Manuscript vs Myth: Chosen Ones
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
What do you do after you’ve saved the world? Sloane Andrews, protagonist of Veronica Roth’s ‘Chosen Ones’ still doesn’t know. Ten years ago, Sloane was one of five chosen children, each picked because they each fulfilled the requirements of the prophesised ‘chosen one.’ Together, the five fought and defeated the Dark One, a magical being spreading death and destruction across the world.
Unlike the Dark One, Sloane and the other ‘chosen ones’ are not magical, and they have no defences against the Dark One’s terrifying ability to strip the life out of everything around him in a technique called the Drain. To fight him, therefore, the Chosen posit that, if magic can exist now, then it may have done so in the past, the Chosen tracked down a series of historical magical objects that they used to defeat the Dark One. Roth pulled these items from genuine myths and legends from European Folklore.
Koschei’s needle is the magical weapon used by the protagonist, and therefore the one that features most prominently in the novel. The needle embedded itself beneath Sloane’s skin after she recovered it from an old shipwreck, and was so powerful and destructive that Sloane struggled to use it without hurting others.
The needle comes from a Slavic legend about Koschei the Deathless, a sorcerer and antagonist in several Slavic legends. He is often described as appearing as an old, wizened man, though sometimes said to have transformed into a monster or even a tornado. Terrified of death, Koschei achieved immortality by removing his soul and placing it inside an object – a needle. He then hid the needle inside an egg, the egg inside a duck, the duck inside a rabbit, and the rabbit inside a chest which he buried on a hidden island. He believed that if someone were to uncover the chest, the rabbit would flee. If the rabbit was killed, the duck would escape from it and fly away. If someone managed to capture the egg, however, they would be able to control Koschei’s powers. Breaking the egg would break the needle, which would kill Koschei.
Thematically, Koschei’s needle is a good fit, both for Sloane as the protagonist, and for the story. The novel’s antagonist, The Dark One, like Koschei was immortal. Early in the novel Sloane, who was afraid of the needle’s power, broke it in half, and discarded the pieces. Sloane was also the one to ultimately kill the Dark One. The fact that Sloane’s object of power relates to the death of an immortal, and the destruction of the needle can be seen to foreshadow Sloane’s ability to defeat their immortal enemy.
The Freikugeln are a series of seven magical bullets from German folklore. They are said to have belonged to a marksman who made a deal with the devil to obtain bullets that would hit whatever the shooter wished. The marksman obtained six of these bullets. The seventh bullet that he received however, was said to be somewhat trickier than the others. Instead of hitting whatever the marksman wished, the seventh bullet would instead be beholden to the devil’s will.
The legend serves as the basis for the German opera, Der Freischütz, in which the marksman almost murders his fiancé when he loses control of the seventh bullet.
The Golden Bough
The golden bough is an important object from Classical Greco-Roman mythology. In the novel, it is said to have been lent to the chosen ones by Greece, however the Golden Bough appears most famously in the Aeneid – an Epic by the Roman poet, Virgil.
The golden bough is used by the hero of 'The Aeneid', Aeneas, the half-human son of the goddess Venus. He survived the sacking of Troy, and he and his men were the ancestors of the people of Rome. After being visited by the shade of his dead father, Anchises, Aeneas is told that he must travel to the underworld. His mother sent him two doves to lead him to the golden bough, nestled beneath the branches of an oak tree. The golden bough allowed Aeneas to travel safely to the underworld to visit his father.
The Gjallarhorn is a horn that appears in Norse mythology, specifically the myths of Ragnarök. It is said to be in the possession of the god, Heimdall.
Heimdall is the sentry and gatekeeper of the Asgardian gods, keeping watch day and night. When Ragnarök is nigh, Heimdall will see the invading force, led by Loki, and blow the horn. Gjallarhorn is the loudest horn in existence, when Heimdall blows it, it will create a noise loud enough to be heard across the cosmos, summoning the gods to their final battle.
Ring of Gyges
Though the Ring of Gyges is mentioned, it is not a weapon that the protagonists used. Whether that was because the ring was not in fact magic, or because it simply wasn’t needed, is never clarified. The ring is from Greek legend and appears in the writings of Plato. Much like the ring used by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, the ring of Gyges has the ability to turn its user invisible. In Plato’s ‘Republic’ the shepherd, Gyges, finds the ring and uses its powers to seduce the queen, conspiring with her to murder and overthrow the king.
As with Koschei’s needle, there is something poetic about the Ring of Gyges being the object that the protagonists discarded or overlooked. The ring is the only object to guarantee anonymity, and anonymity is something that all five chosen sacrificed in defeating the Dark One. It is also the thing that protagonist Sloan valued the most highly in the book, struggling to manage the aftermath of being a child of prophecy under the eyes of the entire world.
While these are the most obvious references to mythology in the book – actively taken from different legends – there are also more subtle nods to folklore throughout the novel. The woman who prophesised the existence of the chosen ones was given the code name ‘Sybil,’ a title used in Ancient Greece and Rome for female oracles, often associated with Apollo. Another subtle reference is to the fairytale ‘The Snow Queen.’ One character in the novel, Mox, has an eye ‘marred by magic’ caused by a shard lodging in his eye. This is similar to Kai from ‘The Snow Queen’ who has a shard of the Snow Queen’s mirror in his eye. Mox is preyed on and manipulated by the Dark One the same as Kai is preyed on by the Snow Queen and, much as Gerda, protagonist of ‘The Snow Queen’ saves Kai, Sloane must save Mox.
Though the mythological references in ‘Chosen Ones’ are not a key part of the book, they do act as fun Easter Eggs for any mythology lover who is reading. They also help to ground some of the more fantastical elements of the book in our own reality. The magic is wild and extraordinary, but it has its roots in history, giving it a real and established feel as something that has previously existed, and therefore can exist again.