Crossing the threshold is the 5th stage of The hero’s journey. It is usually an important plot point in the story because it signals that the adventure has “officially” begun.
This is the stage in the story when the hero finally leaves his Ordinary world and wanders into the Special world… and what are those things?
The Ordinary world can be either a physical place or a state of mind that the hero finds himself in at the beginning of the story. It is familiar but dull and uneventful, the protagonist either wants to break free or is in denial about being trapped in here.
The Special world is the opposite. Unfamiliar and full of surprises, both good and bad. The hero tries to face every challenge that this new environment throws at him, and, by doing so, he learns something new about himself.
What is the threshold?
Crossing the threshold is the part of The hero’s journey where the protagonist literally crosses from the Ordinary world into the Special world.
In most movies, the story literally brings the character in a new location so that the change is represented visually. For example:
Ordianry world = Luke living at the farm with his uncle and aunt
Special world = Luke leaving with Obi-Wan for Mos Eisley
Ordinary world = Neo living in the matrix
Special world = Neo leaving the virtual reality and discovering the truth
Ordinary world = Anna living in the castle
Special world = Anna leaves for a journey to find her sister
To show how important Crossing the threshold is in a story, here’s an example from the Netflix TV series The chilling adventures of Sabrina.
The chilling adventures of Sabrina
The first episode is dedicated to showing us Sabrina’s Ordinary world: her high school life, her boyfriend, her relationship with her family.
We find out that Sabrina, her cousin and her aunts are all part of the Church of Night and that the dark baptism is one of their most important religious rituals because it symbolizes a pledge to their Dark Lord.
But here’s the first, and most important, problem of the show: Sabrina doesn’t want to be baptized. Following the ritual would mean that she has to leave behind her mortal friend and her mortal life to serve the Dark Lord.
So Sabrina has to choose: do what her family and the rest of her peers tell her to do (follow the path of night and become a member of the community), or take destiny in her own hands (becoming a rebel and being shunned by other witches).
The Crossing of the threshold for Sabrina happens in episode 2, when the teenage witch runs from the ceremony and officially becomes a rebel.
Ordinary world = a witch who lives among mortals
Special world = a witch who rebels against the Church of night
This series does a great job in this particular stage of The hero’s journey. Crossing the threshold is supposed to be an important moment for the characters because they are facing the unknown for the first time in their lives.
“The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored”– The hero with a thousand faces
In many other movies and TV shows we can guess what is going to happen to the protagonist in act 2 before the adventure even begins:
Star Wars A new hope
Luke will be trained by Obi-Wan in the ways of the Jedi
Neo will be trained by Morpheus
Kristoff will accompany Anna in her journey
The chilling adventures of Sabrina, on the other hand, does a good job of keeping things vague enough to make the Special world mysterious and frightening.
We, as the audience, are told what will happen to our protagonist if she DOES sign the Book of the beast, but we are not told what would happen if she DOESN’T.
From this point on the series will revolve around Sabrina’s struggle to keep her independence despite all the curve balls that are thrown to her by the Dark Lord and his underlings.
She is the only one who questions the legitimacy of the feast of feasts, the only witch who tries to protect and save the lives of mortals. Basically, she’s the one who is always trying to bend the rules in her favor, and at the very end, this rebellious attitude works against her.
Crossing the threshold is an important part of The hero’s journey because it shows the first real change since the story started and the first time the hero finds himself in real danger.