, Marco Polo (re-)discovered China, Columbus (re-)discovered America, and Magellan found a way to circumnavigate the globe.
Though most of the world is considered explored today, the rest of the universe still beckons, and this is a common trope in both Historical Fiction and Science Fiction. This trope was extremely common in early Interplanetary Voyage stories—some of which actually date back to the above-mentioned Age of Exploration.
Only the bold need apply. Those who, through no fault of their own, are kidnapped to or ship-wrecked on new lands, or who are merely bad navigators, do not qualify, though their subsequent actions may prove them to be examples.
Note that this is such an ancient trope and so very much a case of Truth in Television that there is little to be gained from mentioning Real Life examples, as most people can probably think of dozens. A Historical-Domain Character can go under the proper medium.
May overlap with other tropes such as The Pioneer, who is specifically looking for a new home, though it's more usual for pioneers to follow the explorers. Intrepid Merchant is another one that frequently goes hand-in-hand with this one, as new locations often mean exotic goods and new, untapped markets for old products. Sometimes a state-sponsored version of this would be either an Ambadassador or engaged in Cloak & Dagger, likely both. Compare Gentleman Adventurer and Adventurer Archaeologist.
- One Piece
- In Vinland Saga, Leif the Lucky is the man who found Vinland, though he's now old and retired.
- Allen's Disappeared Dad was this in The Vision of Escaflowne. In fact, his frequent absences and the fact that he never returned from one of his voyages are the source of Allen's massive Daddy Issues.
- Mendoza in The Mysterious Cities of Gold is a charismatic explorer who claims to be the one who brought Esteban to Spain as a child, and now wants him to return and use the power of the locket to help find the titular cities.
- Attack on Titan: Eren dreams of joining the Survey Corps because they venture outside of Wall Maria, the outermost Wall, and attempt to map it out or study the Titans. However, they have a high casualty rate as evidenced by the few returning members in the first episode, most of whom are injured. One of the bits of trivia given during the Eye Catch in Episode 2 mentions that the territory outside of Wall Maria is unknown due to it being lands infested by Titans.
- Don't Keep Your Distance: The entire point. Paint the Seedrian-Fox has long romanticized herself and her best friend Arrowhead the Toad as Bold Explorers, but learning of her father's existence for the first time takes them (plus three of their other friends) on a real-life quest across the entire world.
- The Magic Voyage: The heavily fictionalized account of how Christopher Columbus boldly set off to prove that the world is round.
- Moana: Entirely revolves around this trope, as it tells of the Polynesian culture's proud history of being masterful explorers of the Pacific Ocean. Interestingly, Polynesian history had a period of time (between 1000 and 2000 years) when their explorations stopped (known in academia as the "long pause"). The story of Moana is a fanciful, mythological "explanation" for the "long pause" and by the end of the film, Moana leads her people back toward their grand heritage of voyaging and wayfinding.
- Pocahontas: John Smith's explorations of the new Virginia Territory are how he met Pocahontas in the first place. During the song "Mine, Mine, Mine", he sings of how he's never seen a wilder, more challenging land than Virginia and how he doesn't plan to miss any of its dangers.
- Wallace & Gromit: In the short film, A Grand Day Out, Wallace & Gromit are off to explore the moon, which turns out to be made of green cheese.
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God takes this trope to the point of insanity, as Lope de Aguirre explores South America in search of a City of Gold, ignoring death and deprivation among his men along the way.
- Parodied in Almost Heroes, where Hunt and Edwards want to beat Lewis and Clark, and be the first to chart a way across America to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, neither one is particularly bold.
- Carry On Columbus turned the bold exploits of explorer Christopher Columbus into a silly sex farce.
- La Vallée (a film mainly remembered because Pink Floyd provided the soundtrack) features a bunch of hippies, joined by the wife of the French consul, exploring uncharted regions of New Guinea—one of the very last unexplored places on the planet—seeking the truth about a mysterious valley marked on maps as "obscured by clouds".
- In Fritz Lang's 1929 silent film Woman in the Moon, Helius and Professor Mannfeldt plan and lead an expedition to the moon.
