What is Crossing the Threshold?

This is the third of a series of posts detailing the hero’s journey.  It expands on this post: The Hero’s Journey.  See the earlier posts here: The Mundane World, The Call to Adventure.

Entering the unknown

Once the hero has accepted the call, they have to cross from their old world to the new.  This crossing is made at the Threshold.  If there was anxiety at the Call to Adventure, the Threshold can be downright fearful.  Saying goodbye to everything you know is not for the faint of heart.

If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

When Sam takes that step he leaves the familiar Shire behind him.  He takes the same step that Dorothy took when she left her black and white house, that Harry took by stepping through the wall at platform nine and three quarters, and Luke took when he flew off in the Millennium Falcon.

They all take a step into the unknown – these innocent heroes-to-be.  However, they are not alone.  For better or worse.

Threshold guardians

At every gate there are the gatekeepers.  The Threshold Guardians make sure the hero is ready for the adventure to come.  The Guardian may be an adversary, a neutral bystander, or a potential ally.  They may help with advice, or try to test the hero’s readiness.  Their goal may be to stop the hero from entering altogether.

Samwise Gamgee first encounters the dark riders in the woods on the edge of the Shire and then he and his companions meet Strider at the Prancing Pony.  The Nazgûl demonstrate the dangers of what’s to come, while the ranger reinforces this message in the role of protector.

Are you frightened?  Not nearly frightened enough.

Peter Parker’s Threshold is guarded by a robber and his uncle.  Peter chose to use his new powers for himself initially.  He wanted money so he could buy a car and get a girlfriend (not exactly a fool-proof plan).  His self-centred actions are not those of a hero.  The robber highlights Peter’s self focus, as he lets him go.  Ben’s last words of wisdom, “With great power comes great responsibility” point Peter in the right direction.

When I arrived at my Michigan camp and crossed the Threshold, I met a few Guardians.  Mark and James were the veteran camp staff members who helped explain the law and lore of this new world.  Courtney (a rambunctious camper in my first cabin) laughed at me every time I said his name – an Australian pronunciation issue.  I challenge you to get control of a cabin of kids when their leader mocks you every time you say his name.  He introduced me to the harsh realities of working with these kids and made me ready for every kid that followed.  As with so many of these types of stories I saw Courtney at the mall years later and he told me how much he loved me and his camp experience.

The Threshold Guardians, while not always adversaries, have to be dealt with.  You need to pay attention to their advice, avoid their diversions, or solve their problem.  Above all, acknowledge them.

Use the comments section to tell us about a Threshold Guardian you’ve encountered.  Think of a time you entered a new world – who was waiting their for you and what did you learn?

image from Flickr

2 Responses to What is Crossing the Threshold?

  1. Kit November 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    I think the threshold is encountered every day by the students at teach at the moment. They are terrified to throw themselves out there and offer unique thoughts. They want to sit back and have the answer handed to them. I am acting as a guardian right now and challenging the kids to take the next step that they are all capable of. I hope my encouragement in the long term will allow them to cross the threshold.

  2. matt November 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Great point Kit. Parents are often Threshold Guardians in that fashion too. As I said in the last sentence, acknowledging them is so important. We often ignore what our Threshold Guardians are saying, thinking they can’t possibly know what we’re going through. Sometimes their wisdom is hidden from us because we don’t understand the world we’re entering and don’t realise the Guardian knows its secrets.

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