Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Exploring Tropes: Gondor Calls For Aid

Meet Mary Anne.

She's up against a series of insurmountable obstacles that she knows she can't possibly overcome all on her own. She's in desperate need of assistance, and with no other options available to her she sends out a distress signal, hoping against hope that it'll be answered.

Of course, there's every chance her allies may not show up. It might have been a while since she's seen them. They might have no real incentive to come. They might be completely unprepared, or out of reach, or too afraid.

But then, just when things are at their worst; when all seems lost – the call is answered. Help arrives. The day is saved.

Gondor Calls For Aid is named for (obviously) the famous scene in The Lord of the Rings when the besieged Gondor reaches out to Rohan for reinforcements.

What's so great about this trope? Oh come on, you don't need me to spell it out. There's something deeply moving about a plea for assistance that's answered. It's a trope that inevitably features people who are willing to put their lives on the line (or at least their time and energy) in the name of altruism, compassion and the greater good.

And as a storytelling device, there's really no end to the suspense you can milk out of it. "Gondor" can be anything from a country to an individual, and the assistance that's required anything from financial aid to military support. Heck, it could involve a girl getting ready for prom, the hairdresser calling in sick, and said girl ringing up all her friends for help in styling her hair. Not particularly epic, but still heart-warming.

But there is room for plenty of interesting variations in the use of Gondor Calls For Aid, and below are six of the most illustrative examples. (Which also happen to be six of my favourite examples. What an amazing coincidence!)

1. The Beacons of Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Well, obviously. It's the trope-namer. But I do need to specify that I'll be discussing how it plays out in Peter Jackson's film rather than Tolkien's trilogy. As ill-advised as some elements of the films were, occasionally Jackson managed to expand, explore or illuminate aspects of the novels in ways that elevated the source material. One such instance was using the beacons of Minas Tirith to fashion a stirring sequence that combined New Zealand's landscape with Howard Shore's wonderful score and trilogy's overarching theme of unity and camaraderie.

The beacons barely register in the book itself, summed up in a single page:

Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. "On Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Din, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan."

Pippin became drowsy again and paid little attention to Gandalf telling him of the customs of Gondor, and how the Lord of the City had beacons built on the tops of outlying hills along both borders of the great range, and maintained at these points where fresh horses were always in readiness to bear his errand-riders to Rohan in the North, or to Belfalas in the South.

The call for aid has gone out long before Gandalf and Pippin even reach Gondor, but the film cleverly choses to reconfigure events in order to make Gandalf and Pippin responsible for the lighting of the first beacon.

Here's the setup: Gandalf and Pippin have arrived in the city of Minas Tirith, only to find that its army is underprepared and horribly outnumbered by the forces amassing on its borders. They need reinforcements, and quickly, but the Stewart of the King, Lord Denethor, is proving himself to be extremely stubborn. Wracked with grief over the death of his son Boromir, he sees no point in mustering the Rohirrim.

I'm not fond of the film's depiction of Denethor, changing him from a fallible and desperate man to a straight-up villain (or near enough), but he does serve to throw a wrench in Gandalf's plans, leading to the old wizard sending Pippin up the nearest watch-tower in order to light the first beacon. From there, the audience sees the chain reaction that follows...  

Why does it work so well? A lot of Jackson's controversial creative decisions had pay-off that more or less justified the liberties taken with Tolkien's work. In the case of Denethor, his obstinacy provides the impetus for Pippin to light the beacons, as well as a contrast to Theoden, giving the audience a chance to see the leadership qualities on both ends of the beacons.

Likewise, Theoden’s initial unwillingness to aid Gondor, citing its lack of support in assisting Rohan, culminates in the moment where Aragorn rushes into the hall, crying: “Gondor calls for aid!” and Theoden replies: “And Rohan will answer.” You gotta admit, that’s a great moment.

But between Pippen’s actions and Theoden’s response are the beacons themselves. This sequence was a perfect blend of score, scenery and emotional resonance. It's strange to talk about mountains and beacons as having "emotional resonance", and yet it's there: in the way the fires light up one after the other, in the implication that all the men along the way were still holding vigil at their posts, in the beauty of the land that’s being fought for, and the knowledge that each beacon is part of a greater whole.

