Born the seventh son of a seventh son. Last of his kind. Marked at birth to be evil’s bane. Fulfiller of prophecy. Touched by the Gods. Filled to the brim with midi-chlorians. He (or she) alone can halt the darkness and bring peace to the land. It is THE CHOSEN ONE. Folks there are tropes and then there are Tropes and The Chosen One is right up there with the greats. It’s also the subject of today’s Troping the Riff.
So what do I mean by The Chosen One? Well this is any character in a story that has been singled out for greatness by an outside force. Fate has determined that this child will grow up to have a grand destiny whether that person wants it or not. They have been set above the rest of us. Only they can save the day.
The Chosen One might just be the most hated trope in all of genre fiction. And there are some very good reasons for that. If your intrepid hero is destined to defeat evil then it’s hard for the reader/viewer to believe that the outcome is ever really in doubt. Without doubt the conflict loses its dramatic punch. And without dramatic punch the story feels stale and loses its audience. This is doubly true if the chosen one lacks training or ability and seems to luck themselves through events more than anything else.
However when done right a chosen one can allow the writer to explore concepts of free will versus determinism and the burdens that come with putting the needs of society above your own. Think about it. If you are fated to defeat the big bad then why fight at all? Why not just sit on the beach and wait for the apocalypse to come to you? The idea of taking up the mantle of responsibility and embracing one’s lot in life is something that many of us can relate to. And while a Chosen one trope is not the only way for a writer to explore these themes it can be a good vehicle for them especially the protagonist’s sense of being trapped by his/her destiny.
Perhaps the most notable example of The Chosen One trope from the last few years is Harry Potter and while it adhered to a great many tropes in addition to Harry being the Chosen One there are few who would argue that the series felt stale. Speaking of not being stale at all how about Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Here is a revolutionary genre series that shocked you at every turn and ushered in a new era of female empowerment that made excellent use of The Chosen One.
My point is this for as much as The Chosen One trope is derided by critics and message boards it is just like any other plot device you encounter; compelling and imaginative in the hands of a good writer or stale and derivative in the hands of a hack. So cut this staple of genre fiction some slack. After all its dealing with the pressure of being The Chosen Trope.