I read The Hobbit last month. I thought it’d be nice to make Tolkien a Christmas tradition for me. There’s no reason in particular, though, it is just that December’s Holidays are my favorite. And what could be better than to just read something by someone that started with your favorite genre—Fantasy.
I am not here to bring something new on the table. Actually, I just wanted to add something of my own to this so well-explored topic. If you like fantasy literature, you probably know what I’m talking about. And yes, you’re right: clichés.
A cliché is a “formula” that is repeated on and on. Every writer/author has their own way to write it, but it’ll end up being the same. Now, do I believe this is bad? Absolutely not. Actually, one of the most beautiful things in literature comes by the fact that you have no images of the book you’re reading (unless you look for fan arts before any read, and I believe you’re a monster), anything is described within text and text only. And sometimes a protagonist has a vague description, so you can imagine yourself being that silver knight that slew the Arch-Demon-Dragon-Supreme-God in the story you read, and hey, that is so cool! I am 30, and I must confess that I do exactly the same sometimes. Imagine yourself giving that opportunity to read and dream to your children!
The major characteristic that you’ll find in fantasy literature is The Chosen One! How many times have we heard about a chosen one? There are movies, animated series, comics, and books. A white bearded wizard that finds a young man or woman to be the person destined to save the world from an antagonistic figure, and that antagonist is usually the most powerful being that wants to destroy the world, or at least change it to his own ideas. Or sometimes is just a starting point of a long journey.
Although I am a fan of Tolkien, there are many tales I don’t know. I am calling myself a Tolkien beginner, and as such, the first time I read The Hobbit, it was just weird to me that Gandalf had chosen Bilbo Baggins out of nowhere; the poor Hobbit was enjoying himself until Gandalf came and then marked his door for the Dwarves to find his home and convince… force him, to start the journey. In the end, Bilbo Baggins showed himself worth of Gandalf’s words. He wasn’t the hero, but he got the ring and found Smaug’s weakness.
The question remained, though, and we’d wondered why the wizard picked Bilbo, and one thing about fantasy literature, especially Tolkien, is that his world is so big that many tales of Middle-earth were written on different books. There are legends, and parts that couldn’t be said in said book, or even The Lord of the Rings. And there’s an actual explanation in The Quest for Erebor in the Unfinished Tales. Gandalf met Bilbo when he was a kid, and he saw something different in the Hobbit, being this one the most adventurous among others of his race. There’s more than a simple explanation, indeed, let’s remember that Smaug couldn’t recognize Bilbo’s smell. According to the book, all Hobbits are kind enough to be kind to anyone, even invite them for dinner, but they usually preferred to be in their little houses.
I personally like the fact that there’s an importance behind the chosen one, and J. K. Rowling did the same with Harry Potter series.
The Chosen One in The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins
The Chosen One in Mistborn is Vin
The Chosen One in Harry Potter is… well, Harry Potter.
In Harry Potter we know that his parents were murdered by He Who Must Not Be Named and failed on killing the baby Potter leaving a mark on his forehead. And though it seems like hardly a good excuse to make Harry Potter a Chosen One, there an actual explanation on how that made him a person capable of facing You Know Who, and that’s also the most important “enchantment” to make him… okay, enough, VOLDEMORT! To make Voldemort vulnerable again by the second half of the seventh book.
Brandon Sanderon made something a little bit different with his Mistborn series. We don’t have wizards here, but we have mistborns; we don’t have magic, but we have allomancy, feruchemy, and hemalurgy. The concept is similar, indeed. However, we’re talking about the Cosmere, an universe created by the author in which many of his novels take place.
The Chosen One here is Vin, a 16 year old skaa (the peasant class) that lived with his brother, and some scumbags, in poverty. An adult named Kelsier appears to save her. He saw the potential in Vin to be a Mistborn, and he decides to take her with him to his hideout to take care of her. And then, they infiltrate the richest part of the city and start a revolution to defeat The Lord Ruler, the villain of this story (the first book, at least).
I have mentioned three different stories by three different authors and as you can see the patterns are similar to each other.
Do I think that’s a bad thing? Again, no! Having a Chosen One adds to the importance of the main character, and helps you dive into him/her more. It is easier and sometimes more effective to be by the side of the heroic figure.
Do I believe this should be included in all stories? No! It all depends on the author, whether he/she likes to include it or not. If the story needs to let you know from the beginning that you’re following the story of a Chosen One, a figure that might have started from nothing until that person turns into the world’s hero, then the author should go for it!
In other had, if the author doesn’t want to make the protagonist the most heroic figure in his/her fantasy literary work, then it’s also a great choice. It’s hard to find these stories, where the central point of view doesn’t have to be the only reliable being. George R. R. Martin is a good example for it. You read the story in third person, but with different points of view (each divided by chapter), and every character has the same value for the author. One moment the character seems like it’s going to take over the Kingdom, and the next chapter that same character dies pathetically.
Clichés are not bad if they’re used properly. A story doesn’t have to be perfect to be great, and “originality” doesn’t mean good either. Being experimental is good for everything, but let’s remember that not all experiments are a success, but from failures we can come up with good things. I can’t tell you I don’t love these clichés because I enjoy them as much as the majority, and in the end the best part of literature, games, movies, cartoons, is to entertain ourselves, and make new discoveries. Even in entertainment we should look for new things, or discover new uses for these mentioned formulas.
Feel free to tell me your thoughts.
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