Concept of characters are all in the protagonist's path to help them?
July 9, 2021 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Is there a term, a device, for when everyone the protagonist meets is essential to realizing their goal? Seems like it would be a part of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. Basically they are all put in the protagonist's path so the protagonist will have the knowledge they need to do whatever it is they are trying to do at just the right time. If just one of those characters was missing, the protagonist would fail. So kind of like having no red herrings among the characters, instead they are all essential? Or at least almost all are.

An example of this is an old (1980s) computer game called The Fool's Errand. In it, the protagonist meets a large number of characters and at the end of the game realizes the characters were giving hints and knew things he needed to solve a final puzzle. As the real world player, you go back to the interactions and read what the characters said to solve that last puzzle.

Another example and this gets pretty spoiler about the show Star Trek
[Click for specifically which Star Trek]Discovery (even knowing which show could spoil some things if you apply my main question to it) :

[Click for spoiler]At the end of Season 2, Burnham/the crew realizes the Red Angel has been guiding them to people who would all come together in the season finale to help them with a battle. The people they were guided to were essentially chosen because of their role in that battle.

Harry Potter kind of did a variation of this, too. I've only read the first 1 1/2 books, but from what I understand a critique of the series is Harry always seems to conveniently learn exactly the right spell just before he needs it. Not quite the same, but seems like a spell-based case-by-case variation of the idea.

You can argue Luke Skywalker goes through the same thing in the original Star Wars trilogy with everyone he meets and how they impact his life/journey/purpose. And of course that one is definitely guided by Joseph Campbell's work, as Lucas has stated.

Thank you for any help! I'm pretty much just trying to trope this whenever I see it because in a way it's a bit predictable, but it's not the easiest thing to search for. Sorry the examples are not so much books, but they still had to be written, I suppose. If there are specific forms of it, I'm particularly curious of when the characters all return at the end, not just impart some knowledge and then disappear for the remainder of the story.

I asked this on reddit and the one suggestion I got was the trope Hidden in Plain Sight : The solution to what many players considered That One Puzzle is all but spelled out elsewhere in the game.

This is close, but not quite it. That trope is more about the puzzle having answers throughout the game, but not the role of the characters who give the answers.
posted by Meldanthral to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not aware of a particular term for this, but if we're going to name it I submit: Friends of Chekhov
posted by phunniemee at 8:10 AM on July 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Maybe a variation of a Bildungsroman? That may be a bit broader than you're looking for, though.
posted by jquinby at 8:40 AM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

In Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, he talks about hitting brick walls, and some of those brick walls being made of flesh, and how the purpose of brick walls isn't to keep you out, it's to keep others out and to let you show how badly you want to get in - to show your dedication. His examples include Disney executives, NASA administrators, university deans, etc.
posted by at at 9:24 AM on July 9, 2021

Pilgrim’s Progress?
posted by clew at 9:48 AM on July 9, 2021

TV Tropes calls this a ‘Plot tailored to the Party’ or Eigen plot.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:35 AM on July 9, 2021

Check out The Hero With A Thousand Faces on Wikipedia, and the concept of the Hero's Journey. Its similar to what you have in mind. The idea goes back at least as far as the labors of Hercules.

The specific idea you described would be included in the more general concept of a series of challenges.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:35 AM on July 9, 2021

Response by poster: Yes, I definitely see Campbell's Thousand Faces and Hero's Journey in this, but I wonder if this exact aspect has a name as well.
posted by Meldanthral at 11:43 AM on July 9, 2021

The general concept is discussed in Chapter 3 of Hero with a Thousand Faces (chapter title "Supernatural Aid", though Campbell makes clear that helpers need not be explicitly supernatural). I'm not sure if it has the sort of term you're looking for.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:08 PM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I think Chapter 3 of Thousand Faces and Eigen Plot come the closest. Though I do love just calling them Friends of Chekhov!
posted by Meldanthral at 1:29 PM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I want to just call this "narrative economy". There's a strong tendency for things that don't have any bearing on a story's plot to end up cut.
posted by egypturnash at 3:15 PM on July 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Found another fit - Chekhov’s Army, a sub-trope of Chekhov’s Gunman, itself a sub trope of Chekhov’s Gun.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:21 PM on July 9, 2021

Response by poster: Oooh, Chekhov's Army / Chekhov's Gunman, and the related The Law of Conservation of Detail seem to be exactly it. From TV Tropes Chekhov's Army page describing Chekhov's Gunman:
A Chekhov's Gunman is a character introduced in a seemingly small role and brought back into the spotlight later with a much larger, and generally more important part to play.
Chekhov's Army is using many Chekhov's Gunmen. The Law of Conservation of Detail is that every detail is important to the story. TV Tropes Law of Conservation of Detail page, which quotes the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:
"I apologize, that was a terrible scene. It's like, why was that in the movie? 'Gee, do you think it'll come back later, maybe?' I hate it when movies do that: TV's on, talking about the new power plant... Hmm, I wonder where the big climax will happen?"
And Chekhov's Gunman/Army is the character form of that. So I was basically coming across a number of Chekhov's Armies.

Thank you everyone for your suggestions and input! As always, it was very enlightening.
posted by Meldanthral at 10:13 AM on July 10, 2021

« Older content audits for humans, not algorithms   |   How do I EXACTLY DUPLICATE my old phone to a new... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments