Thursday, March 10, 2011

Harry's Calls to Adventure

The Hero’s Journey and its Call to Adventure is a concept described within Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces. A comparative mythologist, Campbell studied myths separated by continents, centuries, and cultures and discovered that most shared a basic framework, the Hero’s Quest, which he broke down into 17 steps. Christopher Vogler, a scriptwriter and film producer, simplified Campbell’s work into 12 steps in The Writer’s Journey, making it more accessible to writers and the film industry. Campbell’s and Vogler’s Journey have been used in storytelling in everything from Star Wars to About a Boy to Harry Potter to insertyourowntitlehere.

This monomyth is a universal pattern of story structure that transcends human boundaries to bubble up in myths from ancient Greece, to medieval courtly romances, to today’s commercial fiction. To put it simply--the Hero’s Journey is the story plot which has lasted the longest because it strikes a basic, universal human chord of truth.

The first real step of the Hero's Journey, after setting up the ordinary world, is the Call to Adventure--the catalyst or trigger that gets the story rolling. The Call to Adventure prompts the heroine to leave her Ordinary World for the Special World. It could be something that threatens the peace of the Ordinary World if the heroine does not go off to deal with it.

Each of Harry’s calls to adventure also directly reflects the primary focus of that book’s story.

  1. PS/SS--Letters from Hogwarts -- the letters signify Harry’s initiation into Hogwarts and the wizarding world.
  2. CoS--Dobby’s warning -- spurred by the diary of Tom Riddle which Lucius, Dobby’s master, will pawn onto Ginny Weasley
  3. PoA--the Muggle newscast regarding Sirius' escape -- this starts the immediate focus on Sirius and his mystery
  4. GoF--Harry's dream of Voldemort and Wormtail at the home of Riddle’s father -- foretells the climatic scene at the graveyard of Riddle’s father with Voldemort's rebirth
  5. OotP--the Dementors attack -- the Dementors sent by Umbridge reflect the intensifying discord between Hogwarts under Dumbledore and the MoM under Fudge as manipulated by Umbridge
  6. HBP--Dumbledore’s arrival at Privet Drive -- sets the stage for the private lessons into his Pensieve which form the core of the book
  7. DH--The seven Potters -- the sacrifice Harry’s friends are willing to make for him by drinking his Polyjuice is directly reflected in the self-sacrifice Harry will make for them all in the end.

It's lovely when a call to adventure at the beginning of a story can set the tone for what is to come and hint toward the resolution as well. Of course, the call should intrigue the reader and provide a strong hook to what is to come.

click to enlarge
And while we're on the subject of plotting...have you seen the spreadsheet JK Rowling had to help her plot Order of the Phoenix?  It's rather messy, as mine tend to be.  Makes me think I'm in good company! :-)

What have you used as a call to adventure? How has it reflected your central theme or conflict?


  1. Have to say I loved the first book with all the letters! That is the most original call to adventure I've ever seen! I love how the call to adventure reflects the central theme. Nice. *runs to check my call to adventure*

  2. Great! My latest (that I just finished revision on at least for now) has a big call to adventure in it. Yay!

  3. Thanks Laura and Lisa! Yes, I think JKR really meant the reader to get the point with all those masses of letters that Harry was getting a MAJOR call to adventure! :-)

  4. I look at the spreadsheet and think, "Wow, all that greatness scribbled on notebook paper." Amazing.

  5. Agreed, Julie. And if you look closely at it, you'll see changes she made from whenever this was written until the final product. Interesting to analyze. Maybe I should do a whole post one day! :-)