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Prodigal Hero

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Brother, you're safe now, and safe may you stay
For I have a prayer just for you
Grow baby brother, come back some day
Come and deliver us too
Miriam, The Prince of Egypt

A basic plot that most likely originated with the story of Moses. It involves a character living in the lap of luxury, when suddenly he's forced to run away from home, usually due to murdering someone on accident (though sometimes the character is just sick of the people where he lives). The character exiles himself and goes on to live a carefree life without much responsibility. That is, however, until their past comes back to bite them in the butt, and they are forced to return to their old home and save the day, usually by saving his people from either their evil rulers or a new evil that has come in his absence.

This story is usually An Aesop on growing up, facing the past, and taking responsibility, and goes to show the character transforming from someone who once ran away from his past returning to confront it. The original decision to leave may come from the realization that they were Moses in the Bulrushes.

This is an element of the traditional "hero's journey" (in literary classes you learn that the first step in the stereotypical "heroic arc" is the "refusal of the call"). Perhaps an incorporation of the hero's journey's stages as subtropes with some of the common subversions (such as Jumped at the Call).

Usually results in Rightful King Returns if the character was royalty, or A Protagonist Shall Lead Them if they were not (and if they are The Protagonist). Related to Charlie Brown from Outta Town, if they come under a different (albeit similar) identity and costume. Compare/contrast Achilles in His Tent, Refusal of the Call.

Note that "prodigal" means "wasteful"; the correct definition is used in the biblical parable, but the word has come to be associated with exile and return.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z may count, as he (or rather, his father) had been apart from Namek for years and only comes back when it's targeted by Frieza.
  • One Piece: In his backstory, Sanji is the third son of the Vinsmoke family. However, his sister Reiju helped him escape from his family's abuse and he fled to the East Blue, where he became a sous-chef. He's forced to face his past when Judge tries bringing him back for a political alliance between the Vinsmokes and the Charlottes.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: The Enchantress used a love spell on Hercules to send him against the Avengers. Hercules broke free from the spell, but Zeus banished him from Olympus for making the forbidden journey to Earth. The Avengers welcomed him as a guest, and then made him a full member. And when the year passed, Hercules returned to Olympus, to request permission to stay on Earth (so it would be by choice rather than exile). However, when he returned, Olympus was empty: the titan Typhon broke free from his own exile of millennia ago and sent the Greek gods to a dark dimension. Unable to kill Hercules, he sent him as well. But, as a demigod, Hercules could be sent back by Zeus. He defeated Typhon in battle and forced him to undo the spell, returning the gods to Olympus.
  • Batman (James Tynion IV): The narrative gradually sets up Jace Fox as this. He's the rebellious second son of one of Gotham's most famous corporate figureheads who enjoyed a life of luxury until a Noodle Incident when he was 17 forces him into exile. Now after the tragedies that befell his family during the Joker War, Jace returns to Gotham, setting him on a path that will change his life forever...
  • Kingdom Come presents a dark version of this: Superman returns from his self-imposed exile after things have gotten out of hand in his absence. However, given that the story is based around the trope of Beware the Superman, it is quickly made clear that his return isn't a good thing.
  • This was essentially Nightwing's character arc which was a decade in the making. In the early 1980s, Bruce and Dick started to drift apart; Dick was spending less and less time in Gotham as he dedicated most of his time to college and the Teen Titans. After a mistake involving Clayface, Bruce outright fired Dick from the role. Dick assumed his own mantle end drifted to his own city to become a protector. Years later, Bruce's back is broken by Bane, and after his first choice of successor proves to be a disaster, Bruce finally repairs his relationship with Dick and Dick takes up the mantle of Batman. Interestingly, the story of this breakup differs drastically - pre-Crisis, it was very amicable, even allowing new orphan Jason Todd to take up the mantle of Robin. post-Crisis, Robin had screwed up and nearly got killed trying to ambush the Joker.
  • The story of Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) character Elias Acorn is this. After being rescued by King Acorn's Secret Service, Elias was forced to be a king-in-intern after an assault on Robotropolis hospitalizes King Acorn, leading to Geoffery St. John to act as his adviser. Through Geoffery, Elias made a number of decisions that broke up the Freedom Fighters and put more emphasis on the Secret Service, which St. John was part of. These, along with his own doubts and fears, lead him to bail from Knothole and start a life away from being a member of the royal family. However, when Sonic discovered him and learned his sister Sally was being forced to marry Antoine, who was secretly his Mirror Universe Evil Twin Patch, Elias returned to the kingdom and took up the reigns once more
  • Wonder Woman has left her island home to live in Man's World, but frequently returns to help save her people.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): While Diana is in frequent contact with Themyscira when it is not cut off from the outside world any time she returns it is treated as a big deal by the Amazons and is because there is some larger threat to her people, who miss her terribly and would prefer it if she had never left.
    • Wonder Woman (2006): This was set up, with Diana being forced to leave Themyscira after defying and denying Zeus, who has set himself up as the replacement for the Amazon's patrons, but the payoff is murky as it occurs in Wonder Woman: Odyssey and involves time travel shenanigans which lead to the reinstatement of Themyscira after its destruction caused by said time travel.

