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Harsher In Hindsight: Literature
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Viewers might view the Oompa-Loompas in a different light once they learn about the real life child slavery issue the cocoa industry has. Especially since in the original they were just pygmy Africans.
    • And Wonka reveals he smuggled them into the country.
  • In Animorphs, Jake is shown a Bad Future in which the Yeerks have taken over Earth. The only part of the New York skyline left standing? The World Trade Center.
    • In the last book of the series (published in May 2001, set in 2002 or thereabouts) Jake mentions that since the war ended there's been a rise in terrorism, particularly religiously motivated terrorism.
    • And then of course there's the book where they get into the Yeerk pool by ramming a plane into a building (the building is hollow, so they put it on a collision course with the roof, bailed out as birds, and flew after the wreckage).
  • The 2002 novel House of the Scorpion takes place in a fictional nation created and controlled by drug lords that is between Mexico and the United States. Seeing that Mexico's local governments (and national) are becoming more and more influenced by the drug cartels, this is becoming more of a reality.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • Debt of Honor features at its climax a suicidally depressed Japanese Airlines pilot deliberately crashing his jetliner into the U.S. Capitol building during a special joint session of Congress confirming a newly appointed Vice-President, decapitating all three branches of government. One could say this predicted 9/11 to a certain extent, as Clancy went out of his way to illustrate how easy such an attack might be to carry out—the fact that the Capitol may have been the target of the 4th plane makes it even worse.
    • In Debt of Honor, deaths caused by faulty gas tanks in a popular model of Japanese car prompts the US government to enact punitive trade legislation against Japan. In 2010, major recalls of Toyota cars due to safety defects prompted a Congressional investigation.
  • The ending of Stephen King's The Running Man is another 9/11 example, as Ben rams a hijacked passenger airplane in a suicide attack on the television network's high-rise headquarters. While giving the CorruptCorporateExecutive the finger.
    • Insomnia, where a extremist (driven mad by the Crimson King) attempts to pilot a Cessna loaded with C4 into the Derry Civic Center.
    • King himself had Rage taken out of print following a 1997 school shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.
  • As the storm clouds gathered over Europe and the Far East, Pulp Magazine hero Secret Service Operator #5 (1934 - 1939) fought attempts by various foreign armies from South America, Europe and the Orient to conquer the United States. The events are completely over-the-top as benefits the pulp genre, except for the time the Japs destroy an entire city (Philadelphia) with their atomic bomb! Only those evil Orientals would do such a dastardly deed...
  • In Spider Robinson's Lady Slings The Booze a throwaway comment is made in connection with a terrorist plot to the effect that they "aren't going to blow up the WTC because that only impresses the people that live within sight of the WTC".
    • You'd think Robinson of all people would have realized that with advances in communications technology in the decade and a half after when the novel was set (1985), the entire world would live "within sight of the WTC".
  • Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake has a passage describing several kinds of futuristic snuff sites. One of them is an assisted-suicide site, founded for entertainment. It's sickening as it is, but then the main character Jimmy goes and compares the site to Alex the parrot saying "I'm going away now." A few years after the book was published, Alex died.
  • Tad Williams' Doorstopper novel The War of the Flowers has a scene in which a skyscraper was set on fire and is in danger of collapse after an attack by a flying, fire-breathing dragon, and the main character, who are trapped on a high floor of said skyscraper, has to climb down flight after flight of stairs in the midst of smoke and flames. The book contains an introduction saying that he wrote the scene before 9/11, and the similarity between the events in the book and the experiences of the 9/11 survivors is simply an unfortunate coincidence.
  • Good luck getting into Logan's Run (a novel about a dystopian society that kills off everyone that reaches 21note ) after the recent surge (both were 50) of deaths. The fact that Another one of the recently deceased happened to be in The Film of the Book doesn't help. She didn't star, it's actually a fairly small part. However, it is made worse by the fact that her character dies abruptly and the film quickly moves on to more dramatic events and the characters never mention it again.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian blackmails a character Alan Campbell into helping him dispose of a body. While not stated outright, the strong implication is that Campbell was Dorian's ex-lover and Dorian was threatening to expose him as homosexual, thereby ruining his professional life and potentially exposing him to the threat of imprisonment. Later, of course, Wilde himself was ruined by exposure of his homosexuality.
