Last weekend, on the recommendation of my 16-year-old granddaughter, I watched the Winx saga on Netflix. The story opens as 16-year-old Bloom arrives at Alfea, a boarding school for fairies. The school also has a wing for “Specialists”–non-magical but gifted fighters. Alfea is a training ground where the students are taught the skills needed to protect the Magix realm from the Burned Ones, an army of horrifically burned creatures whose touch generates an infection that will kill the recipient if the Burned One isn’t quickly eliminated.
Bloom has grown up in a human family. When she reached adolescence and her powers as a fire fairy awoke, she unintentionally set the house on fire, resulting to third-degree burns to her mother. After being recruited to Alfea, Bloom is initially told there were family genes somewhere far up her family try, but she eventually learns she’s a changeling–a fae infant who was substituted for a human baby without the human parents’ knowledge. Over the course of the 6-episode series it becomes clear she was born to save Magix from the Burned Ones. (She’s also self-absorbed and a bit of a mono-maniac about finding her real parents.)
That got me to thinking about the Messiah/Savior trope in children’s fantasy literature. A few features of the messiah figure are:
- They were born for a specific purpose.
- Their birth/coming may have been foretold.
- They are way better at fighting and/or magic than their peers.
- They are often orphaned or half-orphaned
- They have often been fostered in a family outside the realm they’re supposed to save, and come to the job as adolescents.
- They have often been badly treated by these caregivers, giving them an inner resiliency.
Examples of child saviors are:
- Harry Potter–enters wizarding world at age 11.
- Frodo Baggins–sets off on a quest to destroy the One Ring at age 51 (which is much younger for a hobbit than it is for a human)
- Anakin Skywalker (but he turned to the Dark Side) –9 in Episode I–The Phantom Menace and 19 in Episode II–Attack of the Clones
- Luke Skywalker–sets off to save the galaxy from the Empire’s battle station at age 19
- Katniss Everdeen–steps up to take his sister’s place in the Hunger Games at age 17, setting off a chain of events that will bring down the repressive government of Panem.
- Jonas in The Giver is 12 years old when he becomes the Receiver, charged with keeping memories of the before-times for his community, which has elected to take away life choices from people as a way of preventing discord.
Recently, I’ve been reading the Kate Daniels books by husband and wife writing duo Ilona Andrews and it occurs to me that Kate appears to be another example of a messiah character. I’m only on the fourth book and at this point I don’t know if she winds up saving her world (though I suspect she does) but she definitely checks most of the other boxes.
It also occurs to me that heroine of my first book, The Demon Always Wins, checks a lot of these boxes–Dara was born to save Belial; she’s better at demon-fighting than anyone else (in part because few others recognize the presence of demons in this world); she was orphaned as a small child; she was brought up by her grandparents, who were absorbed with fighting demons.
Funny the stuff you internalize without ever realizing it.
Hmm. I wonder if one of the heroines from my latest book would fit into this trope too? Orphaned, outcast from the village she lives in, and knowing she must tread a certain path to help others like her. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but Harry Potter et al certainly spring to mind for this.
She certainly sounds like a candidate!
I think one of the fun things about genre fiction is that Only This Heroine (or hero) has the necessary qualities to meet the story challenge, whatever it may be. Usually it appears totally improbable and the thrill for the reader is to share the character’s journey as she grows, changes, and embraces her destiny.
When I published Seeds of Power, a reviewer in the UK said she was disappointed because Christal was Not Like Other Girls. I was a bit baffled by that at the time, because, well, otherwise there would be no story. Christal is in big trouble precisely because she is the Only Person who has the unique knowledge to solve the secret crisis. In the same way that Dara is chosen by God as his champion because she is the Only Person with the precise combination of skills needed to defeat and ultimately redeem Belial.
So many stories use a variant on this chosen/special one trope and you’re right, we’re conditioned to look for it. I love it. The amazing thing is to read authors who manage to make such an archetype feel fresh and new.
Hm. Now i have to go away and think about my WIP, where Annis Benkith is the Only Person who has the unique combination of skills needed to save Daire and Caldermor. Also, she’s orphaned, has been fostered in a realm very different from the one she’ll try to save, and her healing skillz are off the charts. Yay! As long as I do a good job with her story, I’m thinking these are promising signs 😉
This is a huge one for my id list. I think everyone likes thinking there could be something unique about them that would make them the One for some task.