"Aesop's beast fables do not teach us to be wise or honest or kind. They simply show us what will happen if we dick around with talking animals."
When a writer intends to simply write a piece of fiction without An Aesop
but someone reads something into their work that they didn't intend
. This can also happen when the creator did intend An Aesop
, but the one people pick up is completely off tack from the one they intended.
This seems to stem from some people always assuming Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory
, which leads to them gasping "What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?
?" when you tell them as such. This also generally requires the Word of God
to clear things up — if, indeed, even that helps; don't count on it
Like Misaimed Fandom
(where readers fail to catch the moral or satire intended by an author), an Accidental Aesop may result from poor authorial communication or, indeed, the Unfortunate Implications
that come with poor use of common symbols.
Compare: Alternate Aesop Interpretation
, An Aesop
, Broken Aesop
, Clueless Aesop
, Family-Unfriendly Aesop
, What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?
, and Death of the Author
. Occasionally these unintended Aesops have Unfortunate Implications
. However, tropes are not bad
; just because a text wasn't intended
to be a commentary doesn't mean it can't work perfectly well as one.
If you want to assign a work one of these aesops for comedic value, head over to Warp That Aesop
See also Denied Parody
and Unintentional Deconstruction
for other unintended elements/interpretations of the work.
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Anime and Manga
- At first, Gunslinger Girl's disturbing depiction of the horrors and abuses its innocent little girl protagonists faced and how their lives were completely destroyed was lauded by many fans as a Deconstruction of the lolicon genre and/or a commentary on the use of Child Soldiers. Nope. Turns out it's straight-up Author Appeal. Many of the more subversive elements and Fan Disservice of the early part of the series were apparently to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience and probably weren't even the creator's idea. As time went on and the series' popularity grew, the creator gained Protection from Editors, and it became decidedly more Fanservice-y and disturbing for totally different reasons.
- And then there's the straight out porn, drawn by the creator, of the girls being intimate with their handlers, consensual or otherwise.
- Incidentally, the fact that the first season of the Anime has this Aesop but the second doesn't is likely part of the reason why the latter season was critically panned by comparison.
- Shokojo Sera was released at the time when ijime (bullying) was a hot-button issue in Japan. Combined with Lavinia's behaviour towards Sara, this led many fans to believe that the series was covertly dealing with this issue. However, director Fumio Kurokawa says that this was purely unintentional. In the interview, he points out that some fans went overboard with this - one fan even sent the writer a razor blade, with the message "Stop bullying Sara!"
- Even though The Smurfs's book "The Black Smurfs" was just a fun story about a Zombie Apocalypse (though family-friendly and luckily reversible), some people tends to consider it an allegory of black immigrants. They were made purple rather than black in the Animated Adaptation to avoid those Unfortunate Implications.
- Galactus from Marvel Comics is a godlike being who eats the life force of entire planets to survive. Obviously, every time he eats, potential billions if not more die. Galactus rationalizes that he's got to eat and the inhabitants of those planets are far below him on the universal pecking order. His entire character might be the greatest Accidental Aesop in favor of vegetarianism ever... or was, until it was revealed that Galactus is required for the universe to properly function.
- A lot of comics written by Mark Millar seems to have pro-family messages. Several of his characters have issues that can be traced to their family lives. For example, Ultimate Red Skull and Spider-Girl in Old Man Logan are both despicable psychopaths because they had an absentee father, toward whom they hold a grudge. Hit-Girl is completely messed up because of her psychopath father. The Unfunnies' Troy Hick has a Freudian Excuse in the mental breakdown he suffered after his wife left him, and Millar's run on Fantastic Four portrays Reed and Sue Richards as perfect and extremely happy with their lives. However, Millar has said he never intentionally put any sort of message into his works, so all of this is either completely accidental or subconscious on his part.
- The apparent moral of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Tinder-Box is "Kill everyone who opposes you in order to become rich and scare the population into giving you ultimate power, and everything will work out happily for all involved."
- While the intended moral of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is "Don't tell lies", the structure of the story itself makes "Don't tell the same lies" a more easily deduced moral.