  • The tragic book Of Mice and Men is this to anyone who knows the story. Throughout the entire book, the two main characters talk about owning a farm. Of course, tragic events overtake them and at the end Lennie, the Gentle Giant accidently kills someone and a lynch mob goes after him. To avoid him getting hurt more than he has to, George shoots him in the back of the head.
  • The Spider novel City Destroyers featured a structure called the Sky Building collapsing. In the 1970's, a redacted version of this novel changed it to the World Trade Center.
  • The Nick Fury novel Empyre featured a Saddam Hussein counterpart masterminding a plot to attack cities by crashing airplanes. Interesting, since at one point, 70% of Americans thought that Hussein had masterminded the 9/11 attacks, when he had nothing to do with it.
  • Van Wyck Mason wrote a novel positing an attack on Pearl Harbor, written in the early 1930's. Actually, numerous works depicted this, such as the first Shield/Wizard meeting.
  • There's a long, long history of this. A novella called Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan was written wherein a drunken old captain has to fight for his life after the ship he pilots — described as "the largest ship in the world" — is sunk by an iceberg. The novel was written fourteen years before the sinking of the RMS Titanic under practically identical circumstances. The ship in Futility is like a slightly smaller version of the Titanic. It was initially rejected for publication due to being "unbelievable."
  • In the Clive Cussler book Valhalla Rising, the Corrupt Corporate Executive bad guy plans to have his goons blow up an oil tanker in San Francisco Harbor, thereby destroying the SF "World Trade Towers", making America revolt against imported energy, and increasing the value of his own domestic oil holdings. Wincing yet?
    • It gets better; one of his lieutenants leaks the plan, and the ship is boarded by special forces troops, who find it a perfectly normal oil tanker. The hero of the book realizes that the baddie had planned to say "World Trade Center" as a decoy, and had not gotten SF's WTC and the one in New York confused. Yes, that's right, the bad guy planned to blow up the base of the Twin Towers and a good portion of Manhattan. Thanks to the Freudian slip, the real ship being delayed, and the hero's submersible, disaster is averted. But barely.
  • David Weber pulled one on himself, as he says in the Author's Note in Flag in Exile:
    I completed this manuscript in October 1994. At that time, I'd structured the events which occur in Chapter Nineteen because I could think of no more loathsome, despicable, and cowardly act any individual or group of individuals could commit. It is my belief that the sentence "The end justifies the means"—that suppression, repression, and/or murder become somehow acceptable if committed in the name of a "cause" or belief which reduces individuals to expendable pawns—is the vilest of human poisons, and that terrorism, regardless of the terrorist's "cause," is the ultimate act of dehumanization. I did not expect that between the time I wrote this novel and the time it was published a United States citizen in Oklahoma City would demonstrate an even worse contempt for human life and the fundamental values of his own society or prove capable of an act even more despicable than my fictional villains. That some human beings are capable of such atrocities is an inescapable lesson of history. That we cannot allow those acts to go unpunished or extend to those who commit them any shred of respect, whatever the "cause" which motivated them, is a lesson the civilized human community must teach itself.
  • Although the work wasn't published until the 2000s so no-one could have read it, but J. R. R. Tolkien's story The Notion Club Papers, written in 1944, is set in 1987. The characters mention that six months ago in 1986 there was 1) a disaster involving a spacecraft, 2) a nuclear disaster, and 3) during the course of the book the greatest storm in history hits England. All three proceeded to happen in Real Life.
  • The Zack Files book Never Trust A Cat Who Wears Earrings features a curse that is turning Zack into a cat that he can only break by performing a ceremony in the shadow of the World Trade Center. Reading it now, the Fridge Logic seems to be that he would keep turning into a cat, which now has some pretty dark implications
  • The 1996 book Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre has a doctor character who is described as the worst serial killer in British history, with a kill count of about 30. And then, just two years later...
