Archived Discussion

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Working Title: The Xanatos Gilligan knows what he\'s doing.: From YKTTW

Seven Seals: Took out this:
"The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

Because I'm pretty sure this is a mistranslation of a Bible verse. Specifically the King James Version of John 1:5: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Here comprehended doesn't mean "understood" but "encompassed, contained, overpowered". This meaning is archaic or at least uncommon now.

That said, I'm not a Bible scholar, I don't know what the original Greek says, and the "understood it" translation does still occur in some modern translations, so I could just be wrong here. I do know I like the "understood" version a lot better, so I'd like to be wrong.

Lale: But isn't that a cool word play for the meaning of this trope? That to be unable to "comprehend" something is also to be unable to "defeat" it?

Here are two non-archaic translations:

"And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
John 1:5, New King James Version

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
John 1:5, Revised Standard Version

I think the word play makes it the perfect illustration — evil cannot overcome good because evil cnanot comprehend good, right? Question is, how to display it?

Bob: Include both of those?

Seven Seals: @Lale: Sure, if it's genuine word play, but if it just happens to come out right because contemporary English has a different meaning for "comprehend", that's not word play, it's just wrong. I mean, I'd like it a lot better if this ambiguity was already present in the original Greek. If it unambigously says "the darkness has not overcome it" without a hint of "comprehension", it's that much less cool.

For trope purposes, including both translations works whether it's accurate or not, but if anyone has details, I'd still like to know the nitty-gritty. What does it actually say?

dna: The NET Bible (probably the #1 online source of biblical translation footnotes) says "the darkness has not mastered it", and then notes:
Or “comprehended it,” or “overcome it.” The verb κατέλαβεν (katelaben) is not easy to translate. “To seize” or “to grasp” is possible, but this also permits “to grasp with the mind” in the sense of “to comprehend” (esp. in the middle voice). This is probably another Johannine double meaning – one does not usually think of darkness as trying to “understand” light.
(and then on for several more sentences about the use of light and dark as symbols in John...)

Bob: Fascinating. And somewhat inconclusive. Any other suggestions for a page quote?

Larry D: But I think that it establishes that the ambiguity is present in the original.

Sackett: Are we seriously rejecting a Bible quote based on the ground that it might mean something different to people who read it in English compared to the original Hebrew? I say it's the perfect quote, as both the current understanding of "comprehend" is fitting, and the archaic meaning is also fitting.

Seven Seals: @Sackett: Greek, it's New Testament. But anyhow. The reason I took it out is that the mundane meaning "overcome" is not fitting, that's just a generic "evil can't beat good, good guys are the greatest rah rah" sentiment you can find anywhere. The point of this page is that evil has a fatal flaw where it can't understand good. Only if you can interpret "comprehend" as "understand" does it really fit, and that's why I wondered if the translation was right. Otherwise, it might as well have said "evil prefers llamas over camels" in the original and sticking the English mistranslation in to illustrate the trope would just be silly. Too many points have been "proven" by Bible quotes taken out of context and subtly mistranslated; this wiki isn't Serious Business like that, but it would still be a shame.

Now all that is pretty much moot and I'm delighted that the ambiguity is present in the original, making "comprehend" in both meanings a viable translation. It's now a Bilingual Bonus.

Bob: I guess it looks good like this.

fleb: Cutting this, because Syndrome completely understands Mirage's hurt; he's just a plausible-deniability-loving manipulative liar. He understands Mr. I, too, incidentally, and just doesn't care.

* In The Incredibles, Syndrome gets Mr. Incredible to free Mirage without giving up anything to him, and jeers at him for his weakness — in front of Mirage, even though she was hostage because she had pushed Syndrome out of Mr. Incredible's way. Even when Mirage explodes at him, Syndrome doesn't understand that she is hurt by his willingness to sacrifice her and admires Mr. Incredible's heroism. In the end, Mirage provides the Incredibles with the ability to reach where Syndrome is carrying out his plot.

Bob: You kept it polite so far, but something like this is simply to controversial to have as an example.

Real Life
  • Some religious people can't understand why an atheist would be good. Those people may not technically fit the trope now, but if they lose their faith...
    • The best argument this troper's mother could come up with against his atheism was God is Love. If you don't believe in God, how can you believe in love? Again, not an example, but related.
    • Perhaps in a subverted case of "atheism can't comprehend theism", this troper finds the thought of a person who is only good for the sake of an afterlife reward sickening.
    • Well, there comes an interesting part, as some atheists does not comprehend the fact that Christians usually are not good because of the rewards. The rewards comes after, so to speak. Personally, this troper find a world were goodness is not rewarded incredibly discouraging.

Whogus The Whatsler: We do have the opposite of this trope somewhere, right? Where the villain's plan works because he knows that the hero will be unable to resist being heroic? Like when Voldemort lures Harry to his near-doom in Order of the Phoenix, by setting up some fake peril for Harry to thwart?