- Or: "Don't trust liars—especially not children—with important responsibilities, such as watching sheep."
- Also: "A broken clock is right twice a day" in regards to false positives. From the villagers' point of view, the moment they stopped caring about the boy's cries altogether was the moment they had no security at all for the sheep. Similar to any example where a security guard doesn't investigate a noise because "it was probably just a cat".
- In "The Satyr and the Peasant", the satyr kicks the peasant out of his home for blowing hot and cold in the same breath (hot when he's trying to warm his cold hands, cold when he's trying to cool off his hot soup), therefore proving himself untrustworthy. Some people have noted the peasant's breath is obviously the same temperature both times and the satyr, not being human, has never seen a man blow on his hands or his soup before, making the lesson "The ignorant fear what they don't understand."
- "The Tortoise and The Hare" is meant to teach that "slow and steady wins the race", but some have noted that the tortoise only won because the hare tempted fate and took a nap. So their Aesop interpretation is "Don't stop to do something for a long period of time during a race."
Films — Animated
- WALL•E is often interpreted as having a rather Anvilicious environmentalist or anti-consumerism message, but the director stated that there was not supposed to be any political message, and the setting was created to justify the story of "the last robot on Earth". Fred Willard also ad-libbed the line "Stay the course," causing some people to assume the film was commenting on the Bush administration.
Films — Live-Action
- George A. Romero has always maintained that he did not intend to make any comments about race in Night of the Living Dead. He hired Duane Jones, a black stage actor, to play the hero because "he gave the best audition." Much of the movie's dialogue was improvised by the actors during filming, with only a loose adherence to the script. It was only when the film was released that Romero says he became aware of the implications of Jones's character being black. However, some critics continue to insist that it's highly implausible for someone in the 1960s to cast a black actor as the lead without being aware of the significance.
- The Aesop of Seven Pounds is probably not "don't use your cell phone while driving," but that's what at least one critic concluded. It also isn't killing yourself is wrong unless you give your organs away.
- The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made at the height of the Red Scare, was praised by people on both sides of the issue who assumed the villainous pod people were meant to be analogous to either Communists or people being swept up by Senator McCarthy's witch hunts. Director Don Siegel was quick to say that he did not intend to portray any kind of message and just thought he was making a simple alien invasion film. Seeing as the film ends with the hero shouting into the camera "They're here already! You're next!", opinions are still divided. The McCarthy/HUAC furor had more or less died down by the time the movie was made, so the director was probably telling the truth.
- The film adaptation of 300 is often interpreted to glorify secular, westernized countries standing against the religious extremism and intolerance of the Middle East. However, some critics pointed out that in the film, Persia is a massive, wealthy empire bent on expanding its influence throughout the world, while the Spartans are a small group of dedicated, zealous fighters who are willing to break the rules of war and martyr themselves to resist the invaders. Some viewers interpreted Persia as representing the United States and Spartans representing the terrorists.
- The multi-ethnic origins of the Persian army doesn't help: Name off the top of your head how many Americans you know that don't have at least three ethnic backgrounds in the last three generations.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower - if you're struggling to fit in, hang out with much older kids, drink alcohol and take drugs.
- This trope grew to absurd proportions between about 2004 and 2007, when the Iraq War became a major point of controversy worldwide. For a while, it seemed as if every work of fiction was interpreted as an argument either for or against the war. The final Star Wars film (Revenge of the Sith) was taken to be a veiled condemnation of the Bush Administration, with Darth Vader as George W. Bush and Emperor Palpatine as Dick Cheney. Seriously. There have been conflicting or even parallel arguments for what, if anything, Revenge of the Sith was trying to be anvilicious about, ranging from the Bush and Nixon administrations to the rise of Nazism in Germany to oh, hey, look at those awesome digital effects!
- The Artist: Adapt or kill yourself.
- The Communist propaganda film I Am Cuba villainizes capitalists (particularly Americans) with stylized sequences of frenetic jazz parties. The viewers is supposed to find them shamefully decadent, but audiences instead thought that being a capitalist looked incredibly fun. The film was not successful as propaganda, but it fittingly gained a following in America many decades later from critics who admired the stylish filmmaking.
