Welcome to Trope Time, the blog series where I talk all about tropes: the good, the bad and the ugly!
I’m planning on doing this as a bi-weekly series in which I take an in-depth look at various types of tropes, from character tropes, to world-building tropes and plot tropes. So I hope you enjoy these posts, and if there’s any particular tropes you’d be interesting in seeing me cover, feel free to make suggestions in the comments!
Today’s trope is a fantasy classic: the Chosen One. You know how it goes: they might just want to be an average Joe, but unfortunately they’re the sole person capable of vanquishing the evil overlord, and have no choice but to save the world!
Often they’re the subject of a mysterious prophecy, or have inherited rare magical powers, or have literally been chosen as the best (or only!) person for the job. Whatever the case, destiny has determined that they have a task to do, and there’s no getting out of it!
Examples of Chosen Ones
Harry Potter from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Yes, none of us exactly want to talk too much about anything J.K. Rowling related right now, but it’s hard to write a post about ‘Chosen Ones’ without mentioning Harry Potter. Whilst there’s the small caveat of the Chosen One of prophecy possibly being him or Neville, he’s literally chosen by Voldemort himself to be the one destined to destroy him, and is often referred to as the Chosen One throughout the series.
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Whilst Katniss technically volunteers herself to take part in the Hunger Games to spare her sister, in her head it doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Not to mention the fact she is unwillingly thrust into the role of head of the resistance in the later books.
Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Poor Frodo Baggins ends up as the owner of the One Ring of power, and so has little choice but to embark on an epic quest to destroy it in Mount Doom. Whilst he’s technically offered the chance to turn back and let someone else take up the task when he reaches Rivendell, by then he’s in too deep, and too attached to the Ring. Even though he’s accompanied by the fellowship, he’s the only one for the task!
Eragon from Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Eragon is chosen by Saphira the dragon when she hatches from her egg, and as the only dragon rider on the ‘good’ side, he’s generally seen as the only person who can defeat Galbatorix.
Uzumaki Naruto from Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Naruto becomes the host for the nine-tailed fox spirit as a baby, and is given little choice in the matter. Whilst it initially means he’s ostracised by the village, he eventually gains incredible powers and is the only one who can save the village.
Izuku Midoriya from My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
Whilst Midoriya willingly accepts the powers given to him, he’s literally chosen by All Might as his successor, and inheritor of the powerful One-For-All quirk.
We like ‘special’ characters.
In most cases, average Joe characters just aren’t as interesting, and through Chosen One characters we get to experience what it would be like to be special.
They drive the plot.
Chosen One characters often have no choice but to go through with the seemingly impossible task that apparently only they can achieve. That means no backing out, and this massively drives the plot onwards towards the inevitable final showdown.
It’s interesting to watch them grow into their destiny.
Chosen Ones often have humble beginnings, and are reluctant to take up their monumental task, so it’s always interesting to see their character development throughout the book, and how they grow into their ‘hero’ role.
It’s a huge cliche.
By this point, the Chosen One trope is a huge cliche, and whenever it’s announced that a character has some sort of secret special powers, it’s difficult not to roll your eyes. This again.
Chosen Ones are often Mary Sues/Gary Stus.
A character who is by their nature ‘special’ can very easily slip into that dreaded ‘Mary Sue/Gary Stu’ territory where they’re overly competent at everything, and just plain bland in their perfection. Even if they start off as a regular farm boy, often they’ll pick up fighting instantly, master their powers at exactly the right times, and just generally be loved and admired by everyone.
They’re not relatable.
I hate to say it, but most of us aren’t special, and none of us have secret magical powers that make us destined to save the world (I assume?), which makes it difficult to relate to Chosen Ones and their ‘Poor me! I’m just so special!’ problems.
As a lover of fantasy, there is a special place in my heart for the Chosen One trope, even though I can recognise that it’s now incredibly overdone and cliched.
I think authors can still get away with it if it’s done well and they make sure to steer clear of Mary Sue territory. I want to see incompetent, scared, flawed Chosen Ones please!
So what do you think about the Chosen One Trope? Who are your favourite (or least favourite) Chosen One characters?