Celebrating Fantasy: The Chosen One

This may be a controversial view, but I enjoy “Chosen One” stories. A lot of them are cliched, yes, but when you run across a great one, it can be a very rewarding reading experience. It’s all a matter of how the author executes it.

A sufficiently talented author knows how to write this kind of story without losing the tension. The big thing it comes down to is making any prophecies open-ended. Don’t have the prophecy spell out everything that’s going to happen. Don’t tell us that the Chosen One is going to succeed. That takes all the suspense out of the story.

One of my best examples for this is the Harry Potter series.

SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SERIES YET.

 

Rowling handles the Chosen One trope very well in my opinion. For one thing, you don’t find out until the fifth book that Harry is the Chosen One. Even then, the prophecy you’re given is open-ended. Harry can defeat Voldemort. There’s no guarantee that he will.

Instead of taking away tension, this introduces more tension. Now you know that Harry is the world’s best chance of defeating Voldemort, but you don’t know that he’ll succeed. As the reader, you feel the pressure Harry feels as he struggles to find a way to defeat Voldemort. It’s an unimaginable amount of pressure.

This works even better because the prophecy is not his sole motivation. At this point, he’s suffered so much because of Voldemort, and he’s taken it upon himself to defeat Voldemort regardless of the prophecy. And that’s the beauty of a well-done Chosen One story. The hero is not doing things solely because prophecy says they should. The prophecy is just one piece of what motivates them.

 

Similarly, you can look at The Wheel of Time for a Chosen One story done very well. In this case, Robert Jordan accomplishes it through the creation of a deep and complex world and throwing a great deal of ambiguity into the prophecy and the outcome of the final battle. Even if you think Rand will defeat the Dark One at the end, you don’t know how it’s going to happen, or if Rand will survive the battle.

Then there are all the other characters. These prophecies say nothing about what they’re supposed to do. By having a cast of so many characters you care about, it takes a lot of focus away from the direct Chosen One/prophecy narrative. It’s a story of a prophecy, but it’s also a story of all these other characters connected to the prophecy, some more directly than others. And that makes it very enjoyable (despite a bit of a slog through the middle portion of the series).

 

There are countless other examples, but these are two of the most prominent that come to mind. I’m not going to talk much about the Belgariad, for example, because I don’t think Eddings handled the prophecy aspect of the story quite as well. It’s a fun, light read, but I never felt any doubt about the final outcome.

What about you? What are some of your favorite Chosen One stories?

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