Self-Defeating Prophecy


(permanent link) added: 2011-01-25 11:25:46 sponsor: HonoreDB (last reply: 2011-01-27 17:57:00)

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The most common prophecy in fiction is a Self Fulfilling Prophecy--people's reactions to the prophecy, whether to try to prevent it or to aid the Chosen One, end up causing it to happen. But the inverse is also quite common: a prophecy that would be inevitable, were it not for the existence of the prophecy.

Generally, a single person knows that something terrible will happen in the next 24 hours...unless that person can use her special knowledge to prevent it. More rarely, a person will accidentally thwart a good prophecy by trying to force it, or the prophecy will simply fail due to For Want of a Nail.

Compare Either-Or Prophecy, where the potential for thwarting is spelled out in the prophecy itself, and Set Right What Once Went Wrong, where the plot is nearly identical but the cause is Time Travel.

Examples:

  • The premise of most Early Edition episodes. The hero gets tomorrow's newspaper, which generally seems to predict the day as it would have gone had the newspaper not existed.
  • The premise of many early Angel episodes.
  • The visions in Minority Report. In the original short story, this is taken to an extreme: one precog sees the future as it would have been if there were no visions. The second sees the future as it would have been if only the first vision existed. The third sees the future as it would have been if only the first two visions existed.
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