Chosen One (or Hero’s Journey) Stories, by Simon Higgins
A massive chunk of the combined fictional writings of the human race, as well as the founding stories of many world religions, revolve around what has come to be called The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell, a brilliant academic from a Christian tradition, immersed himself in the East and its culture, travelling and analysing beliefs, legends and customs. The conclusions he recorded in his books and lectures really nailed The Hero’s Journey for writers. The gist of it is this:
Someone, somewhere, is inevitably the Chosen One but they don’t know it, or if they do, they can’t accept it.
A mentor (who recently, in cinema, seems to have taken the form of Liam Neeson way too many times) appears to help the hero confront their identity and therefore, the mission they must accept, conflict they must face, destiny they must fulfil. Of course, there is usually also a powerful nemesis who is ruthless, full of self-certainty, waiting for that final show down. In gaming terms, the dreaded Boss of the Level.
Destiny has chosen them. Evil will hunt them. We had better pray they survive, for only they can save us.
When I speak and teach creative writing in schools and at literary festivals, I love to get students and readers discussing both Romeo and Juliet (which I’ve blogged about separately) and this blog’s focus, The Chosen One (or Hero’s Journey) formula.
Both ‘legends’ are so central to the human psyche and so beloved by centuries of readers that I think our understanding of them is crucial to keeping these compelling traditions alive and vibrant. Perhaps we need to consider why they appear to spark such a response in all who share the human condition.
My theory about The Chosen One is that the idea of discovering one day that it’s you – and that along with that burden will also come special powers, training and amazing new friends – is surely the ultimate fantasy for many of us. Who wouldn’t like to be shown in the end to be unique AND get to save the world along the way, thereby securing future immortality in the media, folklore and legend?
Notice how, in the paragraph above, while just roundly outlining the fantasy, the things I unconsciously focused on were the various personal benefits, and the saving the world stuff was almost a rider on the end. This, I think, is the reality of that fragile, needy, human ego our species shares, works at so hard and at times is forced to resist with all remaining sanity. We all dream of being shown to be special. It’s all about us.
I find it interesting that the richest hero stories always show the hero’s real magnificence, which is not their powers or gadgets. It’s how they bounce back after failure, which is often self-generated through pride, impulsiveness or arrogance. The humbling of Thor. We seem to gravitate towards these ‘challenge to the ego’ type of tales.
Maybe the power of a hero fantasy does also derive from a genuine wish in us to save others, which, let’s face it, special abilities would make more possible. So maybe the dream of being unveiled as a hero or demigod reflects an ancient human need to secure order in the cosmos to obtain some heavenly property or energy and with it hold back negative forces. That would better enable us to protect or rescue all we love.
Sometimes The Chosen One is a blatantly messianic figure, fated to save mankind or a world in direct conflict with evil, often an evil that that world has fashioned themselves in the classic Frankenstein pattern. Think cinema like The Fifth Element, I am Legend and The Matrix, and literature like Harry Potter.
I find great amusement in something I observed in the Terminator franchise, which takes in books, movies, games and a TV series or several. As originally conceived by James Cameron, it’s the story of John Connor but in part, it can also be described as a sci-fi echo of the story of Jesus Christ.
There’s a prophecy in the sense of foreknowledge of John’s value and future role as a saviour, and an attempt on his mother’s life before he is even born. Very biblical. But there are also wildcards. One of the tale’s modern elements is a time-travelling mentor who also doubles as a love interest for John’s mother Sarah. It’s all classic Hero’s Journey.
Now, getting back to those powers, it should have been me. The suit, the hammer, that super soldier formula, whatever, should have found its way to me and my needy little human ego. I hope Stark Industries, Odin, Shield, whoever has the resources, are reading this.
If so privileged, I really would be totally selfless and focus entirely on that saving the world stuff, all Man-of-Steel-like.
Of course, I’d happily settle for just having my own submarine and crew, like my character Kira Beaumont.
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