It was like Middle Earth itself was being roused and reaching out for the tools it needed to save itself – a great line of light that stretched from one stronghold to another, and a glorious visual metaphor of the relationship between Gondor and Rohan.

It's the trope-namer for a reason.

2. Buffy rallying the Class of '99 in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Ah, season three. The most perfect season of television that has ever existed. I'm not kidding. Even shows that have only thirteen episodes per season can be relied upon to contain a few duds, but season three of Buffy had twenty-two consecutive gems. Each episode stood strongly on its own, yet each added a bit more detail to the overarching plot, all culminating in one of the most satisfying season finales in the show's history.

If any other show has managed to beat (or even meet) that record, it's one that I haven't watched.

Here's the setup: The Mayor has been preparing for the Ascension; a ceremony that will see him transformed into the demon Olvikan. Gradually Buffy and the Scooby Gang have pieced together enough information to know what to expect, but they're still woefully unprepared for the battle ahead. After all, there's only five of them (give or take a few) and Olvikan is a pure-blooded demon that will feast on the graduating students with a power and strength the world hasn't seen in centuries.

Because, oh yeah, the Mayor is making the commencement speech. Graduation and Ascension will be one and the same. The demon is unstoppable. There's no one Buffy can turn to. She doesn't have an army.

Or does she...?

The solution is right in front of her. The Class of '99 will be her army, and Buffy sends out her call for aid by having Xander and Willow approach various students and bring them up to speed on what's going to happen. There are appearances from long-time recurring characters such as Harmony, Jonathan, Larry and Percy, and come Graduation Day the entire class watches in horror (but not surprise) as the Mayor morphs into a giant snake-like demon right before them.

Then Buffy yells "NOW!" and the class whip off their graduation robes to reveal that each and every one of them is armed to the teeth. And the battle begins...

Why does it work so well? Back in those Halcyon Days of the nineties before I had overdosed on TV tropes, the sight of Sunnydale High's student body arming themselves to fight a giant demon left me genuinely flabbergasted.

Despite the significant amount of foreshadowing that's put into the lead-up to battle, it's the unexpected nature of this particular Gondor Calls For Aid that makes it so memorable – because all things considered, it really does break the rules of the genre.

It is a truth universally accepted that any community situated on top of a supernatural magnet must be populated by residents with blinkers on their eyes. But across the course of season three, there were a number of hints that suggested perhaps Sunnydale's residents were not as wilfully blind as the genre has led us to believe. Most obviously, Buffy's peers award her with a "Class Protector" award at the Senior Prom in recognition of her heroic deeds. It's a heart-warming moment – and it's also foreshadowing.

Evil exists where people refuse to look; it festers when we ignore it. In this case the Mayor believed he had an edge on the student body because they didn't know (or care) about the demonic underground in Sunnydale. But Buffy calls for aid in the very last place you'd expect it, and the genius of this particular use of the trope is that the Class of '99 don't just throw off their robes at the Graduation Ceremony, they throw off their blinkers as well, and in doing so become a bigger threat than the Mayor ever thought they could be.

3. The Twilight Bark from 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians is not a film you would immediately expect to make use of the Gondor Calls For Aid trope – after all, there are no wars, no armies, no dark lords. But it does thanks to one of my absolute favourite concepts to exist in any story, ever: the Twilight Bark.

In watching the film for the first time in years, I was struck by just how unusually it's structured. The first thirteen minutes are devoted to a meetcute between Roger and Anita, the owners of Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita. Twenty-seven minutes pass before Cruella's infamous silhouette appears at the doorway, thirty before the puppies are stolen, and forty-five by the time the rescue mission gets underway. It's at this point that the trope is kicked into high-gear, and it's the story's finest element.

Here's the setup: Pongo and Perdita are heartbroken when their litter of fifteen puppies is dog-napped, and they soon realize that their "pets" Roger and Anita are helpless in ensuring their safe return. Pongo decides to take matters into his own hands paws by utilizing "The Twilight Bark" in an attempt to find news of their missing puppies.

Although Perdita initially dismisses it as a "gossip chain", Pongo's frantic barking during his evening walk eventually reaches Danny the Great Dane at Hampstead ... who barks his message to the dogs of London ... which eventually reaches Towser the bloodhound in the countryside ... who passes it on to the sheepdog Colonel in an old farmhouse that's adjacent to Hell Hall, where the terrible Cruella de Vil is keeping the stolen puppies (and plenty more) locked away.

