- "The hero may refuse the adventure or deny the ability to move beyond the status quo. The heralded event may even be ignored – All of these constitute the ‘Refusal of the Call.’ The use of magical intervention is then needed to plunge the hero into the unknown. The reluctant hero requires supernatural forces to urge him on, while the willing adventurer gathers amulets (magical items) and advice from the protector as aid for the journey."
The reluctant hero is typically portrayed either as an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances which require him to rise to heroism, or as a person with extraordinary abilities who nonetheless evinces a desire to avoid using those abilities for the benefit of others. In either case, the reluctant hero does not initially seek adventure or the opportunity to do good, and their apparent selfishness may draw them into the category of antiheroes. The reluctant hero differs from the antihero in that the story arc of the former inevitably results in their becoming a true hero.
In many stories, the reluctant hero is portrayed as having a period of doubt after his initial foray into heroism. This may be brought about by the negative consequences of his own heroic actions, or by the achievement of some position of personal safety - leaving the audience to wonder whether he will return to heroism at the moment when he is needed the most. Campbell describes this as the "Rescue from Without", where "The reluctant hero loses all desire to abandon his bliss, he does not want to take on the burdens of the world. Someone or thing may facilitate his miraculous return from apparent death. An overriding reason is necessary to bring the hero back to the world to save it."
Robert A. Segal characterizes Arjuna from the Hindu epic The Mahabharata as a reluctant hero. Arjuna casts aside his weapons, fearful at the prospect of killing his kinsman during a civil war. Krishna then relates to Arjuna a series of arguments that convince Arjuna to go to war nonetheless.
Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of The Hobbit, starts and behaves as a reluctant hero for most of the story. Rand al'Thor, one of three primary protagonists of the Wheel of Time, is a reluctant hero for the vast majority of the series - the first twelve of fourteen books - and accepts his role after a sort of revelation or religious experience.
Examples of reluctant heroes in modern cinema include Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, Ash Williams in the Evil Dead series and Neo in The Matrix series. All of these were initially reluctant until they realised there was no one else but them who could succeed. Perhaps the most iconic reluctant hero in film history is Rick Blaine in Casablanca.
Marvel Comics superhero Spider-Man can also be seen as a reluctant hero. On many occasions, he doubts himself and considers retiring from superheroics, giving up his mask on various occasions. In early stories, especially when faced with those who would become his greatest enemies (such as Doctor Octopus), he finds himself heavily wounded or responsible for innocent casualties. Inevitably, however, he pulls himself together and rallies to save the day. Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender is frequently seen as a reluctant hero.