Created By: Escher on May 14, 2012 Last Edited By: Escher on May 17, 2012
Troped

The Legend of Chekhov

When somebody tells an ancient legend, chances are it's based on actual events and will be important later.

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Trope
This YKTTW is based on the TRS on All Myths Are True. All Myths Are True is to be redefined as something else to reflect its name better, and its current content is transplanted and given a new name here in this YKTTW.

See All Myths Are True TRS discussion

When the heroes of a story are told a myth, legend, or fairy tale, you can almost guarantee that the story is true (or at least the truth as filtered through generations of retelling and/or a primitive culture's viewpoint) and the heroes will have to deal with it at some point. This is used so often, in fact, that it's actually more notable when the heroes are told a story and it doesn't turn out to be some flavor of true.

This is largely a result of The Law of Conservation of Detail, which demands that taking time out from the main story to tell some other story must only be done when that side story is important to the main plot.[[hottip:*:When such a tale isn't true, it's usually being used as a metaphor for the heroes' situation or to teach them some lesson that they'll need to use later.]] The purpose in labeling something important as a myth rather than just explaining it outright is to build excitement, so that when the legend is later shown to be true, it brings a sense of wonder or discovery. It can also serve to foreshadow future events, while giving the author an excuse for giving only partial or deceptive information.

Compare Prophecies Are Always Right, where it's a prediction that's virtually guaranteed to be right rather than a story from the past.

Note that this trope is about the characters within a story being told a myth, which turns out to be based on actual events within the story's universe. This is not about an author using real-world myths in a story (though the myth the heroes are being told may well be borrowed from a real-world source).


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Laputa: Castle in the sky, from the very start, Pazu believes the mythical city of Laputa exists. He's not wrong.
  • Saiunkoku Monogatari begins with Shuurei telling her students the story of their country's founding, ending it by saying that according to legend, the eight immortal sages who helped the first emperor found Saiunkoku are still alive in secret among the people. This is absolutely true, and Shuurei goes on to become personally acquainted with several of them. A little later in the first arc, Shuurei begins to tell Ryuuki the story of the Rose Princess and how she married a mortal man. This story is not only true, it's the story of her parents' marriage.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the ancient Xingese legend of the Western Sage is about Ed and Al's father, while the Amestrian legend of the Eastern Sage is about "Father," the Big Bad of the series.

Comics
  • BIONICLE: In most cases, the Matoran consider most of the Turaga's stories as mere fairy tales. But most of them wind up becoming painfully true. From giant Manas to the hellish Karzahni.

Literature
  • The Stephen King novel Desperation tells the legend of why an old mine was abandoned (a trapped Chinese Laborer summoned a bad spirit). There really is a monster, though actually they just Dug Too Deep and set loose an Eldritch Abomination.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the legend of the titular Chamber, which Professor Binns tells to his History of Magic class and dismisses as a preposterous myth, turns out to be absolutely true, including the deadly guardian.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: the 'Tale of the Three Brothers' is an exaggerated and mythified version of the truth.
  • In Earthsea the myth of human-dragon hybrids trapped in human form, mentioned at the beginning of Tehanu, is proven true at the book's end and forms the basis for the plot of the next novel, The Other Wind.
  • In The Eyes of Kid Midas, the teacher explains that the mountain they're camped out underneath is called the Eye of God, and some ways away down in the valley there's a tall, thin spire that's known as the Devil's Chair. According to legend, the peak of the Eye of God was the place where the world was created, and once a year, the very tip of the mountain's shadow falls exactly at the peak of the Devil's Chair. Though the teacher admits it's merely a legend (and the mountain's shadow actually never goes near Devil's Chair), Kevin climbs the mountain, and at the top he discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to harness the forces of creation. And lo and behold, when he puts them on, he sees the shadow move fall exactly where his teacher said it would[[hottip:*:Fridge Brilliance - The shadow moved because he's wearing the glasses and believes the legend.]].

Live Action Film
  • The Mummy spends plenty of time giving us the whole legend of the Mummy before revealing that it's all true. (Which comes as a surprise to nobody in the audience, since that's the title of the movie.)
  • In The Secret Of Roan Inish the grandfather tells the legend of the selkie, which is important to the climax of the film.

