'The Chosen One' paradox

user32730 08/15/2018. 8 answers, 3.654 views
creative-writing fiction character-development fantasy

In many books novels or other forms of fictional writing, the reader is introduced to a so called 'chosen one'. This character or being is of higher power or in general, of different nature than other characters. To be more precise - my question is about the making or formation of said 'chosen one'. In my experience, being the 'chosen one' is often related to a certain event in which the 'chosen one' overcame a certain enemy or challenge in which most other characters would have perished/not succeeded. In this specific event, I see a paradox: Did the character overcome the enemy/succeed in the challenge because he is the chosen one - or did he become the chosen one by overcoming the enemy/succeeding in his task. How can I approach this paradox in a fictional story that has a 'chosen one' as the main character?

8 Answers

Secespitus 08/15/2018.

It's not a paradox - it's a choice

You, as the author and creator of your specific fictional world, have the choice to define which of these statements is true. There is no inherent reason to assume one or the other is true and that the other one is false. In fact, it's often used as an important plot device for the character themselves to explore whether they are just a pawn doing what some higher power wants from them or they have a "choice" and can influence the world around them.

There is not even a reason to tell your reader what you decided. Simply explore this very paradox in-universe and see what your characters make of it. And if it ever blocks you from writing just choose one and go with it for the moment - if it doesn't feel right later you know that you need to change it and that the other one is the right one for you, your story and your specific world.

Ash 08/15/2018.

It's not really a paradox, the chosen one is seen as the chosen one because they succeed where others cannot, but they can only succeed because they are already the chosen one to begin with. To put it another way that character was always the chosen one but no-one can see it until they complete an impossible task that marks them out.

Think about Unbreakable the protagonist already knows what he is, what he's capable of, but he turned his back on that knowledge and its implications a long time ago. He's only recognised for the superhuman being he is after he survives the unsurvivable.

There are a number of different approaches one can take to the chosen one character archetype:

  • the knowing reluctant hero; they know what they could be but they don't want it, this character will hold back from situations they see as potentially exposing their true nature. They will also run from the responsibilities that come with their final revelation if they can.

  • the unknowing reluctant hero; this is a humble character who doesn't want anything to do with personal power of any kind. They don't know what they will become but when asked to take up their hero's mantle they will try to refuse it, they may take up power but never out of self-interest.

  • the completely ignorant hero; they have no idea what's going on, usually they're only involved at all because they're being played by someone else. They may fall into any of the other categories once they become aware of the position they have been placed in.

  • the knowing and eager hero; knowing what they are they embrace their role, they go to their destined fate with their heads up, eyes open, and a smile on their lips.

  • the unknowing but eager hero; they don't know what they're going to become but they grab any opportunity to prove themselves or gain power. Characters who fall into this category but aren't actually the chosen one will often fail, and/or die, spectacularly.

  • the necessary man; this is not a traditional hero, they have been called to a great task/destiny, but they're neither eager nor reluctant to complete it, simply accepting, resigned to the trials ahead. They'll do what they feel needs to be done, but they maintain a certain detachment from the task and the other people around them.

Matthew Dave 08/15/2018.

The book Un Lun Dun is an exploration of this concept; the Chosen One said to save Unlondon basically never lives up to the pressure of being the chosen one and ends up being out of commission by the middle of the book. She becomes amnesiac and her best friend Deeba, who remembers, returns to Unlondon.

Deeba, in making the choice to return and try to save Unlondon out of her own free will becomes the Unchosen One, a fitting hero for Unlondon. The Chosen One trope is readily being subverted in that having destiny alone motivate a hero is more readily being pointed out as not enough.

These days, a hero needs to be motivated out of purity; my favourite renditions of the Chosen One trope is where the hero has an established track record of selflessness and doing the right thing before being revealed to have a great destiny.

In other words, I think the resolution to the paradox is that the Chosen One can become Chosen by making himself a damn choosable candidate by destiny.

Amadeus 08/15/2018.

In my opinion, the chosen one is made that way, whether they know it or not. IRL, the kings of old were warriors, born with a talent for fighting that was recognized, cultured and taught, if they were "chosen" it was by fate.

