Created By: HonoreDB on January 25, 2011 Last Edited By: HonoreDB on January 27, 2011

Self-Defeating Prophecy

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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.


  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 5
  • January 25, 2011
    Close relative to Stable Time Loop, only with information instead of protagonists.
  • January 25, 2011
    The Dark Prognosticus in Super Paper Mario is a book that details a series of events that would come to destroy all universes. The Ancients, in response, created a counter-prophecy in the Light Prognosticus.
  • January 26, 2011
    A regular occurance on Eli Stone: Eli would get visions and try to prevent them from happening - like, his vision said a building was going to get bombed with his boss in it, so he tried to get his boss to leave the building before that happened. Sometimes it worked out in his favor, sometimes not.
  • January 26, 2011
    Dominic Deegan's second sight shows the unaltered future: What the future will be if he doesn't do something specially to change it.
  • January 27, 2011
    • Eureka does this with Mental Time Travel rather than prophecies. The season 1 finale has Carter travel back in time from a point where he's married to Allison. As a result, in the season 2 opener, he acts overly familiar with her, she's mildly put off, and they don't go on their first date as he remembers it; in the end that first date doesn't happen for almost three more years.