The Chosen One

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A trope that I see every now and then that drives me absolutely batty goes something like this:

Congratulations hero! You are the CHOSEN ONE! You have special powers that no one else does!

The intro is all about letting the audience know how super awesome this character is, being the Chosen One and all, and you think that you’re in for some impressive ass-kicking all around, literally and/or figuratively.

Then, as the story progresses, it turns out that the character isn’t that awesome after all, because:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One.
  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.
  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

Any one of those three would put my teeth on edge, but for whatever reason I usually see all three of these together. I used to try to finish stories that pulled this trope, but experience has taught me that the ending never gets better.

So, let’s break down my bullet points:

  • They don’t want to be the Chosen One

I suspect that the writer is trying to be subversive with this one, but societal context has changed to the point that aspiring to be a mediocre nobody is par for the course — you can even decorate your home with quotes about how you will never do, say, or think anything unique or special. Personally, I have been heavily criticized every time I’ve taken on a new responsibility, often because others treat it as some sort of enslavement.

You have four kids? How on Earth are you ever supposed to do anything?

Oh, I don’t know. Occasionally the kids take off the shackles and I’m allowed a bit of sunshine; just enough to keep me going. So tell me, what do you do with your freedom? Work all day, then veg out on the internet?

Anyway, it would be far more refreshing to see a character who actually wants to be the Chosen One and takes the responsibility seriously.

  • A dozen other characters are introduced who also have special abilities.

I wish I could say that this is due to a lack of imagination, but I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s wish fulfillment on the part of the writer. Usually, the main character is no longer set apart, instead belonging to a tight-knit group where everyone knows everyone else’s pain, and never has to face the possibility of loneliness.

After the cadre has been formed, the enemies start popping up with even stronger powers to justify it all, and the hero is looking less and less unique and interesting. But at least the writer vicariously has imaginary friends!

  • Their power turns out to not be anywhere near as cool as it sounds.

This is the natural consequence of the previous bullet points. Even if someone is uncertain at first, they’ll naturally be drawn into enjoying ULTIMATE POWER when they realize what they can do with it, so in order to keep up with the mediocre aspiration, the ULTIMATE POWER can’t actually be all that seductive or useful. You also can’t make your friends feel bad by being obviously better than them, and the battles need more suspense by dangling the question of whether or not the entire group has what it takes to defeat the single bad guy. Working alone. Against all of you.

Wait, who was supposed to be the Chosen One again?

It’s a terrible trope, which unfortunately plagues the fantasy genre, so I keep coming across it. Le sigh.

Maybe we could try something new?

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