I prefer to think they were not chosen at all, but the recipient of blind luck that was then, usually, augmented by hard work and training, because their inherent talent was recognized by some mentor early on, while they were still able to be shaped.

That, IMO, is how it works in real life. Sports stars are not really special because of the amount of work they put in, for every one of them a thousand other kids start out working just as hard, and a hundred of them would be willing to work harder to achieve their dream. They just don't have the genetic gifts required to reach the top, no matter how great their desire.

It isn't just sports, but academics, and singing, and acting, and songwriting and music, and mathematics and engineering and games like chess. The prodigies that become world champions are kicking butt at the age of five; they have natural talents that were not taught, or were self-taught.

I prefer the same dynamic in my fiction. I write about a character because she was born with something world class special; and I want to see how she found that out, early or late, and where that leads her in life.

Wenlocke 08/15/2018.

I see this more as a response to being "The Chosen One" rather than actually whether or not the character is the chosen one. What you pretty much always see is that the Chosen one is named, declared or defined so by outside forces. Take the obvious example of Harry Potter. The only reason he was the chosen one, as it were, is because the prophecy said it could have been him, so Voldemort made it him by saying "it must be you who is destined to bring me down" and everything else that happened is a direct result of his decision to make Harry his target.

Essentially, in most iterations of the chosen one concept, the chooser is not the character themselves. They show themselves worthy or not of the title through their actions, and whether they accept it or no, but essentially, be it prophecy or be it Greater Powers (interchangeable in this context,) they have no control over whether or not they are.

This is why it's not really a paradox most of the time. They are not the chosen one by their actions. Being the chosen one does not make them succeed. They would still have been the chosen one had they not overcome this challenge. If they have the same skills, they would have overcome the challenge if they weren't the chosen one. Mostly where the "won because you were worthy or worthy because you won" paradox occurs, it is deliberately invoked for ambiguity and drama (mostly they are explicit one way or the other.)

user8356 08/15/2018.

This is one of the eternal human questions that literary fiction explores: Are we born to a fate or do we make it -- and does that apply to heroes? Do great people become great or are they born that way, and how do they live up to and ultimately fulfil a "chosen" designation.

This is Biblical story of Jesus, just to cite perhaps the best-known example.

Having a character be "the chosen one" in sci-fi and fantasy literature can be a trite cliche, but it's a universal theme of humanity, so it's common in the literature. As a device, it can get the plot going: "The boy who lived" is the first chapter of the Harry Potter series. It may be an element of character development (Neo doubts he is The One; Frodo finds strength and resolve he didn't know he had, Harry Potter...well, you know, it's his prize and his burden).

Rhettmartens 08/15/2018.

Very fun question. Is it a paradox that "the Chosen One" is the only one that can defeat the great evil they face, or are they "the Chosen One" because they are the only one that can face it? I don't know that I would call it a paradox as the two perspectives are either predictive or attributed.

One hopes because of minimal evidence that the hero is "the Chosen One" either because of a prophecy or because they have the courage to try at something that everyone else has already failed. Your audience trusts you that they are in fact "the Chosen One" because why would you tell them they could be only to have them reach the climax and fail? (coincidentally, that does happen, and makes for some excellent comedy - Take "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" for example where Zaphod Beeblebrox is attempting to find the answer to life and everything only to get the answer 42 and have no clue what to do with the answer.)

The other acts as more substantial proof that in fact the hero could be "the Chosen One" because they have overcome something that everyone else has failed at. A great example of this might be Achilles in Greek Mythology at the battle of Troy. He had already proven himself, but in the end still fails. In either circumstance however being "the Chosen One" or fate can be its own paradox in that it attributes power to accomplish something before it is done and is only proven true or false after the thing has been accomplished. Whether this is attributed to the person before or after however is just hyperbole toward the character that for readers adds an extra element of strength and power to the hero and provides an added significances to their ability to overcome.

WBT 08/15/2018.

If you want to make it explicitly a result of overcoming the enemy, the "chosen one" could obtain some magical object by the defeat of the enemy.

The magical powers could even be tied to the defeat of the enemy as part of the process, such as the mastership of the Elder Wand in the Harry Potter universe.

For more realism and engagement, it can be something the character learned during their journey toward that specific victory (whether about themselves, about nature, or about the world) that allows them to go on to later greater success.

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