Characters that become tropes

And, don’t tell me you forgot about Maxwell Smart.

I didn’t, but he was such an obvious parody (actually more of a parody of a parody) I didn’t think he was worth mentioning.

Missed it by that much…

John Steed of The Avengers? Although I think that’s a bit of a issue of which one actually originated the tropes. The Avengers actually premiered in 1961, a year before Dr. No and the cinematic James Bond. It’s my understanding that it was the cinematic James Bond that really established a lot of elements of the Bond trope, and the literary Bond was a lot grittier, but I’ve never read Ian Fleming, so I may well have that wrong.

Also, it’s been quite a while since I’ve watched any episodes of The Man From UNCLE, but my memory is that it was a pretty straight forward light action-adventure/spy thriller show, not a parody. To be sure, the show and the character poked fun at themselves, and there were occasional tongue-in-cheek elements, but I don’t remember it being a parody. But, like I said, it’s been quite a while, so I may be misremembering it.

There was also the Fleming inspired Danger Man (AKA Secret Agent) with Patrick McGoohan (“Drake…John Drake.”) that predated the cinematic Bond by two years.

Going by my many-decades-old memory, the first few episodes (or maybe even the first season) were a parody, or at least seems like it to my 10-year-old self.

I would say that a good antecedent would be The Sword in the Stone, a novel by T.H. White (1938), later made into the animated film of the same name by Disney (1963). It’s about the magical tutoring of the boy King Arthur by the wizard Merlin. It has a lot of Harry Potter elements, including the fact that Arthur is disrespected by his foster family because his heritage is unknown, and that he is instructed in magic by a Dumbledore-like wizard.

Scholomance and Domdaniel were magical schools mentioned by 18th Century and 19th Century writers.

I’m sure it wasn’t the origin of it but this (child leading normal boring life is actually destined for great things in a fantastical far away place) was a common trope in 1980s Sci-fi. Last Starfighter being classic example:

CS Lewis definitely heavily influenced it (but IIRC the kids who went to Narnia were not special in anyway, they just happened to come across the wardrobe)

Aladdin. Oedipus. Jason.


Not to mention Professor Xavier running that school for gifted youngsters.

You don’t say.


There are countless ancient stories of princes and demi-gods living boring lives as peasants, only be destined to return as an adult be involved in great adventures (and more typically terrible tragedies)

But that’s not the Harry Potter (last Starfighter, etc.) trope as that’s about a child who discovers that despite his boring hum-drum life he actually has special powers that mean he’s destined to travel to far-away place and have adventures as a child, not when he grows up.

In fact I’d say the trope of “having a child as the main protagonist of the story” may be a fairly new one, other than the odd vignette that shows a child is destined for greatness later, I can’t think of any pre-Victorian examples.

Would you count fairy tales, like “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel & Gretel”?

Those are child protagonists, and fairy tale characters count in my opinion, but those particular characters don’t fit the trope as stated. They aren’t ordinary kids with a secret heritage that destines them for greatness - they’re just ordinary kids who have a single adventure. That’s kind of the whole point. The ordinary kids in those fairy tales just back to their ordinary lives after the single adventure is over. Even for characters like Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk” who don’t go back to their ordinary lives, the life they get is a Happily Ever After, not further adventures as the Chosen One.

A lot of modern stories do posit these characters as continuing their adventures as grown-ups, and some even include the Chosen One tropes, but those are deliberate re-imaginings and retcons. All of the ones that include Harry Potter-style tropes that I can think of offhand also post-date the first Harry Potter book.

Right; I was just suggesting them as examples of “child as main protagonist of the story,” nothing more.

Oh yeah, good point.

So one that just struck me is origin of the “Fridging” trope, whereby a female character only exists so she can get murdered and so push the male lead into the pitiless revenge spree that the storyline requires. Its the Patroclus trope from ancient Greco-roman whereby the hero’s boyfriend is killed and so driving the main character in a pitiless revenge spree

There was a genre of young adult fiction, the school story, largely English, which depicted life in boarding schools. From the linked article:

The school story is a fiction genre centering on older pre-adolescent and adolescent school life, at its most popular in the first half of the twentieth century. While examples do exist in other countries, it is most commonly set in English boarding schools and mostly written in girls’ and boys’ subgenres, reflecting the single-sex education typical until the 1950s. It focuses largely on friendship, honour and loyalty between pupils. Plots involving sports events, bullies, secrets, rivalry and bravery are often used to shape the school story.

The popularity of the traditional school story declined after the Second World War, but school stories have remained popular in other forms, with a focus on state run coeducational schools, and themes involving more modern concerns such as racial issues, family life, sexuality and drugs (see Grange Hill). More recently it has seen a revival with the success of the Harry Potter series, which uses many plot motifs commonly found in the traditional school story.

So Harry Potter is basically English School Story plus magic.