Storytelling

Ditch These Five Character Archetypes

Luke Skywalker, the next-to-last hope of the Galaxy.

Luke Skywalker, the next-to-last hope of the Galaxy.

Archetypes tell us what role a character plays in a story. Many of these roles are critical for storytelling, but some are just the opposite. Troublesome roles allow storytellers to cut corners, reducing the overall quality of the tale. Take these five archetypes:

1. The Chosen One

anakin-skywalker

To see why the chosen one should be left behind, look no further than Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels. In the Phantom Menace, plot holes are hand-waved by mentioning his immaculate conception and high midi-chlorian count. Why do we spend so much time watching him in a pod race? He’s the chosen one; everything he does is important! Why does Qui-Gon Jinn bet an entire ship on him while abandoning his mother? He’s the chosen one; he must be the center of attention. Ignore that he’s a boring little kid with no plot relevance.

Characters of the chosen one archetype are hailed as the most important person in their setting for reasons that are entirely outside their control. The archetype is used to prop up bland characters who have done nothing to earn praise. Because these characters were born better than everyone else, they don’t have to practice or work hard to make a difference. In the Harry Potter series, Harry is worshiped because of what his mother did, while his hard-working friend Hermione sits in his shadow.

Because the chosen one is destined to change the course of history all on their own, the efforts of a larger community are quickly sidelined or forgotten. In A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance looks incompetent after Luke Skywalker swoops in and takes out an entire deathstar. And unlike many other chosen ones, he actually had some outside experience. By leaving the world-saving to one person, you’ll get a setting that is shallow and simplistic. No one makes history in a vacuum.

Heroes can still stand out in a crowd, but they should earn their titles with hard work and the right choices, not because it was preordained by the cosmos.

2. The Prize

ramona

In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Scott goes through seven trials in order to date Ramona. If you’ve ever wondered why the two lovebirds at the center of this movie have zero chemistry, it’s because it’s not a love story. It’s about how Scott climbs the social ladder by defeating seven people with increasing levels of “cool factor.” Ramona is just an indicator of whether he’s made it into the cool club. They only exchange a few words before he falls for her, but she’s clearly more hip than him, and that’s all he needs to know.

She’s the prize. Characters of this archetype don’t exist for themselves; they are simply there to bestow glory on whoever “owns” them. The owner at the beginning of the story is usually a father, husband, or lover. Not just any father or lover, but a really powerful one. In most cases, it’s this powerful owner that makes the prize worthy of attention. In Ramona’s case, she has seven owners – ex-boyfriends (and one ex-girlfriend) that are cool, tough, and claim the right to decide whether she dates. When Scott succeeds in taking ownership of her away from them, he’s completed his social climb. He becomes an alpha male, and his prize is there to prove it.

I probably don’t need to explain why reducing a person to a shiny new corvette isn’t a good practice. But it also uses a character as a weak intermediary between the two people the story is really about – the hero and the owner. To fix the prize archetype, just combine the prize character with their owner. Let the scrappy hero woo the chieftain herself instead of the chieftain’s daughter. Once the prize controls their own sexuality, you’ll be forced to give your romance some genuine conflict.

3. The Hero-Hater

Severus-Snape

Snape from Harry Potter has many strong points, but the way he treats Harry is cartoonish. Snape hates him because of a few arrogant mannerisms no other character notices that were supposedly inherited from a father Harry never knew. The message from Rowling is clear: there is no logical* reason behind his feelings, just irrational prejudice.

What would happen if Snape had a decent justification for his antagonism? Harry would need significant flaws for him to dislike. They would have a serious disagreement that was the result of a legitimate difference in opinion. Hell, Snape and Harry might even learn something from each other, and eventually bridge their differences. But we can’t have that, because Harry must be a paragon of virtue.

So that’s where the hero-hater comes in. Every hero needs an antagonist to struggle against. When the storyteller wants the hero to be flawless in the eyes of every decent person, they create indecent people to torment them. These characters are usually motivated by jealousy of the hero’s perfection, but they can have any motivation that’s a character flaw on the part of the hater and is never – absolutely never – the fault of the hero.

If that’s what you want, make your hero part of an underprivileged group and your hater motivated by bigotry. As long as you fully integrate this injustice into your setting, your bigoted hero-haters will add rather than detract from your story. That’s because you aren’t just using them to shower your hero with candy. You’ll be conveying a meaningful message and offering motivation that is compelling. Rowling already had prejudice against muggle-borns in her setting, all she had to do was make Harry one of them. Or again, switch him out for Hermione.

4. The Damsel

dawn-2

In season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, some magical monks decide to take this mystic key they have and give it to Buffy as a sister named Dawn. Buffy soon learns that the key was given to her so she would guard it from an evil goddess who wants to destroy the world. And Dawn? She has no memory of what she was. She can’t harness any of her powers, and so she has no way to defend herself against the evil goddess. It makes you wonder why the monks didn’t turn Dawn into a set of actual keys; they would have been easier to hide and a lot less trouble.

