"Yeah, sir, you might want to send a maintenance man over to that office across the way. The lights are off, and they must be looking for a fuse box, 'cause them flashlights, they keep me awake."
-Forrest Gump, setting off the Watergate scandal
"That means it wasn't just history. It was me. I did it."
-The Doctor, "The Fires of Pompeii"
Creating an original character is hard work. First you have to come up with a decent backstory and personality. Then you have to go and put them in these really tedious plots and situations where they, you know, have to interact with people and do things. More of a hassle than it's worth, really. So many people are doing the same thing all the time. How do you make a character really stand out?
What if it turns out that the character was responsible for a major well-known incident?
Enter The Gump. While in many cases an original and often very well written character in their own right, The Gump simply cannot get around the fact that a good chunk of his screen time is being the driving force behind major events that have already been written or described by others. In effect, he is made more interesting by association due to having "guest starred" in a suitably major event. Just like anything else, it depends on the strength of the writing. If done well, The Gump can be a brilliant twist on an old historical event or previous plot. If not, then he can be a leech who drains strength of character for himself at the expense of the host event.
Almost always the source of a Historical In-Joke
. When done poorly or overbearingly, can be a sign of a Canon Sue
- The titular character, Forrest Gump, was based around this concept. Throughout the movie, he was responsible for exposing the Watergate break-ins, teaching Elvis how to dance, was involved in a famous anti-Vietnam rally, and founded the real world corporation Bubba Gump shrimp.
- The second National Treasure movie featured a minor character, Nicholas Cage's character's great-grandfather, burning a vital clue to a hidden treasure given to him by John Wilkes Booth minutes before the assassination of President Lincoln, thus preventing the Confederates from recovering the treasure and having the funding to start a second Civil War.
- In almost a dark parody of Forrest Gump's life, the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files has been responsible for the JFK assassination, rigged the Oscars, sabotaged the Soviet Union's goalie to allow for the US comeback in the 1980 Olympics, arranged a change of venue for the officers involved in the Rodney King beating, and has vowed that the Buffalo Bills will never win a Super Bowl and has taken steps to make that happen.
- It should stand to reason that the Doctor is a flagrant abuser of this trope. Particularly egregious examples include having inspired Shakespeare with many of his signature lines and being responsible for the Mt. Vesuvius eruption (referenced in the quote above).
- The older series is probably an embarrassment of riches of examples that somebody far more British than I will have to detail.
- An episode of Star Trek: DS9 takes a slightly different track. During an episode where much of the main cast was transported to the timeline of the original series, they were responsible for many of the offscreen events which took place during the Trouble With Tribbles episode. Thus, it is an example of DS9 playing The Gump to another fictional series.
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and to a greater extent Xena: Warrior Princess each had the titular characters delving into full-on Gumpdom. This troper believes that the latter series Jump the Shark moment came when Xena was responsible for Lucifer's fall from grace(?!)
- Aldo Trapani, the main character from The Godfather: The Game, serves as the Corleone Family's personal Gump. He is responsible for removing Khartoum's head and placing it in Woltz's bed, beating the two kids who raped the Bonasera's daughter, assassinating both Paulie Gatto and Salvatore Tessio for betraying the Family, hiding the pistol Michael would use to kill Solozzo and Mc Cluskey, and participating in the assassination of the heads of the Five Families.
Nick "Ace" Geraci, from the Godfather sequels