The trope of the chosen one is a well-known element in genre literature, whether you like it or not. It is also extremely common in modern media like movies and television series. Some of the most famous literary genre characters who fit this trope include King Arthur, Frodo from the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but what exactly constitutes the trope of the chosen one and why is it so commonly utilised?
You’re A Wizard Harry!
“The Chosen One” trope is very similar to, and sometimes interchangeable with what in narrative theory is known as “The Hero’s Journey” or the “Monomyth”. American mythologist Joseph Campbell describes the hero’s journey like this:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won […] – Campbell, Joseph (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Sounds familiar, right? Often the difference between “The Chosen One” trope and the hero in “The Hero’s Journey” is that the hero almost always has a choice. The hero assumes this role because of the active choices he or she makes to end up in certain situations. The chosen one usually has no choice in the matter at all because they are special or unique in one way or another. Although, exceptions to the rule do exist.
The chosen one is usually a person with special talents or gifts, or someone who has been marked by a prophecy or by a deity to perform a certain heroic task. In Harry’s case, he was born a wizard, which is special in and of itself, but he is also prophesied to be the only one who can defeat Lord Voldemort. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is chosen to carry the one ring to Mordor because he has shown a remarkable ability to resist its dark powers. In the Arthurian legend, Arthur was the only one able to pull the legendary sword from the stone, because he was destined to be the rightful king of England.
Some Love It…
According to a post made by writer Bryn Donovan, the trope of the chosen one might be so popular because it is a form of wish fulfilment. Sometimes we all feel small, like we’re not special or like we don’t matter, and her post implies that “The Chosen One” trope has the potential to supply us with hope. It can also give us the opportunity to believe that we can be special or gifted in some way too, or at the very least live vicariously through the chosen one’s adventures. I mean, how many of us didn’t grow up dreaming about secretly being a super hero, a Jedi, or a wand wielding wizard? I’m personally still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.
Often the chosen one is also an outsider. They usually have gifts or traits that set them apart from their community or the society they live in. That feeling of being different and of not fitting in is something that a large number of people deal with every day. Being able to identify with a character that is going through something similar can potentially be comforting or encouraging, and might be a contributing factor to the seemingly ever-present popularity of this trope.
Some Hate It
If you do a quick Google search on “the chosen one trope”, it becomes quite evident that a lot of people dislike it, find it to be boring, or outright hate it. The most common, negatively charged opinions which keep popping up over and over during my research was the notion that the trope is outdated, and has become unoriginal and too predictable. To be fair, there is a grain of truth to these statements as this trope is a staple of genre literature and media. It is often harder to think of a book series where the hero is not “The Chosen One”.
In an article for Fantasy Magazine, freelance writer Naamen Gobert Tilahun takes a closer look at The Chosen One and juxtaposes it with a trope he calls “The One Who Chooses”. In this article, he makes some good points about how “The Chosen One” trope tends to rob the main character of his or her agency as the character can’t deviate from the end goal, no matter what path they take, and in the end, their destiny is inevitable. If you are at all interested in this subject, I recommend that you read this article in its entirety.
What do you think of “The Chosen One” trope? Do you have a favorite chosen one? Let us know in the comments!