    Fan Works 
  • All the Roofs of Uncertainty: Jason finally returns to the manor after trying to stop killing for a month and discovering it so hard that it convinces him he really needs to stop altogether, as he's realized he's just become another hypocritical murderer. Alfred even says "The prodigal returns, Master Bruce," when Bruce walks in and sees him. He manages to save Damian's life later on due to reforging his connections with his family and therefore being in the loop when Damian is in a collapsing building.
  • Deconstructed in Kyon: Big Damn Hero. "Shinobu" left her traditional family after her "well-behaved" twin sister accepted an Arranged Marriage to Tsuruya's father. During her independent life overseas, she became an activist and fought for women's rights but her lack of political tact earned her and her closest allies some dangerous enemies. Without thinking of the potential consequences, Shinobu fled to Japan but her parents refused to give her shelter. In an unusual twist of this trope, it was Tsuruya's mother, The Dutiful Daughter, who offered her sanctuary with her new family. Eventually, Shinobu's enemies caught up with her and decided that killing her sister made for better revenge. They were right.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: After Kubo inadvertently destroys his home village, he eventually returns to retrieve his father's helmet and face off against the Moon King.
  • The Lion King: The protagonist, Simba, is a prince of the Pride Lands who flees as a cub due to his father's death and his uncle Scar convincing Simba that he himself was responsible. He runs into Timon and Pumbaa, who raise him in the philosophy of living life with no worries and forgetting his past, until he encounters his former childhood best friend Nala and finds out how the Pridelands has suffered under Scar's tyranny in his absence, and has to face his past to challenge Scar and become king.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, Sunset Shimmer, a former student of Princess Celestia, fled Equestria after becoming cruel and dishonest in her search for power. Even after her reform, she doesn't feel up to the task of reconciling with her former tutor, but when events forced her to return, she learns that Celestia has already forgiven Sunset's misdeeds and missed her.
  • The Prince of Egypt, being an adaptation of the story of Moses, tells this story, mixing both the accidental murder as well as disgust with the Egyptians' treatment towards the Jews.
  • Wonder Woman Blood Lines: Diana leaves Themyscira to save Steve Trevor and fights her mother on the way out, with the understanding that she won't be welcomed if she returns. When she does return home to save her people from an attack from several super villains she learns that her mother's words were said in anger in the heat of the moment when her mother is glad to see her again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman Begins presents the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Gotham as this. While Bruce is away training, Gotham's been steadily going downhill since the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and Wayne Enterprises is being guided away from its original, philanthropic ideals. Then Bruce Wayne comes back, starts cleaning up the streets as Batman, retakes full ownership of Wayne Enterprises and puts Lucius Fox in charge, saves the city from destruction at the hands of the League of Shadows, and by the time of The Dark Knight has brought hope back to Gotham.
  • Arthur Curry / Aquaman in DC Extended Universe avoided returning to Atlantis for quite some time, until the day Steppenwolf showed up. Then Mera actively pushed him to reclaim the throne.
  • As the related trope of Rightful King Returns would suggest, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings is an example of this, having fled from his duty and being forced to take on his destined responsibility as king. (Only in the movie; in the book he's accepted his destiny and has been working towards it for decades.)
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki over the course of four films. For centuries, he was living in luxury as a Prince of Asgard. Then he learns that he was adopted from a race of enemies, tries to commit both Fratricide and genocide, and by letting himself fall into the abyss goes into self-imposed exile. He lives a destructive life, is imprisoned, escapes, becomes an impostor who pretends to be the rightful king while taking no responsibility, is exposed, goes into hiding and leisuring around again... Until he returns to help Thor save the Asgardians from their evil ruler, Hela. The first thing he hears when he is back is "welcome home," from Heimdall.
    • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Shang-Chi was born the son and heir of Xu Wenwu, an immortal warlord and leader of the Ten Rings. However, after his mother's death at the hands of the Iron Gang, he was forced to become an assassin by his father, eventually escaping his past by fleeing to San Francisco and living a normal life away from the Ten Rings for ten years. He's forced to face his past and reconcile his heritage when his father tries to bring him back into the Ten Rings to invade Ta Lo, his mother Ying Li's former village.
  • Preacher's Kid is an explicit retelling of the tale, including Bishop King ordering a robe and a ring for Angie's anticipated return although it turns out to be for his marriage to Sister Watkins.
  • In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi exiles himself to watch over little Luke Skywalker from a distance, and then returns to the first line to be his mentor.