- An example so famous it's taught in US History classes is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair was trying to convert Americans to socialism with a story about the horrors of capitalism made manifest in meat processing plants. Unfortunately for his intended message, all anyone noticed was the description of how sickeningly unsanitary the meat processing plants were, leading less to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers!" and more to "Oh, the poor oppressed workers are in my food!" which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair put it best when he said, "I aimed to hit the nation in the heart, but I hit the stomach instead."
- Some people became vegans after reading The War of the Worlds, despite the story being about the morality of British imperialism. The book also makes the point that the Martians treat us the same way we treat animals. Wells, a vegetarian, would likely state that this aesop is a perfectly valid, if secondary, lesson to take from the story.
- The stated aesop in Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be interpreted as stating that if Athens and Sparta teamed up instead of fighting each other, they would be unstoppable and have the rest of Greece at their mercy. In modern times, the play is generally considered to have a pacifist and/or feminist message. These are justified in so far as the play does portray the war as hurting both sides and acknowledges (albeit in a humorous way) that war has a toll on female civilians. However, given the Ancient Greek opinions of women, it seems that his message was more like "even women are smart enough to know this war is bad."
- Fahrenheit 451 is almost universally interpreted to be about government censorship on literature being used to control the population. As late as the 1980s, Bradbury himself stated that the book is about censorship. In his old age, however, Bradbury has come out insisting that he'd always intended the book to be about how crappy television is. Critics have wisely chosen to ignore Bradbury's assertions, and a UCLA class drove him from the room by telling him to his face that he's simply wrong about his own book.
- The eighteenth century critic Thomas Rhymer said that there seemed to be two possible Aesops in ''Othello': either "Don't elope with blackamoors" or else "Take better care of your laundry." (The latter being a reference to Desdemona's handkerchief, which convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him.)
- Anna's Story was a sympathetic account of Australian schoolgirl Anna Wood's death by water intoxication after taking ecstasy. Obviously, the intended aesop was Drugs Are Bad. However, since Anna's friends waffled for way too long about getting her medical attention after it became very obvious that she was deteriorating, the equally important lesson learned could be that if you're going to take drugs with friends, have decent friends.
- Alternatively (and a bit more generously to Anna's friends, who were mostly guilty of little more than naivety and inexperience), if you're going to take drugs, make sure you and the people you're with know what the potential consequences are and what the best course of action to take in case of something going wrong is.
- An in-universe example occurs in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five: the 'moral' that the Tralfamordians derive from The Bible is before you kill anyone, make absolutely sure that they're not well-connected.
- George Orwell's intention behind 1984 was to denounce the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and a general denouncement of totalitarianism (not to be confused with authoritarianism). Most of the people who read it, however, come out believing it's about the horrors of censorship, dictatorship, propaganda, and pretty much anything that isn't democracy and libertarianism. Bonus points for quoting "absolute power corrupts, absolutely" (Orwell despised it when people resorted to using other people's words to make a point, or using one word stock responses).
- Casabianca, about a loyal cabin boy who stayed on a burning warship until it exploded because he waited for his father to relieve him of duty without knowing he had died, has many times been interpreted as a warning against blindly obeying your parents.
- Harriet the Spy includes a Family-Unfriendly Aesop (sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you) via the likely unintentional aesop, "The things you write in your personal journal should not be an honest representation of your thoughts because someone reading it without permission might be offended."
- Tom Clancy's novel Rainbow Six features one of these. As Clancy is a political conservative, he intended the story to be about the dangers of environmental extremists. Unfortunately in order to make them a credible threat, he had to have ecoterrorists in charge of a huge megacorporation to make them credible villains, which is hardly credible. The novel can instead be taken as a tract against unchecked corporate power.
- The series finale of Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) seems to have an Anvilicious anti-technology Aesop that comes completely out of nowhere. Ron Moore admits in his podcast on the episode that this was simply a desperate last-minute attempt to explain why none of the fleet's technology was discovered after they arrived on prehistoric Earth, and he didn't put much thought into any message that could be read into it.
