The “Chosen One” trope refers to a plot in a novel, a movie, or a TV show in which some regular person finds out that s/he, and only s/he, can save the world or carry out some other grand task. Whether their role was foretold by ancient prophecy, determined by their bloodline, or what have you, s/he is destined to be the hero.
Several fantasy and science fiction editors in the past several years have specifically said that they do not want books with “Chosen One” narratives.
(An aside here: whenever editors walk away from beloved tropes, or even beloved genres such as “sword and sorcery fantasy,” I think it opens up a great opportunity for self-published authors.)
The “Chosen One” storyline goes way back. It’s all over in the Bible. “Hey Mary, guess what? You’re going to have the most important baby ever!” “Hey friend, guess who’s the new prophet? That’s right, it’s you.” King Arthur is the only one who pull the sword from the stone, because he’s destined to rule. Neo in The Matrix and Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are other examples of the trope.
If you hate the storyline because it’s overdone, that’s totally understandable. Personally, I’m open to most plot lines, assuming they’re handled in a compelling way.
Whether you love the Chosen One trope or you can’t stand it, though, it’s been around and been popular for centuries. Stories don’t take hold of civilizations like that for no reason. So why have people liked it so much?
The easy and obvious answer is that it’s wish fulfillment. People feel ordinary and obscure, and they like to imagine a situation in which they have talents or intrinsic value that was overlooked before.
Wish fulfillment stories serve some good purposes. They can remind us of our desires and goals, and they can give us hope when we’re experiencing a shortage. But I think stories about Chosen Ones appeal to people for another reason as well.
Every person, no matter how ordinary, has a unique blend of talents and life experiences that nobody else has. There’s work they could do, art they could make, or ways they could help others that is perfectly suited for the individual they are. There’s no one, or okay, at least not very many people, that could do it as well as they could.
The fantasy of the Chosen One is really the fantasy of finding one’s individual purpose.
This is why I encourage people to focus on their strengths. If you only focus on improving your weaknesses, you’ll get better at things you’re bad at, though you’ll probably never be fantastic at them. But if you focus on your strengths, you’ll discover more and more what you were really meant to do.
As you go through this week, I hope you’ll think a lot about your talents and positive qualities — the ones you often take for granted. Whether it’s patience, a vivid imagination, a fascination with history, or the ability to perfectly accessorize, they may all be a part of your destiny.
Do you have thoughts about the “chosen one” trope in stories, or about your real-life superpowers and your destiny? Please share them in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and have a great week!