Aesop Collateral Damage
King Midas's daughter appears to pay the ultimate price for Midas's lust for gold.

In mythological, religious and fantasy works, somebody does or says something that shows he's in need of an attitude adjustment. Either a being (often a deity or similarly powerful creature) or Fate itself will act overtly to teach this lesson. Unfortunately, the direct victim of this tutelage isn't the person in need of the lesson, but rather one or more persons close to him, who have not been shown to have done anything wrong. Typical victims are children, spouses and colleagues of the culprit, and the suffering often involves their deaths. In light of this, the culprit expresses remorse and either changes his ways or gives way to grief. Either way, he won't be making that mistake again. It is rarely, if ever, mentioned that the entirely innocent suffer the most.

This is quite common in many mythologies, where the gods teach someone a lesson by cursing his entire family — but not necessarily them — or setting up his descendants for misery. Sometimes this is the result of severe Values Dissonance. In comic books and the like, in Stuffed into the Fridge's purest form, female supporting characters die so that male heroes can learn vague lessons about the price of heroism, after which said heroes usually find new love interests and generally get on with their lives. It's also a part of It's a Wonderful Plot stories, as the people around the hero have to suffer in the alternate timeline to persuade him that he needs to return to existence.

This often overlaps with Revenge by Proxy and Misplaced Retribution. Naturally, Innocent Bystander is an aspect of this trope. Generally a result of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Can be considered a Family-Unfriendly Aesop in its harshness — the culprit is taught that his actions have consequences that affect others. For cases when the aesop-learner directly causes the damage, see Kick the Morality Pet.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lelouch, the protagonist of Code Geass started war against empire of Brittania, but early on didn't fully understand the consequences of war. Sure, he knew that he's putting his life on the line and that he'll have to kill in order to win, but he didn't care much about casualties on any side, and while he tried to avoid or at least minimise collateral damage he didn't give much thought to it when it happened. Until he found out that during one battle he accidentally killed his girlfriend's father.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Dr Leslie Thompkins purposely let Stephanie Brown die just to demonstrate to Batman the dangers of letting kids fight crime. The subsequent Retcon held that it never happened; Dr. Thompkins faked Steph's death and lied to Bruce about it.
  • In John Ostrander's take on The Spectre, this was sometimes used to illustrate the dangers of the Anti-Hero protagonist's extreme Black and White Morality, which bordered on Blue and Orange Morality at times. In one example, the Spectre threatened to slay every living person in the state of New York if an innocent man was executed, since technically the State of New York passed the sentence. The children, anti-death-penalty protesters, and the man's defense attorneys would presumably be among those killed.
  • Since the late 1990s, this has been played up frequently in Daredevil, as his supporting cast start to notice that they're often the collateral damage that teaches Matt Murdock a lesson about something or other.
  • In Hellblazer, John Constantine has a bit of a knack in keeping his Magnificent Bastard title in check. He constantly pisses off powerful beings like Heaven and Hell and flips them off when he's satisfied. Though his enemies can't touch him, his family and friends substitute to pay the price which was supposed to be his in the first place. He ends up mourning them afterwards.
  • Happens a lot in Chick Tracts. A particularly nasty example is Mean Momma, where the title character and her delinquent sons commit various crimes, from petty grudges to robbery. What follows is that the elder son dies in a crash, driving a truck he stole, then the middle kid immediately hangs himself for hearing that the late was his mom's favorite. Then, while the mother is away from town to buy medicine for her feverish baby, a tornado razes their house with the baby still inside. All happened with the implication that it was God's handiwork, so that the mother will repent. And the mother thanks God for his kindness in saving her, ignoring that the children whom she raised to be hateful and bitter individuals are now burning in hell.
  • Spider-Man: Uncle Ben's death teaches Peter that he should use his powers with responsibility, and most versions of Spider-Man across the multi-verse (non-Peter versions of Spider-Man substituting Uncle Ben for another character, like Peter for Spider-Gwen) and in most adaptations of the comics.

  • In the children's story "Sam, Bangs and Moonshine", Sam is warned that her habit of making up false stories will get her into trouble. She tells her friend, a little boy named Thomas, that her mother is a mermaid who lives in a distant cove. Thomas believes her and goes off to the cove (followed by Bangs, Sam's cat) and both are lost at sea in a storm. Sam is very remorseful about their loss and learns An Aesop about not lying to people. Thomas and Bangs are eventually recovered alive, but Thomas is ill from his ordeal.
  • A horrific and intentional example of Aesop Collateral damage is found in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story Hell Screen. An obsessive and sadistic painter cannot paint anything he hasn't seen, so when he is commissioned to paint a picture of Hell by the tyrannical Japanese lord he serves, he tortures his apprentices to get the references he needs. Finally, he decides he needs to have a carriage set on fire and the woman inside to burn alive. The lord agrees. The victim? A pure, innocent and intelligent young woman ...the painter's daughter, and the one thing on Earth he truly loved. According to the servant narrating the story, the Lord does this to teach the painter a lesson about putting art above all other duties and concerns. However, the servant is unlikely to be telling the precise truth, out of fear of or devotion to his lord, so it seems more likely that this was the lord's twisted revenge on the daughter, Yukimi, for spurning his advances...advances that the narrator claimed never happened, despite witnessing his attempted rape of Yukimi. After the execution, the painter finishes his screen and is is Driven to Suicide - the lord is a Karma Houdini.
  • Linda Fischer in Blubber is bullied to the point of tears to set up for the protagonist's eventual fall from popularity so she can learn a lesson. Unfortunately, the lesson doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the protagonist and Linda never receives any sort of compensation or remotely happy ending after all she went through.

