Created By: Goldfritha on April 22, 2012 Last Edited By: Goldfritha on January 13, 2014
Troped

Liminal Being

A being is neither one thing nor another.

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Trope
Some creatures are not exactly a thing, because they partake of the natures of two different things. The term for this is "liminality", from the Latin limen or threshold, and beings who remain perpetually on this threshold are mysterious, uncanny, eerie beings — if the artist uses them for their full potential. They can also appear just for the Rule of Cool (but beware the dangers of Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot). This makes this a Super Trope of many, many, many tropes.

Shapeshifting or other changes into and out of determinate states is still liminal if the transition keeps happening, or if the time in the other state confers a permanent change in the character.

Transitioning out of being a liminal being is difficult if even possible. See the Liminal Time YKTTW for when transition is normal.

Tropes of liminal beings

Liminal beings that fall between the tropes

Anime & Manga
  • Schrodinger in Hellsing, a catboy who, due to being a result of a Nazi experiment, has a loose grasp of causality; he both exists and does not exist.

Literature
  • Tiresias, when Odysseus consults him in the underworld, manages to hit a trifecta of liminality:
    • A ghost, both alive and dead
    • A blind seer, both less and more than human in his abilities, and
    • having been transformed into woman and back while alive, both male and female.
  • Tobias from Animorphs, with his human and hawk dual natures, plus his Andalite heritage.
  • The "scramble suits" worn by drug enforcement agents in A Scanner Darkly were thin membranes projecting constantly-shifting images of different physical and facial features over the bodies of the wearers, to provide anonymity.

Live-Action TV
  • Torchwood had Owen, who died and Came Back Wrong. He wasn't really alive or dead, so he couldn't be killed, couldn't heal from injuries, eat, etc etc

Myth/Folklore
  • In one of Aesop's Fables , a bat tries to ally with both beasts and birds, trading on its similarity to both and disavowing the other traits according to who it's speaking to, but after the war, they unify in rejecting it from both groups.

Visual Novel
  • Ciel from Tsukihime is stuck between life and death, due to not having died after the Big Bad possessed and left her body, like all his previous victims did.

Western Animation
  • Balto has it verbalized by Boris about the title character. "Not a dog, not a wolf...all he knows is what he is not."
Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • April 22, 2012
    zarpaulus
    I think you need a less obscure name.
  • April 22, 2012
    EnragedFilia
    Is this supposed to be a supertrope for tropes about "liminal" beings? If so that should be more clear from the description.
  • April 23, 2012
    Koveras
    • Ciel from Tsukihime is stuck between life and death, due to not having died after the Big Bad possessed and left her body, like all his previous victims did.
  • April 23, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    Torchwood had Owen, who died and Came Back Wrong. He wasn't really alive or dead, so he couldn't be killed, couldn't heal from injuries, eat, etc etc
  • April 23, 2012
    Generality
    I'm not clear on what this is about. Is it any case where a being satisfies multiple separate identities? Because if so, it's at least an Omnipresent Trope and perhaps to vague to be of use at all.
  • April 23, 2012
    chicagomel
    • Tobias from Animorphs, with his human and hawk dual natures, plus his Andalite heritage.
    • Balto has it verbalized by Boris about the title character. "Not a dog, not a wolf...all he knows is what he is not."
  • April 24, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Doesn't the concept of liminality generally have a more spiritual/cosmological connotation* than this, which is basically an attempt to make some kind of supertrope for all the tropes listed above in the OP? If so, a lot of them seem shoehorned together. For example, I get what you're going for with Half Human Hybrid, Divine Parentage, etc... but other than being "half this and half that" there's really no underlying connection between a lot of them. We have X Meets Y (maybe that's the supertrope you're looking for?) and a Super Trope requires a lot more than "all these things are examples of "half" one thing and "half" another. * As in, transitional places and times, such as dusk or dawn, crossroads, anywhere that could be considered an intersection of the heavenly and the earthly, the heavens and the underworld, or between the sacred and the mundane; in other words, the title you have chosen refers to something more obscure and far less broad/generalized than you think it does.
  • May 13, 2012
    Goldfritha
    It can have such a connotation, but Tropes Are Not Good. Just because the liminal state has so much potential doesn't mean it's used.

    X Meets Y is about shows, not tropes within them.
  • November 24, 2012
    Koveras
    Necrobump.
  • November 24, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Not sure if this counts as a sort of variation:

    Literature

    The "scramble suits" worn by drug enforcement agents in A Scanner Darkly were thin membranes projecting constantly-shifting images of different physical and facial features over the bodies of the wearers, to provide anonymity.

    Also seen in the film adaptation of the novel.
  • November 25, 2012
    MorganWick
    Description could benefit from being rewritten by someone who hadn't read a little too much Plato that day.
  • November 26, 2012
    Arivne
    In Between Being, for people who don't know what "Liminal" means?
  • January 4, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^ THAT. remember Viewers Are Morons. also i don't know what the hell liminal means.
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
    • Schrodinger in Hellsing, a catboy who, due to being a result of a Nazi experiment, has a loose grasp of causality; he both exists and does not exist.
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
    Would Cartoon Creature count?
  • January 5, 2014
    Goldfritha
    I think Cartoon Creature does not, because it's not meant to be obvious a mix of things.
  • January 5, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 5, 2014
    Goldfritha
    Hummm — I think so.
  • January 6, 2014
    Alvin
    What this made me think of was Myth/Folklore: In one of Aesops Fables , a bat tries to pal around with beasts or birds but is shunned by both because he's not one or the other.
  • January 11, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 13, 2014
    Ekuran
    • Semi Divine: A mix of normal and supernatural creatures.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=hoqb36tmtw5o106i61k5rj4c&trope=LiminalBeing