Trope-Discussion #2: The Chosen One

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.

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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.

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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.

13 thoughts on “Trope-Discussion #2: The Chosen One

  1. I’m also a huge fan of the chosen one trope 😊 I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book where it was done in a way I didn’t like, and I’m always extremely puzzled when people complain about it being overdone. Like… don’t you want your characters to be thrust into dramatic situations that they will have to overcome to save what matters to them? Don’t you want to see them struggle to fill a role they don’t think they’re cut out for? Chosen ones just always seem to end up in more interesting situations than “regular” characters do, and I think the trope is also one that automatically leads to interesting character development when the chosen one has to come to terms with what is expected of them. And has mental breakdowns along the way, which I also love 😁 Would Frodo and Sam have become so close if Frodo didn’t have the burden of carrying the ring? Would Katniss have been as relatable if she had actually wanted to be the Mockingjay? I don’t think so. Seeing chosen ones struggle can be so rewarding, and I’m all here for it! πŸ₯°

    And, like you, I also tend to prefer reading from a single POV. I had never actually thought about it, but maybe you’re on to something about it being kind of weird if you follow other people than the person whom things are actually happening to… πŸ€”

    As to what makes a chosen one, I’m not sure? I think it’s probably the being destined/enabled to do something without having a choice in the matter thing. As long as the expectation for the character to complete some kind of immensely important task is there, I’d say they’re a chosen one, even if they never actually end up acting on that expectation. But if someone thinks they’re absolutely amazing and born to save the world (**cough Kvothe cough**) and no one else is aware of this, I’d consider the character more arrogant than an actual chosen one.

    Also, you’re not alone. I had this phase when I would check the back of every single wardrobe I saw to see if it might lead to Narnia. Unfortunately, none of them ever did πŸ˜ͺ And I never got my Hogwarts letter either 😭 (However, I did hear that because Voldemort destroyed the Ministry’s records of Muggle-borns while in power, such children born between 1985 and 1998 never ended up getting their letters. This sounds very plausible, so I’m sure that’s what must have happened in my case πŸ˜…)

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    1. I’m also puzzled every time I hear someone say it’s overdone and it’s because of the exact same reasons! Especially the character development because that can be so hard-hitting. And I’m always here for a good mental breakdown 😁

      And about the single POV being connected to the chosen one trope… I don’t think single POV is absolutely necessary for the trope but I think it depends on how big a role the trope plays in the story. You can have loads of other stuff going on and then it would probably feel more natural to follow more characters. I’m thinking Wheel of Time right now but can’t come up with other examples. Maybe it says something that I didn’t like that series very much πŸ˜…

      I also don’t think Kvothe counts as a chosen one πŸ˜„ Especially if we also consider the things you mention that make you love the trope. He doesn’t exactly check those boxes. He was the choice to stop if he wants to. Nobody is going to care.

      And it’s good to know I wasn’t the only one looking to escape the real world like that πŸ˜‚ That wardrobes that lead to Narnia must only exist is very old mansions in England and that’s probably why we haven’t found them and your Voldemort theory perfectly explains the missing letters πŸ˜‚ Not that I have shown any magical abilities but I’m sure it’s just due to the lack of training.

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      1. Mental breakdowns are the best πŸ˜‚

        And I guess you’re right about the role of troupes in chosen one stories. Since I also wasn’t a huge Wheel of Time fan – you made it much further than I did πŸ˜… – I can very much relate, but maybe you could argue that Clary in The Mortal Instruments is kind of like a chosen one? And I did enjoy those books, especially because the other characters were so involved… πŸ€”

        I can’t take credit for the Voldemort theory, though – I think I read that in some meme a friend of mine showed me πŸ˜‚ But it sounds so plausible! Although I haven’t shown any magical abilities either, I’m sure you’re right about it being due to our lack of training 😊

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      2. I hadn’t thought of Clary, but yes I’d say she counts as a chosen one. Although then I would also say Jace is one. I don’t remember it very well but I don’t believe we followed that many characters besides those two? Maybe Simon. So even though other characters were involved they weren’t POV characters, so maybe that’s the difference πŸ€”

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      3. Yes, Jace is probably also on Clary’s level of chosen-one-ness πŸ€” And I think that at least towards the end of the series, there were more POV characters? Like Simon, Maia, Izzy, Alec and maybe Magnus… I could be mixing things up with the TV show, though, since it’s been a while since I’ve reread the series πŸ˜…

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      4. True, there are more character towards the end, but I always forget that that series is six books long. To me it ended after book three and the next three is another series entirely πŸ˜… It really should have been called something different!

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  2. Great post! My stance on almost all tropes is the same: if it’s well done, I like it. I think it’s interesting how you asked the question of who is actually a “chosen one” because in many cases it’s quite hard to tell. You mention Kvothe, who I wouldn’t think of as the chosen one so far, but he definitely has a big ego and thinks of himself as such (will we ever get the last book??)

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    1. Thank you! 😁 I’m incredibly picky when it comes to tropes and there are so many that I don’t like, so I’m envious of your ability to appreciate everything that is done well.
      I also do not think Kvothe is a chosen one, but I found it interesting to try and figure out why not. And I’m also having serious doubts about that last book πŸ˜’

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