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Stage Two: The Call to Adventure

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure.

  • Harry Potter: “You’re a wizard, Harry.”
  • The Hobbit: Gandalf the Wizard arrives.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The tornado.
  • Star Wars: R2D2’s cryptic message: “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.”

This gets the story rolling. Trouble shadows your home tribe. You hear the grumbling of our stomachs and the cries of our hungry children. The land for miles around lies barren and clearly someone must go out beyond the familiar territory. That unknown land is strange and fills us with fear, but pressure mounts to take some risks, so life can continue. A figure emerges from the campfire smoke, an elder of the tribe, pointing to you. Yes, you have been chosen to begin a new quest. You’ll venture your life so the tribe may live on.

The Call to Adventure may be a message, or an event like a declaration of war, or the arrival of a telegram reporting that outlaws have just been released from prison and will be in town at noon to gun down the sheriff. Or the Call may be a stirring within the soul of the hero – a messenger from his unconscious, bearing news that it’s time for change: dreams, fantasies or visions that reflect the emotional and spiritual changes to come. Or, simply, the hero may just get fed up with things as they are. An uncomfortable situation builds up until that one last straw sends him on the adventure. In a deeper sense, a universal human need drives him, but it takes a miserable day to push him over the edge.

It might be temptation – the allure of an exotic travel poster, the sight of a potential lover; the glint of gold, the rumour of treasure, the siren song of ambition. In the Arthurian legend of Parsifal (Percival), the innocent, young hero is called to adventure by the sight of five magnificent knights in armour, riding off on a quest. He has never seen such creatures, and is stirred to follow them, not realising his destiny is to become one of them. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy follows her runaway dog, Toto. The clouds of change rage above them, brewing up a tornado to whisk her away to the magical world of Oz.

Symbols such as trains leaving, smoke lifting, horses riding off, or even an upset stomach, signal the pressing fact that change and progress are going to happen, and soon. Some Calls are warnings, though – they signal doom for a tragic hero, not high adventure. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a character cries out the warning, “Beware the Ides of March.” – which is the date Caesar is killed. In Moby Dick, the crew is warned by a crazy old man that their adventure will turn to disaster.

Questions to consider:
1. What is the Call to Adventure of another story you know?
2. What Calls have you received – and how did you respond?
3. Have you ever delivered a Call to Adventure to someone?

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