Understanding Archetypes II

In the previous post I began exploring Christian Vogler’s use of eight Archetypes extracted from his study of myths — specifically the archetypes of Hero and Mentor. In this post I look at two more — Threshold Guardian and Herald.

Threshold Guardian

Threshold Guardian

Threshold Guardian

Vogler sees stories as journeys to reach an important goal through obstacle-strewn terrain. Each obstacle is typically patrolled by powerful guardians. Threshold Guardians are the antagonist’s henchmen, or lesser villains, but they may also be morally neutral figures, objects, or elemental forces that are simply in the way.

Psychologically, the guardians represent the obstacles we encounter in daily life — bad luck, bad weather, hostility, repression, prejudice and the like. At a deeper level, they represent our inner demons — emotional scars, vices, and neurosis that manifest themselves more strongly at the threshold of obstacles.

At a dramatic level, the Threshold Guardians’ main function is to test the Hero — they are not necessarily evil in themselves. Indeed, they often help the Hero articulate and cross thresholds of resistance. Typically, the Hero must solve a puzzle as in the example of the Sphinx who presents Oedipus with a riddle before allowing him to continue his journey. A Hero may challenge the guardian, offer to bribe him, sidestep him, or literally get under his skin: In The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow manage to enter the heavily guarded castle by overcoming then disguising themselves as three sentries — by donning the (outer) skin of the Threshold Guardians. As Hero’s evolve, however, they learn to recognize Threshold Guardians are not necessarily enemies but opportunities to grow and acquire new power.




Heralds typically appear near the beginning of a story to issue a challenge to the Hero in the form of a call to adventure. The Hero, who has previously lived an ordinary life, is now asked to help prevent some impending catastrophe to himself, his family, or society at large because of a new threat. Occasionally, the threat is disguised as a new opportunity, which, when pursued, turns out to be fraught with dangers. In terms of structure, the Herald functions as the Inciting Incident, kicking-starting the story at the earliest opportunity.

Psychologically, the Herald represents our unconscious need for change — the need to restore internal and external balance. It may come as a dream, a new idea, a person, or as the mysterious voice in The Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

At the dramatic level, the Herald provides the Hero with a new practical challenge — the motivation to commence the journey. Again, the Herald may appear as a person, or an event such as a hurricane, even as mail. In Romancing the Stone, the Herald takes the form of a treasure map that arrives through the post and a phone call from Joan Wilder’s sister, informing her she is being held hostage in Colombia.

In Summary

Threshold Guardians take the form of characters or forces that cause the Hero to confront and overcome internal and external obstacles during his journey to the goal. A Herald may appear as an event or character that imparts new information that helps to initiate that journey.


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