As writers, whether consciously or unconsciously, we employ the use of archetypes to transport our characters better into the reader's mind. We use character archetypes (the nurturer, the librarian, the femme fatale, the bad boy) to better shape our character's personalities, and storyline archetypes (the hero, the trickster, the shadow, the mentor, the threshold guardian) to define that character's role in the story. Of these storyline archetypes, I find the threshold guardian particularly interesting.
Threshold Guardians are placed at portals to new worlds or gateways to new challenges to keep the unworthy out. A guardian may be a good-hearted ally of the hero, looking out for his best interest, or he may be an accomplice of the villain, seeking to harm or hinder the hero from completing his quest. Either way, as part of his quest, the hero will be tested by his ability to overcome or win over the many Threshold Guardians he will encounter along the way.
J.K. Rowling challenges Harry with numerous Thresholds and Guardians throughout her Potter series. From the Leaky Cauldron entry to Diagon Alley, to Dobby sealing the entry to Platform 9¾ in Chamber of Secrets, to the hidden door of Grimmauld Place, Harry is tested by each door he must pass through. However, I’d like to focus on one type of Gateway and Guardian to look at closer.
The power of curiosity is universal. In the words of the immortal Dumbledore, "Curiosity is not a sin.... But we should exercise caution with our curiosity... yes, indeed" (p. 598, Goblet of Fire). Whereas later in the series Harry more strongly develops his own driving need to set the world right by stopping Voldemort, in the first three books, curiosity is one of the prime motivators driving on Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
It seems to me there is a Forbidden Door in each Potter book, and a guardian to go with it. This forbidden door leads directly to the Inmost Cave where the Ordeal occurs:
- Sorcerer's Stone -- Forbidden Door: right hand side of the third floor corridor that they are forbidden from entering
- Chamber of Secrets -- Forbidden Door: haunted girls’ restroom (with Percy forbidding Ron to go anywhere near it)
Guardian: Percy and Moaning Myrtle
- Prisoner of Azkaban -- Forbidden Door: The Shrieking Shack
Guardian: Whomping Willow (and Crookshanks leads the way)
Beyond these first three books, the Secret Door and its Guardian gets a bit murkier, more psychological, but they’re still there.
- Goblet of Fire -- Forbidden Door: Portal to the Graveyard
Guardian: Barty Crouch Jr. This is an interesting one because not only is Pseudo Mad-Eye the portal’s Guardian, he’s also a shapeshifter in disguise. Talk about combining your archetypes!
- Order of the Phoenix -- Forbidden Door: Harry’s mind holds the secret door in this book. His dreams show him clearly the secret door to the Department of Ministry, and his mind holds the “forbidden” and dangerous connection to Voldemort.
Guardian: Snape, through Occlumency lessons, guards the door to Harry’s mind.
- Half-Blood Prince -- Forbidden Door: Tom Riddle’s cave is symbolic of the secret door to Dark Magic which was forbidden him as a youth, but he has explored fully as an adult.
Guardian: Voldemort has set many protections on his cave to protect his Horcrux, but it seems to me that the Inferi serve as the classic Threshold Guardians.
- Deathly Hallows -- Forbidden Door: I would argue that the secret door in this last book is one that Harry, in the end, refuses to break into. It is the door into Dumbledore’s tomb to retrieve the Elder Wand. Voldemort violates this sacred space, stealing the wand, whereas Harry finally gets control over his fears and ambitions and follows Dumbledore’s wishes by focusing on the Horcruxes and leaving the Elder Wand to Voldemort.
Guardian: Dumbledore would thus be the guardian of this last secret door.
Can you name some other Threshold Guardians or Forbidden Doors from a book you've read recently? Have you worked with the Law of the Secret Door in any of your own work?
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About the Book:
|A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter|
Improve Your Writing with Harry Potter as Your Text!
The Harry Potter magic lives on as J.K. Rowling expands her wizarding world into new stories and formats. For five years, writers and fans from all continents have used A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter to delve beneath her pages' surface to discover the skill and artistry which created a story that enchanted audiences across generations. In this newly revised and expanded edition, S.P. Sipal takes you even deeper than before, exploring new techniques, and even peering into the artistic and marketing vision behind the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
No matter your genre, this guide will help you strengthen your writing by virtually apprenticing under a bestselling mentor. Through fifteen lessons, discover the expert techniques Ms. Rowling employs which makes her series such a phenomenal success and which will help improve your own craft and style.
myths and archetypes
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