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The Chosen One’s Origin

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 2, 2017
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One of the most prevalent motifs in fantasy, science fiction/ space operas and similar folklore style genres is that of the Chosen One- the one character (99% the main character/protagonist) that is destined to save the world from the big bad- the evil sorcerer, the overlord, the empire, the devil, the apocalypse. Only the Chosen One can do it. Only the Chosen one can prevail, in a very Homeric single-combat-situation where the destiny of the entire world hinges on this one person facing off the (usually singular) antagonist.

The Chosen One is a trope that is often considered boring in terms of character development, or an easy cop-out for the plot to propagate. Often a character that is the Chosen One is passive: the plot happens to them simply because of this general consensus that this person is the world’s only hope, rather than the Chosen One being pro-active. And as I’ve discussed in a previous article, such a character can be boring and cause the audience to disengage.

The main reason for this situation is that often the Chosen One is that because of a prophecy or some such divinely-ordained dictum that says so without any other reason whatsoever. The Chosen One hasn’t earned his/her rank as such; they were born that way or the tribe shaman (glorified or not) said so. One of the best applications of this is in the movie Willow where the Chosen One is (and remains) an infant, thus becoming the MacGuffin of the plot rather than the main character, and saving the audience from being disengaged while capitalizing on the assets of such a plot device.

But what happens when the Chosen One isn’t a baby, but the character we’re supposed to identify with?

Often the connection with the audience is sought by making the character an everyman- someone as relatable as possible before they are told they’re the Chosen One: Harry Potter is an orphan boy that does chores for his abusive relatives, Luke Skywalker is a farmer hand, Neo is a clerk in a big company’s cubicles, Sailor Moon is a ditzy school girl, and so on.

From the success of these example, we can see that this can work quite well- provided that the Chosen One is surrounded by a cast of interesting characters that are far more pro-active than him/her, and thus more interesting: Harry Potter has Ron, Hermione and an army of colourful professors, Neo has Morpheus and Trinity, Sailor Moon has a dozen other classmates that also Sailor and Luke has Han Solo, Obi-wan and Yoda among others. It might feel like the Chosen One is a bland meal made fun because of a ton of tasty side dishes. That is often excused as an effort for the audience to project themselves onto the bland, often two-dimensional Chosen One and thus immerse themselves in the work by vicariously becoming that special world-saving person.

But what if we want to make the Chosen One the tasty meal, without relying on the side dishes?

An efficient way to do it is by forcing the Chosen One to earn his/her rank as such, rather than having it be ascribed to them: rather than having a prophecy, a god or a shaman anoint the character as the one true savior, have them act and earn that recognition from the world. Have them rely on the character to save them after that character has proven that he/she can in a manner nobody else can or will.

That is harder to do in such a story because the Chosen One needs to have proper motivation to go above and beyond, facing the insurmountable odds that come with saving the world. Often for that motivation to be realistic it has to be (at least initially) linked to personal gain or personal stakes the character has which are forcing him/her to embark in such missions. Character development arcs have to take place for the character to accept the position of the Chosen One rather than be passively adherent to it. It’s no wonder that this way is often reserved for antiheroes, though not always.

How do you handle the Chosen One trope? Do you have it in your comic? Would you?

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anonymous?

phinmagic at 11:22AM, Dec. 5, 2017

I've turned the chosen on on its head in my comic. My main character daughter is the chosen of Shub Niggarath. She was marked by her minions, whilst in Utero and the attempts of the evil cult to get the baby have driven the story for a while. Even still, she's the chosen of evil, so I'll find that an interesting plot piece to play with for years.

KimLuster at 6:56AM, Dec. 4, 2017

While it can make for good stories, I generally hate the idea of a 'chosen one', and I generally hate prophetic plots in general, as it indirectly removes freewill (there was no way Oedipus was getting out of killing his father and marrying his mother, no matter what he 'chose' to do), but I decided to sort of play with it in the Godstrain. Kimber Lee was 'chosen' by something nearly unknowable, and in the process, she nearly destroyed the world with her 'chosen' abilities. She ultimately pulled through, but she certainly could've chosen otherwise...!

