YA Friday: Tropes Spring Eternal - The Chosen One

The words "Tropes Spring Eternal" in front of books with flowers on top

A monthly feature where I examine various reading tropes and share some books that use the trope in their plots.

Because Destiny Says So

In honor of Harry Potter's birthday at then end of the month, I decided to examine the most popular trope: The Chosen One. It's so common that it is practically a fantasy novel blueprint. It generally starts with a protagonist who appears common and plain until something special sets them apart from the rest of the cast. In the case of Harry Potter, he is the only one to have survived the unforgivable curse and his encounter with the Dark Lord Voldemort. The protagonists in these novels are usually unbelievably talented or inhumanly heroic and often react to their ‘chosen’ status in predictable ways, usually resisting or attempting to escape or avoid their destinies.

The trope often feels redundant, seeing it time and time again, and can feel eyeroll inducing when you read about a character who, despite having no training whatsoever, succeeds even where their overly qualified supporting characters can’t. Although some authors have begun writing stories that offer explicit commentary on The Chosen One trope. Carry On, written by Rainbow Rowell, asks the questions: What is it like to be a seemingly untalented 'chosen one’? How would the 'chosen one’s' friends feel? How much of a prophesied hero’s future is fate–and how much is expectation or manipulation? And The Rest of Us Just Live Here, written by Patrick Ness, explores what it is like to be ordinary in a world full of extraordinary heroes.

Regardless of how often it feels like we're reading the same plot, this trope has remained prevalent for a reason, especially in young adult fantasy. After all, it is a narrative that investigates the difficult process of coming to understand one’s role in the larger world and battling with the frightening concept of a future, all struggles that are common to teenagers even without magical prophecies hanging over their heads.

Obi Wan Kenobi saying, "You were the chosen one!"

Carry On book cover

Carry On, written by Rainbow Rowell

It’s Simon Snow’s last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and it’s not going as planned. His magic, always unstable, has been even more unpredictable, which is bad news with the magical world’s most infamous bad guy after him. His girlfriend is distant, and he’s afraid he’ll lose touch with his best friend after graduation. But most unsettling of all, Simon’s frustrating, evil, pretty-sure-he’s-a-vampire nemesis/roommate hasn’t come back to school. Baz is probably just off plotting somewhere, but what if he’s really in trouble? And why does Simon care so much, anyway?

Slayer book cover

Slayer, written by Kiersten White

Nina Jamison-Smythe has never been fond of Slayers—not when Buffy, the most infamous Slayer of all, was responsible for Nina's father's death. Raised at the Watchers Academy alongside her twin sister, Artemis, Nina doesn't train in combat; instead, she learns medicine and healing, while Artemis studies to be a Watcher, those who guide Slayers on their quest to rid the world of supernatural evil. But when Buffy (as usual) does something dramatic and violent, the world is suddenly emptied of all magic, just as Nina's Slayer powers activate. With magic seemingly gone forever, Nina's not only facing a destiny as a hated Slayer—she's the very last of the line.

The Girl of Fire of Throns book coverThe Girl of Fire and Thorns, written by Rae Carson

Even though she bears the mysterious and rare Godstone, 16-year-old Princess Elisa has been a disappointment to her family and country. Plain, overweight, and unmotivated, she is content to wed a handsome neighboring king to cement an alliance. After an arduous journey to her new home, Elisa arrives to find that her husband wants to keep their status hidden. But there are more pressing concerns—the enemy is preparing to invade, and Elisa is kidnapped. As she is thrust into a fight for survival on the borders of her new kingdom, Elisa is hunted by dark magicians and must piece together clues to fulfill her divine decree.

Children of Blood and Bone book cover

Children of Blood and Bone, written by Tomi Adeyemi

Magic is gone in Zélie’s kingdom; it was violently eradicated by power-hungry King Saran, and anyone with the capacity for magic abilities—the maji, who all have snow-white hair—is now a second-class citizen. But Zélie holds tight to the old stories, and she’s secretly learning to fight, unwilling to take the unjust treatment of her people lying down. Meanwhile, Saran’s daughter, Amari, has escaped her cruel father’s palace with a relic containing the power to reignite magic among maji, and after a chance run-in with Zélie and her brother, Tzain, the trio traverses the kingdom, hoping to use the relic to restore magic to every maji. But Amari’s own brother, Inan, who’s convinced magic is too dangerous to permit, is hot on their trail.

Furyborn book cover

Furyborn, written by Claire Legrand

 When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed...unless the trials kill her first. One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable--until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire's heart is more terrible than she ever imagined. As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world--and of each other.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here book cover

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, written by Patrick Ness

Mikey and his pals are about to graduate high school, right as the indie kids—“that group with the cool-geek haircuts and the thrift shop clothes”—start disappearing. It’s not the first time this has happened: over his 18 years, Mikey’s watched as the indie kids (they’re always the Chosen Ones) battled the undead, defeated vampire suitors, and engaged in other world-saving activities. It’s run-of-the-mill stuff at his high school, which has been blown up more than once. But right now, Mikey, perfectly normal, not-superpowered Mikey, has more pressing, if prosaic, things to worry about in the little time he has left before college—namely, getting cozy with beautiful Henna, connecting with his sister, dealing with his paralyzing anxiety, and hanging with his best friend, who happens to be a God of Cats.

Classic Chosen One Stories

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone book coverEnder's Game book coverPercy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief book coverThe Golden Compass book coverThe Thief book coverThe Fellowship of the Ring book cover

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