Western Animation

Webcomic

Videogames
  • In pretty much all the Final Fantasy games, if you talk to any random NPC who tells you about some legend, the legend is bound to be true. Hidden magical weapons? Yup. Super-powered monsters? Yup. Maze-like hidden cities? Yup.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, there are The Seven Mysteries of Twilight Town, urban legends which invariably turn out to be for real when Roxas investigates (and serve as clues to the nature of the world he's been living in). But when Roxas's friend comes along to do the write-up, he assumes each was just a misunderstanding of something mundane.
  • Bungie's Marathon series contains an interesting example. The second game has a single terminal midway through the game that references a S'pht creation myth where the god Yrro flung a chaotic being into the star that Lh'owon orbits. This terminal is never mentioned by any character for the remainder of the game. The myth then forms the entire plot of the third game, Marathon Infinity -- sure enough, the Jjaro (or Yrro) trapped an Eldritch Abomination inside the system's star. Which the Pfhor destroyed in the finale of the second game.
  • In Pokémon, any myth or legend you hear about from an NPC is almost guaranteed to be a hint as to where to find a particular Legendary pokemon.
  • A set of daily quests in World of Warcraft has you investigate myths about three maidens who will grant powerful swords if you do each a favor. Naturally, all three of them turn out to be true.
  • In Borderlands, the person who sends you to kill Crawmerax the Invincible says that most people think he is a myth and doesn't really exist. Naturally, when you get to the designated spot, he shows up. Subverted in that the quest-giver is quite surprised that you actually managed to find and kill Crawmerax since he made the whole thing up off the top of his head just to mess with people.
  • Funny subversion in Lufia: Curse of Sinistrals remake. At one point you're sent to find the legendary sword, which the legends claim to have been forged by the gods and able to cut mountains in half. Just one line after that you're informed that all of that is just legend, and the sword itself is probably not even magical, but that you should get it just to boost the morale of the people. It turns our that the myth really wasn't true... but the sword is still good enough to be useful by the time you get to it.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you can learn about the creations myths of the Selkath and the Tusken Raiders. It turns out that both are true and are references to the Rakata, the creators of the Star Maps.
  • In Dwarf Fortress Adventurer Mode, if someone talks to you about some dragon who razed his hometown long time ago or a forest where the dead are said to rise and stalk the living, you can be absolutely sure he's telling the unvarnished truth. The only exception to this trope are centaurs, chimeras, and griffons, who sometimes appear on engravings but don't exist in the game world... yet. What's more, the stories will be told with impeccable detail. A thousand years on, everybody in the world still remembers which particular tooth was knocked out of the mouth of a random peasant by a marauding Bronze Colossus.

Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • May 14, 2012
    Escher
    This is based on what seems to have been the original intent of All Myths Are True before that trope got mixed in with Fantasy Kitchen Sink. TRS thread here. I'll continue to add examples as I have time, mostly from the existing All Myths Are True page (which are heavily mixed with "stories where every real-life mythology or legend has a real origin even if the story wasn't discussed on-screen").

  • May 14, 2012
    AceOfSevens
    Without a new name, it's going to go right back to being full of examples of stories where all real myths are either literally true or have a basis in truth.
  • May 14, 2012
    Routerie
    Why would people interpret "The Legend of Chekhov" to mean that?
  • May 14, 2012
    Escher
    What're you talking about, Ace? This is the new name. The old name was "All Myths Are True". See the TRS thread. This is the first time I've done this, so if I did something wrong (like should have linked the TRS in the body?) please fix it and let me know.
  • May 14, 2012
    peccantis
    ^ When a YKTTW is based on a TRS discussion it's good practice to provide a link and explain the situation at the top of the YKTTW draft. I'll look into it.
  • May 14, 2012
    AceOfSevens
    nevermind. Read part of the body as the header.
  • May 14, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    • Played with in Heroes, with the legends of Takezo Kensei.
  • May 14, 2012
    Dragonmouth
    Isn't this just part of Chekhovs Lecture?
  • May 14, 2012
    BrentLaabs
    ^ No. That implies the characters have to learn something new, which benefits them later. At least some of the time the characters (and the audience) already know the myth by Pop Culture Osmosis, discuss the myth in the work (which is important), and then it turns out to be true.

    Sheesh, I only found one good example worth moving from All Myths Are True -- and somehow, it's Doctor Who:
    • In any Doctor Who episode, if an alien or a colonist mentions myths of a monster lurking in the ______, the Doctor and his companion(s) will run into it.
      • Not to mention that the Doctor has met a werewolf, the Loch Ness Monster, sort-of witches, Satan, and just about any other mythical person you can imagine. Oh yes, and he himself is Merlin.
      • River invokes this at the end of "Flesh and Stone" when she mentions the Pandorica, which the Doctor dismisses as just a story. "Oh Doctor, aren't we all?"
      • In the episode, "The Pandorica Opens", the Doctor went from "The Pandorica? That's just a legend!" to "So, this is the Pandorica" at unintentionally comical speed.
        • The rest of the episode at the very least hints that the Pandorica was built by 'The Alliance' based on Amy Pond's memories of her favourite book, Pandora's Box, making this only really APPEAR to be an example of this Trope. In fact, considering the whole point of the scenario 'The Alliance' created, this was probably the intended effect, to try and make the Doctor too interested in what the Pandorica could really be to notice what else is going on around him (And it worked). This makes the Pandorica itself an Invoked Trope.
  • May 14, 2012
    Escher
    ^ Now, I wanna be careful here. This is very specifically where we hear about the event or thing within the work, and then later it shows up for real. If they don't discuss vampires on screen, it can't be this trope when one shows up later, because there's no chekhoving going on.