Thanks to this unique mode of communication, Pongo's distress signal reaches the animals that have not only noticed strange behaviour in Hell Hall, but who are in the best position to offer immediate aid to the endangered puppies. More than that, once Pongo and Perdita are reunited with their puppies, the chain of dogs connected to the Twilight Bark continues to keep open the lines of communication so that the family is given the help they need on their journey home.

Why does it work so well? Well, for a lot of reasons really. First of all, the Twilight Bark is just a really cool idea. We've all heard dogs barking or howling to each other in the evening, and clearly Dodie Smith (the original book author) not only wondered to herself: "what are they saying to each other?" but also expanded the idea into the question: "how could such a method of communication be employed in a story?"

It's always fun when fiction can offer a different perspective on the mundane, and as someone who is regularly irritated by the barking of dogs in my neighbourhood, it occasionally helps to assume they're sending important messages to each other.

Secondly, the conceit allows for the plot to leave protagonists Pongo and Perdita and expand all over London and into the countryside. The audience is put into the exciting position of being witness to the entire chain of communication, which includes a few cameos from Lady and the Tramp, several of the dogs that featured in the film's opening sequence, and a variety of other animals that get in on the act – horses and cats, cows and geese.

Some characters have only small – even tiny – roles to play in the rescue effort. Take Towser and Lucy for example:

They have only two scenes, and they never even interact with the Pongo family at any point, yet they're still an essential component in passing intelligence back and forth. Later the Collie and the Labrador (who aren't even given names!) offer shelter and a ride home respectively, before slipping from the action.

Think back to that scene in which the beacons of Minas Tirith are lit all along the mountain range. Each one is essential to success, yet we never learn anything about the men and women who are stationed at each isolated location. Yet 101 Dalmatians makes a point of humanizing (in a manner of speaking) many of the disparate animals that contribute to the rescue effort. The centrality of the trope allows for a host of colourful characters to pass in and out of the film, offering support and help where they're able, all giving the film a surprisingly epic scope.

The final reason why the Twilight Bark is so successful is that it plays out almost as a military operation, with the barking treated as an underground network of intelligence. As the Great Dane says: "if you need help, contact the barking chain, they'll be standing by". The participants are like radio operators, and the military connotations are certainly helped by the inclusion of characters called Captain, Sergeant Tibbs and the Colonel.

101 Dalmatians demonstrates how use of the Gondor Calls For Aid trope doesn't necessarily have to be either a minor element or a climactic finish – in can form the very crux of your story. In this case it allows for a wide range of characters to partake in heroic moments, whether it be Sergeant Tibbs the cat temporarily taking over from Pongo as protagonist when he helps the puppies escape, or the motherly cows that offer the hungry puppies milk from their udders when they stop to sleep in a barn. It illuminates the team effort that was involved in the rescue, and it provides a unique position for the audience to inhabit – after all, they are the only ones who can appreciate the full scope of the Twilight Bark.

And of course, it captures the heart-warming nature of any Gondor Calls For Aid example. Two bereaved parents put out a cry for help, and enough dogs care enough to pass on the message and offer help in their time of need – including ones that they never even meet.

4. The Clapping Scene from Peter Pan

You know what's fun? Audience participation! The best part of any Peter Pan production is the moment Peter turns to the audience and asks for their help in saving Tinkerbell's life. Gondor calls for aid and YOU are the one that has to provide it. All you have to do is believe in fairies and clap!

The story of Peter Pan has quite a complicated history. He first emerged in J.M. Barrie's The Little White Bird (1902), a book for adults that combines dark social satire with childlike whimsy and fantasy. The character next appeared in the stage play Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904), where he follows the familiar storyline of whisking the Darling children away to Neverland and fighting Captain Hook to the death.

Realizing the story's popularity, publishers took the relevant chapters from The White Bird and released them under the title Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), before Barrie himself finally adapted the play into novel form in 1911 – originally published as Peter and Wendy, but now simply known as Peter Pan.

The variety of adaptations makes the original story (if there ever was such a thing) difficult to pin down. In 1924 Paramount Pictures released a silent film version, Disney put his own spin on the material in 1953, and a Broadway musical (later filmed) made its debut in 1960. The latest filmic version is 2003's Peter Pan, which might well be the closest we'll get to a faithful adaptation of Barrie's novel, though they couldn't resist adding a more overt love story between Peter and Wendy.  

