Critically Determining the Best Adventure


A 'choose your own adventure' novel is in some ways already quite like a critical edition. Where King Lear has two well-known different texts and Piers Plowman has three, our Journey Under the Sea boasts 42 different endings, and many ways of arranging the text to reach them. Unfortunately, though all of the text comes from the same author, putting the text together in ways that preserves character and plotline consistency is not a straightforward task.

Problems with this were apparent in my first reading of this text. Most of the text follows an explorer ('you') attempting to find Atlantis, who acts cautiously and steadily retraces his steps to avoid undue misfortune, but immediately upon reaching the foreign and mysterious Atlantean society, embeds themself within a group of revolutionaries and plots to overthrow their society. The whirlwind of action at the end of this reading upends the meticulous exploratory work, tossing out any sense of character and pacing.

This critical edition will first attempt to map out all possible arrangements of the text using a directed graph. When the graph is in place, I will continue by pruning the most inconsistent and infeasible readings. Once this is done, I will discuss the most worthwhile and interesting readings, either because of the stories they construct or because of other facets of the text, and will develop several highly opinionated versions of the text.

Mapping out the text

To map out the ways to traverse this text, I went through the book page-by-page, and recorded all of the possible paths a given page provides, and then used the visualisation software Graphviz to produce a clean image.

This process was mostly straightforward, with only a few quirks. Pages with illustrations were skipped over. I introduced a 'page zero' to denote an ending, as some branches could either end or continue onwards. I had anticipated the possibility that the text could point a reader to the middle of a section (which wouldn't be otherwise marked by the structure of the text), but no instances of this were observed. In my initial reading, I noticed the existence of a potential loop, but this didn't create issues for this part of the text.


Note that 42 points back to 6 rather than the other way around

Visualising the text this way revealed important facets of the text (the visualisation also revealed a slight error I had made, which was easily cleaned up). The most fascinating observation is that there is a page (page 111) which will never be reached by a traditional reading. I suspect that an error was made somewhere leaving this page out, and I intend to find where this page 'belongs' so to speak. Ironically, when I set out to make a critical edition of a choose-your-own-adventure book, I never expected to actually fix any problems. The other advantage to visualising the text this way is that it revealed that there is indeed a loop possible in readings (centering on pages 6 and 9 amongst others), and that there is only one major loop (though with two possible realisations). Now, we can proceed to the more isolated portions of the text to better think about their placement (such as the section beginning at page 29, which branches out into a series of non-overlapping choices leading to various endings).

First I turn to the mystery of the dangling page 111. The solution comes from both the textual content and the page's position in the book. The major key comes from the phrase 'thought travel', which appears on only four other pages. One of these pages is page 110, right before the dangling one. Page 110 and 111 seem to represent different options from a singular decision. Page 110 is pointed to only by page 96, whose options are either to end the story or proceed to page 110. Though page 96 provides a pleasant conclusion to the story, page 111 also fits cleanly as a contrast to page 110 and as an alternative ending. Because of this, I believe that page 96 was intended to point either to page 110 or 111 rather than pointing to page 110 or ending.

The Loop

Now, I turn to the loop. First, I think it's useful to consider what conditions are required for a reading to enter into the loop. I entered the loop in my first reading, so there does exist a natural reading which contains the loop. I will start by enumerating all of the positions in the loop (in both branches), and then think about all the paths that lead to a point in the loop. My first loop page was 9, then 14, 28, 42, 6, and then 10. From here, the loop branches. My first reading proceeded to 18, 34, 48, then back to 9. The other branch takes one through 17, 33, 46, 48, then back to 9. Out of all these points, only pages 9 and 6 are pointed to by pages outside of the loop. Page 9 can be reached without otherwise entering the loop only by going to page five then directly to nine. Page 6 can be reached from outside of the loop from four different paths.

The two choices needed to reach page nine are consistent with a decent variety of character choices for 'you'. 'You' first choose to dive deeper in your craft into a canyon rather than to explore the ocean floor on foot, and then 'you' investigate an unusual feature of the canyon rather than just diving deeper.

The simplest path to page 6 leads there directly from the beginning, just by choosing to explore the ocean floor. Otherwise page 6 is reached by exploring the depths of the canyon (page 8), which houses a round hole emitting bubbles. The options here are to analyse the bubbles, or to try to find out how deep the hole goes. I'll go ahead and begin the critical work here. Bubbles coming from deep in the sea don't seem particularly unusual or curious, and at this point you at every decision have decided to go deeper. So, we eliminate the path from page 8 to page 11, eliminating two of the possible loop-entering readings. This leaves us to either retreat to the ship or dive deeper. Retreating to the ship is not an unreasonable choice at this point, and keeps us in the loop.