Banes at 1:11PM, Dec. 2, 2017

Most superheroes have this issue of being given their abilities without doing anything to get them. It was just an accident of some kind. It's important to give them a difficult journey and hard choices to make and challenges to face. Spiderman is a hero because of the difficult choices and sacrifices he makes, and his often being overwhelmed in his heroic life as well as his normal life.

Banes at 1:07PM, Dec. 2, 2017

I have a character in development who was "gifted" in childhood with abilities that are a sort-of-blessing and sort-of-curse. Knowing these pitfalls and how they can ruin a Hero and a story are helpful in figuring out how to make it work (or scrapping the character/story if I can't!).

Banes at 1:05PM, Dec. 2, 2017

bravo, I was thinking as well about the Chosen One being chosen by EVIL forces - the ones that come to my mind are Hellboy (reminded of him by KimLuster on a previous newspost), who was 'chosen' to be the harbinger of the Apocalypse, and Sam from Supernatural, who was also chosen by Lucifer to do something similar. That's pretty cool stuff, and gives a Chosen One a tough road indeed - they're fighting their very own destiny as well as other antagonistic forces. Excellent article!

usedbooks at 12:23PM, Dec. 2, 2017

It would be more fun to have a story where there is some chosen prophesied person -- but the story isn't about them. It's about their brother or some other person living in that setting who never met them but believes or doubts the prophecy or thinks it's someone else. (Like Life of Brian)

bravo1102 at 10:08AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Just occurred to me that Star Trek took a couple of stabs at this trope. I know one was about freedom of choice, that the "chosen one" didn't have to fulfill the destiny others chose and another about bogus prophecies and one about false messiahs, idols and deities. There was at least one anime where the chosen one was not supposed to save the world but destroy it (The Overfiend is one that comes to mind as was Cursed Megapolis where the chosen one was a secondary character not revealed until the climax as an avatar of Kwannon)

Amelius at 9:36AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I like a challenge to take a trope I dislike and do something new with it, but it's not a central theme by a longshot. I've got 2 "Chosen Ones" who are best friends allegedly on opposite sides of the conflict: one who was already powerful now has a cult-like support group encouraging him to do something that ultimately seems mundane to him, they gave him a "special weapon" which turns out to be something randomly nicked off a battlefield in an another dimension; the other "One" got ousted for a charlatan at a young age, assassinated, resurrected,(he came back a tad broken)and the only one pushing him toward the Chosen One thing is his discorporated "alt-timeline" self as his few living allies who try to reach him are murdered. Prophecy is pretty much BS in my comic, and fantastic powers are common. I also dislike the "save the world" plot that usually comes packaged with the Chosen One, so neither of them have anything to do with that!

bravo1102 at 7:30AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I only like a character who believes they are chosen and do what is necessary to convince others they are. But are probably completely delusional because no one is chosen you sometimes just have to do what has to be done.

fallopiancrusader at 7:14AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I have never liked the literary/mythological trope of the "chosen one" who beats people up with magical superpowers that nobody else possesses. Even if the "chosen one" character starts out as an underdog, they are just too superhuman for me to be able to relate to them. I much prefer the trope as it appears in "The Wizard of Oz," where Dorothy has no special powers, and she has to survive by making alliances and friendships with strangers. Her only special power is that she serves as a catalyst to set the much more powerful people around her in motion.

mks_monsters at 6:13AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I have nothing against the trope, but unless you are Jesus (like another guy commented here), I firmly believe that no one is born a hero. Doing what's right is a duty that anyone and everyone should take up and you beat the bad guy because you want to. I find a hero's motive so much more meaningful when they do what they do because they want to not because of selection in which divine intervention occurs more like a reward for their good deeds.

ozoneocean at 5:44AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Haha Bravo, Jesus did that sort of thing 😁 born under the star, virgin birth, all that classic prophecy stuff... Of course if he was real that would have been added later. Give him the proper humble but very auspicious beginnings

bravo1102 at 5:18AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Then there's how one can mold oneself to fit a prophecy. Well, the chosen will enter riding a donkey? So knowing that he enters riding a donkey. And rewrites and/or circulates newly found prophecies that especially fit him. That's a good one to add to "chosen one" tales.

