On my 33 days blog, I briefly mentioned the idea of the “Call to Adventure” as a part of the Hero’s journey plot structure and said I would look at it in a later blog entry. This is that later entry.
So what exactly is the Call to Adventure?
Put simply, the Call is the moment when the protagonist becomes aware of the unknown elements of the world and also that must leave the cozy world and life they know and venture into that unknown. Typically the Call is brought about by some herald, whether that’s a person (the classical example is a character giving the protagonist some kind of plot-important item and then dying, such as Richard Hannay receiving the black notebook in The Thirty Nine Steps), a message (the typical example is a distress call, and my favorite variant of this one uses eight words: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” which I assume everybody reading this to be familiar with.) or some kind of incident/event (such as the Earth being demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass at the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Of course, for the call to be heeded, the protagonist has to react to it.
Logically, there are only two responses to a call, accept it or refuse it. From a narrative point of view there’s really only one response as if the protagonist doesn’t answer the call at some point, there’s no story. This means that a refusal of the call will eventually cause a protagonist to be forced to answer a later call. I can think of two solid examples of this variant. The first one of those is in Spider-Man’s origin tale where young Peter Parker refuses to use his newfound spider powers to stop a thief. Later, [41-year-old SPOILER ALERT!] of course that thief kills Parker’s Uncle Ben driving Peter to true heroism and trying to embody the mantra “with great power comes great responsibility.”
In a much, much older example, we have Moses, who refuses the call from God to plead for Israel before Pharaoh (Moses must have had huge brass ones) because he has a speech impediment, literally “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4v10). God basically tells Moses that he can take Aaron to do the talking but when an omnipotent deity orders you to do something; you better damn well do it. Moses agrees and thus the Exodus happens.
In contrast, of course, there are those protagonists who accepted the call with gusto. That’s definitely the case for Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger who is seemingly actively seeking to be called by attempting to enlist in the army and fight in World War II despite numerous health issues making him unsuitable to serve. It’s not exactly a surprise when he unhesitatingly agrees to undergo the Super Soldier process.
Another enthusiastic answerer of adventure’s call is John Watson, at least the version in BBC’s Sherlock, which is best shown from this exchange in the first episode, “A Study in Pink”
Sherlock: [You’ve seen a] bit of trouble too, I bet.
John: Of course, yes. Enough for a lifetime, far too much.
Sherlock: Want to see some more?
John: Oh God, yes.
So that’s what the call is, how it’s delivered and how it’s received with a whole bunch of examples. What are ways you’ve seen or used as the Call to Adventure in your favorite works?