From here, you discover Atlantis. At this point the story begins to go off the rails. Nothing down this path makes much sense. You are probably going to act more impulsively, as the pace picks up substantially. Many of the paths results in a near-immediate end to the story, and the longer ones are mostly composed of options that don't make much of a difference and don't actually contribute much of anything. If you reach the loop itself along this path, the only options proceed as if you never discovered Atlantis in the first place. For this reason I think that it's reasonable to eliminate this entry into the loop as it produces a nonsensical reading.

Thus, we enter the loop from two short paths, either by directly going to page 6 or by going to page 9 through 5. Both paths are short enough and happen early enough to be reasonable choices.

Now let's consider the experience in the loop. Regardless of point of entry or the choice of the two paths taken within the loop, it's only sensible for you to complete the loop at most once. Though you could face the dangers of the first half of the loop numerous times, the part of the loop past page 9 is only sensibly visited once, as there are no variations and it doesn't make sense to make the same decisions twice there, as it would be purely backtracking without making any forward progress. That said, the loop can be comfortably experienced in full from either of the reasonable entry points, and there are several feasible exits that take you through the entire loop. Next, we'll proceed to analyze these possible routes, some with and some without the loop.


There are two shortest paths, both of which involve making three decisions (though the third only chooses which of the two shortest endings you come across). Both tales are good and entertaining readings, displaying the fantastic dangers of deep-sea exploration. You are stranded outside of his submarine by a sea monster, and in a panic you attempt to flee in hopes of rescue. This leads you to either meet your untimely death among a school of sharks, or to rocket yourself to the surface and to safety, suffering a career-ending case of the bends. Though both readings present compelling and tragic short tales, the second (in which you launch yourself to the surface) is more compelling, as the very beginning of what could have easily been an exciting and important journey quickly led to the end of your diving career, dooming you to only ever be able to watch on from the sidelines.

Now, since we've determined that page 11 does not provide a reasonable path to take, we can think about the rest of the graph which we get by going to page 8 from page 5 (choosing to investigate the depth of the hole in the canyon). The choices between page 8 and the endings are completely disparate from the rest of the possible readings, so we can explore these readings in a self-contained way, without worrying about the rest of the text.

After page 8, going on to page 15, if you choose to do as you've been doing all along and continue to dive deeper and deeper, you meet your death simply because you are too eager to continue. You end up diving so low that your craft cannot return, leaving you to patiently wait until the systems around you begin to fail due to the increasing pressure. This brief tale tells of man's hubris when you eagerly dive ever deeper without first considering the possible consequences.

The other path from page 8 leads you to accidentally discovering Atlantis. From here most of the available readings are odd and nonsensical. About half involve almost immediate attempts to escape the civilisation you have strived so hard to find. Once we eliminate those for being confusing, half of the remaining options involve another civilisation (the 'Nodoors') that live near the Atlanteans, which were introduced for no apparent reason other than to give you more things to choose from. None of their short tales are particularly worthwhile. One of the paths oddly leads you to the loop mentioned above, as if you hadn't just found Atlantis. A single path from this part gives a reasonable text, in which you stay with the Atlanteans and study their culture, completely forgetting the world you abandoned.

Now we consider the path from page 9 that doesn't lead towards the loop, in which you illuminate the grotto you've reached (page 16). From here, one of the choices immediately ends the story, in a potentially real but deeply unsatisfying animal attack, so I will dismiss this ending. In the other, you explore a submarine found when you lit the grotto. In the submarine, you are given directions to Atlantis, and are warned about the two factions of Atlantean society hastily introduced in readings I have eliminated. From here, there are two main choices: one in which you attempt to escape, the other in which you attempt to get to Atlantis. All of the escape routes involve fleeing from an Atlantean submarine, and while they present reasonable choices for you to make, none of the endings are particularly satisfying, as they introduce this underwater society and the story ends immediately before anything meaningful can be done with them. One ending out of these is somewhat satisfying to me, in which you hastily escape, but are blinded in the process, ending your exploration career after having seen the surface of what must be a fantastical society. This ending further fits in with many loop-containing readings, as the choices made are not unreasonable for you if you had encountered any of the troubles gained from going through the loop; the critical choice is an in-the-moment decision wherein any skilled adventurer could reasonably choose either direction.