bravo1102 at 5:05AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Roald Dahl was in the RAF in WW2 so was aware of that "chosen one " concept as applied to pilots.

bravo1102 at 5:03AM, Dec. 2, 2017

The whole mystique of "The few" from the Battle of Britain or the pilots of Bomber Command gives a whole other meaning to "chosen ones" Talking of Arthur it's interesting to consider what English Medieval kings were most drawn to the myths and how considered themselves "chosen" (Henry II, Edward I& III and Henry VIII)

ozoneocean at 4:53AM, Dec. 2, 2017

OK, so the point of them is to be projection, stand-ins for the audience, just like you say, but not because they're bland, it's because they really COULD be us- plucked out of obscurity... it plays into the fantasy that most people have that there's something special about us that no one else has recognised yet but will save the world one day... I don't think I could write one for fun. If I wrote a character like that it'd be purely as something I wanted to sell. Those are commercial sorts of stories I think because they're so aimed as your audience. Roald Dahl made a science out of them and JK Rowling copied that format whole. XD

ozoneocean at 4:48AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Aco in Little Witch Academia is like that. UGH!!!!! She is basically effing USELESS as a witch and yet she's set to be the chosen one not matter what. She has almost no magical ability... it's always hinted in the story that because of her low magical ability that she has to train extra hard to be as good as the others but actually she almost never trains at all and is usually told off for slacking. There are about two times when she really trains. Meanwhile the characters that DO work their arses off will never be the best witch and get the super dooper magical wand because they're not the chosen one. This show could have been amazing but the writing was SOoooooo lazy in too many places and let it down. Aco was a crappy main character.

ozoneocean at 4:44AM, Dec. 2, 2017

King Arthur is a chosen one that earns his spot. It's done like that in a few stories. Sooo many animes have a chosen one that's just magically better and more talented than other characters that have worked their arses off to get where they are, and they don't even know why, they're JUST the chosen one for reasons... I HATE that trope! I want those characters to die.

bravo1102 at 3:54AM, Dec. 2, 2017

The chosen one doesn't have to be the good guy. Look at Hitler. He saw himself as chosen by history to lead the German people to world hegemony.

bravo1102 at 3:50AM, Dec. 2, 2017

As an historian I look at it through the prism of historical examples of "chosen ones". There are those who worked very hard to be chosen and others under the delusion and quite able to convince others they are chosen. And then there were those with all the advantages and in the right place at the right time with incredible talent and just do incredible things and called the "chosen one". Think about Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, Alfred the Great, Napoleon, Ulysses S. Grant and even Hitler. The character of Glorreaka sees herself as a chosen one but she's chosen by the Dark Gods to rule in their name.

usedbooks at 3:36AM, Dec. 2, 2017

(Also, no one but the narrator really mentions such a prophecy. Which makes it better, imo. Prophecies kinda suck when everyone knows it and people are setting out to fullfill or stop them. Chosen ones are far more interesting in anonymity.)

usedbooks at 3:33AM, Dec. 2, 2017

Pratchett played with the motif as well (or the King Arthur legend) by having a "meant to be king" character, orphan raised by dwarves, possessing the least magical sword in the world. His kingly nature is acknowledged on every turn. But he doesn't become king.

usedbooks at 3:30AM, Dec. 2, 2017

"Chosen one" motifs suck. I was writing a cringingly stereotypical space adventure with the motif. I Facebook to think about it. Willow has to be the best version of it because at least Alora isn't a whiny angsty teenage tag along. They strip the motif to what it really is, a story about defending an important object and getting it to an important location/event. She doesn't have to struggle with the role or anything.

meemjar at 1:27AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I don't know if he counts as a 'Chosen One' but my character Smorty Smythe follows many of the tropes as it were. An abandoned baby raised under unique circumstances and ventures out into the world, naïve and idealistic but not ill-equipped. He is aided by more worldly, cynical and less-empowered individuals but have their faith and determination restored by having him among them. Much like the old, Superman and Doc Savage type characters.

bravo1102 at 1:27AM, Dec. 2, 2017

I like to think about according to the old saying: some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have it thrust upon them.


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