The damsel is distinguished by their interchangeability with a paperweight that has sentimental value. Their personal attributes are irrelevant; what matters is the hero’s emotional attachment to them. They are prevented from doing anything that matters or even defending themselves, just so the hero can do it on their behalf. The villain kidnaps them; the hero frees them. The villain endangers them; the hero saves them.

It begs the question: why bother with the damsel at all? The hero is usually attached to their own life; let them get kidnapped and free themselves. If you want you hero to selflessly save others, you still don’t need a major character to scream and kick their legs helplessly. Instead, your villain can threaten a busload of adorable kittens that are being broadcast over the internet. Don’t fashion a character just to use them as a prop.

5. The Puppeteer

Rise-guardians-disneyscreencaps.com-2611

Despite being far away, Man in the Moon decides the fates of all the magical beings in Rise of the Guardians (2012). He brings Jack Frost to life, names him, and then abandons him to cluelessly wander the world. Hurt by the Moon’s silence and the cruelties of his new life, Jack makes trouble for several hundred years. Then the Man in the Moon upgrades his status to “guardian” without even telling him.

The puppeteer is a powerful character that knows what’s best for everyone else. In most cases, they aren’t heavily involved in the events of the story, or they would dispel all mysteries and resolve all conflicts. So instead they act in a completely irrational manner, leaving the hero to struggle without their help or guidance, even when they desperately need it.

Design kind and knowing gods to your heart’s content, but reconsider before putting them in your story. First, because they disempower other characters by making decisions for them. This not only removes character agency but also reduces character conflict that would enrich your story. What if the guardians had to choose Jack to join their team, even though they dislike him after all the trouble he’s caused? What if Jack didn’t have the Man in the Moon to verify he was worthy of being a guardian? The story would be more meaningful without hand-waving everything the Man in the Moon decides.

Second, having a character that’s always right makes the storyteller look dumb. Whenever the puppeteer behaves irrationally, the storyteller can’t use character flaws as an explanation. That means if the puppeteer is wrong, the story is wrong. And since puppeteers are almost always too powerful, they behave irrationally on a regular basis.


Every character worth developing shapes their own destiny through the choices they make, even though they won’t always make the right ones. If you take choice away from them or make their choices easy or meaningless, you might as well cut them out of the story.

Want pointers on your story? We’re available for hire.

Read more about , , , ,

 

Comments

  1. Bruce Hahne

    > Heroes can still stand out in a crowd, but they should earn their titles
    > with hard work and the right choices, not because it was preordained
    > by the cosmos.

    Hm, very Protestant work ethic. Rule out The Chosen One as an origin trope and you kill Green Lantern (all of them), Thor, Harry Potter, Captain Marvel (Billy Batson version), Buffy, and probably about half of Greek mythology.

    God also disagrees with you:

    “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)

    No hard work and right choices there, he was just chosen.

    Storytellers use The Chosen One because it works, it continues to work, and movies that use this origin trope well make money.

    – Bruce

    • Alverant

      No the Chosen One is used in works of fiction because it’s a cheat by lazy authors. It’s an easy way to explain why the main character is so special without having to do anything to earn their special place. The only real people in history who you could really say were “Chosen Ones” were members of the nobility and most of the time they were either barely able or even incompetent and all of them had human flaws and failings.

      • Carl

        I think The Chosen One also speaks to something flawed in the human psyche in general. I mean, most people seem to think one person is responsible for, well, anything. Apple making a comeback? That’s all Steve Jobs. As if no one else there at the time mattered, or were even close to as important. But there’s a reason many times people like that have some great success and then spend the rest of their lives trying (and failing) to repeat it. They got all the credit, but they were only partially responsible for the success in actuality.

        I’m not saying they weren’t important, but that the importance of any single person is often overstated. And I think that’s because we want a single ‘name’ to assign the credit (or blame) for anything monumental.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          I assume Steve Jobs is responsible for everything. Seattle being super rainy right now? Steve Jobs. My car running out of gas? Steve Jobs. Not getting the job I wanted? Steve JOBS, obviously.

        • Anon Adderlan

          Steve Jobs is not a Chosen One, but a Self-Made Man. His success was not ordained from on high, but a product of his skill, charisma, and drive. And of course he didn’t do it alone. In fact, his greatest abilities were recognizing talent, delegating authority, instilling passion in others, and making meaningful connections with people.

          “Apple making a comeback? That’s all Steve Jobs. As if no one else there at the time mattered, or were even close to as important.”

          Apple didn’t just make a comeback, it went from borderline bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable company under his leadership, and remained so until Google overtook them just this week. And while other people did matter (read up on why Jonathan Ives kept his job), indeed none of them were even close to as important.

          “But there’s a reason many times people like that have some great success and then spend the rest of their lives trying (and failing) to repeat it.”