    Live-Action Film 
  • Clash of the Titans. Queen Cassiopeia says that Andromeda is more beautiful than the goddess Thetis herself. The goddess says that Cassiopeia will repent of her boast and demands that Andromeda be sacrificed.note 
  • The Sunset Limited (2011). Black recounts his story of finding God after being being shivved in the jailhouse and includes a part where he busted open the head of his attacker and gave him permanent brain damage. White is unimpressed.
    White: You don't think this is a strange kind of story?
    Black: Yeah, I do think it's a strange kind of story.
    White: No, what I mean is that you didn't feel sorry for this man.
    Black: You're getting ahead of the story.
    White: The story of how a fellow inmate became a crippled one-eyed halfwit so that you could find God.
  • In Spider-Man, Peter refuses to stop a fleeing criminal as petty revenge against the fight promoter, who refused to pay Peter his award, and subsequently the hero's beloved Uncle Ben is killed by that criminal, teaching our hero that valuable lesson that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
  • In the cheesy sci-fi movie R.O.T.O.R., the protagonist Barrett Coldyron eventually learns a valuable philosophical lesson, albeit at the cost of his robot killing or maiming several people.
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) tries to deal with the implications in the Disney version by having the servants take some blame for the Prince's behavior since they did not protect him from his abusive father after his mother died. However this still does not explain Chip (a child) and Garderobe and Cadenza (performers who were hired and simply happened to be at the party that night). The opening scene makes it look more like the curse just hit whoever didn't get out of the room in time. Even worse, once the last petal falls the objects will turn inanimate effectively killing the servants and others who got caught in the curse. Belle's town is also collateral damage as they all magically forget about the nearby castle and all its inhabitants which includes family members and loved ones for the duration of the curse. No wonder the Enchantress shows up herself to fix things once the last petal falls right before Belle can say she loves the Beast. A cut scene even had Lefou call her out on it!

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who". Irritated by Picard's arrogance, Q sends the Enterprise light years across the galaxy to an unexplored region of space and then disappears. They run into the Borg, who kill eighteen crew members. Picard learns his lesson, but eighteen innocents die for it: Picard calls Q out on what he has done and says that while he understands the lesson and appreciates its message, there must've been a way to teach it that didn't result in the deaths of eighteen people, to which Q replies that if he can't take a little bloody lip, he should go back home and crawl under his bed, and that while the universe has vast treasures to offer to anyone who seeks them regardless of what they're after, it's not a safe place or for the timid.
  • In a Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode, Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey is turned into a beast by her saintly but ugly cousin Susie, who has green skin and warts, to teach her lesson about shallowness. Cousin Susie is treated as entirely justified in teaching Sabrina her lesson, while everyone ignores the fact that the blameless Harvey is the one who finds himself growing fur, claws and tusks.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl develops a gambling addiction. He takes Catalina to a seedy underground "casino," and lends her his car because she's late for work. She ends up speeding to make up for lost time, gets pulled over, and the cops discover that her driver's license is a fake. She ends up getting deported back to her homeland (at this point, assumed to be Mexico, later called "Guadelatucky.") Earl has to go down there and bring her back to Camden.

  • The Christmas Shoes gets a lot of hate based on this trope. The narrator interprets a young mother dying of cancer as a deliberate attempt by God to teach him the meaning of Christmas.

  • The old-time radio show Diary of Fate had as its constant Aesop, "Choose evil and you will be destroyed." Okay, but often three or four people other than the main character would die in the process of him learning that lesson, without having chosen evil at all.