    Even if we already know all about vampires through Pop Culture Osmosis, they have to specifically tell a story about vampires on-screen for it to be a chekhov's legend. For example, if they say something like "Romani legends say that the master of this house never truly died..." that would be this trope (assuming that he does in fact show up as an undead creature later, naturally).

    ^^ I think Chekhovs Lecture is a related trope, but that's where a piece of knowledge comes in handy, but was not necessarily directly related to what's going on -- Buffy using a bat's sound to paralyze a mantis-like demon, for example.

    The Legend Of Chekhov is more direct -- The village elder tells the story of the hero Lan and his flying chariot, later the heroes find an old crashed airplane and the pilot's name was Allan. Or we start off telling ghost stories about the headless horseman, and by the end of the show guess who's chasing us through the forest?
  • May 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the film The Secret Of Roan Inish the grandfather tells the legend of the selkie, which is important to the climax of the film.
  • May 14, 2012
    BrentLaabs
    ^^ Good point. I edited it down so it doesn't draw people too far off topic.

    I wish I could think of more examples here, since I've Seen It A Million Times. Are there any specific Tabletop Game examples? Half of the campaigns I've been in start with "Adventurers meet in a bar, hear a legend about danger and fabulous riches in some place, and start a quest to retrieve the Lost Orb of Phantastigoria."

  • May 14, 2012
    KZN02
    BIONICLE: the 2001 storyline had the Legend of Lhii, a legendary lava surfer with a connection to Jaller. In the 2004, a flashback, Lhii was revealed to be based on Toa Lhikan, an important character.
  • May 14, 2012
    Stratadrake
    (In case anyone's interested, I was the one who suggested "Legend of Chekhov" as a title in the TRS thread. Not entirely seriously, of course.)

    See also Not So Extinct.
  • May 15, 2012
    Nithael
    Averted in the Stephen King novel Desperation. The legend of why an old mine was abandoned (a trapped Chinese Laborer summoned a bad spirit) has almost nothing to do with the reality (they Dug Too Deep and set loose an Eldritch Abomination).
  • May 15, 2012
    DmM
    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: the 'Tale of the Three Brothers' is an exaggeration (they didn't really meet Death and the Hallows were made by the brothers, not by Death), but it's pretty true. Hermione and Ron (and most other people) think it's a fairy story, but the brothers existed and so do the Hallows. When Xenophilius Lovegood proposes the above explanation, Hermione and Ron think he's mad, and think Harry's mad for believing him. Of course, Harry turns out to be right and it transpires that Dumbledore and Grindleweld had worked out the truth of the story decades earlier. The Hallows are vital to Harry's victory. He gets the Resurrection Stone as a Chekhov's Gift, wins possession of the Elder Wand and the Cloak of Invisibility turns out to be what must be a record for longest-running Chekhov's Gift when after 7 books, 10 years real time and 7 years book time, it turns out to be Harry's invisibility cloak that had belonged to his father and had been given to Harry by Dumbledore. In fact, the cloak had been handed down through the Potters and their ancestors from its maker, the youngest Peverell brother, just as the stone had been handed down from the middle brother, through the Gaunts and eventually to Voldemort.
  • May 15, 2012
    Arivne
    Chekhovs Legend, to follow the standard "Chekhov's X" format?
  • May 15, 2012
    Escher
    ^ Either way. I think the Legend Of version sounds better, and I don't really see the benefit of sticking with the snowclone. We can make the snowclone version a redirect.

    ^^ Good example!

    ^^^ I don't think Desperation is really an aversion at all; it's a straight up example of the trope. An aversion would be if there's a legend about the creepy woods, and there's nothing unusual in there at all (which would be really pointless and anticlimatic).

    The legend doesn't have to be true in all its details -- just that the story is based on some truth. We hear about how there's something nasty in the mine, and sure enough there's something nasty down there. ("The truth as filtered through a primitive culture" is the operative bit here -- a basic misunderstanding of the causes and nature of the threat doesn't make the legend false.)
  • May 15, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Too bad we can't call it Legend Of Chekhovs Gun, because that makes it too similar to a plain Chekhovs Gun. I agree that Desperation is Not An Aversion because the similarity between the legend-as-told and the events-that-happened is quite obvious ("trapped chinese worker" = team of miners, "summoned" = Dug Too Deep, "evil spirit" = Eldritch Abomination).
  • May 15, 2012
    JoveHack
    Literature
    • In ''The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" by Alan Garner, at one point a character is singing a song of an ancient prophecy, which just happens to fit the events of the book.
  • May 15, 2012
    Escher
    ^ Depends. I haven't read that -- it might just be Prophecies Are Always Right, which is related.

