Hi gang, Craig with you today. This is post number seven in the character archetypes series. In the Hero’s Journey, there are some common characters that are likely to show up in all stories. This doesn’t mean each archetype shows up in every story, and aside from the hero, the rest are kind of optional. Almost every story will have an assortment of them.
This series is to introduce you to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can decide if they can benefit the story you’re writing.
The Guardian has a few different names, the Threshold Guardian, the Gatekeeper, even The Wall. They all mean the same thing. This is another one that can be a character, but can also be a situation or a physical obstacle. Your hero cannot complete the task without conquering the Guardian.
It might be as simple as figuring out the bad boy who gets her motor running isn’t quite the right choice. She can’t figure that out without dealing with the bad boy in some manner. It’s usually more complicated than that.
The most obvious one was played for laughs. Monty Python’s Black Knight protected the path. “None shall pass.”
You’re trucking along, trying to escape the goblin caverns, when you run smack into Gollum. The only way you can get out is to play a game of riddles with him. Gollum is the Guardian.
Frodo couldn’t even get into Mordor without getting past Shelob. Of course all he did was lay there, but Sam showed some real character growth and an ability to back up his words.
Guardians are usually used to block entrance into something, either physical or psychological, but they can also block escape. You’ve snuck onto the Death Star and rescued the princess (who happens to be your sister) but you aren’t leaving without going through Darth Vader.
A Guardian moment can be a good time to make heroes rethink what they’re doing. You can use one to sell the plot back to your audience, because the hero can weigh the merits of going on vs. going back. “Oh, a maze sounds like fun. Wait. Minotaur? What’s a Minotaur?”
Guardians can also take the form of well meaning interference, like parents who forbid the character from doing something. Sometimes, another person needs help and it will divert the hero from his/her task. These fork-in-the-road points are golden to fiction. “If I don’t complete my quest, something bad will happen. If I don’t rescue my friend, something else bad will happen.”
I recently used physical obstacles in my book, Serang. She had to pass through the frozen desert and the Temple of Wind, while maturing and learning the whole time. Later she had to pass through a cave alone to test her mettle.
If they test your character, and allow for some kind of growth, physical barriers can be Guardians. The story of Moses is full of these kind of Guardians. Banished into the desert, climbing the mountain, etc. After each event, Moses was improved to a degree.
The Potterverse has them, too. Remember Fluffy the three-headed dog?
While Guardians are obstacles to be overcome, I think they work best when reflection, emotion, and growth are involved. Three days after Pearl Harbor, the hero’s mother doesn’t want him to enlist. She’s afraid he’ll get hurt. His girlfriend is willing to take things to the next level, if only he’ll stay with her. His best friend already signed up, and he’s a walking accident. The friend will die if the hero isn’t there to look out for him.
Guardians are as malleable as you want them to be. Some of them become allies. (Little John) Some can only be overcome by specific traits your hero needs to exhibit. These could be sneaking, fighting, reasoning, even etiquette. I remember the old Zorro movie where he couldn’t even get access to the Dons without developing a bit of culture.
You guys have this by now. Will this cause you to look at the turning points for your characters in a different way? Have you written a Guardian, or would you consider it after having read this?
Obligatory traffic signal: The last post was about The Shapeshifter, the next one is about The Shadow.