Once when I was a kid, my dad gave me a map leading to buried treasure. I had just come home from school on a Friday. I did not know what my weekend held, but usually my dad and I went to the video store on Friday afternoon to rent some movies to watch over the weekend. But this Friday, I found my dad waiting excitedly at the front door holding a faded, crinkled map. “Look what I found!” he exclaimed. It was a map of our yard, with a path leading from the front door to a red “X” marked in the backyard. All over the map were directions like, “due south 50 paces”. I gazed at it in wonderment. For a ten-year-old boy, it really doesn’t get much better than a map leading to buried treasure in your own backyard.
With my dad walking behind me, I carefully followed the map through my backyard. I counted the paces exactly. I turned exactly where it said to turn. And as my heart beat faster and faster, I finally came to the spot on the map that was marked with an “X”. Looking up at my dad, he encouraged me to dig in the ground to see what was inside. I dug and dug until uncovering a tiny treasure box. Where had it come from? I had never seen it before. Opening it up, I found a couple of VHS tapes and a bag of popcorn.
Of course, now I knew that my dad had planted the treasure and made the map. However, I was not disappointed that the treasure hadn’t been filled with gold or left by pirates. Deep down I think I knew the whole time that it wasn’t real pirate’s treasure. But I was still overjoyed, because my dad had created such a fun experience for me.
What makes treasure maps so alluring that they appear so often in literature and movies? Why do our hearts beat faster when we think we have found a real map to buried treasure? Part of it is the possibility of a valuable prize at the end. But even more than that is the sense of adventure in the journey towards that prize. Treasure maps are usually intriguingly mysterious. They cannot be written in a straight-forward way, because that would make it too easy for the pirate’s treasure to be found. They must be kept hidden and hard to find so that only the pirate can find it again by his own map. The treasure-hunter, therefore, has to tread through dangerous territory and ponder riddles on his way to the ultimate goal. But the satisfaction of facing down obstacles, solving puzzles, and triumphing where past treasure-hunters have failed is really the treasure itself. This is why so many characters in fiction who find such mysterious maps have their childlike wonder reborn. They become just like my ten-year-old self, giddy and full of curiosity, as they begin their journey of discovery.
Happy treasure hunting!