          Steve’s greatest success came AFTER he formed Apple with Woz (you know, the creators of the Mac, iPod, and the model all modern mobile devices are based on), finished with NeXT (you know, the machines Doom and the first web browser were written on), and became CEO of Pixar (you know, the studio with 15 Academy Awards and 13 of the 50 highest grossing animation films of all time). At the end of his live at just 56, he was running the world’s most valuable company and the largest shareholder of Disney.

          So much for failing to repeat it.

          He wasn’t perfect mind. Sometimes he was downright cruel. But the point is we lose much of a character’s humanity (to say nothing of our own) when we’re driven by an agenda to apply reductive identities to them. And sometimes, one person makes all the difference.

      • Anon Adderlan

        “The only real people in history who you could really say were “Chosen Ones” were members of the nobility and most of the time they were either barely able or even incompetent…”

        That’s a rather broad assumption to make. What evidence do you have to support this assessment?

  2. Matt Black

    Except, Anakin is supposed to be helpless. In Phantom Menace, he’s as much a McGuffin as he is a character. Because he’s just a kid, and kind of a badass inventor/racecar driver kid. Using the chosen one archetype was not where Phantom Menace failed.

  3. Qondomon

    Oh the Chosen One is really so used that I die when I heard something like that! But , like Bruce Hahne told is everywhere, even in religion and that kind of stories are terribly popular (nothing against, but I think is an unrealistic archetype)

    Creating characters just to create, is better giving them at least an interesting goal (to the prize and the damsel) right? right?….

    I’m being honest here, and I love Harry Potter (books and movies) but I really hated the whole “Snape is bad”.

    “Snape and Harry might even learn something from each other” An interesting point!

  4. Nelda Dunlap

    The Hero Hater. I must disagree with this point. People do indeed hate others for nor reason that other can see. I myself have been a victim of that type of predujice, so I know it is a real trait in flawed humans and in characters.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Well, there’s a difference between ‘no reason’ and ‘stupid reason,’ right? Like, people who hate others generally have a reason, they’re just often wrong. Racists have deeply ingrained hostility against people who are different, for example.

    • Chris Winkle

      I think the important thing is that it doesn’t feel like a contrivance of the author, in order to label a character that actually has it really good as an innocent victim. It’s true that people can be irrational in their hatred, if you can depict in your stories without making it feel weirdly convenient, power to you.

      But I think in most cases, it would still be a wasted opportunity, storytelling wise. Arguments with two sides are generally more interesting than one sided ones. Bigotry against categories of people is one-sided, but it can have other benefits to stories that make up for it.

  5. Thales

    “Mannerisms?” Did you actually finish the HP series before writing this? I don’t want to spoil it for you…

  6. Shannon

    StartRant/ Hi, I don’t mean any offense, but this will come across as angry, because, well, I am rather angry – and I know we are entitled to our own opinions and such, and I respect yours, I’m just letting you know I think your using a very bad example when you use Snape, and I think you should probably use a different character. And i’m usually a nice person, and stay in the background on posts like this, making no noise, and pretending that I don’t exist. But, dobby’s shown up, and I can’t help it, I need to make some noise. Lol. I’m probably going to overkill in my explanations, but, I’m just upset, lol. #bigharrypotterfan

    It seems, from your “Strong Points” post, that you do understand Snape’s relationship with both James and Lily, so I don’t quite understand why he is the example in this list of yours.

    “Snape hates him because of a few arrogant mannerisms no other character notices that were supposedly inherited from a father Harry never knew. The message from Rowling is clear: there is no reason behind his feelings, just irrational prejudice.”

    I’m sorry to say, I feel that just about everything in this paragraph is so wrong on so many levels it makes me sad to just know that its just written out. So I have lots to say in rebuttal in hopes that you may scrub it’s existence from the internet.

    First, lets address that these “arrogant mannerisms” are not the reason why Snape hates Harry. Having to qualify that: ‘inherited from a father Harry never knew.’ implies there is more to this story – that of the relationship between Harry’s father and Snape, and thus, Harry’s “arrogant mannerisms” is not enough of a reason for Snape to hate him, it’s because of James.

    So, because of his classification, it means already that we understand that the root of Snape’s hatred for Harry does not begin with Harry, but with Harry’s father – as you stated.
    By itself, having arrogant mannerisms is not enough to hate a person. The hate Snape has for James comes from the years James and co tormented and bullied and belittled Snape. (In fact, I do believe that James bullying towards Snape is a much better example of ‘no reason’ or ‘indecent justification’ over the way Snape treats Harry – which is your two reasons as to why you’ve cast Snape as “The Hero-Hater”)

    And while this alone is a reason for him to dislike Harry, it’s still not a reason to hate him. But introduce Lily into the mix, and you got a good reason for Snape to hate Harry. First, Snape loved Lily, and James took her away from him. Second stems from his own personal hatred for himself. Had he acted differently as both a child and as adult, he could have firstly, been with Lily, or secondly, prevented her death. Harry is a constant reminder of his failures. There is your reason. Boom.

