Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Refusal of the Call

I am now done with physical therapy! I even got a t-shirt! I'm looking forward to getting my mornings back. Monday will be bliss, since I'll have been at FenCon all weekend, I'll likely be utterly exhausted, and it will be lovely to be able to sleep in instead of heading to a therapy appointment. Then Wednesdays will be easier because those are already my busy days, since I have to head to children's choir around five, which really cuts into my afternoon. Having some morning time again will help.

But, alas, I did still have therapy today, and it's Perfect Storm day, with three deadlines, in addition to therapy, choir and errands. The errands became more complicated because they're remodeling the Target. I used to be able to run in and get everything I needed in just a few minutes, but at the moment, everything's all mixed up. Even the helpful staff members stationed around the store to help people find stuff are confused. One was telling me where to find something, pointing back the way I'd come, then out of the corner of my eye, I saw it ahead of me and said, "Or it could be over there." When your staff is lost, you know you've got problems. There were a couple of items on my list that I didn't get because they weren't absolutely essential and I didn't have my Indiana Jones hat with me to go on the epic quest to find them. Supposedly, the new, improved store, now with some fresh groceries, will open in a month. In the meantime, they pretty much moved entire shelves and just plunked them down at random wherever they could find space, and they don't seem to be restocking so they can just cram everything together.

I'm continuing to look at the stages of the hero's journey, as distilled for modern storytelling by Christopher Vogler in the book The Writer's Journey. I've already gone through the first two stages, the Ordinary World and the Call to Adventure. The next stage is the Refusal of the Call.

The Refusal of the Call comes when the hero thinks twice about taking on the adventure that's called him. He may have realized that something needs to change or that he needs to take action, but then reality hits as he realizes that this endeavor may be more than he wants to take on. That's the point of this stage. Being a hero is hard. Not just anyone can do it. If the hero just jumped into things without hesitation, the quest wouldn't seem like as big a deal. If the hero takes a moment to think about what he's getting into, then his commitment when he does decide to go for it seems more genuine.

Sometimes, it is just pausing to think and weigh his options, and it only takes a moment. Or the hero may flat-out refuse the call at first -- like in the detective stories when the cynical detective refuses to take the case. This may be when the hero makes excuses: "I'm too busy, I've got obligations." Or it may be when he says stuff like "That's impossible! It's insane!" Or he might insist that he's the wrong person for the job.

This may be when the Threshold Guardian character shows up. Even if the hero is all for taking on the quest, other people in her life may urge her to refuse the call. They may remind her of times in the past when things didn't go so well. They may remind her of her obligations that would preclude the quest. They may tell her why she's not equipped to do this sort of thing.

The more experienced the hero, the less of a refusal there may be. It would be kind of silly if in the fourteenth James Bond movie, 007 told M that he wasn't quite sure he wanted to take on this mission. He might, however, question the specifics of the mission -- he thinks M is wrong about the person he's supposed to target. Circumstances or other characters may do the refusing for these willing heroes. Things may get in the way of them setting out on the quest, or other people may tell them it's difficult and question their willingness to go or even try to block their way. Heroes may also have to choose between quests, accepting one and refusing the other. In a tragic story, the hero chooses the wrong one. The hero can end up with everyone opposed to him if he doesn't choose the quest his superiors want him to take on. If James Bond doesn't think that the person M wants him to stop is really the villain, then he has to go rogue to get the person he really thinks is behind the evil.

Some examples of refusals:
Luke Skywalker has spent most of the movie so far talking about wanting to get off the farm and have adventures, but when Obi-Wan tells him to come with him and become a Jedi, he suddenly starts talking about how there's the harvest coming up, and his uncle needs him.
Indiana Jones scoffs about the likelihood of actually finding the Ark of the Covenant when the government agents approach him.
The older kids think Lucy is making things up when she tells them about the magical world she found through the wardrobe.
In a romantic comedy, this is when the heroine decides she doesn't want to get to know the guy she just met (when Sally tells Harry to have a nice life when she drops him off at Washington Square), or when her friends suggest she start dating and she insists she's perfectly fine with her cats and her Cup-o-Soup.
Harry Potter's aunt and uncle try to keep him from reading the letters inviting him to Hogwarts, going so far as to run away so the letters can't reach him. He never refuses the call, but his aunt and uncle try to block the way, which serves a similar purpose in the story.

This doesn't have to be a major part of the story, just a moment to remind the hero and the readers that this hero stuff is serious and difficult, not to be taken lightly.

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