Of course, the strange thing about this particular use of trope is how arbitrary is it. According to the story, fairies can be brought back to life with the power of belief, but the mechanics of the call itself goes unexplained (Neverland is the realm of childhood dreams, so presumably Peter has the ability to psychically communicate with those dreaming of it?) and on consideration the act of clapping is rather random. Is it meant to signal belief, to let Tinkerbell hear the demonstration, or does it have some life-regenerating power of its own?

We don't know; we're not meant to know. Given the story's roots as a theatre production, one suspects it was simply the easiest form of audience participation that Barrie could come up with. After all, if a play is any good, the audience is going to be applauding anyway.

But all subsequent adaptations of the story have had to grapple with this most famous of all scenes: Peter begging for help in saving Tinkerbell's life. How do you break the fourth wall in a movie or a book?

Here's the setup: Captain Hook has found Peter's hideaway and crept into the underground cavern where he discovers his nemesis sleeping soundly. Though he's too large to approach and finish him off with hook or sword, he finds he has enough room to reach out and pour poison into the medicine beside Peter's bed.

He leaves, but Tinkerbell overhears his muttering as he leaves through the forest and hurries to warn Peter. Disbelieving her, Peter raises the draught to his lips, only for Tink to throw herself between them and drink it herself.

It sounds dramatic and heart-rending, though Barrie has at least a little of his tongue in his cheek when he records what follows (and keep in mind that this was written after the stage play): "[Peter's] head almost filled the fourth wall of [Tink's] little room as he knelt near her in distress" and when he puts out the distress call: "Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate." The whole thing is over and done with in two pages:

"If you believe," he shouted. "Clap your hands; don’t let Tink die!"

Many clapped. Some didn't. A few little beasts hissed.

The clapping stopped suddenly, as if countless mothers had rushed to the nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved. First her voice grew strong; then she popped out of bed; then she was flashing through the room more merry and impudent than ever. She never thought of thanking those who believed, but she would have liked to get at the ones who had hissed.

And that's it! The most memorable part of the stage play over and done with.

The television recording of the Broadway musical (which simply filmed the entire stage production) has Mary Martin peer straight into the camera to beseech the audience, whereas Disney avoids the issue entirely by replacing the poison with a bomb and restoring Tinkerbell to life through Peter's declarations of love.

But the 2003 film comes up with an ingenious solution to the problem, one that invites the audience to join in without addressing them directly, and which ends up being the most powerful sequence of the entire film. Building on the presumption that Neverland is a dream-world whose borders touch the minds of those in slumber, this version also establishes that its climate exists in synchronization with Peter's moods. When he's happy, the sun is shining. When he's absent, it begins to snow. When he's ecstatic, the aurora borealis appears in the sky. 

What's more, the film actually makes the effort to explicitly "weaponize" a person's belief (or disbelief) in fairies. When Hook wants to dispose of a fairy guide who has been commissioned to take Wendy and her brothers back to London, he simply sneaks up behind it and whispers: "there's no such thing as fairies." The fairy instantly drops down dead.

It's this carefully depicted web of cause-and-effect that gives Barrie's whimsy just the right amount of logic-based justification it needs to prevent the ensuing scene from being completely random. And so when Tinkerbell drinks the poison to save his life, Neverland is overcome with thunderstorms in the wake of Peter's grief. He crouches over her body in tears, but instead of imploring the audience to clap, he looks skyward and begins to chant instead.

Know what, I'll just let you watch the scene:

Admit it, you're whispering "I do believe in fairies" under your breath right now.

Why does it work so well? Turning to a live audience to partake in a real-time Gondor Calls For Aid is a great idea, though it poses a challenge when the time comes to translate it to page and screen. A variety of storytelling techniques are needed to convey it across three different mediums, and it's the creativity involved that puts it on this list.

In the 2003 film it all comes together beautifully, all the more so because it could have fallen misfired so terribly. That Wendy picks up on Peter's distress, that the pirates are infected by the power of the Lost Boys' chanting, that the call stretches to the sleeping inhabitants of London – the film-makers nailed an exceptionally difficult concept and the child actors poured their hearts into it, making something that could have been hideously Narmful into something truly magical.