    Snape had already decided way before he and Harry met, that he already hated him. And by the time the two do meet, Snape was projecting James upon Harry, and it gives him the chance to be the bully rather then the victim. It gives him the power in the James-Snape relationship, and he can justify this by taking every little thing Harry does and turning it into a James like thing. So, while ‘other characters’ may not see these mannerisms in Harry, Snape certainly does, justified or not.

    On the topic on wether or not others viewed James as arrogant has nothing to do with the point, because its not about “other characters” its about how Snape feels, and asides, I do believe Remus, and possibly Serius have both had discussion with Harry about his father, and they do not deny that James was arrogant and a bully, – as they were as well, so, James really was somewhat of an arrogant person.

    And, so, with all that I’ve stated – that bit tacked onto the end about J.K Rowlings ‘message’ is complete and utter bullshit, because clearly, and justifiably, Snape has a rather legitimate reason to hate Harry. Incase you missed it, which you might have because I rattled on and on with my flubber mouth, lol. The reason he hates Harry is not because he hates Harry, *shock* but because Harry is a constant reminder of his failures. 1. That he loved Lily and wasn’t able to keep her friendship. 2. That James took Lily away from him. 3.That he was bullied by James. 4. Lily and James went of and began this perfect life, with Harry, which he couldn’t obtain. And 5. He could have prevented it Lily’s death.

    and eventually bridge their differences.

    Well, they do bridge their differences. Snape (besides the fact that he was actually trying to help Harry survive throughout the entire series) gave him the key to kill Voldermort. And died in Harry’s arms – seeing Lily in him, rather then James, and finding comfort in that. And incase you missed it – Harry named one of his children “Albus Serverus” after “the bravest men I know.” That Gap looks pretty bridged to me – I defiantly think that If Snape made it through the war, they’d certainly have this mutual respect for one another.

    If your going to use Snape as an example, your quite welcome, he is the Hero-Hater. But just get your facts straight. Snape is not the stereotypical Hero-Hater, like, for example, Draco is. If Snape wasn’t in the story, there might not even be a story, where if Draco wasn’t in it, sure, there would be some chances, but for the most part the story could get by.

    Anyway. /EndRant

    Sorry.

    • Chris Winkle

      Hi Shannon,

      Your criticisms are actually quite respectful, hence why I’m responding.

      But before I move on to discussing Snape, I’d like to mention that I love Harry Potter. That’s why I talk about it so much. But Mythcreants is here to build storytelling muscles, and just praising all the things we like wouldn’t do that very well. To analyze and build better stories, storytellers have to learn not to get angry and defensive about possible imperfections in our favorite stories or characters. It’s good practice for later, when we must listen to tough criticism about the stories that are most dear to us: our own.

      As for Snape, I think we are largely in agreement. Rowling does establish Snape’s emotional motivations for hating Harry. Somewhat late, but she does. However, those motivations are still an irrational prejudice, not a logical reason. Harry does not deserve to be hated because of someone’s experiences with the parents that didn’t even raise him. And that’s the key to the “hero-hater” archetype: the author is creating enemies for the hero while making sure the hero never bears any responsibility.

      This reduces the level of interesting conflict in the story, and makes characters feel like caricatures (I do think Snape feels like a caricature in the early books). Situations are generally more clear cut, and that leaves less room for both sides to grow and learn from each other.

      I agree that Draco should be considered a hero hater, but I think he is actually less so then Snape. If you look back to Book 1, you’ll see that Draco tries to befriend Harry. They become enemies after Harry rejects Draco in front of a bunch of other students, embarrassing him. Harry had a good reason to do that, but it was still his actions that caused the rift.

      I’m not going to scrub the existence of my Snape criticisms from the internet , but I will add the word “logical” to the phrase “there is no reason behind his feelings,” to clarify that while there is a reason, it’s not what we would consider the right reason to hate someone.

  7. Shannon

    Hi Chris,

    Trust me, the first draft of my response wasn’t but I don’t like being that person, and to save on a lot more dribble then what I did post, I did cut a lot out, haha. I figured if I was polite, we’d have a better chance at an adult debate, rather then me screaming at you till I was red in the face. And I guess creating awesome characters should evoke a reaction in readers, so, what ever Rowling is doing with Snape, she’s doing it right by me.

    “those motivations are still an irrational prejudice, not a logical reason.”

    It matters not wether they are irrational or illogical, for they are still motivations.
    Maybe this is what is irritating me about this post. – People ARE irrational and illogical – its our nature, and is one of the things that makes us undoubtedly human and realistic as complex people with thoughts and feelings. I’ve been irrational. I’m sure you’ve been irrational. Suicide bombers are irrational. Teenagers are irrational. Murdering someone is irrational. Being racist and sexist is irrational. Love and Hate can also be irrational. But they still do what they do, because in their mind, they have a fair justification.

    Having now said that, I would like to point out the irony in your own irrationality of believing that Snape’s irrationality is a good enough reason to paint him as an unrealistic character in the department of hating Harry, because your both being irrational – and your a real person, and thus, being irrational can and should apply to a character in certain situations to make them more believable.

