Monday, September 30, 2013

September 2013 Ramble: The Hero's Journey Part 1

Over the next few months in our Writers’ Ramble we will be discussing and dissecting a story structure developed by Joseph Campbell in his “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. You may be more familiar with it termed as “The Hero’s Journey”. Campbell determined there were 17 stages of this journey and broke them into three main sections: Departure, Initiation and Return.

This month we will be discussing the five elements of the Departure phase. I will be covering Refusal of the Call. Check out our main blog for my group’s take on the other stages.

Refusal of the Call

"Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless - even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration." (Campbell p. 59)
In a story that follows the Hero’s Journey, it is common to be presented with a situation that calls for a specific Hero. This is generally a world or a people in peril or conflict. Events unfold that make the Hero aware of the conflict via The Call to Adventure. How the Hero responds to the Call sets the tone of the story. It is quite common for a Hero to initially Refuse the Call; this builds tension and shows the Hero to be relatable and human.

There are many reasons a Hero would Refuse the Call:

  • Luke Skywalker refuses to go to Alderaan with Obi-wan because he has chores to do and a responsibility to his aunt and uncle and their farm. 
  • Sherlock Holmes will refuse a case until some bit of evidence presents itself as a sufficiently intriguing puzzle worthy of his great intellect. 
  • In the Matrix, Neo refuses the Call numerous times because of his initial disbelief in the Matrix as a whole and later in himself as a Hero. 
  • Fear of the unknown and a fear of what they would be giving up by leaving home are also common reasons for refusing .

When a Hero Refuses the Call, three paths open up, though they share the same road for awhile:  First, they can struggle for a time, but eventually something (usually very personal and tragic) will happen that outweighs their objections and they finally Accept the Call and the Adventure begins! Luke Skywalker’s home and family were burned to a crisp.  “There’s nothing left for me here.” Let’s go save a Princess!

Second, the Call follows them everywhere they go, as Calls are wont to do, but the Hero keeps slipping the noose.  Eventually, the Call stops playing the nice guy and the Hero is caught in a trap.  Take Jonah and the Whale.  There are some Calls to which there is no escape.

Third, because they have been chosen by the powers that be for the specific task, their life will be plagued by misadventures until they give in (as was shown in paths 1 and 2) but by continuing to Refuse they will be forced out of the role of Hero and into the role of Damsel in Distress or Villain.  They will either need to be rescued by a Hero who Accepted the Call or become the Villain in another Hero’s story.

There are times when a story works best with a Hero who jumps at the Call, but generally it is more interesting and satisfying for a reader to have a Hero who is reluctant, shows fear and weaknesses and who at times has to be beaten over the head with the Call before they accept it.  Of course, you can go too far with this, but the payoff a reader gets once the Hero overcomes their resistance to the Call is usually in direct proportion to the amount of fight the Hero put up initially.

There is a variation to the Refusal of the Call that some call Can’t Stay Normalwhere an old Hero has forgotten or given up their powers, deliberately or otherwise. They get tired of their life of adventure and just want something Normal. Eventually they get it, but once they have a normal life they either miss their Adventure and want it back or they are enjoying their normal life, but the Call will not leave them alone. They have a destiny to fulfill, dangit! The world needs saving again!

If you are writing a story that follows the Hero’s Journey, does your Hero Refuse the Call?  I’d love to hear how, leave me a comment!

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