Guest post by Elizabeth Kobayashi
Sometimes heros need a little bit of a push out the door. Harry Potter may never have left the Dursleys’ if the owls (and ultimately Hagrid) hadn’t come with a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts. Heroes often need prompting to cross the first threshold and move forward through the story, and it comes from two sources: the herald and the threshold guardian.
The herald is a signal of change. He, she, or it brings the call to adventure or invites the hero to answer. The herald can be a person–even a character who fills another role, such as a mentor or an ally–or a newspaper, a hologram projected by a spunky astro droid, even something in the hero’s own psyche driving him or her to change. Some person, thing, or event spurs the hero to move, and the herald is either the thing itself or the announcer of its arrival. R2D2 is the herald with Leia’s famous message of “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” and Gandalf comes announcing the imminent arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo’s house. Both plant the seed of adventure, whether the hero wants it (Luke) or not (Bilbo).
The Threshold Guardian
Threshold guardians are obstacles that test the hero’s resolve, force them to demonstrate their commitment, or drive them into the next stage of the story. The threshold guardian must be faced and defeated for the hero to progress. They are markers of hero’s growth and tests to ensure the hero is ready to cross the threshold. As with many of the other archetypes, the threshold guardian may be a character, circumstances, or something within the hero that he or she must overcome. For Luke Skywalker, his threshold guardians are the stormtroopers at Mos Eisley, literally chasing him into the Millennium Falcon and the second act. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia Chase acts as a threshold guardian by forcing Buffy to choose between her calling as a Slayer and her desire to be a popular high school girl.
These archetypes are invaluable in helping (or forcing) the hero along his journey. The more archetypes are understood and unraveled, they can be applied to character, events, and environments in more complex ways, combined with each other and subverted to tell an increasingly nuanced story.
Elizabeth Kobayashi divides her free time between martial arts and her time travel novel about a 24th century clockmaker and a Victorian London barmaid. With a degree in film production and a growing appreciation for music and video games, she hopes to integrate the novel with a larger transmedia production. She has a weak spot for pizza, really good books, and binge-watching TV. (Her latest reading adventure: Ender’s Game and sequels. Latest TV endeavor: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.) You might find her tweeting from time to time (twitter.com/kobyzoshi).