    “Harry does not deserve to be hated because of someone’s experiences with the parents that didn’t even raise him.”

    One hundred percent agree. Harry, nor anyone else for that matter, hero or not, made up or not, deserves to be hated because of something that they did not do – but that shit happens in real life constantly.

    People hate other people for irrational prejudice’s, and illogical reasons all the time. Every single day gay guys are getting beaten up and even killed for just being gay. So, “Gay people do not deserve to be hated because of someone’s experiences with people that didn’t even KNOW the gay person, (or the gay person’s parents, or even their dog for that matter) in question.” But that doesn’t stop people from still beating up that gay person. This is a real life situation. I think I can safely establish that people can, and indeed do, hate other people for illogical reasons – wether you or I or someone else reading this, think its a “decent justification” or not.

    “And that’s the key to the “hero-hater” archetype: the author is creating enemies for the hero while making sure the hero never bears any responsibility.”

    I see this. I understand this. If this is the point your trying to make with Snape, its a great point, just executed in a very bad way. Harry does not bear any responsibility for Snape’s hatred, you are one hundred percent right. But this is a far as Snape as ‘the Hero-Hater” should go, because Snape’s hatred IS a legitimate thing. His hatred isn’t a flawed character development, like your making it out to be. Its how a real person could act because irrationality is a human trait, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because the word irrational wouldn’t exist.

    To make this point we don’t need to know why Snape hates Harry, just that Harry has not been the one to cause it. And thereby proceeding to incorrectly explain why Snape hates Harry misses the point your trying to make in the first place.

    (I do think Snape feels like a caricature in the early books)

    Me two – but these books were written for 12 year olds. At 12, one knows that some people are bad, and some people are good, and thats all that really matters. All we care about is the journey the good guy is on – we want to know the adventure. Its not until we are older do we begin to question why someone is bad, and at this point, JK expected her books to grow more dark as Harry, and her audience grew, and so when these questions became relevant, they were answered by her.

    Also, like in life, we only get one viewpoint, and that is ours. We only see Harry’s POV, and that is only his perception – no one else’s.

    “I’m not going to scrub the existence of my Snape criticisms from the internet , but I will add the word “logical” to the phrase “there is no reason behind his feelings,” to clarify that while there is a reason”

    And yet, regardless of either of our thoughts or feelings on this, saying that Snap hates Harry because of the ‘few arrogant mannerisms’ is STILL vey much incorrect, because that is NOT the reason why Snape hates Harry in the first place, wether you insert a “logical” in the paragraph or not.

    “it’s not what we would consider the right reason to hate someone.”

    We? I’m sorry who might be the “we” in this situation be that you speak of? You and me? What about the kind of person that beats up a gay man just because he is gay, or what about people who abuse children and animals for fun? – would they think the reason to be a just one or not? Just because something is immoral, doesn’t mean people are with or against it – take Hitler – he was a horrible person and dictator, (in my opinion, Hitlers followers would thick differently) but people still followed him even though he was an immoral person.

    But – I DO agree with you – hating someone for their mannerisms isn’t a good enough reason to hate someone – BUT THATS NOT THE REASON WHY SNAPE HATES HARRY, So by beginning with this as your leading point as to why Snape is “the hero-hater” is misgrievancely wrong – and unless you can explain to me why you think that this is THE ENTIRE reason why Snape hates Harry, (which I know you don’t) and by going on to say “inherited from a father Harry never knew” already proves you don’t believe that, because you felt a further explanation was needed. I’m afraid any further points you make will have no stance with me, because they way I see it, your are lying, not only in the post to get a point across, which in my opinion has failed, but your lying to yourself.

    Here, I’ll fix the first paragraph for you so it makes sense:

    Snape from Harry Potter has many strong points, but the way he treats Harry comes from an illogical and irrational prejudice that stems from his past struggles with Harry’s father and mother. Harry has done nothing directly to Snape, but Snape still harbors these prejudice feelings against him. And that’s the key to the “hero-hater” archetype: the author is creating enemies for the hero while making sure the hero never bears any responsibility.

    There. Simple. Easy. And Truthful.

    • Chris Winkle

      Hi Shannon,

      I started preparing a response, but in reviewing your comment, I found you are no longer being respectful.

      Because you made a big effort in your last comment to check yourself, and you wanted to have a conversation with me, I wanted you to know why I’m not responding anymore.

      • Shannnon

        Okay, fair enough No worries

  8. Brie

    I love Snape. I know why he’d do all those things to Harry. I don’t know why Rowling allowed Harry to be so stupid-blind about everything except to keep the story going. If you’re going to attack an archetype, attack the dumb hero card that’s overplayed.

    And I agree to a point with Man in Moon. Where you think you lose meaning, I think it gains. The writer wanted to put God into the story. There is more meaning to life if I knew I was created and I didn’t just exist. I was made for something. Someone that feels abandoned but ends up fulfilling his meaning through his free will…I see how that might upset some, but not to those who believe, and feel that similar abandonment.