  • The fact it's just so damn easy to put 1984 into this territory these days might be the reason why Orwell's Magnum Opus wasn't mentioned in this article until now.
    • This claim tends to be made of almost all works of dystopic fiction, but it's invoked so often that it's lost a lot of its meaning, and has even begun to rob the original works of their relevance. Basically, it would be safe to assume that for every work of fiction set Twenty Minutes into the Future, there's someone who feels this trope applies.
      • Still, the work itself applies. Try to reread it after you finished it once. It's never the same again. ESPECIALLY if you managed to avoid knowing storyline beforehand. There is a definite in-universe application in that O'Brien who appears to be working for the rebellion, is working for the government. All of his past actions take on a new, sinister light.
    • Specifically the article linked above, which shows the prevalence of CCTV monitoring in the UK - including a half dozen cameras with direct views either to Orwell's apartment. That definitely counts.
  • Double whammy for Sylvia Plath. "How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?" In the month following the publication of The Bell Jar, she killed herself. For the same reason, Lady Lazarus, a poem about her previous suicide attempt and foreshadowing her next attempt, is just heartbreaking when she writes: This is Number Three./What a trash/To annihilate each decade.
  • In Dame Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, the German Lady's-Maid comments on the kidnapping and murder of a child, then adds: "We are not so wicked as that in Germany." The novel was written in 1933.
    • Christie's detectives also take Jewishness as indicative of moral weakness or outright criminality - descriptions of eyes "lighting up" at the thought of money and "thick Semitic lips" become painful to read given what was to happen in the 30s and 40s.
  • In the 1935 Harriet Vane novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers, one of the collegians at Vane's British alma mater claims that "What this country needs is a Hitler!" (Of course, a lot of Britons — including King Edward VIII — had similar feelings before the full extent of the depravity of the Nazi regime was known.)
  • The Robin Cook thriller Vector features an antagonist (formerly an employee of a Russian government-run bioweapons project) who manufactures anthrax in preparation for a biological attack and kills someone with an anthrax-laced letter as a test to see how potent his toxin is. The book was published in 1999. Then two years later, it happened for real...
  • The Robert R. McCammon novel Swan Song has a chapter where a militant cult is laid siege to. The siege ends when their building burns down with them in it. A few years later, this happens to the Branch Davidians.
  • State of Fear is a 2004 technothriller by Michael Crichton, about a global conspiracy of Animal Wrongs Groups who falsify data to support Global Warming. Fast-forward to November 17 2009 - Playful Hackers release evidence of a conspiracy by the Climatic Research Unit to falsify data to support Global Warming. Welcome to ClimateGate!
    • However it should be known that eight independent committees investigated the allegations and published reports, finding no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct. ClimateGate is very far and away from Truthin Television
      • However, it should also be known that at least some of the "independent investigations" consisted of asking the climate researchers if they'd done anything wrong, and taking their word for it that they didn't. And the fact that one of the "cleared" climate researchers worked for Penn State University, and was "cleared" by the administration that covered up the Sandusky child-abuse scandal for years makes ClimateGate look much Harsher in Hindsight, and State of Fear look much more like Truth in Television.
  • Aaron Allston's Sidhe-Devil came out in June 2001. The back-cover blurb (accurately) describes part of the situation the heroes have to deal with as "a mad genius is sending fiery destruction against the city's skyscrapers."
  • Reading older Discworld books is very much this trope regarding the Bursar and PTerry's recent diagnosis.
    • YMMV on this one. Alzheimer's is a terrible condition with an inevitable end, whereas it is very strongly suggested that the Bursar's particular brand of reality is self-imposed, so he doesn't have to deal with Ridcully.
    • Far more depressing is in one of the later books, Wintersmith when Roland reflects on his time in the world of the fairies and all it's horrors. He makes the following statement, which just kicks you right in the teeth now: Roland hates things that make you forget who you are. Once you forget who you are, you lose everything.
  • Erik's deceptive communication with Christine in The Phantom of the Opera must have been creepy enough in 1910, but its resemblance to the m.o. of modern Internet predators makes it even creepier a century later.
  • The Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" features a villain who's locked his daughter up as a tormented prisoner, and whose young son tortures helpless animals. At the time, the son's behavior was seen as a hereditary clue to the father's cruel nature, and the villain's motives were financial only; nowadays, readers are more likely to deduce the man was molesting (or beating up) both his kids.
    • And the first line he says to Watson ("You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.") is somehow made more cringeworthy by the fact that now, over 100 years later, this still makes sense.
  • In the movie version of Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan, Gloria finds out her ex-husband is gay after trying to seduce him. Years later, Terry McMillan and her husband split up after he reveals that he was gay and marrying her to get a green card.
  • In the final chapter of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel about a soldier's experience during World War I, the protagonist, Paul Bäumer, reflects on how miserable the rest of his life is going to be if he does manage to survive the war. One of the reasons he gives is that the next generation, having not known war, will not be able to understand what he endured.
  • The German novella Mario and the Magician written in 1929 and set in 1926, describes the changes happening to Fascist Italia, as seen by eyes of a liberal family from then democratic Germany, and repeatedly shows how the change makes Italian people intolerant, arrogant and aggressive. When Nazis came to power, they made the same to Germany, only much, much more worse.
    • Also in the end, Cippola is shot dead by Mario, whom he previously braiswashed into doing icky things. Mussolini (for whom Cippola was an obvious stand-in) was in the end shot by people of his own nation.
  • The controversial underground novel The Turner Diaries has been linked to quite a few illegal activities, but nowhere is this Trope more appropriate than when it was revealed that the book at least partially inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in planning his attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. (In the book, the FBI Building was destroyed via a nearly identical means. Former soldiers who were in the army with McVeigh recount that he read the novel frequently, and the book was found in his possession when he was arrested.) Even the author of the book, admitted white supremacist William Luther Pierce, could not condone the attack.
  • In the fantastic history book A Little History of the World it talks about how humanity has come a long way from mindless persecution and hatred of other cultures and at the end of the original print, which was about WWI, it had a message of hope for the future. This was in 1935; the German-born Jewish author added another chapter after WWII really lamenting some of the things he said in the book.
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story "Evidence", Stephen Byerley is a candidate for mayor of NYC who is accused of being a robot, which would disqualify him from the election. The premise seems kind of silly and it's hard to believe that so many people would believe that Byerley is a robot based on such flimsy evidence. Fast forward to 2008, when people are arguing that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, and it seems much more plausible.
    • It's a little more harsher than that: Quinn, the political boss who propagates the rumor, is a conservative Sleazy Politician who admittedly couldn’t care less for the civil rights of his people, and so his subordinates. Byerley is a liberal public prosecutor who really is doing things to stop crime and redeem criminals. Quinn only opposes Byerley liberal position because, well, he is a conservative. To be a robot is a rumor so incredible that when it proves false, only shows the extremely superficiality and stupidity of those who oppose Byerley.
    • Humorously, there, in fact, Ain't No Rule that says that a robot can't be mayor of New York.note  The only legal leg to stand on would be arguing for or against citizenship of a robot. This is also the case for the US President, who has but three requirements, none of which refer to species.note 
  • The Great Gatsby has the Jewish mobster Meyer Wolfsheim who works in an office labeled "The Swastika Holding Company." The book was written in the 20s. Oh Crap.
    • This troper and his English teacher had an interesting discussion about that exact passage, needless to say he mentioned at the time the different meaning behind the swastika.
  • In the first book from the series A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion and Jaime Lannister discuss the fate of Bran Stark, who'd fallen from a tower and would be crippled for life even if he survived. Jaime, who'd been the one to throw him from the tower, commented that if it had been his decision, he'd euthanize the boy rather than having him grow up a cripple. Tyrion disagreed, since he himself was a dwarf, and stated that death was too final and that life held endless possibilities even for "cripples and grotesques." Three books later, Jaime himself became a cripple when his sword hand is cut off and he contemplates letting himself die, before being convinced to live in order to see his family again and avenge himself.
  • In Bridge to Terabithia, there is a scene where Leslie (child from non-religious family) discusses faith with Jess and Maybelle (children from religious family), and the latter says to Leslie: "If you don't believe in Jesus, you go to Hell when you die". Then later Leslie dies in a freak accident and Jess fears she is in Hell - and all because he wasn't there to save her. This is just one big Tear Jerker
    • And, while chronologically this is NOT "in hindsight", Leslie's death became even more tragic for this troper when he read the afterword and learned that the book is based on the experience of the author's son (and surely many readers felt similar when reading the afterword).
  • Averted in Dr. Strangelove: They quickly dubbed over all mentions of "Texas" because of the Kennedy assassination.
    • Not just Texas. Dallas.
    • And of course, most people nowadays who've seen the movie know the line was dubbed, so YMMV on whether this is averted.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos gives us Yog-Sothoth, a tentacled monstrosity who impregnates a human woman. Squicky, yes. But it gets even worse when you consider hentai. For some, this might actually be Hilarious in Hindsight.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Since the beginning of his career as a writer, Verne has being accused by critics of being "only" a HardScifi writer that paid little heed to the social ramifications of technology. But with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Verne wrote in 1869 about Captain Nemo, a man from an oppressed country who had training in the west, and has money enough to pay a country’s national debt, who decides to create an organization strong enough to fight an entire Western country through terrible acts of violence, and therefore is chased as a menace by all established countries in the West. After Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and The War on Terror, we must admit that Verne really knew much more than anyone ever suspected about how the world will turn in the next 130 years!
  • In the technothriller series Talon Force book Dire Straits published a few months before 9-11 the plot revolves around Islamist terrorists trying to take over Turkey. Osama Bin Laden is mentioned to be a major backer of the terrorists and one character laments that he's been tried in absentia.
  • When The Tomorrow Series was first published, an attack on any Western state that could actually threaten it seemed inconceivable. Then came 9/11.
    • Another point is that it depicts Australian people fighting the occupiers - but shortly thereafter, Australia itself participated in the Iraq occupation.
  • Anthony Horowitz wrote a short story called The Man With the Yellow Face, where a boy is frightened of a mysterious man he believes is coming to kill him, and worries that the man might be "one of those suicide bombers you read about in the Middle East." The story was published in 1998 ...
  • Some of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation novels become Harsher in Hindsight with regards to Tasha Yar. The novel "Survivors" contains an epilogue that takes place during "Skin Of Evil", but this dialogue from "The Children of Hamlin"note , which is chronologically right before that episode according to Memory Beta contains rather creepy irony:
    Dr. Crusher: Tasha, stay out of trouble. I don't want to see you in sickbay again for a long time.
    Yar: Don't worry, I'm not coming back.
    • It's true, too. She didn't. Not alive, anyway.
    • Immortal Coil, published in February 2002, has a grief-stricken Data, mourning the death of his mother, rant that he would never see the people he'd lost in the afterlife, if there was one, because he would never die - since with adequate repair, he could in theory last almost indefinitely. Then came Star Trek: Nemesis, released in December 2002, which killed him off. Appropriately enough, he mentioned Tasha Yar - the closest thing he'd had to a love interest prior to the book in question - during said rant.
  • In-Universe in the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel: Hal Briggs is chastened for taking a risk that gets him hurt by a ZSU-23 antiaircraft gun. Guess how he dies, several books later?
    • Another Dale Brown novel, Storming Heaven,note  concerns a terrorist group using cargo planes to attack American airports and other targets. Eventually, they attempt to crash a 747 into the White House.
  • In Young Jedi Knights, one of the earlier Star Wars book series, Jacen and Jaina are tricked by Sith into fighting each other to the death (each is forced to believe that the other is actually an unknown Sith), but recognise each other just in time. Much later, in Legacy of the Force series, they fight again - this time Jaina kills Jacen, who was now really a Sith, but considered surrendering and repenting.
  • The theocratic dystopia pictured in The Handmaid's Tale has many parallels with the Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan barely a decade later.