    This is just me thinkin' here, but to my mind, if it's an old prophecy that only talks about future events, that's not this trope. But if it introduces things from the past and makes predictions, then it would be...

    For example, if the hero is given a prophecy that to do some task she must "face the flames" (but with no real context), and later she realizes that means she has to let the dragon breathe fire on her, that isn't an example of this trope.

    But you could have a story about "the once and future king", who sleeps on an island waiting for the right time to awaken and return. The legend part can be discovered to be true -- that there really was an ancient king who is sleeping -- and that's this trope. Then the king does wake up (or the heroes wake him) and they've fulfilled a prophecy, so Prophecies Are Always Right as well.
  • May 15, 2012
    DmM
    New example, in Earthsea the myth of half-human half-dragon beings/dragons trapped in human form mentioned at the beginning of Tehanu is proven true at the book's end and forms the basis for the plot of the next novel, The Other Wind.
  • May 16, 2012
    Nohbody
    I think this is pretty much ready to go, but I edited the OP to sort things into categories for ease of use purposes, plus fixed a couple of minor issues with Example Indentation, and misuse of Exactly What It Says On The Tin in The Mummy's example. (The movie's name does not tell you everything about the plot, any more than "Marvel's The Avengers" does about that film's plot.)

    [edit: Didn't realize hottips didn't work in here.]
  • May 16, 2012
    ShanghaiSlave
    Stratadrake -- Not So Extinct is relevant here alright. though i'm not sure as to how to word it so it will be integrated in the description. "It could also involve being told of extinct, mythical creatures who turn out to be Not So Extinct after all."?
  • May 16, 2012
    DmM
    Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets: the legend of the Chamber of Secrets, which Professor Binns tells to his History of Magic class and dismisses as a preposterous myth, turns out to be true.
  • May 16, 2012
    Escher
    ^^^ Thanks for the cleanups.
  • May 16, 2012
    Stratadrake
    If everyone supports the title, we should at least drop the "The" from it.

    Also note that if nobody seriously believes in it anymore, then the legend is especially likely to come/be true all along for the protagonists.

    Or we could make that a requirement - the tale has already ascended to legend/myth status where it's interesting but nobody seriously believes it anymore.
  • Wow, we haven't even reached the 3 day mark and I was already going to say 'time to launch this sucka'. Congrats peeps.
  • May 16, 2012
    Sheba
    Grimm is basicly made of this trope. Is there an urban legend about a local monster? Yeah, it's actually real and a wesen.
  • May 16, 2012
    nielas
    ^ Actually Grimm would not fit. We are usually shown the wesen in question first and only then might the legend be discussed.
  • May 16, 2012
    Escher
    ^ Correct. For the same reason, most of Buffy, X-Files, and Dresden Files won't fit the trope -- in those, the heroes almost always find evidence of the supernatural whatsit, then go back and say, "Oh, you know what? This kind of looks like a _____. Let me tell you about them." (Doctor Who also does that about half the time, but there's enough before-the-fact ancient legends in there that he gets an entry.) You hear about the legend after it's already clear something weird is going on, so there's no Chekhov. There's no detail that seemed unimportant at the time and then comes back to become a major plot point.

    ^^^ (Alexei) I know, right? This is such a Seen It A Million Times trope that I was surprised we didn't have it already. Or rather, actually we DID have it already in All Myths Are True, but that trope got hijacked by I Thought It Meant until it turned into an alternate name for Fantasy Kitchen Sink.

    ^^^^ (Stratadrake) As we said in the TRS thread, the version with the "The" sounds better, but we'll also create aliases for Legend Of Chekhov, Checkhovs Legend, and probably Chekhovs Myth as well.
  • May 16, 2012
    troacctid
    • In The Eyes Of Kid Midas, the teacher explains that the mountain they're camped out underneath is called the Eye of God, and some ways away down in the valley there's a tall, thin spire that's known as the Devil's Chair. According to legend, the peak of the Eye of God was the place where the world was created, and once a year, the very tip of the mountain's shadow falls exactly at the peak of the Devil's Chair. Naturally, Kevin climbs the mountain, and at the top he discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to harness the forces of creation. And lo and behold, when he puts them on, he sees the shadow fall exactly where his teacher said it would.
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