    I’ll take what this post says to mind. I still know authors that use archetypes and twist them in a way you can’t notice.

  9. David MacDowell Blue

    Seems to me Harry Potter is anything but a paragon of virtue. More, he would have never achieved anything at all without the help of many others–an interesting irony since of course he is such a crucial figure in the defeat of Voldemort. Granted, the use of “The Chosen One” has become tiresome and generally ill-used (I would call Annakin Skywalker the worst example of this) but Rowling used it very cleverly, with genuine depth.

  10. Skylark

    Re: Chosen One. I want to see this trope using a very flawed character. Like they have an emotional breakdown because of the weight of expectation put on them, or they really let everyone down and have to work their way back up, becoming the Chosen One not by prophecy, but through blood, sweat and tears. (A story about destiny vs free will could get a lot of mileage out of “was Chosen One destined to succeed and then somehow failed, or were they destined to fail so they’d work harder and thus succeed?).

    Annakin is a good example of the emotional aspect going horribly wrong – so many people expect him to be the Chosen One, he gets taken in by the Emperor just treating him like a person. By the time he realizes the Emperor has plans for him as The Chosen One, he’s gone too far to turn back (or so he’s convinced). I will definitely agree with you that Episode I played this WAY too straight, though. I loved Phantom Menace when it came out, but that was because I was about Annakin’s age and used to kids’ movies have the story revolve around a kid, logical or no. Looking at it now in the context of the rest of Star Wars, I like it a lot less.

    Re: The Prize. Ramona still suffers this a bit in the comics, but less so. We see a little more interaction between her and other characters, Scott has to go through character development of his own, and it’s Ramona who takes agency and turns the tide in the final fight. There’s still “trophy-ization” in the storyline, but it’s a little more balanced.
    But they cut all that out in the movie. >:-|

    • Chris Winkle

      That would be cool, I’m up for all subversions of the Chosen One archetype. The prequels were maybe attempting that? It’s hard to tell what their intent was, just that they didn’t succeed.

      I’ve never read the Scout Pilgrim comic but I’ve heard it’s pretty good, and explains things better. I’m glad Ramona has a stronger role.

      • Skylark

        Yeah, the prequels suffered from a lot of “it could have been so much more”

        Definitely recommend the Scott Pilgrim books. They still suffer a little from the same issues, but to a much smaller degree, and Scott actually has to confront some of his own issues (the movie’s just like “so yeah he’s a loser but now he’s kinda cool just roll with it”)

        (The rest of this is about the comics ending, so if you do plan on reading them just stop here).
        In the books, we repeatedly get an actual entry into Ramona’s mind, where she is still in thrall to Gideon. At the climax, we return to her mind, where we see that this version of Ramona is a part of her mind that is still attached to him – but that other parts are more than willing to kick his butt. If you read her relationship with Gideon as somewhat abusive (it certainly comes off this way to me), it reflects that You can’t erase an emotional relationship from your past, but you can move on from it, stronger than before.

  11. Skylark

    Re: Snape. I think he had deeper reasons for hating Harry (not good, but more developed). The problem is we got so very little of those reasons until nearly the end of the series, making Snape fit this type until near the very end.

    Another big component to this type, that Snape plays to a T, is that these characters exist in a vacuum. No one ever steps up and says “cut that out” – Snape abuses Harry like crazy, and no fellow staff, not even Dumbledore, either stops him or explains his reasons to Harry. This sort of thing is necessary for the archetype – the Hero-Hater having to justify their actions either a) reveals how silly their reasons are or b) reveals deeper reasons that push the characters toward reconciliation if they’re not total dingbats.

    • Aryllia

      Sorry for replying to an old comment but I think about what you said about the characters existing in a vacuum a lot.

      It’s not like it was in any way a secret that Snape and Lily were friends until their… 5th year was it? 5 out of 7 years in school they were friends, and Snape was so young when he became a teacher that several of his now-colleagues would have been teaching him and Lily. Then there’s characters like Remus and Sirius that were in the same year, and the same class as Lily.

      Yet no one even hinted to Harry that Snape and Lily had ever been on speaking terms. Some are excused, like Dumbledore who made a promise to Snape to be quiet, but that still leaves

      – McG, though admittedly I’d find it more likely that she just tells Snape off for harassing one of her students and leaves it at that.

      – Sirius, who could have let something slip when Harry mentioned the memory, even just commenting along the lines of “serves him right that she never spoke to him again after that”.

      – Remus, who seems to have at least known Lily before she started dating James and is unlike Sirius capable of mentioning Snape without bringing the insults.

      – Slughorn, who would have had Snape and Lily in the same classroom and likely see them working together if the double class divisions were the same in the 70s as in the 90s and given that they keep the same textbooks for three generations I don’t think they changed double class.