  • YuYu Hakusho: Yusuke is fighting against Sensui (or rather, his Minoru personality)... and decides to show Sensui that he can't read his attacks as he presumed from his prior Spirit Detective experience. So he jumps in the lake in Irima Cave, takes a swim, and, when Sensui least expects it, wraps his wet T-shirt around Sensui's arm so that he is unable to use his ki attacks, and beats him into a bloody pulp. Or so Yusuke thought, anyway.

I don't get how this is an example.

  • It's a bit of a wallbanger since, given their connections in the past, it should be obvious Jack has some strings to pull on Elizabeth, or at least thinks he does. At least Barbossa is shown intelligent enough that he should've been able to think "Hmm, Jack might be able to get Elizabeth to go along with his plans, he's a manipulative bastard."
  • Actually, XANA didn't have any trouble comprehending Jérémie's actions, he had trouble comprehending the fact that the other Lyoko Warriors believed Jérémie would virtualize himself to save them.

Conversation in the Main Page.

  • In a similar way, the Evil Queen at the end of Snow White assumes that the Seven Dwarves will "bury [Snow White] alive!" She never imagines that, instead, they'll put her in a glass tomb above ground and stand guard over her.
    • Granted, this isn't so much because she can't understand the sentiment as it is because it's a really bizarre thing to do, whatever the circumstances. A burial would have been perfectly normal, and most people would show their devotion to their lost loved one by visiting visiting the grave regularly, rather than building a completely unconventional tomb to stand guard over for the rest of their days. They didn't know she was still alive, after all. It's explained in the passage-of-time title cards that Snow was simply so beautiful that they couldn't bring themselves to bury her (this is the explanation in the original Brothers Grimm story too).
      • So she was so beautiful that they decided to put her corpse on display? That's not Evil Cannot Comprehend Good so much as it is Evil Cannot Comprehend Necrophilia...And Probably Doesn't Want To, Either.
      • This is probably connected to medieval beliefs about incorruptibles — people so pure that their sinless bodies would not decay after death.

So, not really an example of this either way.

  • In Ender's Game, the Formics aren't "evil" per se, but that doesn't keep them from never considering the possibility that Ender might sacrifice his men to destroy their homeworld, or that said men would follow those orders. This arises for several reasons because they had overcome their complete lack of realization that humans were actually sapient in the first two wars, as they had never considered that sapients could be anything but a hive mind, like themselves. In Ender's Shadow it is further made clear that the Formics are incapable of comprehending the sacrifice the soldiers are asked to make. To them everyone capable of being a person was seen as its own queen focused primarily on survival. The idea that a group of sapient beings could be motivated to die "like maggots under a blowtorch" for the good of separate sapient beings was simply incomprehensible. This was aided by the point that in every previous battle he had fought against them, Ender had done all he could to keep his forces alive (as bonus points, since he thought it was just a game). In the final battle, however, his force was so small and the enemy's so vast that he decided to just go all out—which he had never done before—and thus compounded the surprise, making it fatal. In Ender in Exile, it is suggested that this was a Xanatos Gambit on the part of the Buggers (yes, that's what they're called in the original novel) to cease being seen as a threat to humanity. Add yet another Xanatos to the pile-up.

This seems like a completely different kind of not understanding.

Real Life
  • The Axis Powers, at one time or another, underestimated the Western Allies and their willingness to sacrifice and to fight. Hitler never thought the British and French would actually take their defense treaty with Poland seriously, then never thought the British would actually dig in when it was obvious the war in Europe was over in 1940 with the German victories in France and Norway, and then never thought the US would be that serious a threat. Similarly, most of the Japanese military and government were quite secure in their belief that their nutshot to the US Navy at Pearl Harbor and the quick conquest of several European territories in Southeast Asia would inevitably result in the weak-kneed Americans and their allies suing for peace. Didn't work out that well.
    • Nobody expected the Russians to fight like they did. The Nazis were certain that their superior forces would quickly fold the underequipped Russian Army, while the Allies didn't really expect the people to rally behind an evil bastard like Stalin. Everybody seemed to have forgotten that the last successful invasion of Russia was made by Attila the Hun over 1000 years earlier...

I really don't like the idea of calling any real-life country "evil", even if it's just their military leaders.

Goldfritha: Cutting this because it's not a "very special case." Good Is Dumb is not that popular.

  • Granny's a very special case, because she does have a good measure of darkness in her soul - she's not inherently good, she chooses to be good because she's too proud to be evil. She fully understands the evil within herself, but being very proud she sometimes forgets others are capable of being evil too. Word of God has confirmed that Sam Vimes is another aversion - he fully understands evil because he's got some of it in his soul, but he's a good copper by choice (just like Granny, he refuses to be any other way).

Filraen: Deleted it by Rule Of Cautious Judgement (italics by myself, only to explain my point)

  • Atheists. Despite what TV Tropes might say, atheists are mean, spìteful and rude. Why? Because they don't believe in God, and only someone who believes in God can understand concepts such as "love", "compassion", "caring" or "peace".

Caswin: Since (among other things) the Real Life folder hasn't had much luck on this page, I wanted to test the waters on this idea: Picture aside, anyone who takes this motto seriously (and I've met people who certainly seem to feel that way) is halfway there already.