Once the Call of Adventure has sounded, the problem of the hero becomes how to respond to it. It’s a difficult passage. The hero is being asked to journey into the unknown, into an adventure that will be both exciting and dangerous. As the hero is prepares to undertake a great adventure, the Ordinary World knows somehow and clings to the hero. The hero’s home holds him in the safety of its ordinariness. Countless distractions tempt the hero away from the threshold of the journey.The hero may be afraid, or hesitate before the threshold, which is only natural.
This halt is known as the Refusal of the Call, Stage Three of the Hero's Journey. The hero may hesitate for only seconds, or he may try to reject the call altogether. The purpose of the Refusal is to signal to the reader that the adventure is risky, that it’s not going to be easy for the hero. By crossing that threshold, the hero enters shark-infested waters, and those sharks have lasers on their heads. The hero might lose companions, treasure, or his own life. The pause makes the commitment to the adventure a choice, even if it doesn’t really seem like a choice.
I touched on this yesterday with Luke Skywalker as an example. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the first Call to Adventure is the arrival of R2D2 and C3PO on Luke’s home planet. R2D2 relays a message from Princess Leia addressed to Obi Wan Kenobi. Luke figures that Ben Kenobi, the old hermit, might know this Obi Wan, and takes the droid to him. He accepts the first Call, thinking that the adventure will end at Kenobi’s home. But then, Obi Wan (Ben) Kenobi gives Luke his father’s old lightsaber and challenges him to leave his home and become a Jedi to learn the ways of the force. This is where Luke hesitates. He isn’t ready for that kind of adventure. He refuses the Call.
There are many different ways that the Refusal of the Call can manifest. At first, heroes may try to dodge the adventure. Usually, this is the case in experienced heroes, ones who have already encountered enough trials and tribulations to last a lifetime. They suggest “Is this really necessary?” Of course it is. We as the writer and reader know that. Sometimes heroes persistently refuse the Call, which can be disastrous. The world has to crumble at their ears before they finally accept the Call, having nowhere and no one to hold them back any longer.The hero could also make excuses, as Luke does. He has work to do on the farm. The Empire is too far away for him to do anything. When heroes make excuses, it is as an attempt to delay facing their inevitable fate. They would go on the adventure if not for this, that, and whatnot.
There is a certain satisfaction in seeing a hero overcome his reluctance. The more unyielding the Refusal, the greater the satisfaction.
The Refusal of the Call is usually a negative moment in the hero’s journey, threatening to halt the adventure in its tracks or lead the hero away from the right adventure. Sometimes, however, refusing the Call is a good thing. When the Call is actually a temptation directing the hero toward evil, the hero is smart to say no.
While many heroes express fear, reluctance, or refusal, willing heroes don’t hesitate or voice any fear. They are the heroes that have accepted the Call to Adventure. Instead of the willing hero expressing the reluctance, another character will attempt to keep the hero from advancing forward.
Heroes that finally overcome their fear and commit to their adventure may still be tested by powerful figures who try to turn them away from the journey, known as Threshold Guardians. They are the last sentry standing in the way of the hero and his journey.
The Refusal of the Call may be a subtle moment, a short hesitation by the hero, or it may be a flat out rejection of the Call, where the hero does anything and everything to avoid the adventure. The hero hesitates at the threshold so that the audience can understand the danger of the challenges ahead. Eventually, the fear is overcome, and the hero steps forward.