- The enthusiastic General Thayer and, to a lesser extent, Dr. Cargraves and Jim Barnes, in the classic SF film Destination Moon.
- Dave Bowman, Frank Poole, and the deceased crew of the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who are on an expedition to explore strange findings near Jupiter.
- The aptly-named Explorers features a trio of kids who manage to build a spaceship, and then boldly set off to hunt for aliens.
- Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, the bold Captain Kirk Expy from the titular Show Within a Show in Galaxy Quest.
- The recon team sent through to explore the worlds on the other side of the Stargate in Stargate.
- Children Of Mother Earth has some point-of-view characters who view themselves as this, but as they rediscover Greenland, which is already inhabited, the inhabitants (whose point of view is also told) are not happy about being "discovered" by a country that plans to invade theirs.
- Quetza in El Conquistador. He is an explorer so bold and clever than he even discovers Europe several years before Colombus even ships. He even recognizes than he isn't where he expected to be, and recognizes the threat that the Europeans impose to his people and culture.
- In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh explored many new lands, defeating monsters and bringing home their treasures. Any actual Trope Maker is probably lost to history, so this is likely as close as we'll ever get.
- The Vinland Sagas tell how Leif Ericson's explorations led him to become the first European known to have set foot on North America. (The popular theory that Leif's father, Erik the Red, discovered Greenland, however, is not supported by the sagas, nor by any other historical evidence.)
- According to one saga North America was discovered by one Bjarni Herjolfsson who just wanted to visit his parents in Greenland. Every time he sighted land he quickly established it wasn't Greenland and sailed on. So not much of a Bold Explorer but one heck of a devoted son.
- The Travels of Marco Polo is a biographical (and somewhat confused) recounting of the Italian explorer's 13th-century expedition to the Middle-East and China. It was a block-buster hit in its time.
- Voyage dans la Lune (1657) by the Real Life Cyrano de Bergerac, casts Cyrano himself as the first explorer to the moon. Although there were earlier stories of people visiting the moon, the use of a non-magical method of transportation (fireworks) has led some to classify this as one of the very first works of true Science Fiction.
- In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), Professor Challenger is a man of science who has no hesitation to set off and explore a mysterious plateau in the Amazon.
- Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon has Michael Ardan, who persuades the Gun Club to build a hollow shell that can carry him (and some others) to the moon.
- In H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, when James Cavor discovers a material that blocks gravity, he quickly decides to set off and explore the moon.
- In Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League stories, David Falkayn is an aristocrat who would rather be out exploring new worlds than sitting in comfort on his home planet.
- A somewhat fictionalized (but reasonably realistic) Christopher Columbus in Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.
- In the Red Mars Trilogy, John Boone becomes a world-wide hero after leading the first expedition to Mars.
- In the Priscilla Hutchins series, Hutch herself is a borderline case, but a more clear-cut example is George Hockleman, a rich entrepreneur in Chindi who hires an Academy ship, and the use of Hutch, to go chasing alien interstellar radio signals in the hope of making First Contact.
- In Allen Steele's Coyote, Carlos Montero sets off to explore the new world of Coyote while the rest of the colonists are still settling in and trying to learn the local dangers.
- Most of the inhabitants of Gateway Asteroid, in Gateway, were this, although some were there out of pure desperation. Still, it takes more than a little chutzpah to climb into an ancient alien craft, set the controls at random, and push go. Especially when you have no idea how long the voyage will take, and thus how much food and water you should bring.
- Subverted in Robert Sheckley's short-story, "The Minimum Man". The Planetary Expedition and Settlement Board has tried using the classic bold explorer type to discover new worlds, but these bold types aren't timid enough, and tend to overlook obvious dangers that make newly discovered worlds unsuitable for colonization, so now they're going the opposite way, and choose the accident-prone hapless nebbish Anton Perceveral to be the first of a new breed of explorers.
- In Labyrinths of Echo, Sir Manga Melifaro has not only traveled every continent of the known world, but also wrote a Great Big Book of Everything afterwards (in eight volumes).