      – Hagrid, who in all other instances is more or less completely incapable of keeping anything secret. Given that he wasn’t a teacher in the 70s and would likely not have interacted much or any with Snape or Lily when they were young, I would say he’d be excused. Except for the fact that he’s notorious for conveniently handing out information that Hermione can’t find in a book.

      Instead, if any of these characters do mention Snape’s reasons they all reinforce that it’s all about James Potter and only James Potter. And while James does play a really major part among Snapes many issues, it makes it seem like all these people who had seen James and Snape fight couldn’t recall a single instance Snape and Lily had ever interacted. It makes one wonder if Dumbledore (or Snape, for the sake of fairness) went around and obliviated those memories away for everyone.

      The only resolution Snape gets for the entire mess is a gory death and a posthumous “I am not sorry for harassing you throughout your education but here’s a montage of my motives now go die”.

  12. Brigitta M.

    For me, the biggest problems with Harry Potter had to do with the fact I loved it while I read it but there’s way too much “fridge logic” for the magical world to be anything but an unpleasant place to be.

    Yes, Snape has a lot of those moments. I get his disliking Harry. He’s not exactly a creative thinker, but a very logical one with a very small box. He didn’t love Lily. He was obsessed over her. James didn’t “take” Lily. Lily and James chose one another. Snape could never see Lily as her own person, but only as this idealized fantasy.

    Then, he gets so ticked off by his fantasy being betrayed, that he joins the Death Eaters. AKA, the magical world’s version of the Nazi Party.

    Then when he learns that Lily has been targeted, he turns on the Death Eaters and spends the remainder of his life virtually unpunished for what he’s done before Lily and James were targeted. Even when he goes to the Potter house… he comforts her corpse instead of the crying child.

    So… the potions master is supposedly a reformed Nazi War General in a school where the very students are likely his prior targets. He did nothing to prove that he was worthy of that title except for his skill with potions.

    Not that the school in general has ever cared about the welfare of the students. Dumbledore said it mockingly about the Slytherins when there was a troll in the dungeon, but when Lucius Malfoy threatens Harry right outside his door, Dumbledore doesn’t even peek his head out.

    And that’s not even covering how there are no safety spells in regards to Quidditch.

    But back to Snape. He wasn’t worthy of spit. Yeah, he was an interesting character over the course of the books, but Snape never had to admit to any of the wrong he had done and a single session with the pensieve and Harry forgives him?

    There’s a reason Harry didn’t go to Ravenclaw, but maybe he should have been sorted into Hufflepuff because he just wants to be friends with everyone (at least after they say they’re sorry and apparently really mean it).

  13. Adrian

    A great subversion of the Chosen One archetype exists in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Or should I say, there are at least three subversions of the archetype in the trilogy. I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say that what people THINK regarding the chosen one (who it is, what prophecies prove them, where the prophecies come from, what the chosen one has to do) is heavily toyed with by Sanderson. Do note however that Sanderson does heavily use the Chosen One archetype in his fiction overall, and in a number of cases plays it mostly straight.

    If you want a spoiler to pique your interest, I’ll post it here: SPOILER ALERT

    The Lord Ruler is a ‘chosen one’, but he’s the big bad of the first novel. Except you learn that he’s not the chosen one at all, but killed the chosen one everybody expected out of suspicion and jealousy. Then you learn that he heavily screwed up using the chosen one powers and basically failed utterly at the role he took for himself.

  14. Victoria Ohlsson

    I think Snape’s hatred for Harry was justified; not in morality or sensibility, but human nature. He was bullied by James, he was jealous of him, and James ended up marrying the love of his life, who got murdered. So no, I don’t think he had any real, rational reason to hate him; human beings aren’t always rational. I would say all of his jealousy and frustration got passed down to harry directly, because he never got to express it to James or get him back. Harry being in Hogwarts as his student might seem like the perfect opportunity to get revenge on James for a man who was tormented, and who’s love chose his tormentor before she died. It’s safe to say that Snape was going through a lot to be completely rational. Also, I felt there were a few times that Harry picked up on some bullying tactics towards Snape that seemed to be exactly like his father’s. Let’s not forget that the hero (Harry) also had some presumptuous feelings towards him when they first met. I admire most all of your posts and find them to be well explained and helpful, but I think there’s justification for some of these character archetypes.

  15. SunlessNick

    If you want you hero to selflessly save others, you still don’t need a major character to scream and kick their legs helplessly.

    Indeed, while “make it personal” is usually good advice, if it’s selfless heroism you want to demonstrate, then it’s a much better demonstration with someone the hero doesn’t specifically care about. Buffy – since Dawn is your example picture – would risk her life to save someone she met two minutes ago, and may never see again. That’s what made her a hero.

  16. Bronze Dog

    I get pretty miffed at The Chosen One these days. That goes double if it’s my character in a tabletop RPG, since it usually means the railroad tracks are going to chafe.

