The quest narrative is closely related to the discovery of new worlds, expanding the frontier is a task faced with both desire and trepidation in many traditional hero stories.
In Campbell’s taxonomy of the mythic hero’s journey, the first stage, the call to adventure, marks a call to leave what is known and to pass into the “zone of the unknown”.
This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountain top, or profound dream state. (Campbell 1949/1993: 58)
Other worlds or the division of worlds are key to many mythic systems: heaven and hell being the most obvious. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the Garden of Eden functions both as a paradisaical golden age as well as marking a division between the divine world and the human world. Similarly Greek mythology sets up worlds of the gods and worlds of humanity. The promise that these two spheres might again be brought together is perhaps implicit in the myth of the interstitial Isle of the blest, the worldly home for the dead heroes of the gods. But the basic separation of the two domains is made clear in myths such as Orpheus and the underworld.
Other mythical destinations that have exercised the cultural imagination are the myths of the submerged city of Atlantis and the lost Latin American city of gold: Eldorado.
According to Hubner (1996) it was with Columbus’ discovery of the Americas that many of these mythic themes coalesced in the European imagination and the genre of utopian stories took hold. He points out that that the geographical horizon of the Americas “made possible the reactivation of a mythical storehouse giving it scientific validity and a prospective dimension” (1996:1153).
Thomas Moore’s Utopia connects the tale to the recollections of explorer Amerigo Verspucci and Francis Bacon’s utopian tale is entitled The New Atlantis, which he locates in the Americas. Columbus in his own writings signifies the Americas as a New Jerusalem. However, Hubner (1996:1154) notes that there is always a tension in these works between the “poetic, naturalist, regressive vision” and a “political, culturalist and prospective vision” of the utopian myth.
The discovery of the new world and the flourishing of paradisaical myths also saw the birth of the European vision of the noble savage and the anthropological other. The discovery and colonisation of other cultures gave rise to the study and dissemination of new mythological stories. This nexus of “exotic” people, newly discovered mythologies and “strange” places all worked in concert to reinforce stories of the culturally other.
Lule (2001) has argued that the myth of the other world has a powerful structuring effect on American international news coverage. Corey (1999:103) has argued that “the romance of the other” in the post war New Yorker expressed “disquiet concerning the spiritual cost of American power [through the portrayal of] admirable individuals of ethnic backgrounds as a counterpoise to the materialism and complacency of the white middle class.”
In the unstable world of the early 21st century, change and discovery are key dynamics. Both the knowledge frontier and the cultural frontier provide impetus for storytelling about new/other worlds. In contemporary journalism stories of globalisation, new technologies, medical advances, environmental threats combine with traditional myths of paradise lost and found, utopias and dystopias.