Joseph Campbell had a fondness for threshold guardians. They were large and capable of igniting fear; they appeared to exist to stop the hero on his journey. Not true, Campbell said, assuring everyone. While those pesky threshold guardians did seem intimidating, they actually were the hero’s friend. It’s true that a guardian has a raised hand that clearly says "stop," but a well-prepared hero, one who understands the guardians and their purpose, will know there is another hand quietly waving him forward. The guardians do not exist to thwart any prepared hero; they serve to guard the entrance and keep away those who are not ready to cross the threshold. In today’s world agents function as threshold guardians.
For an entertaining but highly informative look at agents and their role in today’s current publishing world, take a look at David Milofsky’s article earlier this month at DenverPost.com. Milofsky is a novelist and professor of English at Colorado State University. The glossary at the end of the piece is a fun-but-all-too-easily true attempt to translate agent inquiry/manuscript-reply lingo. The Book Beat section includes quite a number of reviews and excerpts to wander through and read. For die-hard research and word-freaks, Milofsky’s also tackled the new O.E.D., and, in another article on November 7th, he tackled critics and their proper place in a review. Seems like they have a nice Book Beat section and perhaps it’s worthwhile to bookmark. You might check out the DenverPost’s Bloghouse, too.
And, of course, this nicely brings me back to the subject of agents and my experience at Donald Maass’ workshop. More tomorrow.