In so much of horror, fantasy and dark fantasy children become heroes when they hit a certain age. It’s usually in the teens – Thirteen, Sixteen and Eighteen seem to be the biggest ages for a teen to start their quests. Whether it’s learning that you’re a wizard, a slayer or a magical creature destined to save the world, age is a magical number.
Harry Potter found out he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday. He’s a boy learning how to grow into adulthood while navigating not just school but also a myriad of magical beings that want to kill him and a terrible family. He has to navigate the pitfalls of friendship, love, and schoolwork. There is one benefit that Harry has that other comparable magic kids do – he doesn’t have to hide the fact that he’s a wizard around his friends and family. He can be open and honest about being a wizard to Ron and Hermione.
Buffy is activated as a Slayer when she turned fifteen. The Slayers as Chosen Ones aren’t activated by age, though. If the previous Slayer is killed the new Slayer is activated so it’s possible that a Slayer could be activated very young. I don’t know much Buffy lore so if there are any instances cited in the show I’d love to know!
Besides being a Slayer Buffy also has to juggle school, friends, and love. Buffy the Vampire Slayer also had episodes revolving around sex, toxic relationships and difficult parent/child relationships. She wants a normal life but eventually comes to accept the fact that she is The Chosen One. She luckily has a group of friends whom she can open up to but the fact that she has to hide that she’s a Slayer has caused major friction between her and her mom and she feels misplaced guilt over her parents’ divorce.
The Chosen Ones
Fantasy can be flooded with Chosen Ones. Not all of them exactly worthy of the title. A Chosen One usually starts out on their Hero’s Journey as an average kid. Nothing extraordinary until they reach a certain birthday or event that triggers their quest. Emphasis on the average.
In a really good adventure fantasy the average can evolve to heroic. In too many recent fantasies the supposedly “average” is actually extraordinary the whole time. There’s no challenge they can’t overcome. No romantic interest that isn’t attracted to them. It doesn’t present any challenges. They never have to evolve and change.
Part of the reason these stories are set at these particular ages is so that kids can see that growth is possible. That they can have a character they can identify with through these stories. That they see a character grow and confront challenges, using their intelligence, their abilities, and their inner strength to overcome them.
I think it could be very discouraging to read about a character that is flawless from start to finish. It makes for a simple escape power fantasy but you can make an entertaining story with flawed, human character. Which is why it’s doubly important for tweens through teens to have characters they can identify with. We need diverse characters and stories so that no teen is left behind, forcing a connection that they might otherwise not feel just because there are no other choices.
I may have gotten off-topic a bit. If so, I apologize. My son turned eighteen today. Which put me in a very strange headspace about growing up, adulthood and how fiction plays a part in that. Whether it’s games, movies, or books. Thank you for putting up with the ramblings of a stunned mom today. It truly boggles the mind that I’ve raised an actual human that will be in the world soon. Especially now. It’s fearsome and wondrous.
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.