This is it, the moment of truth, the point of no return. There were plenty of opportunities to turn your back on this great adventure before now, but you made the choice to forge ahead, even knowing that the road ahead is a long and scary one. It’s too late for second thoughts now, though. There’s no turning back. You’re Crossing the Threshold.
The stage of The Hero’s Journey known as Crossing the Threshold marks that part of the story where the adventure truly begins. The main characters cross the city limits to begin their road trip, or enter the haunted house, or otherwise venture into unknown territory. There’s a boundary between the world that is known and that which is a mystery, a threshold, and crossing it means the Journey has truly begun. Harry Potter embarks on that Journey every year when he takes the Hogwarts Express to school. Robert Langdon Crosses his Threshold when he’s brought to the scene of whichever crime he’s to give his opinion on by the authorities.
This doesn’t necessarily need to be an actual journey going from one city to another. The main character might not even step outside the city limits. This could be as simple as beginning a task, one that will be carried through to the climax of the story. It might be an investigation, or a new year of school, or a new job. It might even be an emotional journey, as the Hero embarks on a new romance or tries to reconnect with someone from his past. The main thing to keep in mind during the Crossing the Threshold part of the Hero’s Journey is that the main character leaves the old behind to start something new, even if there are elements of familiarity to it. As long as you’re charting some form of new territory – physical, emotional or otherwise – there’s a Threshold marking the end of the old mode of being and the beginning of something new and exciting.
Where there’s a Threshold, however, there’s bound to be a Threshold Guardian. This Archetype, much like the Hero, Messenger and Mentor, serves a function in the story, usually to keep the Hero from progressing on his Journey. The Hero must them find a way to defeat this guardian to progress, much like video games require you to beat a boss before advancing to the next level. This doesn’t have to be outright combat, though. Outwitting the Threshold Guardian works just as well, even befriending him or her. In all cases, the guardian is there to test the Hero’s resolve once committed to the adventure.
Going back to the example of Rob’s Journey, he’s devoted himself to working through this dark time in his life with Betty’s guidance. However, the true test of that commitment is following through on her instructions, one of which is to get out there and find a new job. He knows he can do it, and she knows that having a new job will free up his creativity so he can write without worry. Unfortunately, there’s a world of Threshold Guardians out there that he needs to get past so he can score that first interview. Over and over he tries, putting his name and resume out there, but nothing seems to be working. Finally, he discovers an “in” with a dentist’s office – one of Betty’s other clients knows that his friend who runs the office needs a new assistant. The first interview is scored, and his natural charm and wit – as well as common ground with this Guardian through the friend – lands him the job.
Now that the Ordinary World is well behind us, the Hero’s Journey can truly begin, with all the pitfalls and possibilities that such a Journey entails. Once the Threshold is Crossed, there’s all manner of new people, new situations and new mistakes to make, both good and bad. We’ll get into that in more detail next time, when I discuss Tests, Allies and Enemies.