- The Bones episode "The He in the She" featured a transgender woman killed while swimming by the jealous ex-wife of her lover, with a subplot about her life as a male preacher and her estranged son. Booth took away an Aesop about the transforming love of God and the way it can heal people's souls. Temperance concluded that the aesop was "always swim with a buddy".
- Doctor Who:
- "The Power of the Daleks": Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it—unless the Doctor arrives in time.
- "The Dominators" was intentionally written with an anti-pacifist message. However, it's also possible to read it as encouraging student activists to fight for justice, rejecting rote learning and irrational laws.
- "The Unquiet Dead" was perceived in some quarters as an attack on immigration (since the episode features aliens who come to Earth on the pretence of finding a new home after their planet was blown up, but are actually attempting to invade), even though the subtext was entirely unintentional.
- "Kill the Moon":
- Some viewers reacted angrily to what they saw as a pro-life (as in anti-abortion) message in the episode. There's a question of preventing a birth and the Doctor gives the women the "choice" to terminate it. Then, in a democratic method, the whole world together decides to prevent the birth. But finally, Clara just can't bear to "kill the baby", and her decision to save it is proven to be the right one in the end.
- Alternatively, the message could be seen as, ultimately, it is the woman's choice alone whether to terminate the pregnancy, regardless of what others tell her she should do or the outcome, making it a pro-choice message.
- The iconic Baltans from the original Ultraman series have a similar story. This may have been intentional in their case, however, as nationalistic themes were fairly common in earlier toku productions.
- The Torchwood episode "Meat" appears to have a pro-vegetarianism Aesop. But episode writer Cath Treganna "enjoys a good fillet steak as much as the next person".
- Genetic engineering is shown as a viable technology in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the person of Julian Bashir. On the other hand, there's the Jack Pack. Lesson: If you prohibit genetic engineering, people will go to Back Alley Doctors, with possibly disastrous results.
- Also happens in-universe, when Bashir tells Garack the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Garack believes the moral is "Never tell the same lie twice."
- The episode "Darkness Falls" of The X-Files, where a logging company accidentally releases a marabunta of man-eating bugs, was praised and even received an award for its never intended ecologist message against deforestation. This is even funnier if you consider that every death in the episode could be blamed on the actions of an Animal Wrongs Group in continuous possession of the Idiot Ball, and that the bugs' release was going to happen anyway since they were originally trapped in a very old tree that was going to fall more sooner than later.
- The original Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise" is explicitly stated to be a modern take on the Lotus Eaters and the arrested development drugs and complacency can have, but to a modern viewer the Aesop appears to be about date rape when Leila Kalomi knowingly drugs Spock so that he will fall in love with her.
- This happens in-universe on one episode of The George Lopez Show. When Max takes the computer apart without realizing the value of such things, his father George decides to teach him a lesson; by giving him a job at the factory George manages to show him the kind of hard jobs it can take to afford things like the computer. Unfortunately Max seems to think that the lesson was that working at the factory is great since he enjoyed and wants to work there instead of going to college. George toys with letting him do that, until he has a Flash Forward picturing Max being jobless in the future after the factory is automated. He does show Max the possible downside of that Aesop by showing him how much the factory workers freak out at the slightest possibility of the factory shutting down.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Neutral Zone" is about cryogenically frozen humans from the 20th Century coping with being awoken in the 24th. It's full of all sorts of anvilicious dialogue about how superior humanity has become, and seems to be intended as a Take That to the audience. One character in particular, a stock broker, get the worst of it. However at the end he gives Picard some vital insight into what his opponents, the Romulans, are thinking. This has the effect of implying that the 24th century humans have become complacent and naive. (The script was in the midst of revision when a Writer's Guild strike hit, so it's possible that it was going to be rewritten to be more in line with later episodes, where humanity is still quite flawed.) The Stock Broker went on to join the diplomatic corps in the Expanded Universe, allowing the federation to better deal with races they're too idealistic to understand, like the Ferengi.
