Returning Home

While preparing the Spirit & Place website with book, film, music, and other suggestions related to HOME, I was struck with how the notion of “returning home” is both ancient and contemporary.

The original and ultimate “I just want to go home” tale, Homer’s classic The Odyssey, recounts the efforts of Odysseus (aka Ulysses) as he fights to make his way back home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

The Odyssey (and its prequel, The Illiad) resonates so strongly with the human condition, it has inspired artists, composers, and writers for almost three thousand years.

(Disclaimer: If you’re not sure you are up to reading ancient Greek prose, check out the Cohen brothers’ adaptation of The Odyssey, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” You’re welcome.)


Then, of course, there is the childhood story that taught us all, “There is no place like home,” L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like Odysseus, Dorothy struggles to make her way home and in the process faces danger, moral dilemmas, flying monkeys, and witches.

Okay, Odysseus didn’t meet any flying monkeys, but he did outfox the witch Circe.

Dorothy also discovers the importance friendship, family, and love . . . and manages to find her way home in far less time than Odysseus. (Twenty years, Odysseus? Seriously?)

Not all characters in literature are able to return though. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe’s main character, George Webber, writes a novel about his hometown and is then driven from his home by family and friends who feel betrayed. (Real life Hoosier author Dan Wakefield can speak to that kind of reaction towards a book.)

The struggle to figure out where we belong and to put down roots, while also not wanting to turn down opportunities for travel and new experiences, pulls at many of us. Odysseus, Dorothy, and George Webber certainly felt that tug. I find satisfaction in knowing this tug-of-war on our sense of belonging—our sense of home—is old and even common to the human experience.

And I find even more satisfaction in exploring the art and literature that has been created out of this experience. Check out our reference page and share your suggestions on HOME-related books, films, plays, music, or whatever (!) at