Monday, June 13, 2016

You are the Chosen One

Something that bothers me to no end in the fantasy writing world

In my opinion, the world of fantasy writers is struggling.  There are a handful of truly skilled writers--Rafe Martin, author of Birdwing, and Brian Jacques come to mind--and I'm sure you have some favorite authors in mind as well.

But something we as book lovers have to acknowledge is that there is a lot of not-good writing out there as well.  It seems that ever since the dawn of the YA fantasy craze (a craze I think is largely due to The Lord of the Rings, but that's a post for another day) there have been a lot of tropes and cliches adopted.

One of my personal least-favorites is the "you were chosen" cliche.  It can be done well, but it can also be done horribly, horribly wrong.  One popular way to do this is present a problem which only the protagonist can solve because they have some special attribute everyone else lacks.

Oh, you're the only person that's different?  What a special snowflake!
An example of this being done well is in The Lord of the Rings when Aragorn is the only character who can unite the world of Men.  This actually has a reason, because he is the king.  

Another good example is in The Hunger Games when Katniss (not because of some random prophecy or special mark) is the only one who can fuel the rebellion.  She is able to do this because of her acts in the Games, not some strange fate appointed only to her.

Another good example is in the TV show, Merlin.  Merlin is the only one who can save Arthur because he is a wizard!  That is a pretty good reason if I ever heard one.

An example of this being poorly executed is in Divergent.  In the book it was presented reasonably, but in the movie Insurgent, everything is completely centered around Tris.  She is the only one who can open the (non-canon) box with her inexplicable magical divergent powers.  The reality is that there are divergents all around and nothing, nothing makes Tris special.  She has not done anything particularly heroic or special to earn her a place, and no backstory is given as to why she is special out of all the other divergents.  It seems to convenient that everything revolves around the main character.

I guess the reason that this trope bothers me is because it excludes other well-meaning and perfectly capable characters.  A character can do everything right and still not have that "special pixie-dust magic" that allows him to achieve great things.  Well guess what?  Regular people can do great things too--there doesn't have to be a prophecy written about you or a special mark in order for you to achieve something great.  This trope makes everything seem unrealistic to me, personally.

In The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits, the meekest and lowliest race, are chosen to carry out the task.  Originally everyone supposes that Frodo is the only Hobbit who can carry it out, that it is his destiny.  But we find that Samwise, the lowest of the low, is actually the conqueror.

I don't really know where I'm going with this, to be honest.  My thoughts are all jumbled up, but this is a rant so I am just writing what comes to mind in this instant.

I think prophecies can be cool, let's not get that wrong.  But I think it can get really bland and dull when it is pronounced early on, "hey, you're the chosen one!" and the rest of the story is just that character trying to figure out how to use their power.

Another thing that bothers me is that it is often one person.  In The Lord of the Rings, everyone is needed.  It's not just Frodo or just Sam, it's the whole fellowship.  The reality is that we all need to work together for things to get done.  It doesn't (or it shouldn't) come down to just one magical person who is destined for an obscure reason to save the world.

Sorry for the excess of HSM gifs, but they're so applicable to real life! XD
Okay to summarize these crazy ramblings:
  • there are a lot of good fantasy tales and lot of bad ones out there
  • many tropes and cliches (often annoying) have begun to develop
  • one such trope is choosing a specific character who is the only one who can save the world
  • SOMETIMES it can be done well
  • OFTEN times it is done poorly
  • this bothers me because it is unrealistic
  • it negates the actions of other characters
  • it makes the story all about one person and no one else matters
  • it denies that it is important to work together
There are my half-thought-through spur of the moment thoughts.  They are probably all inaccurate and poorly written.  

What do you think about the "chosen one" trope in fantasy or lit in general?  Does it bother you or not?


  1. This wasn't inaccurate or poorly written!

    I agree that "the chosen one" has become a fantasy/sci-fi cliché. If you've seen the original Star Wars trilogy, do you think it poorly uses that "technique"?

    Dawww, I love that bottom picture. xD

    1. Oh good, thank you *breathes sigh of relief*

      I haven't seen the movies but I have come across the meme several times and I just found out yesterday it was from Star Wars. Sorry, I'm not sure!

      Hehe it's so cute ^_^