     Religion and Mythology 
  • The Bible is full of these:
    • King David has sex with the wife of one of his generals and gets said general killed in battle to get away with his adultery. God inflicts an illness on the child coming out of this affair. David repents and God forgives him. The king, that is. To really teach David that justice has to be done, the child however still has to die from the illness. David, and his new (stolen) wife have another son though, the future king Solomon, and seem to live happily ever after until one of David's own sons goes to war against him.
    • The general Jephta arrogantly pledges to sacrifice the first creature he encounters after an upcoming battle if God helps him to win it. His army is victorious, but the price for his hubris is quite terrible: As he's returning home, his daughter runs out to meet him.
    • The story of Job is actually not an example, though it might seem so — it goes one step further, and beyond the trope, in that even the person who is "punished" by having his loved ones die is innocent. Job loses everything, including his family, but though his friends insist he must have done something to deserve it, he's in fact innocent and God is just (sort of) testing him. Still, the logic is much the same in terms of collateral damage — he even gets a new wife and new children in the end. This is considered a happy ending, but not for Job's first kids. They're still dead.
      • Although some have noted that technically, the Biblical narrative never says they died—just that messengers TOLD Job that they did. This has led to an alternate interpretation that the two sets of kids are actually the same.
    • As Mark Twain points out, there had to have the usual proportion of children born to the people of Noah's generation. Then God sent the rain, "and drowned those poor little chaps."
  • Greek Mythology:
    • A strong example to modern eyes is the story of the Minotaur. The gods sent King Minos of Crete a white bull intended as an offering to Poseidon, but he decided to keep it as the prize in his herd instead. Aphrodite retaliated by making his wife, Pasiphaë, fall in lust with it and arrange to play the part of a cow. Sure, Minos was stuck with the result of that union, the human-eating Minotaur, but that just inspired him to lock it away in a labyrinth and periodically feed innocent Greeks to the beast until Theseus finally killed it. Pasiphaë, the Minotaur, and the innocent Greeks suffered, but Minos himself, not so much - he kept the bull, stayed king, and even became one of the three judges in the paradisical section of the Greek afterlife. Other than his wife sleeping with a bull (which would have been a blow to his ego, even if she was basically brainwashed into doing it), Minos came out unscathed.
    • Niobe boasted about her children, compared herself to Leto, and condemned people for worshiping Leto. Leto's two children (the deities Apollo and Artemis) slay all 14 of hers by shooting them with arrows. Niobe's husband Amphion either committed suicide or was also killed by Apollo for wanting to avenge his children's deaths; Niobe herself so grieved that she turned to stone with a stream flowing from it said to be caused by her tears.
    • King Midas wished for everything he touched to turn to gold, which culminated in accidentally turning his daughter to gold, as shown in the page image.
    • Laocoön interfered with the original Trojan Horse because he was smart enough not to trust it. For jeopardizing their plan, the gods sent a serpent to kill him and, inexplicably, his two sons.
    • One of the biggest examples in Greek mythology comes from the House of Atreus. Tantalus, the family's patriarch, was a demigod who got along with his divine relatives rather well until he decided to test the limits of their omniscience by killing his son Pelops and baking him into a pie, which he then served on Mount Olympus. Nearly all the gods immediately saw through the ruse (with the exception of Demeter, who had recently lost her daughter Persephone to Hades and thus took a small bite before she too stopped) and were absolutely furious. The gods gave Tantalus his famous punishment—to be cursed with a burning hunger and thirst and forever trapped in a pool of water with a fruit tree right above his head, with the water and fruit always moving just out of reach—but that apparently wasn't enough retribution for what he'd done. His entire family line was cursed: Pelops (who the gods revived) had three children who did horrible things including murder, incest, and forced cannibalism, while his grandchildren included Agamemnon and Menelaus, who you might know for their involvement in that whole Trojan War thing. And Agamemnon himself also killed one of his daughters to appease the gods and ended up murdered himself (as did the psychic Cassandra, whom he'd taken as a war prize, and who was cursed by Apollo to never be believed for refusing him), which led two of his remaining children—Orestes and Electra—to cause even more death and destruction until Orestes finally begged Athena for forgiveness, at which point the curse was broken. So to recap: wars were fought and raged, innocent children were killed, rape and incest occurred on a grand scale, and countless people died...all because one person decided to test the power of the gods. Yikes.
  • According to some maltheists, the idea that everyone is burdened with "original sin" inherited from Adam and Eve is a variety of this trope.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Gamer arguments about the moral/ethical status of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft often hinge upon this trope, with fans who believe them to be malicious and/or terribly corrupt citing the large number of innocent non-monsters who are trapped there, at the mercy of the Land's many monsters and alongside the darklords (who do deserve their fate). Those fans who consider the Dark Powers' actions to be justified have been known to argue that everyone there must've done something to merit their captivity, or even that the native peoples are merely constructs that look and act like actual people, but aren't "real".

    Video Games 
  • Puyo Puyo: Playing tricks isn't good, but playing matches is! Then you possess Satan to make your point...
  • In Scribblenauts Unlimited, Lilly gets turned to stone by an old man after Maxwell gives him a rotten apple.

    Western Animation 
  • Disney's Pinocchio. Pinocchio plays hooky from school and ends up being kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island. His creator, the kindly woodcarver Gepetto goes looking for him and ends up getting trapped inside Monstro the whale. Pinocchio learns a lesson about being a good boy from the experience.
  • In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the household staff are cursed, as well as the Beast himself. The Broadway version softens the collateral damage by having the staff discuss that they were the ones who had let the Beast turn into a spoiled brat in the first place, however it still doesn't justify turning a seven year old into a teacup.
  • This is parodied on The Simpsons: A "Treehouse of Horror" episode had a fortuneteller curse Homer's family because he insulted her. They suffer through freakish transformations, and Bart actually dies, but Homer goes on refusing to reverse the curse by apologizing because none of it's happening to him. It's especially egregious given that the apology would even resurrect Bart.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: After Iroh's son died during the Earth Kingdom campaign, