Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dissecting The Chosen One, Part II

Last week, I dissected my dislike for "the Chosen One" as they appear in fantasy.  But it's also sort of unavoidable.  So, if you must have a Chosen One, how can you spice it up, add a twist, or just give depth to the character?

Here are some of my suggestions for things to consider.

1. Who Chooses Them?

It almost always seems to be destiny or prophecy or something vaguely mystical.  It's almost never God because then we leave the realm of fantasy and get into religion, which is less comfortable.  The Chosen One is Chosen by... Something.  Forces outside our comprehension.  Yeah, that sounds good.

This bothers me.  It's not that I need all the mysteries of the fantasy world unraveled before me.  I happen to like a little mysticism--so long as the author knows what he or she is doing.  Prophecy or destiny has to be deeply and consistently integrated into the world and--this is important--there needs to be a reason for people to believe it.

In other words, throwing in a random prophecy just isn't going to cut it.

Now, let's drop destiny for a moment, and consider the second option: that the Chosen One is actually chosen by someone or something.  For example, I've seen a moderate trend of the villain actually choosing the Chosen One.  (For example, in Harry Potter, Mistborn, and even The Hunger Games to some extent.  In the T.V. series Once Upon a Time, the villain pretty much makes the Chosen One.)

This is an interesting concept, for several reasons.  It adds depth to the hero/ villain dynamic, and it actually spins the concept of destiny on its head.  You would think that the villian would pick someone they could defeat, but the hero often surprises them.  The hero chooses his own destiny.  Or perhaps some higher force than the villian has a say.  

Of course, people besides the villian could choose the Chosen One.  You could take this literally and put it to a vote, though I suspect that would be a more comedic example.  Or the Chosen One could just choose themselves.  It would be an interesting twist for the hero to decide he's the Chosen One, while everyone else scoffs in disbelief--a nice reversal.

To sum up, I feel like there needs to be some connection between Chooser and Chosen, whether positive or negative, mystical or tangible.  The Chosen One cannot exist in a void.  Someone or Something must choose them, and that element should not be ignored.

2. Why Are They So Special?

When contemplating what makes the Chosen One special, two things do not work for me: 1. power  2. being in the right place at the right time.  I also have a problem with self-sacrifice, but I'll get to that in a minute.  Let's start at the beginning.

Power.  This includes but is not limited to: any kind of extraordinary magic or skill with a weapon, extreme healing, impossible genius, invisibility, telepathy or ability to block telepathy, magical pet or object, and extreme speed or toughness.  Basically, they are special because they are powerful and they are powerful because they are special.  It's an ever-turning wheel.

There's nothing wrong with your hero having power.  But it's a problem if that's all they have or if that power is so vast as to make them a walking deus ex machina.  What makes them "Chosen" has to come at least partially from their personality and moral choices.  Otherwise, you might as well just have the gods of prophecy hand a nuclear bomb over to the good guys.  It makes things simpler.

Coincidence.  Here's one I hate more than power.  You have a Chosen One, let's call her Pretty Girl, who does nothing the entire story long--in fact, she needs to get rescued by men several times.  But for some reason, everyone decides she's special.  Then, suddenly, at the last possible minute, Pretty Girl kills the bad guy, let's say, Evil Witch.  Everyone gives a big hurrah.

I'm actually thinking of the early 2000's miniseries The Tenth Kingdom, though Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland fits nicely as well.  In The Tenth Kingdom, protagonist Virginia accomplishes zero heroics until a brief fight scene at the end, wherein she kills the evil queen by flicking her with a poison comb.  Okay...?  So why couldn't anyone else have done that?  Does one moment of being in the right place at the right time make you a hero?  I think not.  If you have a Chosen One, they'd better do something.

Self-Sacrifice.  In real life, self-sacrifice is hard.  In books, it's easy and common.  A hero may die like a martyr, but that doesn't mean I'll weep for them.  (Of course, the hero may survive their death--but that's another rant.)  

Besides, when you think about it, how many other characters have already died in service of a cause? They may have even sacrificed themselves for the hero.  What makes the Chosen One's sacrifice more important than theirs?  

So, to go back to the central question, why is the Chosen One so special?  Well, there's no easy answer.  The best I can suggest is some kind of blend: the character's unique power and personality mixed with their moral choices happen to be exactly what's needed at that time.  Again, let me emphasize uniqueness.  A generic Chosen One is bland and boring.

3. Why Only One?

How many "Chosen Ones" actually save the world alone?  Almost none.  Harry Potter has Ron and Hermoine; Neo has Trinity and Morpheus; Luke has Leia, Hans, Chewbaccca, and two Driods.  So why is it only one person gets "Chosen" when clearly defeating evil is a group effort?  Can you even imagine the Chosen One going it alone?  They'd be dead before the sequel.

So why not name multiple Chosen Ones?  (I sort of do this in The Changelings.)  That takes some of the pressure off the individual.  Tasks can be divvied up. Virtues such as friendship, loyalty, and love can take root.  Other characters can get credit for their accomplishments.

Or why not have multiple Chosen Ones.  Spares, perhaps, or alternates, so that if anything happens to the Chosen One (gasp!) or they choose not to accept their destiny (double gasp!) you're not completely up the creek.  Now, this sounds like satire or comedy, but it could probably be written seriously.  You could have a whole group competing for their chance at glory.  Or you could alter the final outcome just slightly based on different character's personalities and decisions.

Maybe I'm ruining the whole concept.  Maybe multiple "Chosen Ones" fly in the face of a singular "Chosen One."  But I happen to enjoy the twist.  Very rarely does a Chosen One exist in a void.  At the very least, choosing the right companions is part of what makes the Chosen One unique.

No comments:

Post a Comment