- Quite a few Visual Kei artists, have, through the loss of their own lives, shown the problems inherent in abusing methamphetamine. hide, Soichiro Umemura, Daisuke from The Studs and Kagerou, and Taiji Sawada have all, sadly, served as very good examples for "meth will fuck you up" as An Aesop… unfortunately, it's not like many other Visual Kei artists pay attention, meaning more will likely join that list soon enough.
- The Christmas carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was originally written by 16-year-old Buck Ram and is about a homesick college student, but has more recently become associated with soldiers away at Christmastime. At least one version of the song even includes soldiers wishing their families a Merry Christmas during the bridge. Touching, yes, but not the original intended message.
- Adding to the misconception is the fact that the song tends to be associated with the World War II era (as do so many popular Christmas songs), so many listeners assume that the narrator is an American soldier in Europe or the Pacific.
- The Crash Test Dummies Song, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm," is VERY frequently interpreted as being about child abuse, with the eventual message that brainwashing your child and forcing your child to hold your own beliefs is worse than physical abuse. Word of God says the message is that Kids Are Cruel, and the song is to be taken at face value.
- Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, due to its popularity and long run, often ran into this trope:
- Schulz said he only created the Great Pumpkin as a fun idea: "What if someone believed in a Hallowe'en Santa Claus?" Many saw Linus's efforts as a mockery of the foolishness of religious people, but Schulz himself was quite religious, at least in the early years. note Linus's statement that you should never discuss "religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin" was intended to show that he doesn't view the Great Pumpkin as his religion per se.
- There's a strip where Linus asks Lucy about what would happen if a baby was in heaven waiting to be born but its parents decided that they didn't want any more children. Lucy points out his theological and scientific ignorance. It was meant to be a parody of people who ask really weird hypothetical questions, but people on both sides of the abortion debate seized on it as proof that Schulz supported them and asked him if they could have permission to reprint it in their literature. He said no. It may or may not be coincidence that Rerun, younger brother to Lucy & Linus, was born a few years later.
- In an anthology, 1960s letters written to Schulz about his new African-American character Franklin are reprinted; because he was introduced during the Civil Rights Movement, people assumed Schulz was trying to make some sort of statement. No, he said. Franklin's just black by coincidence. However, when some southern newspaper editors told him to stop showing Franklin in the same classroom as white students, he consciously chose to use Franklin even more.
- From a Nezumi Man review "GAH! See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Smoke, and all your skin falls off".
- If the way reincarnation works in the Reincarny webgame series is to be believed, the safest way to prevent criminals from committing crimes again for a long time is to give them life imprisonment without parole, since executing them will just allow them to escape from Hell and be reincarnated as adults who immediately start doing the same things they did before. (The game series is at least 90% of the way toward the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism)
- Twitch Plays Pokémon Red became an almost debate of democracy vs. anarchy as well after democracy was implemented.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- The moral of "Feeling Pinkie Keen" was ostensibly "just because you don't understand something doesn't mean that it's not true", but the episode infamously mangled it into Science Is Bad. More charitable interpretations have also arrived at the conclusion that the episode demonstrated the moral "the point of science is to find the truth, not to prove your preconceived notions correct".
- "Swarm of the Century" was about listening to your friends even when they don't initially seem to make sense, but due to the fact that Pinkie sucks at explaining herself, most people got the moral "if you have something important to say, make an effort to actually explain yourself rather than just expecting everyone to listen to you."
- "Winter Wrap Up" has Twilight trying to find a way to participate in the wrap-up, but she can't do work without her magic like Earth Ponies and bungles everything she does until she steps up to organize all the other teams. The lesson was meant to be "Everyone has something good to contribute" and it foreshadows Twilight being made a princess, but for some people it comes off as "If you're incompetent at regular work, you should be in management!". Later depictions of the Unicorns being educated and aristocratic and Earth Ponies being hard-working laborers tend to add a bit of classism to Twilight's inability to do things "the Earth Pony way" but being put in charge anyway.
- In "Daring Don't," the lesson is meant to be "Appreciate your own strengths and don't belittle yourself, no matter whose company you're in." But it also seems to teach that 1. All the characters and adventures in your favorite book series are real! and 2. If you harass and pester your favorite author long enough, you'll endear yourself to him/her and get to be in the next book.
