Quidditch as a Metaphor for the Chosen One

It occurred to me yesterday that the game of Quidditch in the Harry Potter books/films is a telling (and probably unintended) metaphor for the problem of the Chosen One.

A team of people work hard to score goals with the Quaffle, avoiding the Bludgers and redirecting them against their opponents. One by one, little by little, they make progress, building up their score.

And then some little snot catches the Snitch and all of that effort (usually) means nothing. Whether the rest of the team were winning or losing, unless they've done a truly amazing job, the catching of the Snitch is going to be what decides the outcome. Their painstakingly assembled score is a footnote.

This is why I can't stand Chosen Ones (I make a reluctant exception for Harry because of other factors, but his Chosen One status is still an annoyance to me). The message is that the Chosen One is the only person whose actions matter. The work and sacrifice of everyone else is background; what truly won the day was the Chosen One doing one special thing.

This is not how The Lord of the Rings works, by the way, to take an example from an equally popular franchise. Frodo, of course, isn't a Chosen One. There's no prophecy about him. He is, in many ways, just an ordinary person who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; what's extraordinary about him is that he steps up to do what needs doing. The rest of the cast know that their role is to support him, but what they do still matters (and not always just to his mission, either). They're as indispensable as Frodo is, each in their own way.

To be fair, that's true of HP as well, mostly, but it's still infested with a Chosen One, and Quidditch is still a miniature of how the whole series and the individual books tend to play out. It's the Great Man theory of history, in which only a few people's decisions truly matter, and everyone else's striving is merely background.

If you know my work, you know that I lean towards ensemble casts, and ordinary people with extraordinary commitment (though I do sometimes have exceptional protagonists; it's difficult to avoid the temptation, because I admire competence so much). I do this as an overt and deliberate rejection of the trope of the Chosen One. It's a difficult trick to pull off, because as genre readers, we do like to identify with one powerful protagonist whose actions are the key to the whole plot.

For philosophical reasons, though, I'm going to continue to make the effort.

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Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, the setting of his Auckland Allies contemporary urban fantasy series; and also in his head, where the weather is more reliable, and there are a lot more wizards. He also writes the Gryphon Clerks series (steampunk/magepunk), the Hand of the Trickster series (sword-and-sorcery heist capers), and short stories which have appeared in venues such as Compelling Science Fiction and Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.

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