Episode 41: The Call


On May 4th, we celebrated Star Wars with another installment of The Hero’s Journey discussion. Here are the show notes:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Rex Hurst, English Instructor, fiction writer

Theme for the day

The Hero’s Journey Part 4: The Call


  • May the 4th be with you
  • Review of the Hero’s Journey
  • The Call
  • Trite, Cheesy, and so familiar it’s like deja vu
photo of room full of toys
Photo by Alex Kremer on Pexels.com

Segment 1

This is our third episode on the Hero’s Journey so ICYMI here are the other three episodes (one and two and three) and here’s the outline of the Hero’s Journey:

  • The Call — being chosen to undertake the journey
  • The Companions — who will accompany the hero?
  • The journey itself — distance, obstacles, treachery
    • Monsters
    • Temptations
    • Deadly opposites or opposing dangers — think colliding armies
    • The underworld — death itself or a glimpse of the other side in the form of visions and insights gleaned by ghosts and spirits
    • The helpers — maintain posts along the path and assist the hero and companions in some way
  • Arrival and frustration — within sight of the goal but a new and terrible series of obstacles presents
  • The final ordeal — the last test of the hero’s personal transformation
  • Achievement of the goal — life affirming, it was all worth it finale of the story.

The Quest is the idea that far away lies a priceless goal, a prize of some kind, and only by obtaining it can the hero fulfill his or her destiny. The Quest is Homer’s Odyssey and Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s The Lord of the Rings and Treasure Island.

The Quest (or hero’s journey) begins with The Call. In fiction it’s the inciting incident, it’s the reason we’re paying attention to the story now instead of a week ago or a week from now. It’s what changes for the hero and how he or she knows she’s selected for a special kind of life.

Some famous “Call” moments include:

The Call in Western literature may be obviously based on Mary learning she’s carrying the Savior. Similar elements:

  • The Archangel delivers the message — a magical creature, some otherworldly being with knowledge of the Hero and the journey ahead.
  • The inevitability of the task — she can’t get unpregnant, right? When Luke returns to his moisture farm to find his aunt and uncle’s burned corpses, his future off that sandy rock is secured.
  • The unlikelihood she’s the right choice — a bigger purpose for an unassuming kid. Mary was a VIRGIN! So, um, it couldn’t be her, right? Our hero didn’t think much of himself, oh he had dreams, sure, who doesn’t? But really he’s just a regular kid. Isn’t he? Then why are all those owls parked on his front lawn delivering letters addressed to him?
  • A promise to greatness — she’s carrying the light of the world, the being who will make all things right with God. So, yeah, she’s changing the world. Unite warring tribes, defeat tyrannical leaders, free oppressed people, you name it, greatness is yours and it’s coming.

Segment 2

Last week we did people and we mentioned The Herald. This is the person who issues “The Call” so let’s look at them first. This link is a whole list of Heralds. My favorites:

  • Come with me if you want to live
  • I’m Dying, Please Take my MacGuffin
  • Starts With a Suicide
  • Please Take Up My Sword

Essentially The Herald fills in the blank when “Nothing special happened in the hero’s life until BLANK showed up.” This is Hagrid in Harry Potter. It’s the thief whose crime the hero accidentally witnessed. It’s R2D2 mindlessly rolling(?) through the desert.

Some other Herald truisms:

Does our Herald have to be trustworthy? Ways to establish trust: rescue the hero, stick up for a victim, corroborate the hero’s unlikely story (lie for him/her)

Segment 3

Can the call be a mistake?

In our journey-and-return stories it certainly seems like it must be. How did lazy, daydreaming Alice get invited to witness Wonderland? How is Jack the luckiest beanstalk climber ever? Part of the removal from the existing circumstances is the hero’s unwillingness to accept the challenge before him. Think “reluctant hero” John Maclaine from Die Hard. Guess I gotta kill these assholes since there’s no one else to do it.

Some variations on “The Call” that might make us think it was given to the wrong person:

  • The call leaves a message — there’s no one there to receive it or the wrong person literally gets it; or it’s being thwarted by Uncle Vernon that fat fuck.
  • The call put YOU on hold — late bloomer, non-magical, whatever. You’re not special as badly as you want to be.
  • The call reception area — anyone can go there and just check to see if it’s them. It’s usually not. Until one day … Hero and best friend go, hero messes something up like unleashes a terrible evil, maybe best friend dies, and now hero must undertake the journey to set things right.

Segment 4

But “The Call” is as much about fulfilling prophecy as it is about initiating action.

We knew the call was coming.

Oedipus Rex was one whose journey was not only prophesied, it was thwarted and then came true anyway.

(More about prophecy)

If our hero is desperately looking for a purpose in life, he might sing the “I Want” song from your basic musical.

(More about making your own fate)

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