  • Dawn from BattleTech novel Star Lord, she was banished from Clan Steel Viper as part of Bret Andrews plan of getting rid of Warden-minded warriors like her. She later returned to her Clan with the head of the last descendant of Amaris. A feat that is enough to get her back on her Clan.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry Potter had to flee and hide all over England to stay a step ahead of Voldemort, but when the last Horcrux was hidden in Hogwarts and he found that out, he rushed to Hogwarts to find it, which sparked the Final Battle.
  • Galadriel in J. R. R. Tolkien books The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. She was one of the leaders of the rebellion of the Noldor, and she fled the Undying Lands to Middle-Earth, desiring to rule her own kingdom. After the destruction of the Noldor, the downfall of both Morgoth and Sauron, the beginning of the Reign of Men, and 7000 years of exile, she finally returned back home, albeit having lost everything she once had had.
  • Used to devastating effect again by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Children of Húrin. Túrin, only son of the Memetic Badass Húrin Thalion, is spirited to Doriath after a disastrous battle. There, he is adopted and raised by the kind-if not always attentive-King Thingol: becoming almost indistinguishable from an elf, in appearance and bearing. However, an incident involving a racist elf leads to Túrin fleeing Doriath believing that he will be punished if he stays. He takes up with a group of bandits, and becomes something of a Jerkass With A Heartof Gold: willing to do bad things, but only in the name of uniting the men of the area against the orcs who are invading their lands (or protecting the innocent, particularly young women). However, the accidental killing of an old friend leads Túrin to wander away from all his friends in a daze. Eventually, he meets an elf named Gwindor who takes him to Nargothrond. There, Túrin doesn't tell anyone who he really is: but his Doriathrin upbringing and general badassery still mean that he swiftly gains favor with the elves. Before long, he is one of King Orodreth's most trusted counselors: and indeed the foresighted elf-lord is practically begging Túrin to marry his daughter Finduilas (who is in love with Túrin, although our hero doesn't realize it). Then, Glaurung leads an invasion of Nargothrond. Túrin is tasked with protecting Finduilas, which he spectacularly fails to do: albeit not entirely through his own fault. Glaurung then gives him a choice, he can either search for Finduilas or for his long-lost mother and sister: but not both. For some reason, Túrin decides to try and find his mother at this moment. He journeys back to his homeland, Dor-lómin, and finds her house. However, she has long since left: ironically, for Doriath. What he does find however, is Brodda abusing his kinswoman Aerin: Túrin kills Brodda in spectacular fashion and chucks his head in front of his cronies. But before they can kill Túrin, Aerin makes him leave along with the former thralls. Then she sets the hall on fire, killing Brodda's cronies. The devastating irony is that Túrin never needed to leave Doriath in the first place: his childhood friend Nellas testified on his behalf leading Thingol to clear his name of any wrongdoing.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Bible appears to have originated this trope.
    • The Trope Namer of sorts is Jesus' fable of the Prodigal Son, in which a boy leaves home, loses all of his money gambling, becomes a wreck, and finally returns home, only to be greeted with love and open arms. However, because the son has no real dire reason to leave, and because there is no conflict upon his return, this isn't exactly a straight version of the trope at work.
    • A more direct version of the trope, however, comes from earlier in The Bible with the tale of Moses fleeing Egypt, living happily in the desert, and then returning to Egypt to free the Jews from the tyrannical Pharaoh.
  • Jason was sent to train with Chiron when his Evil Uncle grabbed the throne. When he returned, his uncle sent him off to get the Golden Fleece in the hopes he would get himself killed. Unfortunately for his uncle, he succeeded and returned with a lot of powerful friends, popular support, and a sorceress girlfriend.
  • According to Siddhartha's story, a pampered Indian prince one day saw suffering in the world (hunger, sickness, and death) for the first time (he was sheltered from it all his life). So he left the palace to seek an answer as to why people suffer. What he realized would later become the foundation of Buddhism.