    • Some people have said that much of modern feminism in the United States parallels the feminist movement that, in the book's backstory, accidentally brought about the state of affairs in the book.
  • Stephen Baxter's Titan (written in 1997) opens with the Shuttle Columbia suffering an accident on re-entry, which causes the death of an astronaut and the loss of the orbiter. Cue 2003.
  • Terroristerna, the last novel in the Swedish 70'ies Crime Fiction series The Story of Crime (a.k.a. the Martin Beck novels) by Mäj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö ended with the Swedish Prime Minister (An Expy of then-Prime-Minister Olof Palme) getting shot and killed due to horrendous police incompetence. In 1986 the real Olof Palme was shot and killed on the street in Stockholm, the killer escaped and was never found due to horrendous police incompetence.
  • A brief passage in The Wild Boy mentions how there won't be a New Year's celebration because much of humanity has died. Part of it goes "...And Dick Clark? he's dead." It was written in the early 2000s, though that part was several years in the future.
  • A novel called The Dorset Disaster centers on a nuclear explosion caused by tampering with the reactor's controls due to problems with overly-sensitive equipment. It was written in 1985, and has some similarities to the Chernobyl disaster a year later, though the novel was set in the US. Also somewhat eerie is the way everyone assumed the explosion was terrorism, much like fears today when a disaster occurs.
  • At one point in Alex Garland's The Beach, Sal (the only character who keeps a calendar) mentions that it's the 11th of September, and several other people are surprised at the news. Why? Because it means there's a big annual party a few days away! The book was written in the mid-90s, and the date was presumably picked at random.
  • In The Bible, Matthew 25:8-9 has become more disturbing from World War II to this day.
    • Genesis 8:7-12 talks about Noah's Ark during the time when the whole earth is already submerged in floods. On August 7, 2012, much of Manila, Philippines was submerged in floods due to heavy monsoon rains.
    • Given the Bible's enormous length and scope, there is almost always a passage somewhere that relates to contemporary events - people see analogues to the Roman Empire in the European Union, to "the four horsemen" in Genghis, Subotai, Kublai and Ogedai Khan etc.
  • The 2004 book Forty Signs of Rain ends with a massive tropical storm named Sandy hitting the Washington DC area. Fast forward to 2012, and we have Hurricane Sandy.
  • Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story called "The Masque of the Red Death", about a particularly nasty disease that causes people to die in agony, sweating blood. This was and still is all very fine and creepy, standard for Poe. Then the ebola virus came along...
  • Also, another story is Emil and the Detectives, about a German boy in 1929. Around ten years later, he'd be old enough...
  • Victor Hugo, Les Misérables: "Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy. Then there shall be nothing like ancient history: there shall be no more fear, as today, of a conquest, an invasion, a usurpation, an armed rivalry of nations, an interruption of civilization because of the marriage of kings, a birth of hereditary tyrannies, a division of peoples by congress, a dismemberment by the collapse of dynasty, a combat of two religions butting each other like two goats of darkness on the bridge of infinity; there shall be no more fear of hunger, exploitation, prostitution through adversity, misery from unemployment, and the scaffold, and the sword, and battles, and all the brigandage of chance in the forest of events." Ouch.
  • Star Carrier: Earth Strike devotes a paragraph to explaining how, in the latter half of the 21st century, a Hurricane Cynthia overcame a dam across the Verrezano Narrows and helped risen sea levels permanently inundate New York City. This became a lot less science fictiony after Hurricane Sandy.
  • Between 1935 and 1936, Robert E. Howard killed himself twice. The first was in the Conan the Barbarian short story Beyond the Black River, leaving us to wonder if he was already planning the second when he wrote it.
  • The Lincoln Rhyme novel The Broken Window has a plot that revolves around intrusive government surveillance that can reach into every aspect of a person's life and is abused by "God" the Big Bad of the story to put people through a living hell, which at the time it was written in 2008 plausible but still firmly in the realm of fantasy. Cue the revelations about the NSA's PRISM program and suddenly Jeffrey Deaver seems almost prophetic.

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