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There and Back Again: Journeys in Speculative Fiction

A certain highly anticipated fantasy film about a long journey "there and back again" will see its world-wide release in less than a month.  Closer to home, many are making trips of their own today to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The roads, rail lines, and airways of this country are jam-packed with travelers.  (And before the weekend is over, they'll get to do the whole thing over again in reverse, hooray!)

College freshmen, many of them back home for the first time since the start of school, might feel a particular kinship with Mr. Baggins in the ending chapters of The Hobbit.  The place to which they've returned may look the same (if their mothers haven't turned their rooms into craft spaces or storage cubbies), but for some, it won't feel quite like the home they left a few short months ago.  Though it's been more years than I'd care to admit since I was a freshman, I can still recall that odd feeling of displacement on my first Thanksgiving back, of being a guest in my own home.  

Returning military personnel have expressed similar feelings of alienation at the end of deployment; as much as they look forward to their return, coming home can be hard.  In order to become soldiers, they've had to travel far from their ordinary lives not only in distance but also in mindset.  And though they receive a lot of training in becoming soldiers, there's not as much guidance in how to unbecome one.  As a result, some return only to feel like strangers within their own families, and face a difficult period of readjustment.  For many, it takes a great deal of time and care before they can feel truly at home again.

Of course, home doesn't change nearly as significantly as the traveler does.  Part of the perceived change is nostalgia-- the longer we're away from home, the more we're likely to idealize it, to forget about the drippy faucet and the traffic and the annoying neighbor.  We focus instead on the comforts of familiarity and belonging.  But not all of it can be blamed on rose-colored glasses.  The truth is, journeys change people.  They broaden horizons both external and internal.  They shake up our assumptions about what people "out there" are like and how they live.  They invite us to reexamine old habits and make new connections, and change our own ideas about what we're capable of.  Some journeys will start us down entirely different roads from the familiar paths we've traveled in the past.

This Thanksgiving, many of us are appreciating the comfort and safety of home more than ever.  While we are being thankful for home, let's also take a moment to consider how much a journey away can teach us to value it.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie (Express Fantasy Abercrombie)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (SF Adams)
Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear (SF Bear)
Green Rider by Kristen Britain (Fiction Britain)
The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold (Fantasy Bujold)
Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey (Fantasy Carey)
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (Reading List Connolly)
Paragon Lost by Dave Duncan (Fantasy Duncan)
The Kingdoms of Dust by Amanda Downum (Pbk-Fantasy Downum)
Exile's Return by Raymond E. Feist (Fantasy Feist)
Up Jim River by Michael Flynn (SF Flynn)
Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster (SF Foster)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy Gaiman)
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy Kay)
Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick (Pbk-Fantasy Kirkpatrick)
Temeraire: In the Service of the King by Naomi Novik (Fantasy Novik)
Gateway by Frederik Pohl (SF Pohl)
The First Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett (SF Pratchett) (esp. The Colour of Magic)
Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Fantasy Rothfuss)
Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie (Fiction Rushdie)
Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn (Fiction Shinn)
Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove (Fantasy Tarr)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Fantasy Tolkien)
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (Pbk-Fantasy Yolen)

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