The Call & Refusal

In the Hero’s Journey, the call is when the hero is either asked to leave the ordinary world and try something new or when the hero simply realizes that he must do this. If a person initiates the call, then that person is a herald—someone who literally asks the hero to help or informs him of the problem that needs his attention.  The hero can have several “calls” in a story.  Calls are requests or impulses to do something.  For the hero to begin a journey, he must first receive or experience a call.

Calls can come in a wide variety of ways: people need aid from an outside source and must seek out this aid, the hero receives a message that someone needs help, he is told that he has a particular destiny and mission, or he may finally get sick of the status quo and decide to do something about it.  Often the normal order and balance of things in the ordinary world is thrown off somehow and the hero seeks to restore the proper order (a cop who wants to catch the bad guy in order to ensure justice and safety).  In a romance the call may be when the hero sees the heroine for the first time and he falls in love.  In any case, the call to adventure establishes the stakes to the game and makes the hero’s goal clear.

Often, the hero will refuse the call at first (the refusal). This is about fear of change. The hero feels safe in his ordinary world and is reluctant to leave it behind for the unknown.  He does not want to cross that first threshold into the sacred world.  This refusal stage usually does not last very long because something will convince the hero that he must go.

EXAMPLES:

  • Major League: Indians General Manager Charlie Donovan acts as the herald who literally calls the players and coach on the phone.  Each one initially refuses the call for one reason or another (and this is part of the comedy). Coach Lou Brown is more interested in the guy on the other phone line who is interested in buying some white wall tires. Catcher Jake Taylor thinks someone is playing a prank on him and hangs up. Rookie pitcher Rick Vaughn is in jail and isn’t sure he will be out before spring training, so he can’t commit.
  • Stand By Me: The call is when Vern asks the other boys, “You guys want to go see a dead body?”  There is some worry about getting in trouble as the boys discuss how they could pull off being away all night and into the next day, but no outright refusal. Although Gordy doesn’t say it, his narration tells us he is conflicted because his older brother, Dennis, had passed away four months before.
  • Harry Potter: Harry gets the call in the form of letters sent by the Hogwarts school (though his threshold guardian step parents keep these from him). Finally, Hagrid acts as a herald by showing up and inviting Harry. Harry doesn’t really refuse, though he is a bit confused.
  • The Godfather: Michael gets his call when he sees the headline that his father has been shot. He immediately calls home and is compelled to help in some way. Since this is the journey of an anti-hero, things work a little differently than in most stories. He has already refused the call as he has made it clear that he does not want to be part of the sacred world of the mafia. But now that his father has been shot, his attitude changes. When he begins discussing what to do next, his older brothers prevent him from getting too involved—acting as threshold guardians. Michael isn’t sure what to do until there is second attack on his father’s life while his father is recovering in the hospital. At that point, Michael accepts the call and tells his father, “I’m with you now. I’m with you.” And then he goes home, makes the plan, and prepares to cross the threshold into a life of crime.
  • Batman: In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne’s old friend Rachel Dawes gives him the call and acts as the herald. Twenty-two-year-old Bruce wanted vengeance on the man who killed his parents. It is Rachel who shows him the real problems in Gotham city (corruption and a seemingly untouchable criminal elite) and explains that there is a difference between vengeance and justice. He argues with her (his refusal), but quickly realizes that she is right. After this conversation, he goes to see the big crime boss, Falcone, who further educates Bruce about the city, crime, and fear. It is only after this conversation that Bruce realizes what he has to do in order to save the city. He accepts the call to become its savior (though he has no idea how to do it). He hops on a boat to China and begins his long quest and training.
  • Lord of the Rings: When Gandalf discovers that the ring in Frodo’s possession is the evil ring of power, they realize that it must be destroyed. However, neither one of them wants the ring (refusal). Frodo tries to give it to Gandalf and he refuses on the grounds that if it corrupted him he would become far too powerful (he’s already a powerful wizard). Frodo finally accepts that he should be the one to carry the ring, though he isn’t planning on carrying it all the way to Mordor. He wants to get rid of it and hand it off as soon as he can. Later in the story we meet another hero, Aragorn, who willingly helps in the quest to destroy the ring, but his real call is to accept his position as the rightful leader of the humans (in a positive way) and unite them. However, he refuses this call until the 3rd and final book/film.
  • Star Wars: When Obi-Wan tells Luke, “You must come with me to Alderaan,” Luke replies, “Alderaan? I have to get home! I’m in enough trouble as it is!” and then the two argue. Luke wants to go but his uncle won’t allow it (kind of like Harry Potter!).  Luke refuses to go on the journey until his aunt and uncle are killed. At that point, there is no reason for him to stay and he accepts the call to save the princess, learn the ways of the force, and join the rebellion against the evil galactic empire.
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