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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 protagonist 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 subtroupes with some of the common subversions (such as Jumped At the Call).

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

Examples of Prodigal Hero include:

Anime and Manga

  • Piccolo from Dragonball 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.


  • The Lion King follows this with Simba, invoking Rightful King Returns since he was royalty before fleeing.
  • The Prince of Egypt, being an adaptation of the story of Moses, tells this story, mixing both the accidental murder as well as disgust of the Egyptians' treatment towards the Jews.
  • 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.
  • As the related trope of Rightful King Returns would suggest, Aragorn 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.)


  • 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.
  • 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 JRR Tolkien books The Silmarillion and 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, downfall of both Morgoth and Sauron, beginning of the Reign of Men and 7000 years of exile she finally returned back to home, albeit having lost everything she once had had.


  • 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.

Video Games

  • Dart in 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.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, the main character is a broken, disgraced Jedi Knight who was exiled and stripped of his force power. He returns to the Old Republic to save it from a certain undesirable fate.
    • The main character of the first game actually is referred to as 'the Prodigal Knight' in the Light Side ending. He mostly doesn't fit with this trope (and he certainly doesn't fit the definition of prodigal), however.
  • Terranigma uses this.
  • 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.
  • CJ from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas does it twice: first time, at the beginning of the game when he returns from Liberty City, and second time, when Sweet gets arrested and spends most of the game in San Fierro and Las Venturas, only coming back to Los Santos near the end of the game.

Western Animation

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