In literature, a quest is a mission the protagonist goes on to achieve a stated goal while he unknowingly completes another desired task. The five elements of a quest are: “a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there” (Foster). The quest is one of the most commonly recurring archetypes in literature, as Foster states, “Every trip is a quest (except when it’s not)” (Foster). Aspects of the quest in the movie ‘Shrek’ are highlighted as the protagonist, Shrek, is forced to go in a rescue mission.
Shrek is an ogre who lives in a swamp by himself and is comfortable living in his ordinary world. He wants to be by himself because he is very insecure about his looks and the way he’s perceived by others. In the swamp he has everything he needs to get by – mud for bathing, slugs for food, and a close-by village he can terrorize when boredom strikes. Shrek’s quest begins when Shrek discovers that all the fairytale creatures have been dumped on his swamp (Shrek’s home) by Lord Farquaad’s order. Frustrated, Shrek leaves to go to Lord Farquaad’s castle and ask for his land back. He is then told that in order to get his swamp back, he must go rescue Princess Fiona. This is the stated place to go element of the quest. At first Shrek isn’t too keen on going so he refuses the offer, but then being furious to get his land back he takes the deal. This is the stated reason to go there. While Shrek embarks on his mission to bring back princess Fiona, he faces many challenges as he goes along his path to the castle and back. When Shrek arrives at the castle it is a very large castle and he has trouble finding a way inside. While doing so they are attacked by a ferocious dragon that nearly kills him, and Shrek must cross a rickety bridge above bubbling hot lava and climb to the highest room in the tallest tower to rescue princess Fiona. Additionally, when Shrek reaches princess Fiona, she is unwilling to cooperate with him and demands answers on why Lord Farquaad didn’t come to rescue her himself. Lastly, Shrek faces the challenge of fighting robbers and kidnappers on his route back.
As Shrek continues his path back, he ends up falling in love with Fiona and realizes that he is no longer happy living alone in his swamp. After saving Fiona, Shrek does not gain anything physically; however, he gains knowledge that he originally did not have, and grows emotionally. Shrek discovers himself in his journey and once the movie is over then he is truly happy with life, because he has someone he loves. This upholds Foster’s statement that “The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge” (Foster). ‘Shrek’ ends up marrying Princess Fiona and the movie ends with them both living happily together.
Shrek’s endeavor closely follows the structure of a quest, as he goes on a rescue mission to save Fiona, fights through the challenges encountered in his path, and returns to his old life with new developments.
- Foster, Thomas C., and Harper Perennial. 'Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It's Not)'. ‘How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines’. Eedited by Michael Signorelli, Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014, pp. 1–3.