Character Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian

I admit I like the name of this one. The Threshold Guardian! It sounds cool. Threshold Guardians are very common in any sort of Hero’s Journey plotline. Threshold Guardians can be good, evil, or neutral, alive or not, and may speak in riddles.

Common Aspects of the Threshold Guardian Archetype:

  • Acts as some sort of gatekeeper (in a literal or figurative sense)
  • Often directly stand in the Hero’s way
  • May have more than one in a single narrative
  • Can be trying to help or hinder, or may appear to do one while doing the other

Threshold Guardians stand between the Hero and what they want–or what they think they want. They may be in the employ of the Villain, they may be guarding their own interests, or they may be trying to help the Hero take the right path.

The Sphinx from myth is a good example of a Threshold Guardian. So is every combination of a pair where one is lying and one is telling the truth. A more comedic example would be the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Threshold Guardians can be defeated in a number of ways. Some required outsmarting, some can be bested physically. A Hero or his companions can even get past a Threshold Guardian by blending in. (To continue using Star Wars, Han and Luke get past the stormtroopers to rescue Leia by stealing uniforms.)

Threshold Guardian characters can morph into other archetypes by joining the party or imparting advice. A Threshold Guardian only remains one as long as there is still a threshold to be guarding. Once the Hero has successfully passed (or failed) the threshold, their purpose is done.

Threshold Guardians are numerous and can be found everywhere. I’m sure you can think of half a dozen. Many characters act as one temporarily. Think Inigo Montoya, or Sir Didymus from Labyrinth.

Any truly inspired Threshold Guardians you can think of, Squiders, ones where the solution to get past them was especially ingenious?

Next: The Damsel in Distress


2 responses to this post.

  1. Honestly, I think Dumbledore could arguably be this. There is a lot of information that he conceals from Harry and others only for it to be revealed once certain requirements are met.


    • I think you’re right. That’s an interesting take on the archetype, but then, what I like about threshold guardians is that the idea is so versatile.


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