The Threshold Guardian is an archetype that seemingly doesn’t translate well into modern, non-mythically based stories. Threshold Guardians are obvious in fairy-tale, fantastical films, such as the Sphinxes guarding the Southern Oracles in The Neverending Story, or the gatekeeper that guards the entrance to Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.
But they do exist in normal, modern stories as well. Threshold Guardians can be gatekeepers that prevent the hero from getting in to see the person they need to see, just like reader/assistant gatekeepers that keep a writer from getting their script to the producer who will surely love it, the heroes of films face Threshold Guardians whose role is to keep them out, keep them away from the nemesis, the goal, or the key they need to solving the mystery, until they have earned the right to cross the threshold.
In a romance or romantic comedy, Threshold Guardians may be an overprotective, skeptical friend or family member, like Grace’s grandfather in Return to Me, Jamie’s father in A Walk to Remember, Allie’s mother in The Notebook, or Jack Callaghan (the sleeping love interest’s suspicious brother) in While You Were Sleeping. The hero must win the trust and admiration of the Threshold Guardian who is protecting the hero’s love interest from unworthy suitors, or else overcome or circumvent them.
In any action, caper, spy or thriller film, Threshold Guardians can be represented as minions of the nemesis or the company, corporation or entity that the hero is attempting to overcome or infiltrate. They can be anything from nameless security guards, police officers or henchmen, to the nemesis’s second-in-command.
Threshold Guardians can be allies, enemies, or neutral in their alliance, though they are most often enemies working for or with the nemesis. Wherever their loyalties lie, they are necessary parts of the hero’s growth as they force the hero to prove him or herself worthy of taking the next step in the journey, and achieving their goal. Without the Threshold Guardians, things would be too easy for the hero. The hero might attempt to do something before he is really ready and prepared to undertake the challenge. Threshold Guardians force patience, require training, knowledge and proof of merit before the hero can even attempt to accomplish his or her goal.
Depending on the story, the hero, and the task being undertaken, the hero will be required to do different things to pass the Threshold Guardian. If strength is required, simply defeating, killing, or incapacitating the Threshold Guardian will suffice. But often, in more complex stories, the Threshold Guardian will need to be convinced of the hero’s worthiness by being turned into an ally. The hero will be tested by the Threshold Guardian, who may be checking the hero’s sincerity, pureness, kindness, allegiance, intelligence, cunning or worthiness. Simply killing the Threshold Guardian may not be enough. The hero might be given a task to perform or a smaller quest to complete before they are allowed to continue past the gatekeeper.