In considering literary heroes that go on adventures or quests, several elements are emphasized; the protagonist has an extraordinary birth or birthright, he travels on a journey, meets conflict, conquers and returns in some cases a victor, sometimes not. The quests are often cyclic in nature, returning to the original setting.
The "quest story" is an important part of literature because it provides insight into how men, yesterday and today, have sought solutions to their conditions, ideals and pursuits.In "Park's Quest" the hero goes on an adventure and in many ways it is the archetypal theme; an internal and external search where the overcoming of obstacles completes the cycle of exploration.
Park Waddell Broughton, the Fifth, is a name to honor, the fifth in a line of Broughtons. But, to 11-year-old Park, it is only a name, something attached to a photograph of a dead father. Where is the grandfather? Why is he not a part of the Broughton family?
That begins the quest: "He wanted more than anything at that moment to know the man whose name he carried . . . "
When he finally goes to the Broughton estate the conflict is convoluted by a Vietnamese girl named Thanh, a grandfather, the "Colonel," who is bedridden with a stroke, and an uncle that tells him nothing. He enters his "battleground" with fears and insecurities, hoping that the answers about his own father will be knowledge he seeks.
While Park's vulnerability is a block in his path, he learns to overcome his fragility and in a sense, wins the `maiden.' In true Arthurian sense, he comes away a victor; he has found the "Grail" which he sought " . . . and it seemed to all who saw them that their faces shone with a light that was not of this world . . . "
Park Waddell Broughton, the Fifth, has an obsession with the tales of Arthur and the Round Table. The secret fantasizing of his role has been both a delight and a mainstay for his narrow life. The reoccurence of death and killing - Park's father's death in Vietnam, Thanh's fear of guns and the near-killing of a crow - all fit together in a criss-cross pattern that holds the story together.
The grail, a talisman and goal in literature, becomes the symbolic vessel from which to drink of life. To Park, it is the fountainhead of new beginnings. When he attains it, and the family for which he was seeking, he comes away wiser, more tolerant and perhaps victorious as a hero.
Katherine Paterson, again, is at her best through the presentation of themes and motifs, symbolically and representationally, in "Park's Quest." But, we have known her to do that so well in the past. For example, her characters have the attrib-utes of reality, being impish, outwardly impervious and starkly human. In at least three of her award-winning novels she has boy and girl relationships that pull apart, straining at the hinges, finally come together in comraderie.
In "Bridge to Terabithia" Jesse and Leslie tugged at a breaking point before a resolution. In "The Great Gilly Hopkins" Gilly and Charles' friendship went through a trial before compassion was found.
In "Park's Quest" the children, again, view each other as antagonists but find resolution.
In her books, Paterson has portrayed extraordinary woman, sometimes vulnerable but caretakers, strong and true. In this novel, Park's friend, Greg, has a mother that is shown as: ". . . happy as a teenybopper . . . cotton candy, pink fluff down to her paper core. There was nothing deep inside to comfort or to scare you" while his own mother was seen having: ". . . this heart of darkness that he couldn't fathom . . . "
"Park's Quest" works at two levels, the inner psychological searchings while the outward quest tells the story; Park finds that he is no longer responsible for his father's death.
"Park's Quest" will be enjoyed by readers from 11 and up. Each age - even adult - will learn something new about human aspirations.