5. Bedfall Falls rescues George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life

Ask anyone what It's a Wonderful Life is about and they'll say: "a guardian angel shows a desperate man what the world would be like if he'd never existed in order to demonstrate his true importance." Then they'd give you a strange look, as it's the most famous formula for a Christmas story of all time (well, maybe second to three ghosts turning up one Christmas Eve to tell an old miser how much he sucks).

And they'd be right in their summation – but only about the film's final twenty minutes. For one hour and forty minutes, the story has nothing whatsoever to do with the disturbing "alternate reality" that makes George Bailey regret his suicide attempt. Rewatching the movie for the sake of this entry, I was struck by how detailed and rich director Frank Capra's portrayal of George Bailey's life really is. There are dozens of beautiful shots that silently depict his trials:

As well as a few strange ones:

And so many lovely little details that are really only noticeable if you're paying close attention: that Mr Potter forces his guests to sit in a much smaller chair so he can glower at them, that Mary is constantly touching her stomach in the scene directly preceding her pregnancy announcement, and the banister knob in the Bailey household that continually pops off whenever George leans on it.

There are some dated elements (the only character of colour is the maid; Mary's dire fate in the alt!world is to be an unmarried librarian, and because of regulation codes, most of the kissing can best be described as "passionate face-smushing") and some leaps of logic (for some reason George's absence in the alt!world not only has an impact on his nearest and dearest, but also the state of the weather) but there's a reason it's considered such a beloved Christmas classic, and that hinges on the resolution: one of the most heart-warming uses of Gondor Calls For Aid ever.

Here's the setup: George Bailey is a young man with big dreams. He's going to study at university, travel the world, become a famous architect, and make something of himself. And yet every time a golden opportunity presents itself, he refuses it. His university education, his around-the-world cruise, even his Bermuda honeymoon – he gives it all up for the greater good.

The film takes its sweet time in depicting George's entire life: his childhood, youth, marriage, career and fatherhood, and by the time the famous "intervention" takes place, he's looking back over his life in a state of deep despair. His absent-minded uncle has misplaced eight thousand dollars of the Building and Loan's cash funds and now they both face bankruptcy and jail. In desperation, George goes to miserly banker Mr Potter for a loan, only to be mocked thoroughly in a diatribe that culminates in: "you're worth more dead than alive."

Believing that everyone would be better off without him, George contemplates throwing himself off a bridge, but having been brought back to his senses by his angel's involvement, returns home to discover that every man and woman he's ever helped over the years have emptied their pockets to collectively replace the missing money.

Why does it work so well? It can be a risk devoting so much time to setup. The longer it lasts the bigger the pay-off has to be. But when it's done correctly, when the pay-off justifies the lengthy setup – then it can be magnificent. By the time Clarence the guardian angel takes a direct hand in setting George's life back on course, we know this man inside and outside – his hopes and dreams, his frustrations and fears, his strength and kindness.

And as it happens, there are actually two examples of Gondor Calls For Aid here. Technically George himself is this film's Gondor, and it's his prayers (and the prayers of all the good people of Bedford Falls) that get the attention of none other than Saint Joseph and God Himself. Calling for aid doesn't get much loftier than that.

But the other example is a lovely variation on the trope, considering it's Mary Bailey who calls for aid on her husband's behalf, rendering the final few minutes of the film as surprising to him as it is for us. And consider what's at stake here: not the freedom of a city or the fate of the universe, but simply the life of one good man.

It's proof that this trope doesn’t have to be rooted in an "epic" scenario to be effective. It's the act of generosity and sacrifice and good will that makes it so powerful, not the setting or circumstances.

6. Activating the Phone Tree in Practical Magic

This movie is terrible, and I love it dearly. My affection for it is based entirely on nostalgia (every girl who lived through the nineties went through a witch phase) which grows as every year passes.

Like I said, it's not good by any means (though I recommend the book by Alice Hoffman), largely because it's an uncomfortable blend of romantic-comedy and supernatural thriller with an obnoxiously chipper soundtrack. It doesn't know what it wants to be, and most of the time you're sitting there shouting "pick a damn tone already!"

But it has a low-key Gondor Calls For Aid that's worth including here.

