I’m here with another post in my trope-discussion series where I share my opinion on a specific trope that often appear in the fantasy genre. This time I’m talking about one of my all-time favorite ones and that is the chosen one trope. It refers to a character who is chosen for one reason or another to perform a big, important task that usually involves saving the world. The trope is said to have originated from religions where certain people are also chosen to be either the world’s rescuer or the deliverer of religious messages. However, I think it’s safe to say that modern day chosen ones have evolved and have very little to do with real-world religions.
However, I think it’s due to this religion-origin that we’ve seen so many chosen ones who are prophesied in some way, with some of the more popular examples of course found in Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. You could argue that a prophecy introduces some predictability to a story because isn’t the prophecy just telling you how it’s all going to end? And while there’s definitely some validity to that, I’d still say that I don’t think I’ve read a version of this trope that didn’t incorporate some mind-blowing plot twist to flip everything on its head. When done right, the author can actually take advantage of this predictability by giving the reader a false sense of security and prevent them from thinking along different lines.
But does a character need to have a prophecy behind them to be called a chosen one? Not in the way I think of a chosen one. There have also been several examples of a character being chosen to solve the big problem, not because a prophecy says they must, but because they are the only one with the powers to do so. We see examples of this in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Only Frodo and Sam had the power to bring the Ring to Mordor (not the eagles).
My own unofficial analysis is that this type of chosen one became more prevalent after readers grew sick of the unrealistic prophesied chosen one, but it maintained an important aspect of the trope, and that is that the character typically isn’t aware of their abilities and potential at the start of the book. And I think that is why many readers still love that trope despite accusations of it being “overdone”. People who come from nothing and then end up being special and valued speak to us because then it could happen to anyone AKA yourself. Isn’t that what we were hoping for when we were waiting for our Hogwarts letters and checking wardrobes for secret passageways? (Just me? Okay).
However, imagining myself getting an adventure definitely isn’t the only reason I love this trope. I think I’m also drawn to it because I love single POV stories where I just get to focus on that one character. An author needs a reason for us to stick with that one character and the chosen one trope is often a part of that reason. I’m also very interested in the chosen one’s thought process about their new responsibility. There are certainly overlaps in that regard in the books I’ve read but I still find it interesting to see how they overcome their varying degrees of reluctance.
I don’t believe I’ve read the Star Wars version of the chosen one trope (chosen one turns evil) in any book, but I want to go into some of the ways I’ve seen authors try and circumvent expectations when it comes to this trope and how they use it in new and alternative ways. First up is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, which does include the chosen one trope but it’s very much in the background of everything else that’s going on. The chosen one usually takes center stage but in this case, we don’t even know who it is, and that is one of the on-going mysteries of the series.
In the YA section we have the book Carry On by Rainbow Rowell which essentially is making a joke of the trope but still manages to tackle some of the psychological repercussions of being the chosen one. It’s about Simon Snow who is the worst chosen one in the history of chosen ones, so the book mockingly asks the question of why he needs to be the one saving the world instead the person best equipped for it. It leans into some of the criticism of the trope because it’s not always the most sensible thing.
Despite how much I love the classic chosen one trope, I’m also very interested in these books that give it a twist. It’s a natural development for such popular tropes. They’re pushing the boundaries, and I actually had a lot of questions in terms of defining this trope because I could name so many characters who “has the air” of a chosen one but isn’t actually one. Would it still be a chosen one trope if a character starts out as the only one with special powers but others gain them along the way so that they are a team instead of one person? (I’m thinking Stormlight Archive and Divergent). Does there need to be a character who puts this responsibility on the chosen one or can they take it up themselves? Here I’m specifically thinking of whether we’d count Kvothe from Kingkiller Chronicle as a chosen one because he thinks of himself as one, although I realize it’s hard to determine when we don’t know the ending yet. Also, is it essential that the character actually accomplishes this big task in the end to be a chosen one? Personally, I’d say no because the trope of the chosen one is more about the journey to that end goal and all of the technical stuff doesn’t matter that much, but I still find it interesting to ask such definition-questions from above. These examples I mention could also be a result of authors trying to move away from the chosen one trope because of it immense popularity, although not wholeheartedly so that it why it still feels like that trope despite the “chosen-ness” not being too outspoken.
I think that’s all I have on the chosen one trope, so I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Do you love or hate it? What do you think define a chosen one in regards to the questions I asked towards the end? Have you noticed any trends?
I hope you enjoyed this post, and remember to check out the first post in this series if you haven’t where I talked about the strong female character.