The Latin word limin, stands
for the threshold of a doorway. Derived from the word limin, the term, liminality,
refers to a "threshold period." This is a time of transition and transformation;
a betwixt and between, no-longer but not-yet. A person in liminality no longer
participates in the normal activities in daily life but slides into a world where
the "rules" no longer apply. Soon after the passage, the individual
will reenter daily life where rules and obligations again apply. Many people live
their daily lives in liminality. For example, a police officer goes to work every
day and deals with criminals who are not law abiding, and he is often times put
in situations where the law is bent and changed, such as shooting an individual
for the protection of others. In his personal life, this police officer is a law-abiding
citizen; he does not shoot people outside his work. However, at the times when
he is arresting or defending, he is a position where he is betwixt and between.
He is not a criminal, but may need to act like one. He is a law abiding citizen,
but needs to break a law in order to obtain order. Daily rules do not apply to
him at this moment in time.
The term threshold means the sill of a doorway.
Literally, it is the place a person must cross under in order to enter a house.
There is a point of decision between each of the persons who meet at the threshold.
A person can decide to allow someone to enter their private home, or business,
or rather reject them, not allowing their entrance. And once a certain person
crosses the threshold, they are subject to the rules and obligations that the
household implies. When a groom carries his bride over the threshold of their
new home, it is symbolic of the new life the two will enter into; the life that
comes with new rules than one might not have had on the other side of the relationship.
A major element in Fantasy Literature is the use of the limin or a character's
liminality. Often times, a character will come to a threshold in their life that
must be either crossed or turned away from. These thresholds can be internal decisions,
such as Froto accepting, or not accepting the task of The Ring, or they can be
the crossing of a physical threshold such as Grendel crossing the doorway into
the hall, Heorot. In most writing however, the crossing of the threshold (either
physical or mental) represents a point where two different worlds collide. Physically,
the outside and the inside, as for Grendel, or mentally, with the possibility
of two alternate endings based on a decision in Froto's journey.
Arnold van Gennep, says that there are three phases to crossing the threshold.
The first phase is separation; the second is transition, and the final stage is
incorporation. The second stage of transition is the stage in which liminality
becomes possible. It is during the transition state that a person remains uncertain
because they have been separated from their world, but aren't yet connected to
a new one. To Van Gennep, this place can be dangerous because the daily routines
of life are put in limbo. Therefore a person who is in transition doesn't have
their daily guidelines to follow anymore and this could possibly have a negative
effect not only that particular person, but also those who are in their surroundings.
Van Gennep's thoughts on thresholds were taken more in depth by Victor Turner.
Turner said that during the transition stage a person becomes liminal. Because
the person is neither attached to their previous way of life nor attached to their
future way of life, they become neutralized. Turner, in his book, The Ritual Process,
says the characteristics of a liminar "are necessarily ambiguous, since this
condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications
that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities
are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned
and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial."
Victor Turner there are three kinds of liminality. The first kind is "ritual
liminality." This is when the person is placed in transition due to a right
of passage, often times concerning a maturity ritual. In this kind of liminality,
the person will always be expected to reenter the society, as their transition
is just temporary. A young boy in a tribe who is involved in a maturity ritual
may not have to subject to the rules of his tribe while being involved in this
ritual. After his manhood is obtained however, he is expected to return to his
tribe, now as a responsible man.
The second kind of liminality is "outsiderhood."
Outsiderhood involves a person who becomes part of the "anti-structure"
either voluntarily or involuntarily and either for a short time or permanently.
A good example of a person, who is involved in this kind of liminality, is a highly
religious person, such as a monk or a nun. They may (or may not) chose to live
outside the boundaries of normal life, by living in a monastery or nunnery. This
person does not follow the rules and guidelines of the outside world, but is not
in beyond them either. They are between the two, in a sort of limbo. Often times,
a person in this kind of liminality will chose not to return to the world they
once knew, either because they enjoy their life outside the "structured world"
or because they do not fit into the world from which they came.
and final kind of liminality is the "marginal." In Dramas, Fields and
Metaphors, Turner says marginals are, "simultaneously members (...) of two
or more social groups whose social definitions and cultural norms are distinct
from, and often even opposed to, one another." These kinds of people do not
seem to fit into in facet of society. They are like the outsiders who cannot live
in harmony with the structure around them, but marginals do, although they may
feel unattached or uncomfortable with the structure. Turner also says they cannot
be fully integrated to one side or another, which is what defines them as marginal
rather than outsiders. The marginal is always on the edge of both worlds. Another
author, Robert Park, says these people are often smarter and have a more objective
viewpoint of their society. The example of the police officer used earlier is
a marginal liminal. He knows both societies and because of his work will never
belong to one side fully. He will live on the edge of both worlds and can often
travel easily between them.
Regardless of which form of liminality, Turner
believes that all liminals have several things in common. First liminal people
do not hold any sort of status with in the structured world and because of this,
they regard all other liminal characters their equal. Secondly, Turner says that
liminals are "positive forces" in their worlds because they have the
ability to question the culture's sets of standards and rules because they do
not feel attached to them. These people encourage critical thinking and question
"norms" within their culture. And finally, because they do not hold
a status within the culture, they are able to question the social status of that
culture. All of these elements can be very useful with in a fantasy novel.
characters are often the most exciting characters to work with within a fantasy
or any other kind of novel. The marginal liminal is the character most popular
within a storyline. The character often lives on the edge, and slides almost effortlessly
between two different worlds. He or she is able to get along with characters in
different worlds (be it the Shire or Middle Earth, or "the fields we know"
or Elfland), and can relate to each of the worlds but does not feel fully apart
of either one. It is because of their marginal liminality that they can feel both
saintly and evil. These characters are easy to cheer for and to encourage in their
Liminal characters move the plot and question the motives
of the other characters within the novel. They represent a danger that the reader
may not relate to in his or her world but in the fictional world feels right at
home with. The reader wants to relate to the character - he or she wants to be
a part of the journey, a part of the soul searching, and finally, a part of victorious
triumph of good over the ever impending evil.