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We will continue the Hero’s Archetype series with Part 3: The Threshold Guardian. For the previous parts:
This series focuses on the Hero’s Journey Archetypes as described in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
The Threshold Guardian Archetype
The threshold guardian archetype is basically the person or thing that keeps the hero from entering the new world. In other words: it’s an obstacle that the hero needs to overcome. It’s even possible for a threshold guardian to turn into an ally.
They’re often the lesser thugs—the minor bosses before you meet the ‘End Boss’ so to say. You can view these guardians as a way for your Hero to ‘level up’. The Threshold Guardians can also be neutral figures who’re part of the special world. In sporadic cases, they can also be ‘secret helpers’ to test the hero’s willingness and skill.
The psychology of the Threshold Guardian archetype is that they represent our internal demons. Our neuroses, emotional scars, vices, dependencies, and any other way we limit ourselves. They’re the things that hold us back to reach for what we really want.
You probably remember a point in your life where you were about to make a major change (be it choosing a college, or changing your jobs, or breaking up with someone), and you suddenly felt major resistance. It’s a test to see if you are ready—if you’re determined to accept the challenge of change.
As I said before, the function of the Threshold Guardian is to test the Hero. They present a certain trial, like a puzzle or some other obstacle that the Hero needs to solve. If they can’t, they won’t be able to pass on to the ‘Special World.’ The Hero will never reach the Emerald City and meet Oz.
There are several options for the Hero to overcome their Threshold Guardian. They can flee, attack, use deceit, bribe or appease the Guardian or turn them into an Ally. Another way is to have the Hero get into the skin of their opponent. Like Luke and Han Solo do when they enter Darth Vader’s spaceship to rescue Leia. They overcome two stormtroopers and put on their suits to get her undetected. They become their enemy.
Hero’s can recognize Threshold Guardians as a source of strength, and instead of attacking, they try to learn the Threshold Guardian’s power to use it and make them stronger. In a metaphorical sense, the Hero ‘consumes’ the Guardian. This way, the Hero grows stronger, which can help them defeat the villain.
Types of Threshold Guardians
There are a lot of forms a Threshold Guardian can take. They can be bodyguards, watchmen, lookouts, editors, doormen, examiners, or whatever else. They’re anyone who blocks the way of the Hero and test their powers.
Next to characters, the Threshold Guardian can also be a prop, an architectural feature, animal, or natural phenomenon. Decide for yourself in what way you want your Hero to be tested—what do you want them to learn? What do you want them to overcome? What would grant them access to the Special World? And then think of characters or things that could accomplish that.
That is all for the Threshold Guardian Archetype within the Hero’s Journey. It’s less information than for the Hero or Mentor, but that’s because they tend to be a smaller character. Though don’t forget, the archetypes are fluid, which means that any character can change into any archetype. A mentor can also become a Threshold Guardian to test if the Hero is truly ready to face the challenge. The Hero can also be their own Threshold Guardian when something internal is holding them back.
I hope you find this series helpful, and it aids you to write a better story with better characters. Have you used the Hero’s Journey framework and archetype in your writing? Do you like this framework? Or do you prefer other ones? Let me know in the comments!