Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Chosen One*

*But only if male, cisgendered, and white.

[It's been a while since I last posted and I have no excuse. I'll sum it up as LIFE and leave it at that.]

Instead, here's what I want to talk about: The Chosen One trope.

It occurred to me today that often, when this trope is used in a story, it refers to a male protagonist. Usually young (10-18), always--as far as I can recall--heterosexual cis-gendered, and frankly, usually white.

The kid learns that their normal life is a fraud/to keep them safe/about to change irreversibly, and they have been chosen to defeat a great evil. Harry Potter was far from the first, and nowhere near the last.

It's not to say girls/women can't be protagonists or heroes, but more often, they seem thrust into the role through circumstances. Katniss just wants to protect her little sister. Sabriel just wants to find her father.

What I do find more is the role of female protagonist as "Not like the other girls." You see it a lot in romantic comedies. Debra Messing's character, Cat, from The Wedding Date: not the first woman to hire Dermot Mulroney as a date, but the first to make him fall in love. Katherine Heigl's Jane in 27 Dresses is like many women in her love for weddings and desire to help friends, but she's the only person to make James Marsden's Kevin see the love and romance is weddings and marriages.

It feels like a way to simplify their characters. Why, out of all the other women these men meet, are these the ones who get through to them? Why, they aren't like other women! Of course! How aren't they like other women? Uh, well, they sing? You know what? Just trust us on this.

But that's not the only place. You can find the trope in fantasy books as well, but they take a different approach.

Alanna is the only girl who wants to be a knight in Tortall and poses as a boy to do it, and later, Kel is the first girl to become a knight since it was allowed through royal decree. Daine, in the same world, is the only Wild Mage. October Daye is a changeling who has one foot in the fae world and one in the human world, the first person to really befriend the Luidaeg, who doesn't like anyone. Cat and Beatrice in Cold Magic have their own special (slightly spoilery so I won't mention specifics) traits that set them apart from everyone else in their community.

But rather than being called Chosen Ones, and beyond their special something that separates them from other women, they are heroines through the choices they make and the circumstances of society around them.

It makes all of these characters even more complicated--sometimes they make the wrong choices and have to deal with those consequences. Sometimes they want to do one thing, but the rest of the world is working against them because other forces have their own motivations and goals. The characters are complex and the worlds are complex.

On the one hand, it'd be nice to see more female Chosen Ones. But maybe the answer is more to get rid of the Chosen One trope for males. One of the fan theories (almost canon? actually canon?) that's always intrigued me is the idea that Neville could have been the Boy Who Lived. He was born around the same time, his parents suffered because of Voldemort, and if Voldemort had thought it was him and gone after his family, the books might have turned out differently in some very interesting ways. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the villains choices, but how could it have been different if there wasn't the label of Chosen One hanging over Harry's head?

Anyway, those are my thoughts today. I'll try not to wait so long to post again.

Books/Series referenced:
Harry Potter: The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Katniss: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Sabriel: Sabriel/Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Alanna: The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
Kel: Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce
Daine: The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce
October Daye: The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Cat and Beatrice: The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott