December 10, 2010

the hero's journey - crossing the first threshold

Up to this point, the hero has avoided entering the Special World of the Hero’s Journey. Now he stands at the Threshold to the world of adventure. He has heard the Call. He has doubted himself. He has prepared for what is ahead. Everything until now has led to this point, the most critical moment in the beginning of a story, where the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure.

Oftentimes, the hero’s final commitment is brought about by an external force which changes the course or intensity of the story. They generally don’t just accept the Mentor’s gifts and charge on ahead. There has to be one finally kick in the rear to get them going. Crossing the First Threshold is also known as the “plot point” or the “turning point” of traditional structure. The actual moment may last seconds, or it could take an entire chapter to unfold.

A villain may harm someone close to the hero, forcing him to act. Forces of nature may compel the hero to take a certain path different from the one he originally chose. He may run out of options, or discover that a difficult choice must be made. Internal events may trigger the Crossing as well, where the hero must ask himself “Do I go on living my life as I always have, or will I risk everything in the effort to grow and change?” Most of the time, it is a combination of these forces, of both external and internal, that push the hero beyond the Threshold.

As the hero approaches the Threshold, fully ready to face whatever awaits him, he’s likely to come across someone or something that tries to block his path, to force him backward into the life he’s already decided to leave. These are Threshold Guardians, another of the archetypes. They can easily arrive at any time to test the hero and block his way, but most of the time, they appear around the doorways, gates, and passages involved with Crossing the First Threshold.

When the hero faces these Guardians, they must figure out a way around or through them. The hero has committed to his adventure. He cannot turn back now. Oftentimes, their threat is just an illusion, and the solution is to simply ignore their taunts and jeers. Other Guardians must be conquered. They can be considered gatekeepers between the Ordinary World and the Special World.

The actual Crossing itself can merely signify that the hero has reached the border of the two worlds. This boundary can be illustrated as an actual physical barrier… a wall, gate, door, bridge, desert, river, cliff, etc. Once the hero takes this final step into the unknown, the adventure really begins.

There is a noticeable shift in energy after the Crossing of the First Threshold. Everything feels different, and not always for the better. Sometimes, this shift into the Special World can disorient the hero or make him question his motives for wanting to go on the adventure in the first place. The thing to remember is that now, it’s too late to go back. The hero has committed to the journey, and now the only way to go is forward.

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