- In the prologue to Pandora's Star Earth sends a manned spaceship to Mars whose crew is extremely irritated to discover that, while they were hoofing it, a couple of garage tinkerers in Los Angeles discovered how to create stable wormholes and beat them there. Fast forward five hundred years or so, and the normally wormhole-dependent Commonwealth builds an FTL-capable exploration starship named the Another Chance, captained by the leader of the Mars expedition. (Immortality therapy was involved.)
- The Outbound Flight duology by Timothy Zahn concerned an attempt by the Galactic Republic to mount an extragalactic expedition. Due in large part to the arrogance of the expedition's Jedi commander (though diplomatic sabotage by Darth Sidious was also involved), this expedition ran badly afoul of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force and was destroyed by Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo.
- Jack Vance's Ports of Call features Myron Tany, a wannabe bold explorer who lucks out when his great-aunt, Dame Hester, receives a spaceship as part of a legal judgement, and reluctantly agrees to let him use it. Unfortunately for Myron, Dame Hester insists on coming along.
- In Hal Clement's novel Mission of Gravity, the small centipede-like creature named Barlennan on the planet Mesklin is a bold explorer, which is what brings him to the one area of the planet where humans can visit even briefly.
- In A. E. van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle, most of the crew of the Space Beagle, especially Director Morton, the head of the expedition. (The protagonist, Elliot Grosvenor, is along as more of a trouble-shooter.
- In the Star Wars Extended Universe, the planet Corellia was the first human civilization to get their hands on hyperdrive, which triggered a wave of bold explorers—the first humans to scout out much of the galaxy.
- Tully the human from the Chanur Novels was a bold explorer who got lost in Compact space, captured by the Kif, and rescued by the Chanur clan.
- Subverted in Robert Heinleins Tunnel in the Sky. The creator of the portal network saw a jungle through his portal, picked up a gun and stepped through. And was then arrested by the local police for carrying a gun in a park.
- In Noob, Törk mapped the shape of the Continent Without Return, which is protected by a Perpetual Storm.
- The Discworld frequently and savagely parodies this trope, describing explorers as arrogant, nosy, foreigner-hating busybodies who try to communicate with natives by shouting at them. In fact, Lord Vetinari convinced the Ankh-Morpork Explorers' Society to change its name to the Trespassers' Society on the grounds that they could hardly be "discovering" territories already settled by people. One stellar example is the ambitious but incompetent Sir Roderick Purdeigh, who on one voyage tried to circumnavigate the Disc but wound up going around the Circle Sea for years.
- In Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, the titular character was the first of these, although his primary profession is that of a space trader. This doesn't stop him from, occasionally, traveling to unexplored systems to scout it for potential habitable worlds. He can then sell this information on a heavily-populated planet, so it can start building a colony ship. It's not stated if he ever actually lands on any of the virgin worlds, but even traveling to an unexplored system is rife with a degree of danger, as there is always a chance that his ship's relativistic drive can deposit him inside another object or in a dangerous gravity well. His first journey with the drive was in the 21st century as a NASA test pilot, who successfully tests the drive on a trip to the moon Triton and is then sent to Alpha Centauri, where is discovers a habitable planet, which he names Penelope, after his daughter. He then goes on a century-long trek and discovers several more planet before heading home. He also relays to his wife a story of a space trader couple who track a signal from another space trader to an uninhabited planet he discovered. They find his ship in orbit and his shuttle on the ground, but no sight of him. Assuming he died, they take his ship and plan to take it to the nearest industrial colony to sell. However, the wife has other plans and absconds with her new ship. When she doesn't appear at their destination, the husband is horrified and assumes she may have died, only discovering the truth years later.
- The Stormlight Archive: Eshonai, the Parshendi general and their last Shardbearer, was once just a girl who wanted to see the world. Her maps and stories inspired her people, and soon the Parshendi were roaming the entirety of the Unclaimed Hills. One of these parties stumbled upon the Alethi king, out on a hunting expedition, which connected the Parshendi to the outside world again. Eventually, this resulted in the Parshendi assassinating the Alethi king, fleeing to the Shattered Plains, and fighting a long, losing war of attrition. Though Eshonai couldn't possibly have seen any of that coming, she still blames herself.