    Video Games 
  • In the video game Assassin's Creed II, Ezio must flee Florence when his father and brothers are killed. He goes to his uncle's villa, learns to be an Assassin, and returns to Florence to investigate the conspiracy.
  • Devil May Cry 5: This symbolically happens with Dante. His greatsword, a memento of his father, is called "Rebellion", and while he's a good guy, he initially wasn't as heroic as his demon father Sparda was, and didn't think of his own demonic heritage too highly. However, the biggest problem in the game comes from his own twin brother, Vergil (i.e his family), and his first step of resolving it is to go back to the ruins of his family's house, seeking answers. There, he has an epiphany about why his father gave him the Rebellion in the first place: he thinks, if Vergil's sword (also another of Sparda's memento), Yamato, could split him into a human half and a demon half, then he questions about what Rebellion could do. Dante then stabs himself with Rebellion's remains; this, together with the Devil Sword Sparda (his father's main sword) on his back, allows him to "accept" his demonic heritage (i.e to "follow" the way of his father) and gives his demonic power a dramatic boost by having both swords "merge" into him, giving him a more powerful demonic form, as well as the ability to create his own sword, "Devil Sword Dante". Later on, during the fight with the Big Bad's empowered form, the setting is an illusory version of his old home, symbolizing Dante "going back to the past" during this fight.
  • Subverted in Fallout 4 with the East Coast branch of the Brotherhood of Steel. Originally they broke off from the West Coast branch due to disagreements with their policies, and the West Coast branch was nearly annihilated a few years later. Now they've reestablished contact with the old leaders of the West Coast and are building a second-generation Brotherhood of Steel out of Washington DC. However, though this saved the Brotherhood and did stop a lot of powerful tech ending up in the wrong hands, from the perspective of outsiders this made them more villainous. They now follow a mix of the West Coast and East Coast policies.
  • Joshua Graham from Fallout: New Vegas is an intentional allusion to this trope, to the point that he directly compares himself to the parable character. Originally a missionary/translator for a scholarly expedition, Graham wound up becoming the right-hand man of the brutal warlord Caesar and abandoning his faith to serve his master. Eventually, however, he ran afoul of his boss and got thrown down a canyon burning as punishment. Miraculously surviving the fall, Joshua wandered back home to the people he had betrayed, only to be welcomed as though he never left. Since then, Joshua has been doing everything in his power to protect what remains of his people from his former master.
  • CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas does it twice: at the beginning of the game when he returns from Liberty City, and when Sweet gets arrested spending most of the game in San Fierro and Las Venturas, only coming back to Los Santos near the end of the game.
  • The main character of the first Knights of the Old Republic game actually is referred to as 'the Prodigal Knight' in the Light Side ending. Since they were a member of the Jedi Order who left to fight the Mandalorians and became Sith, they eventually returned to the Jedi. They're not particularly wasteful unless you count the one million things sitting in your inventory.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the main character is a broken, disgraced Jedi Knight who was exiled and stripped of her force power. She returns to the Old Republic to save it from a certain undesirable fate.
