When writing fiction about impossible things in my own hackish way, I find myself pulled in by the gravity of the Chosen One. I’m sick of him. He was born with the power and just needs to find it. Merlin shows up to tell him who he is, and after that no one can stand against him. He’s Potter, he’s Neo, she’s the P sisters from Charmed, and we’ve seen it rehashed more times than I care to stomach.
Why does Luke get to be the super-Jedi? Why does chosenness have to pass from father to son? The message “if you ain’t born with it, you can’t get it” just doesn’t fly with me.
Trouble is, it’s so easy. You build a world with supernatural qualities, and why does your main character get to be the one to use them? Because of his parents, that’s why. So, for some time now I have tried to write stories where a non-superhuman obtains superhuman powers through practice and tenacity, in which anyone can be a wizard, not just people from the right gene pool.
It’s a very specific type of Hero’s Journey, the most potent sub-case. It’s told over and over again, and it works, over and over again. Dorothy Gale, Buffy Summers, Harry Potter, Charlie Bucket, Luke Skywalker, even Peter Parker, they all fit a very specific pattern. They’re living a life, sometimes a fine one, often a troubled one, but certainly one governed by ordinary rules, when suddenly the curtain is pulled back and a whole new world, or a new set of rules of this world, is revealed. And what’s more – and this is the important part – in that new world, they are something special. They are The Chosen One.
And if that wasn’t enough…
So here’s what I think we need to do if we want to write a sci-fi or a fantasy show and give it appeal way beyond the normal boundaries of sci-fi/fantasy fandom. We need to start with an empty page of notebook paper, write “The Chosen One” across the top and start brainstorming. At least, that’s what I plan to do.
Damn it, Jane! So, I need to do the precise and stated opposite of what I have been?
Thing is, I don’t agree. Starbuck being Miss Prophesy is lame. In Heroes, all of the characters’ parents know each other and have been manipulating them the entire time — also lame. As soon as a show starts down the “it is your destiny” path, I lose interest. The predictability destroys the enjoyment; no matter how much a Chosen character rails against their certain fate, they always succumb* because superpowers are bad-assed. “Just be yourself” is a lot easier when your self can fly.
So, Jane, you know I love you, but on this we disagree. Give me Wedge and Xander over another mewling “why must my life be so hard, what with all of my awesome powers and all” puss. I’m sure to be Chosen is to live alone and there’s some sort of proportional relationship between great power and great responsibility, but a person who chooses himself would be a welcome change.
(With the exception of Luke. It was his destiny to kill Vader. It was his destiny to join Vader. He did neither.)