- Most versions of Star Trek have revolved around this. Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise are classic examples. Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation is a more subdued version, but his second-in-command, Commander Riker is a classic version; they both count. In Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Janeway was possibly more focused on finding her way home, but still took her mission of exploration seriously.
- In the Blackadder episode "Potato", the bold explorer Sir Walter Raleigh returns in triumph to England, which makes Blackadder jealous, so when Sir Walter says that even he wouldn't attempt to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, Blackadder tells the court that he's going to do just that. Of course, Blackadder isn't actually bold; his plan is to sail to France and hide out, then return and claim to have sailed around the Cape. Unfortunately, the ship captain he picked for his expedition isn't capable of making it even as far as France.
- Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock, the first Fraggle to explore Outer Space (i.e., our world).
- In Stargate SG-1, the whole purpose of the team was to go through the Stargate and see what they could find on the other side.
- Professor Challenger from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The rest of the team sort of become this default once they are in the Lost World.
- Spaceman Spiff, one of Calvin's alter-egos in Calvin and Hobbes, is a bold interstellar explorer, who constantly gets captured by bizarre alien life forms (usually Calvin's parents or his teacher).
- Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Explorer" is basically an analysis of this trope.
- Space 1889 Several adventures are about exploration or about saving a lost exploration party. An explorer would be a perfectly suitable player character concept and it is also a career available in character generation.
- In Traveller the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service is an agency of Bold Explorers. They have other duties as well due to mission creep. They do scientific-research, occasional police duties, intelligence work, Imperial courier service and special ops in wartime. They are kind of like a cross between Nasa, the Indian Political Service, and in some ways the Coast Guard. The exploration side of their job is dying down in the Gurps default time of Emperor Strephon's reign, simply because most of the unexplored territory is on the other side of rival empires. While expeditions still go out from time to time, most of their work is tidying up backwater planets.
- Other governments, corporations, and private citizens have been exploring for thousands of years and continue to do so.
- The background for Warhammer 40,000 contains this a lot. In the "present" of the setting, it mostly consists of the Mechanicus searching for lost technology. Given the setting, their explorators have to be considered pretty bold even when they're part of a large fleet. Rogue Traders also do plenty of exploring in the effort to open up new markets. In fact, the first edition of Warhammer 40K was titled "Rogue Trader" and explicitly described them as fitting this trope.
- The Tau, as the youngest major species in the setting, must have a lot of these, although it's only the wars after they've "discovered" a populated planet that get much attention.
- Orks also fit the trope nicely, with their habit of launching themselves randomly into space in the hopes of finding new planets to conquer and new people to fight.
- Mage: The Ascension includes the Void Engineers, who are an entire scientific convention focused on this. In their past (when they were the Seekers of the Void), they were the ones responsible for exploring unknown lands. Although some elements of that still remain (usually focused on undersea exploration or other areas difficult to reach), the modern version is mostly focused on space exploration.
- A tonne of these exist across Rocket Age's Solar System. The International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation has field agents all over Mars, the Roosevelt Station Exploration Society is an entire club of explorers on Venus and the Lizard Monkey Second Hatching is a religious order who go on exploration pilgrimages. All this is before we get to the independent explorers and smaller expeditions.
- In the backstory of the X-Universe series, the crew of the twelve-man starship Winterblossom set forth in 2045 AD to explore the newly discovered jumpgate network and find habitable worlds for colonies.
- Skies of Arcadia: Legends has Vyse Dyne. Much of the game centers on his quest to explore all the lands of Arcadia, which is recorded in his journal entries. There's even a massive sidequest to find all 88 hidden discoveries. Vyse even mentions it, near the beginning of the game, while he Aika, and Fina are watching the sunset on Pirate Isle:
Vyse: (wistfully) "I want to see what's out there... to see what lies beyond the sunset."
- The protagonists of the Uncharted Waters series can be played as such, particularly the playable characters of the Explorer background in the second game, Uncharted Waters: New Horizons. Ernst is the best example, since his overarching quest is to explore and map the entire globe. Pietro and Joao also do a fair bit of exploring, but the former is mainly after hidden treasures, while the latter's storyline involves an equal amount of naval battles.
