Hero stories all work the same way. The hero gets a call to action and then has to make a decision. They can embrace their destiny, or they can turn their back on it. Some embrace their destiny because they understand that destiny doesn’t take no for an answer anyway. Many are strong and motivated and are out the door before the call can be placed. Some are more hesitant, but do so because the call makes them the only ones able to help, and they appreciate that. When you’ve suddenly been given the power to fly, and the call requires you to fly to save the day, it’s kind of hard to argue your place, you know?
But as often as the call is answered and embraced, it is shunned and the hero flees in the opposite direction, suffering from a desire not to disrupt the status quo of their life, or because they are afraid, or because they are too self-centered or cowed to do what is right. It’s a powerful moment when a would-be hero looks into the eyes of destiny and says, “No. I’m sorry.”
If that were the last word, though, we’d never have Star Wars. The Unanswered Call remains the most powerful force in the universe, and it is an angry, destructive force that will break a person in twain before they are even done walking away.
Obi Wan stares into Luke’s eyes and tells him of his destiny to be a Jedi Knight, the last, and Luke ought to have seen this moment for what it was. But Luke wasn’t exactly afraid – kind of but not in a cowardly way. He was afraid of leaving his aunt and uncle behind when the farm needed him. He didn’t want to disappoint them and the Call seemed so wonderfully unbelievable it was easier to do what he thought was right and take care of his family, than throw it all to the wind on some fantasy trip through the stars.
What happens? When he arrives home he finds the farm ablaze and his family murdered.
Did destiny do this? If he had accepted the call, would his family still be dead when he got home to pack his bags? Probably, because it made sense for it to happen this way, but their death had a secondary purpose in cementing the will of the hero within Luke. That being said, they had to go in order for the hero to set off.
In The Hunger Games, when Prim is called to be the tribute, Katniss answers the call like a boss. Her family actually improves marginally by her answer of the call – her mom comes out of her depression to take over the role of mother again. A fire is lit within her sister and her mother and most of her district. If Katniss hadn’t answered the call and allowed her sister to be named tribute, there is a good chance Katniss would have come home that night and discovered her mother dead from a self-inflicted wound, leaving nothing for her but her sister, and so she could then belatedly accept the call and leave Prim in Gale’s hands.
William Wallace in Braveheart refuses the call, desperate to just be a guy with a farm and a wife. Haven’t seen the movie? It goes badly.
Peter Parker is given Spidey powers and the first the he does is try to make money off of it instead of, you know, being heroic. So he goes to a gambling joint and when he tries to pick up his winnings, he’s screwed over by management. As he’s walking out of the office, a thief walks in with a gun and steals all the cash winnings from that night. Peter practically helps the guy carry his stash out, giving a great big F YOU to the dealer in revenge. Hello, Destiny calling, pick up or else.
Well, Peter doesn’t pick up. He refuses the call so blatantly he practically pees on it, just to make his point. The thief then runs out into the street and shoots Peter’s Uncle Ben, who dies tragically in Peter’s arms. (And off topic, is like the only character in comic book universe to actually die and not be retconned back to life by an asshole writer who thinks he can do it better.)
Should a hero answer the call? It doesn’t matter, not really, because one way or another he or she will pick up the phone, the only difference will be whether he goes in guns blazing or whether he’ll be emotionally damaged in some significant way for the rest of his life, which can make for a great story. And whether he’s the first kind of hero or the second is largely dependent on the personality of the hero and what he or she has to live for. Take Sam from SUPERNATURAL. It didn’t make sense for him to drop everything to go be a monster hunter when he was almost done with college and had a career ahead of him and a girlfriend he loved and wanted to marry. It was necessary to take her away in order to give him the permission he needed to leave the rest of his life behind. Sometimes answering the call makes less sense than accepting it. It just ends badly for anyone the hero has ever cared about. Or met. Or live next door to. Or passed in the hallway at school.
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