The other choices all lead to your first contact with the Atlanteans. From here much of the readings are weak. Down one path, you are immediately willingly embroiled in a revolt against a king you've only just heard of, which seems cautionless and rash, as well as mostly nonsensical and distracting. In the others, you meet with this king, which is a sensible option for a mysterious new visitor to a new world. Once you meet with the king, you can return to the revolt, which again not only seems rash and unnecessary, but also leads to unsatisfying endings. The other option is to join the king, in which things both end well with you as a prominent member of Atlantean society, doing good work to help all of those previously upset with the king. This reading mostly eschews the unnecessary political arc hastily brought in, and resolves in a reasonably pleasant and successful way.

We're steadily reducing the number of valid readings at this point. Let's do a bit more pruning, and simplify what's left. I will go ahead and claim the loop into page 14 into page 26, in which an impatient explorer (perhaps fed up with giant squid attacks) blasts open a door, leading to a sudden disaster, stressing the importance of patience and extreme caution even in trying times. Another pair of endings close to this has us more cautiously find our way irreversibly through the hatch and into Atlantean society. In one, you do not adapt to their way of life and live in a zoo, and while this is a relatively unflawed reading, it is not very satisfying. In the other, you do assimilate, and while life is nice, you still miss your previous life. That ending is both feasible and not terribly unpleasant. At this point there are a few more 'loose ends' in the graph before we are left only with a more substantial chunk. One exits the loop from page 18 to page 37, wherein you fall off the platform while escaping and are eaten by a fish, which is somewhat preposterous and out of the blue, though not totally illogical. This reading I claim is unlikely due to how dissatisfying it is. In one of the other of these loose ends, you choose to give up on the mission. This reading is fairly sensible, and actually makes for a good ending if you have gone through the trials and dangers present in the loop at least once. In the last loose end, from pages 17 to 32, you again give up the mission after the giant squid attacks you, which is a reasonable ending for the same reasons.

From this point onwards, all endings are reached by departing the loop from page 33 and going to page 45. On your return to the dive after the run-in with the giant squid, you discover an ancient ship with a map to the center of the Earth. You encounter a bizarre world of giant atoms and mind-reading, and become a 'thought-traveler'. None of this really makes any sense, and is haphazardly thrown together. The only sensible ending occurs in which you find this trippy world and then turn back out of safety concerns. The odd environment has damaged your equipment, ending your expedition, leaving you with only a tantalizing taste of the mystery and wonder found in the depths.

Wrapping up

At this point, we've found all the endings that aren't completely unreasonable. Now comes the time to give these readings better attention, and to decide which of these are the most worthwhile. To better do this, I rearranged the pages of the book so that the different texts could be read straight through without having to jump back and forth. To be honest, this grew a bit dull, as most of these readings are the same, and even though these endings are the most consistent and reasonable, they aren't good reads. The re-stitching of the book did provide a more pleasant reading experience, and to my surprise the text flowed smoothly even if you ignored the decisions completely.

I have chosen a small handful of readings I have judged to be 'the best', mostly for providing the most reasonable experience. These will not be discussed in great detail, as the most salient features have been discussed above. The first of these follows the path to page 6, 12, then 19, and detalis the career-ending case of the bends suffered early in the expedition. The next, and probably my favorite, follows to 5, 8, 15, to 23, and is the tale of a dive too deep for your own good. The looped reading going to 6, 10, 17, 33, 46, 48, 9, 14, 28, 42, back to 6, 10, then 18, 34, and finally 47 tells a great tale of struggle, frustration, and finally giving up. Finally, going through 5, 9, 14, 28, then 42, 6, 10, 17, and 33, 45, 65, and 89 gives a nice trippy tale with a good length and plenty of unanswered questions. This one and the very quick one with the bends are my favorites. None of these endings are particularly happy. My most-preferred happy ending goes through page 6, 10, 17, 33, 46, and 48, continuing through 9, 16, 29, 43, 60, and 80, wherein you meet the King of Atlantis, become his advisor and make everything better for everyone. A bit of a stretch, but if you must see things through nicely this is probably how you should go.

Though the book boasts 42 different endings and provides even more ways in which to reach them, all but a small handful of these are unsatisfying or insensible. Though you are free to choose your own adventure, you don't have many good options. Treating this book as a set of versions of a single text to be edited has proved to be a fascinating experience, but it has also shown the weakness of this book as a whole. The novelty exists because there are choices, not because any of the choices leads to a particularly exciting or worthwhile tale.