- In World of Warcraft:
- Brann Bronzebeard and later Harrison Jones are seen exploring newly opened lands.
- One of the scrolls in Pandaria tells the legend of a Liu Lang, a young Pandaren who set out to explore the world beyond the mist riding on the back of a turtle.
- That turle ended up growing into the Wandering Isle that the player Pandaren come from. It still returns to to Pandaria every so often to pick up the any like minded Pandaran that find life on Pandaria to not be for them.
- Mass Effect is rife with these, though they seem to almost always end badly, with most of the history of violence in the setting caused by them.
- The Rachni Wars were unintentionally started by one of these, when a salarian explorer opened a mass relay leading to the rachni worlds in which he was captured and his ship was reverse engineered. This led to the salarians uplifting the krogan to stop the rachni, which led to the krogan rebellions and the genophage.
- In response to the above disaster, the Citadel made it illegal to open uncharted mass relays. Ironically this led to the First Contact War, when a group of human explorers ran afoul of a turian patrol that didn't bother to explain why opening mass relays willy-nilly was a bad idea.
- In the games proper, two separate sidequests in Mass Effect 2 involve the discovery of a wrecked exploration vessel.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda features the heroes as this. Though things generally go somewhat badly for them as well. You'll spend a lot of time wading through enemies who got there first and make new allies (who also got there first). But with a bit of determination and a lot of explosions you can carve out a new place for your fellow travellers.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers has the famous explorer Dusknoir who provides some necessary exposition, and the ill-fated legendary explorer Scizor who you can rescue.
- Most games in the Civilization series have at least one unit that's ideal for exploring the far-flung reaches of the map quickly and efficiently, usually called something like the Scout or the Explorer. They also often have better chances of getting beneficial outcomes from the "goody huts" that dot the map as well.
- The Europa Universalis games have Conquistadors and Explorers, leaders who specialize in exploring unexplored patches of land and sea respectively. Below a certain military tech level, forces led by them are the only units capable of revealing provinces and sea zones fogged as "Terra Incognita".
- Elite: Dangerous allows you to become one by going to uncharted star systems in the Milky Way and then selling the information you got for a profit, and ranks you according to how much of a profit you've made (and how many systems you've visited) accordingly; the lowest rank being Aimless, and the highest rank being Elite.
- In Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, much of the plot consists of following the trail of Buckleberry Tanner, a famous explorer. He was more interested in discovery than profiting from it, giving up a comfortable post as governor to go out exploring again.
- This is the big draw of No Man's Sky: Almost everything in the game is unexplored, meaning that players essentially become these when they first start up the game.
- Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time: In Lost City, the zombies are these, attempting to explore and invade the plants' Mayincatec City of Gold. These include shovel-wielding excavators, Imps carrying Clown Car Base tents, and Indiana Jones-esque relic hunters.
- Diablo III: Many of the in game notes are provided by Abd al-Hazir, a Caldeum scholar who traveled across Sanctuary, making notes and descriptions of the things he saw, which prove beneficial to other travelers following after him.
- The Bread and Butter of Renowned Explorers. With a team of three explorers it's the player's goal to discover as much as possible within a certain time frame to become the world's most renowned explorers.
- In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, Topal the Pilot was a famous one. An Aldmeri explorer and poet, he was the first to discover and explore Tamriel during the Merethic Era, encountering primitive versions of the Khajiit and Argonians, as well as a now extinct race of bird people. His story was compiled into an epic known as Father of the Niben, but most of it was lost over the centuries.
- The Peabody's Improbable History segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle featured visits to see many bold explorers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Marco Polo, Juan Ponce de Leon, Balboa, Columbus and Magellan. Many of them turned out to be not-so-bold in person, and needed a kick in the pants from Peabody and Sherman.
- The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour" features Lenny and Carl as Lewis and Clark, exploring the American Northwest, and Lisa as Sacagawea, the native woman who helped them—or, in this case, tried to help them, but gets frustrated by their stupidity.
- Commander McBragg of The World of Commander McBragg, a regular segment of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, was a now-retired bold explorer who had visited some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the world—at least to hear him tell it.