- Inspiration Manifestation:
Constant praise actually can stifle your artistic integrity and it's alright to take some criticism now and then. Just roll with the punches and adjust when you need to.
Your usual artistic style isn't always what the customer needs; try to think of the client's context. At the same time, you can't just assume the artist/contractor knows exactly what you want or need when placing a special order. Be specific!
- In early My Little Pony show, My Little Pony And Friends, the episode "The Fugitive Flowers" has a standard "don't judge a book by its cover" aesop that is rather bungled because the main reason that the ponies don't trust the Crabnasties is because they're wrecking everything in sight, not because they're ugly. The aesop, in this case, is that Poor Communication Kills: the mistrust and problems could have been avoided if the Crabnasties were more willing to explain things.
- The Simpsons:
- "Saddlesore Galactica" had Lisa taking part in a competition wherein the other team cheated (by using glow sticks, expressly against the rules) and won. She spends the rest of the episode appealing to progressively higher authorities until finally then-President Clinton himself overturns the results. The Aesop in this case is pretty explicitly spelled out: if things don't go your way, you can always whine to someone until they do. Thing is, it was clearly meant to be a Spoof Aesop; Marge points out that it's not a good moral to take away from this, and Clinton simply replies that he's not a very good president. Be that as it may, "Calmly and logically appeal to authority figures when faced with an injustice" isn't really that bad a moral.
- The season 8 episode "Homer's Enemy" was meant to be a deconstruction of the show, with the message that life sucks in Springfield, and normal people like yourself can't survive. But given that Frank Grimes was jealous of Homer and he went out of his way to ruin his life - even though Homer offered to make amends - ultimately leading to Grimes' own death, the message seemed more like "Don't let your jealousy consume you and prevent you from accepting apologies from people who genuinely want to befriend you".
- Word of God says the Green Aesop of "Trash of the Titans", which arises after Homer, upon becoming Springfield's sanitation commissioner and messes up Springfield so badly that the town is moved 5 miles away was entirely unintentional.
- Parodied in-story in South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs," the kids decide to write the most offensive book ever written, which to their surprise becomes an instant bestseller, even though people can't stop throwing up when they read it. Almost immediately, people start reading numerous and drastically conflicting political messages in the story. The kids, who only wanted to be offensive, find this all very annoying.
- Dream Come True: A Mule Mom's Story is a short animation made to showcase "Mule Moms" (female mules fertilized In Vitro to both boost breeding efforts and give the infertile mules a chance to be mothers) and the Gypsy Vanner breed of horses. The intended lesson is to never give up on your dreams, but the one that gets across is, "If you have no friends, get pregnant with the resident popular guy's kid and everyone will love you." This is because of a combination of an All of the Other Reindeer plot and a main character who does absolutely nothing aside from get pregnant.
- On the side, despite assertions by the folks behind the film that Gypsy Vanners are a wonderful breed of horse, the ones shown in the short mostly act stuck-up and kind of jerk-ish.
- Zigzagged in the Futurama episode "Godfellas". The episode did indeed touch a little on the ideas of predestination, prayer, and the nature of salvation, and "God's" quote at the end, "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all" did have some deep meaning to it (as in, people tend to remember the bad things people do more than the good things), but fans tended to look into the episode only too deep. So much so that writer Mark Pinsky remarked that the episode might cause the viewer to need "to be reminded that this is a cartoon and not a divinity school class."
- Rocket Power attempted to do an Aesop about female empowerment in the episode "Power Girl Surfers", where Reggie starts an all-girl surfing group to show the world that girls can excel at extreme sports. She decides to do this after Otto is unexpectedly offered a cover story in his favorite surfing magazine, and she's unable to convince the Jerkass magazine editor that she deserves it more than he does; at the end, she even crashes Otto's photo-shoot with her friends to challenge him to a surf contest, humiliating him in front of the people offering him a shot at fame. Because of Reggie's actions, the message unfortunately comes across as being less about female empowerment than about jealousy, and punishing other people for their undeserved good fortune.