Being Chosen: a motif that resonates deep

Just thinking about Kung Fu Panda again. I remember as I was watching and we were coming to the part of the story where Ooglay, the Turtle, must choose the Dragon Warrior, that I smiled.

Something about that motif always pleases me. It’s a universal desire: being chosen. And not just being chosen, say, in Kickball. I’m talking about a Wise Person, someone well respected, choosing you and telling you that you have abilities far beyond what you thought you did.

Rare these days to find a well-respected Wise Person anymore–wisdom is suspect. Authority is suspect. Certainly supernatural hunches and Predestination is suspect. But we all want it, secretly. For someone to assure us that we will matter. That what we can do is far beyond what we thought we could do. And we really want someone to tell us we have that potential.

I’ve seen the motif in other films, and from really old fairy tales. But it works: Willie Wonka knows that Charlie has the potential to be great; some coach believes in some losing player; the wizard chooses the peasant boy or girl.

I don’t know why I want to talk about it. It just made me happy to see that motif in this film. It plucked that string again in me and resonated deep–that someone might see through my bullshit, through my mistakes, through my attempts, and know what I could do, know what I will do, and bet on me.

Kiss the frog, be kind to the bear, love the beast–it’s all the same. When stories use that motif it resonates with most readers–as long as we can see that the bumbling pre-hero is good and honest and trying, even if he makes a lot of mistakes along the way.

5 thoughts on “Being Chosen: a motif that resonates deep

  1. Keyan June 16, 2008 / 9:59

    I’m glad you posted this. It resonates with me, too. Merlin picking Wart. Gandalf recruiting Bilbo. And yet it seems that of late, what I find is criticism of that trope. And maybe there is something of a problem, when the only ones who get picked are very mainstream.

    I can’t recall offhand stories with non-mainstream heroes/ heroines who got selected. but that’s probably because I’m blanking on them. Any ideas?

  2. jstueart June 16, 2008 / 9:59

    Well, Wart and Bilbo don’t have a lot going for them as heroes. Are you talking non-mainstream as non-heroic, or mainstream as in males?

    Are you looking for more females, gays, hispanics–or lesser written about ethnicities, that kind of thing?

    I wonder if it has to do with the nature of fantasy and where it started. European folktale. All white. Blacks weren’t perhaps a large visible population in Europe and gays weren’t defined as such…and even if other ethnicities were around, they weren’t part of the kith and kin of folk. I recall some Jewish characters in Grimm–but they had a horrible reputation…

    Am I going in the right direction?

  3. Keyan June 18, 2008 / 9:59

    Yes, exactly.

    Wart and Bilbo are (presumably) young white males who find greatness, or rather, are found by greatness. I love those books. (I don’t mean as non-heroic; I think an important element of the “chosen” trope is that the person isn’t heroic to start with, but has heroism thrust on him. )

    Their sexual orientation is left out of the story altogether, so I won’t go there; Wart eventually marries, but so what? And Bilbo doesn’t.

    I guess there are a few Chosen Girls in European fairy-tales: Cinderella being the most obvious, I think. She’s got nothing going for her but being put upon (a quality Wart shares, to some lesser extent). There are probably similar sorts of stories in other cultures, too.

    I do think the Chosen Others exist, if we root around in mythology and fairy-tale. But in modern fantasy – wish I could recall more. Fiction about girls seems to be more in the nature of prevailing despite not being Chosen, and fantasy fiction about gay people has been nearly invisible. Or maybe I just missed it.

  4. Kater June 19, 2008 / 9:59

    Yeah, but place them in their proper time. You have to expect that anything set in pre-modern Europe is going to be about a whitey. And unlike Beowulf, Ivan and Jack are not the strongest, first born son. And the Cinderella types are always poor, youngest daughters, without societal support.

    And Bilbo is so gay. I mean, come on. 111 years old and never married? In fecund Hobbitville? You know he was a total hit with the ladies, what with all that schwag he brought back from Smaug’s lair. The fact that he didn’t pick one of them and make a lot of babies indicates that he was playing for the other team.

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