The prophecy was wrong, okay?
There is no Chosen One. There never was, actually. Do you know what happens in real life when we anoint someone as a savior?
They let us down. Inevitably, and invariably. They were supposed to save the world, but they’ve been doping on the sly. Or fucking their nanny. Or secretly slipping a hand down the pants of corporate interests. You know, when you weren’t watching.
So when I read about a Chosen One, I can’t relate. I’ve never seen a Chosen One in real life. I don’t think there’s one staring me in the mirror.
What I see here, on this warming rock in the year 2016, are people who were never supposed to save the world, and yet they’re doing it anyway. In small ways. Small kindnesses and acts of courage. People whose coming was never foretold by a guy with a long beard and a rune-covered scroll; people whose lineage doesn’t contain a trace of magic or divine power. No long-forgotten royal blood or familial estate waiting in the wings, either.
Just schmucks. Plebes. But clever ones, for all that.
I don’t think I can stomach one single more Chosen One in the fiction I read. And honestly, I don’t think you should either. The worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror offer infinite possibilities, and that goes double when it comes to main characters. (Yeah, that’s right: I just doubled infinity. Eat that, Einstein!)
If we can imagine any reality we want to, let’s imagine one where our protagonist survives only by the skin of her wit. Not by the power of the Jesus Dragon from which, we learn, she was actually descended.
I’m not letting kids’ books off the hook, either. Sure, every kid’s secret fantasy is to learn that their real parents were a werewolf samurai and a centaur master necromancer. Whose awesome powers are about to awaken in said kid on their thirteenth birthday, etc., etc. That doesn’t mean we have to market directly to that fantasy. That’s a lazy way to make a buck, and does the kid no favors down the road.
Let’s show our heroes triumphing not from inborn gifts, but from skills they’ve had to work to win. Let’s still put them up against evil empires and malicious demigods and horrors from beyond the curtain, but let’s strip them of their father’s Greatsword +5 and their best friend the almighty archmage, and just see what happens.
Well, I’ll tell you what happens: these heroes will have to use their brains, and their hard-won skills, or they will die. How’s that for stakes?
That’s not just my manifesto as a reader, but also the mission for my own work. In Player Choice, you’ll find a main character who has been handed nothing, who’s been working toward a dream for nearly his whole life. In The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, the protagonist has been given not a gift, but a curse, and his mind struggles not to break in the face of an overwhelming darkness.
When these characters succeed (or if they even do), it’s earned. Because, like you and me, they’re not the Chosen Ones. They have to do the best they can with what they’ve got. I believe that the very best speculative fiction uses its fantastical setting as a kind of funhouse mirror, to show us something about ourselves. What we’re capable of, for good or bad.
Demand more from the fiction you read, and we’ll all be better for it. Seek out the stories that reject the Chosen One narrative and show us us. And let me know about your favorite ones in the comments.
Talk to you tomorrow.
(Written as Day 1 of Jeff Goins’ “Blog Like a Pro: 7-Day Challenge.” Thanks for the inspiration, guy!)
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