Friday, July 23, 2010

The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

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The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Our friend Joseph Campbell of THE HERO'S JOURNEY fame, offered us a number of CHARACTER types to populate our novels. One of my favorite is the Gatekeeper or Threshold Guardian.

As with all character archetypes, this guy has a specific function to play in your novel. He's the character who most often guards the passage from the hero's Ordinary World and his new world of adventure. The Guardian's main mission is to test or teach your hero and to ensure the protagonist proves himself worthy of his goal. This means, he is there to show the hero his weaknesses, help him overcome them, and to make sure things aren't too easy for your hero.

This role need not serve only to show your hero's strength, however. It can also exemplify his kindness, sincerity, cunning, intelligence or any number of other qualities. He can even point the way toward the next step of your hero's quest. The secret is for the hero to learn the Guardians’ tricks, make them his own, and continue on his quest.

As mentioned, your hero most often encounters the guardian early in the story, usually right after he starts his quest. However, this character can come into play even after your protagonist has defeated The Evil One. In fact, Threshold Guardians can pop up almost anywhere in your novel, and offer new ways to maintain or increase the conflict.

In a very real fashion, the character archetype is a boon to the hero. It is this character who teaches your hero how to fight or find whatever skill or knowledge is necessary to move further toward his goal. This guardian offers the protagonist the opportunity to grow and evolve.

His personality need not be limited to that of an evil doer or villain's henchman, though those do work well. In fact, the Threshold Guardian need not even be a character at all. He can take any form you wish; animal, vegetable, mineral, concept or even a well-meaning teacher who guides his student to shop class rather than the sciences. Regardless his form, be sure this character tests and/or educates your hero.

Often the Threshold Guardian has a relationship to the villain if they strive to keep your hero from his goal. He may also serve as a bodyguard, if you will, to the antagonist or maybe as someone to warm the villain of the hero's approach. Regardless, if your Threshold Guardian has an evil tendency, he is always subordinate to the real antagonist.

How is your hero supposed to deal with the impediments posed by the Threshold Guardian? The answer lies in the guardian’s unique nature or personality. Your protagonist must find a way to get under the beast’s skin, so to speak. In some instances, they do so literally, as when Sam and Frodo dress like the Eye’s warriors to enter the badlands. Regardless, the Threshold Guardian must be faced. To overcome this character type, your hero may fight, bribe, educate, turn, appease, convince or even kill this guy. It all depends upon the character's personality.

Regardless the way you portray the Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper, this character should be fleshed-out with at least a suggestion of motivation and personal goals just like any other character in your novel.

Now, do you have any questions about this character archetype?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, 
Born to be Brothers

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