The Writer’s Journey

After being assigned to read 4 chapters in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, the research started. The chapters that we (Leanna, Yaz, James and I) had to focus on talked about 4 different archetypes; Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter and Shadow.

My first initiative was to research these archetypes a little further and see if I could make more sense of what they were or what they stood for in a story. The book explained them pretty well but also very dense so I wanted to see if I could look in different places to find a simpler definition or explanation for each.

From the reading and research I have done, I have the following understanding;

An archetype is a ‘pattern/model’ which other things that are of the same kind are based on. After seeing the terms used in the book, I wanted to find definitions for ‘protagonist’ and ‘antagonist’, just so I fully understood each, meaning I was able to fluently use this term when discussing my research. I know that the protagonist is usually the ‘hero’ and is the mostly the main character in the story being told, e.g. Harry Potter. A character in which the audience usually want to succeed in whatever they are doing. I understand that an antagonist is the direct opposite. It represents the problem that the protagonist needs to overcome to succeed.

I then did some research, took some notes and got examples of what role the Herald, Threshold Guardian, Shapeshifter and Shadow held in a story.

I found that a Herald was usually the person or item that informed the protagonist leading them to an adventure. If it is a character, they do not always have to disappear or fade out of the story once they have completed this role, e.g. they could be a close friend of the protagonist who goes on the adventure with them. However, a herald can also have a malicious intent and lead the protagonist into something that may have a negative outcome.

The Shapeshifter usually represents a fantasy, e.g. the desire to change appearance and personalities on demand such as Jacob changing to werewolf in Twilight. This does not really push the adventure along in any way. It’s thrown in to give the narrative and character a little more depth, rather than being simplistic/normal/boring.

The Threshold Guardian can be anything that stands in the hero/protagonist’s way and can appear at any point in the story. A lot of the time if they appear at the start they can be successful in stopping the protagonist. An example given through research, in Raising Arizona, Ed’s infertility is a guardian threshold. The fact that the doctors cannot help is another guardian threshold. Another example that I found was about ‘secret helper guardian thresholds’, Mr. Slugworth from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. He actually tries to bribe Charlie to go against Wonka but in fact he is working for Wonka to see if Charlie is trustworthy. There can be many guardian thresholds and there is no limit to how the protagonist overcomes them. Although a lot of the time the protagonist will take on the persona of the enemy, e.g. when Hermione morphs into Bellatrix in Harry Potter. While some stories challenge the norm, majority of them incorporate the protagonists personality characteristics into how they overcome the threshold guardians.

The last archetype I researched was the Shadow which is apparently very hard to define. It can be a force, a concept, a construct, external or internal, universal and individual within the human. It is also the opposite of light, love, life and ‘goodness’. An example of this could be Yin and Yang which has both light and shadow but also a seed of each in the other. The Shadow more than not does not obey the rules, therefore creates a scene of ‘chaos or wildness’ whilst also revealing deeper thoughts and fears that are not usually the first perception or initial facts of a character.

While researching the Shadow, I seen a referral to the ‘Jungian Theory’ which lead me to have a look at the meaning behind this theory in hope that it would make more sense when referring to it. The Jungian Theory was named after Carl Jung who was a psychoanalyst and created his own psychoanalytical theory. He believed that psychic energy had the purpose of motivating an individual spiritually, intellectually and creatively. Also, that a person’s ego “represented their thoughts, memories and emotions” that they were aware of and an ego was “responsible for the feelings of identity and continuity”.

After studying the unconscious, he explained that he had the opinion it was made up of 2 layers; Personal and Collective. Personal unconscious contains temporarily forgotten information and memories and also has important features that are called complexes. The more complexes that cling to the personal unconscious, the more that these will influence the character/person’s behaviour emotionally and physically. The collective unconscious is the one shared with other people; friends/family. These memories are usually from an ancestral and evolutionary past. Jung said that people acquire different characteristics from their ancestors through evolution e.g. fear such as a fear of heights. Even though some people believe that fears are developed in a previous life. Anyhow, Jung called these ancestral memories and images ‘archetypes’… and we’re right back to where we started with a slightly different meaning of an archetype.

Links for the information researched below:




Threshold Guardian


Jungian Theory


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