Ink & Bourbon
Tilting at windmills. Because those windmills think they're better than us.

Why I’m Sick of the Chosen One

It’s a trope we all know. It’s been used by some of the most beloved authors in some of the best known works, the foundational works of fantasy and science fiction.

But I don’t like it.

OK, anything can work if it’s done reeeaaaally well. But if you want to pull off a “chosen one” story and not have my eyes rolling, you have to be very, very good.

My biggest issue with the trope is that the chosen one is usually chosen very poorly. It’s always some hick from the sticks who has no idea what they’ve been chosen for, and no skills or competence at the task that needs doing. They are chosen by birthright factors beyond their control. When they do shine, it’s because of some mystical innate thing. Nothing they had to work for or practice or try to get good at. They just happen to be the orphan with the most Midichlorians. Your basic Chosen One is the mystical version of the trust fund brat who gets the dream job you actually worked hard for because the CEO of the company roomed with his dad at Phillips. Why does the universe never choose somebody who’s actually good at the job?

And to underscore just how incompetent and poorly suited the chosen one is for their role, they need a squad of actually competent but oddly un-chosen ones to do all the heavy lifting. They have a wise mentor who teaches them pretty much everything. This is popular in fiction because it allows the author to build the world and the backstory. I get that. It’s less of a distracting info dump when Gandalf or Obi Wan or Dumbledore is trying to tell our hero how the universe works and to stop bumbling around Moria or the Death Star or Diagon Alley. The reader is being educated along with the useless protagonist, so as a lazy way to get your world building out, sure, fine.

But the competent group that has to hold our hero’s hand and act as expendable training wheels on the protagonist’s bicycle are the really interesting characters. The ones I care about. The ones that I would rather see in the spotlight. Without Han Solo or Hermione or Aragorn, the hero fails, evil triumphs and the world/galaxy/whatever is plunged into despair. And for what reward? The wise mentor always gets to die. Often as not, the competent crew of companions lose a few members, and the Chosen One steps forward over the corpses of his more worthy protectors to do the One Thing that they are Chosen for, saving the day.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I still say Boromir got a raw deal.