The Call to Adventure

Nov 10, 2023

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell laid out the structure for the monomyth (also known as the Hero’s Journey) — a template that many stories across various cultures and times seem to follow. Many famous movies and books can be mapped to the monomyth — Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lion King (Hamlet), to name a few.

The monomyth is a series of stages a hero goes through in an adventure. It roughly follows three major sections: departure, initiation, and return, further broken into subsections.

The first section of the first phase, departure, is called The Call to Adventure. The hero starts off in a mundane situation and receives information that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.

  • In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker lives a mundane life on his uncle’s Tatooine farm until he discovers Princess Leia’s call for help in R2-D2.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry lives in a cupboard under the stairs in his uncle’s house until he discovers he’s a wizard (“you’re a wizard, Harry”) and has been accepted to Hogwarts.
  • In The Lion King, Simba lives a carefree life until his father tells him he will inherit the kingdom.

The Call to Adventure is important to study because that’s how most narratives start. It’s a disruption in the equilibrium. And since narratives underpin almost everything (including, and maybe especially, startups), it can be a way of either identifying the start of a story or creating a new one.

So, how does The Call to Adventure start? A few different patterns.

  • Invitation from a Mentor or Guide.
  • Discovery of a Personal Ability or Artifact.
  • Threat or Attack on the Hero or Home.
  • A Sudden Change in Circumstances.
  • A Quest for Revenge or Justice
  • A Dream or Vision
  • The Pursuit of Love or Rescue Mission
  • Inadvertent Discovery or Mistake
  • Destiny or Prophecy
  • Personal Desire for Change
  • Call to Duty or Responsibility
  • Curiosity and Exploration
  • Natural Disaster or Phenomenon
  • Escape from Captivity or Oppression
  • Chosen by a Higher Power