    Sometime, I’d like to see a Chosen One flat out tell the oracle he’s not interested in the job, he’s happy with his life as is, and proceeds to derail every attempt to get him involved. In the end, everything works out better because people who actually had a stake in the matter chose not to wait around for the prophecy.

    Another subversion I’d like to see is a world where everything falls apart because people spent too much time and effort arguing over who’s “really” The Chosen One. Answer: No one. The oracle was just gibbering or telling people what they wanted to hear. Some relative “nobodies” get sick of it and fix the problem with elbow grease instead of fate.

    • 3Comrades

      I agree with you, my only exception that I’ve enjoyed when I come across it, is the “chosen one” isn’t someone destined for greatness, but someone with a social obligation. You are the chosen one…now do this dreck job so no one else has to. Or, you are the Chosen One, so get sacrificed to the elements come dawn. It actually has a job of bringing up duty and leaves the character to decide how much they want to follow that. Without future predictions, it can be a good lead in to the story. Of course, saving the world isn’t a social duty.

      • Cay Reet

        I agree. Having a “Chosen One” whose fate is negative or coupled to not being allowed to make choices (few people get asked if they want to be sacrificed at dawn) can make for a great story. You can either have the character defy is fate or fight it and in the end realize they have to accept it for one reason or other. That makes for a nice tension in the story.

  17. Julia DeNiro

    Hoo, boy–this comment is at least a month late. But your comments about Harry Potter pushed too many of my overly-sensitive buttons–overly-sensitive due to awful fanfic.

    Harry’s hard-working friend Hermione sits in his shadow? Snape only hates Harry because of his arrogant mannerisms? J.K. Rowling portrays Harry as a paragon of virtue?

    I’m sorry, but have you even READ all the Harry Potter books? Or did you just watch the movies? Or have you only read horrible Harry Potter fanfiction?

    1. It’s an insult to Hermione’s character to even suggest she sits in Harry’s shadow. Hermione is not only a hard worker, but a bossy know-it-all. When she doesn’t agree with someone, she says so–often quite tactlessly. She has strong opinions about causes, but little tact and few social skills, with the result that she alienates people who might otherwise get along with her. She’s argumentative. She can get petty and jealous. Despite all this, she becomes a success in her own right–hell, in the Cursed Child, she even becomes Minister of Magic! Finally, J.K. Rowling has repeatedly stated that Hermione is her favorite character–in fact, her self-insert. I don’t know where people get this stupid idea that Hermione is a long-suffering, submissive Agnes Wickfield clone whom the other characters just don’t appreciate enough, but I wish it would stop. I also wish people would stop characterizing Ron Weasley as the clown of the Harry Potter series, but that’s a rant for another time.

    2. All the reasons why Snape hates Harry are harped on in the last three books. I’m not going to mention them, but to reduce Snape to “the character who just has to hate the protagonist for no reason” is absurd.

    3. Harry is hardly a paragon of virtue. In Book 5, he’s an angsty asshole–and characters call him out on it. In the same book, he charges straight into danger, dragging his friends with him, and gets many of them injured and his godfather killed–and he actually learns from this experience. Moreover, we learn in Book 5 just WHY Harry is the Chosen One–in a nutshell, it was all Voldemort’s fault. If Voldemort hadn’t believed a half-assed prophecy, he wouldn’t have gone after Harry in the first place, and there wouldn’t have been a Chosen One anyway. So yes, the “Chosen One” cliche is in Harry Potter, but it’s a little more complex than, say, Anakin Skywalker and his midichlorian count.

    If you don’t like Harry Potter, that’s fine. But when you use it as an example in your analysis and get so much about it blatantly wrong, that’s another story.

  18. Michael

    The Prize works better if it’s both ways. In the original Scott Pilgrim comics, Ramona was having to fight her own battles (internal and external) to win Scott even as he was doing the reverse.

  19. Link

    You’ve made a mistake. A BIG mistake.

    Snape hates Harry because he’s too much like James. And he hates James for stealing Lily, his true love, the one person he would have died for over and over again.

    And he actually likes Harry, he protects Harry constantly. He’s been watching over him for all these years. He just can’t stand the James in him because it’s too painful to be reminded of Lily, who died “because of James” (not really, but it’s complicated love stuff).

    So no, you’re wrong. You’re VERY wrong. Snape has a GOOD REASON to dislike Harry. I’m not saying the archetype isn’t real. It’s very real and very annoying to have an antagonist just for the sake of wanting an antagonist. But not Snape. Especially, since in the end, he actually loved and wanted to protect Harry. Even giving his life for it.

  20. Link

    After reading all of the comments, basically, the moral of this story is, don’t mess with Snape. Or for that matter, don’t fit Harry Potter into little boxes labeled “archetypes” or “stereotypes” because the Harry Potter universe is so much more complex and unique than that.

  21. Tumblingxelian

    This was well laid out and while I don’t agree 100% it lays out the pitfalls and flaws to all of these tropes, and shows just how toxic and awful some of them are really well.

Leave a Comment

By submitting a comment, you confirm that you have read and agree to our comments policy.