The Chosen One trope didn’t give us Trump

Writing a guest post for John Scalzi’s The Big Idea, Michael Moreci describes his novel Black Star Renegades as a rejection of the Chosen One trope. “See, I’ve always had trouble with the messiah complex. The idea that we should sit around and wait for an all-powerful someone or other to come along and save our butts from the fire isn’t a healthy one. It leads to bad places. Like when, oh, I don’t know, a tyrannical buffoon campaigns under the promise that he’s the only one—him alone—who can solve all the country’s problems. And people actually believe him. Because that’s what we’re taught. Iron Man will save us. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. Harry Potter. Whoever. There’s a magical chosen one, and without this person we wouldn’t be able to do a darn thing on our own. Sure, we can play supporting roles, but at the end of the day, only one person can vanquish Voldemort or Vader.”

Like Melissa Olson’s critique of suburban horror, I think this gets lots of stuff wrong — which doesn’t say anything about the quality of the book, of course.

First off, Moreci seems to be equating “the Chosen One” with “the hero of the book,” and that’s way off. As I put it seven years ago, Chosen Ones are born great, gifted with great powers or a great destiny. How does Iron Man qualify? Tony Stark is a hero because he made himself one. Built his armor (albeit with help). Improved his armor. Made the choice to use it to protect people. He wasn’t born great, he achieved greatness (I break down the differences at the link)

Katniss is the third category, one who has greatness thrust upon her. She enters the Hunger Games because she has no choice if she wants to save her sister. By the time of Mockingjay she is indeed the shining symbol of the revolution, but that’s revolutionary propaganda to rally the troops, not because she is, in fact, a Chosen One (in its own way, I think Mockingjay rejects the same tropes Moreci objects to)

Harry Potter? True, he’s born to be the nemesis of Voldemort, but he still relies heavily on training and pluck more than destiny. And far from doing it alone, he does what heroes are supposed to do: inspire others to follow them. He takes the lead, but he’d have been toast without Ron or Hermione, or Dumbledore’s Army, or the Order of the Phoenix There are likewise lots of stories where superheroes inspire others to step up to the plate, rather than do it all themselves.

As I’ve said before, it’s not longing for a hero that gave us the Trump presidency, any more than movies like Dave. The desire for an authoritarian leader is one that exists quite independently of pop culture. It no more goes away if we don’t have chosen ones than we can banish it by dramatizing the horrors of fictional dictators (Doom, Palpatine, Darkseid).

 

Which is not to say Moreci’s idea of a book where everyone has to step up to the plate is bad. It’s a good, classic idea, one you can see a lot in WW II movies, where we were told over and over again that everyone has to do their part.

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Filed under Politics, Reading, Writing

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