  • Legacy of Kain: Both of the series' Anti-Hero protagonists qualify as darker examples:
    • Kain was the youngest son of a noble family, so while he grew up in luxury, he was unlikely to inherit anything and thus set off to see the world for himself. While returning from his travels, he was assassinated and resurrected as a vampire - his hometown of Coorhagen gets ravaged by pestilence, but he ends up becoming the Dark Messiah of the series destined to bring balance to Nosgoth.
    • Raziel was the firstborn vampiric son of the aforementioned Kain, who stood by him and his brothers at the dawn of Kain's empire, serving him faithfully for over a millennium. However, when Raziel exceeded Kain in evolution by growing wings, Kain crippled him and threw him into the Lake of the Dead in an act of apparent jealousy - though as it's later revealed, Kain's reasons for doing this were far, far more complex and much less malicious than originally thought to be.
  • Dart in The Legend of Dragoon has been off working as a soldier for several years, before he returns to his village to find it's been ransacked and his childhood friend (yup that sort) Shana captured by the Disc-One Final Boss' forces.
  • Played with in Prodigal, surprsingly enough. Even though Oran didn't exactly have a luxurious life in the North before he ran away to the South, he did have a loving family, from whom he stole 400 Gold in order to flee. He doesn't return until after being informed of his parent's passing, but agrees to help his grandfather's apprentice Bolivar gather the materials he needs to repair an old sword. The trope is played a bit straighter when Oran attempts to flee again after Bolivar betrays him, killing his grandfather and the town's sheriff and revealing himself to be Var, a god-like being whose power was contained within the sword he wanted to repair. He doesn't get very far and is brought back home by Amadeus, who helps him to gain the strength he needs to save the town by defeating Var, while also avenging his grandfather.

    Visual Novels 
  • Beatrice Frega from Tyrion Cuthbert: Attorney of the Arcane thought she was the hero in one of these plots, but ended up being the villain. Born in one of the wealthiest families in Wyverngarde, she was controlled by her father at every opportunity, so she ran away five years prior to the game. Then she returned with the intention to oust him and take over the house, but her plan went horribly wrong and she felt the need to murder him before he could disinherit her. The truth comes out and she's imprisoned, though her sisters are free from their father's influence (but traumatized by the events).

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Prince Zuko was forced to leave home but otherwise fits here. More meaningfully for this trope is when he betrays Iroh, the only one who stood by him during his exile, and upon realizing his mistake abandons his father to rejoin Iroh's forces. He tries to give a clumsy apology speech upon seeing Iroh again, but it's cut off by Iroh giving him a hug, overjoyed that he didn't 'lose' Zuko after all.
    • Avatar Aang fled his home after seeing It Sucks to Be the Chosen One. Returning after decades frozen in a glacier to discover that his people were wiped out and the world has been at war for a hundred years because he wasn't there. He continues to blame himself for this throughout the series until he finally stops the Fire Lord.