Here's the setup: The Owens women have been persecuted in their small Massachusetts town for generations on suspicion of being a family of witches. This includes Sally and Gillian Owen, bullied as children and ostracized as adults for their unusual family legacy.

Gillian eventually takes off, but years later calls her sister for help in escaping her abusive boyfriend Jimmy Angelov. The sisters end up spiking his drink and accidentally overdosing him on belladonna in a bid to escape, leaving them with a dead body on their hands. After an ill-fated attempt to raise him from the dead, they end up burying him in the backyard – which only results in a restless and malevolent spirit haunting the property.

Gillian is eventually possessed by him (just go with it) and the Owens family realize that they need a full coven of twelve women to exorcise him. As such, Sally Owens reaches out to the entire neighbourhood by activating what's known as "the phone tree". This is a parents' hotline in which one mother is chosen by her peers to be at the top of the pecking order when it comes to raising the alarm for snow days or other important announcements. She calls the second woman on the list, who then calls the third, and so on and so forth until everyone is informed.

Why does it work so well? Okay, let's be honest. There's very little about this sequence that makes a lot of sense. After several centuries of fearing, hating and gossiping about the Owens women, it takes only a phone call and a confession of witchcraft for a dozen or so women to turn up at the house and cheerfully partake in a magical exorcism. And the strangest thing is how twee it all feels, given that they're all trying to purge an evil spirit from a terrified woman.

But the reason why I'm including it on this list is because that in a movie filled with magic and ghosts, the use of this trope is entirely mundane. Gondor Calling For Aid is a woman ringing people on the phone. There's no barking, no beacons, no psychic screaming into the void. It's just not that big a deal. Gondor Calls For Aid doesn't have to be, and Sally could have just as easily rang all these women separately.

Thing is, it's also nicely and unexpectedly foreshadowed. Earlier in the film we're introduced to the concept of the phone tree, which is really just an excuse for a popularity contest over the ranking order. It's treated as a pretty deal, so naturally Gillian crashes the meeting and magically ensures that Sally ends up on the top of the list – a trick that pays off by the film's conclusion. What initially feels like a throwaway gag is actually a Chekhov's Gun waiting to be fired.

So there we have it; six of the best examples of Gondor Calls For Aid, each one comprised of three distinct components: a desperate need for help, the act/means of requesting that help, and the eventual arrival of assistance.

I think what's important to stress is that though the trope name naturally calls up images of warfare, it can often have quite modest trappings. Though the stakes should be quite high (all but one of the above examples has someone's life at risk, and even the one that doesn’t involves the possibility of a man going to jail for a significant amount of time) the nature of the aid that's required and the way in which that aid is requested needn't be too epic in scope.

The Lord of the Rings required a line of beacons across a mountain range, whereas Practical Magic utilized a simple phone tree. 101 Dalmatians had a line-up of dogs barking messages to and fro, whilst It's a Wonderful Life had Mary Bailey set out and spur the neighbourhood into action.  Peter Pan simply breaks through the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. It's in this space, in the actual act of calling for help that you can let your creativity run wild.

There's also the placement of this trope within any given story. In The Lord of the Rings it is a plot-point, designed to get certain characters where they need to go. In 101 Dalmatians it's a device that allows the plot to actually happen, by providing information and aid to its protagonists. In Buffy the Vampire the trope comes as a surprise – although there are hints, the full nature of Buffy's call isn't revealed until the climax; that goes the same for It's a Wonderful Life. And in Practical Magic and Peter Pan, despite their vast differences, each one's use of the trope is encompassed in a single scene, something to be smiled at or applauded, but which arguably could be left out of the finished product with no real impact made on the storyline (though would you ever want to leave the clapping scene out?) Gondor Calls For Aid is an incredibly flexible trope, especially in regards to its pertinence to the plot.

But if you really want to utilize this trope to maximum effect, you have to be careful how you frame it. The situation has to be dire. The call for help should be a last resort. The possibility of assistance has to be in doubt. There needs to be some degree of suspense over whether or not things will pan out.

And – though this is just my opinion – the eventual arrival of reinforcements shouldn't be based on fulfilling a deal or in getting something in return, but be the result of common human decency. That's what lifts this trope from the firing of a simple Chekhov's Gunman to a bona-fide Crowning Moment of Awesome.

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