Threshold Guardians test the hero’s skill, understanding, or intuition.
Threshold Guardians are an archetype from the Hero’s Journey but can be used in any plot structure style and by pantsters too.
Almost any character can become a Threshold Guardian.
- Allies can make excellent – and sometimes unexpected – Threshold Guardians. These might be friends, mentors, or loved ones. The closer their bonds with the protagonist, the more difficult the challenge.
- An obvious enemy are perhaps the most frequent choice for a Threshold Guardian. This enemy rarely is the main antagonist but often has some kind of tie to the main antagonist. Sometimes he’s a henchman or wanna-be henchman of the main opponent.
- Neutral characters can also become Threshold Guardians. These characters don’t belong in the camps of the protagonist or the antagonist yet their goals still seem to clash with the protagonist for at least the moment.
- Inner enemies can also take the form of Threshold Guardian. Although inner enemies are often personified for dramatic purposes, they don’t have to be. Inner enemies include fears, prejudices, and lies that the character tells herself.
What sort of “thresholds” do these guardians defend? The thresholds can be physical, emotional, or intellectual spaces. Examples include: a knight who blocks a bride, a lover who opposes a change, and a classmate who belittles a student. What makes the “spaces” important is that change lies on the other side and only by passing the Threshold Guardian can that changed space be reached
Threshold Guardians often challenge the protagonist with tests of understanding, intuition, or skill. These tests can take the form of physical challenges, verbal puzzles and riddles, a claim or promise or bribe, or any other test of ability, determination, or both.
Threshold Guardians can be overcome in a multitude of ways.
- Craft or deceit
- Make him an ally
- Go around
- Disguise self as an ally of the Threshold Guardian
You can use one or more Threshold Guardian any time you want to test a character. These tests are excellent ways to gain allies for the moment or make enemies for later. Tests can reinforce, advance, or set back the character. This archetype is often found shortly before the start of the journey into the “strange world” of the middle, all through the middle, and sometimes on the way to the final confrontation.
Threshold Guardians are found at points of physical, emotional, and intellectual change. They can be allies, enemies, neutral characters, or inner forces. They provide a chance for protagonist growth, failure, and renewal.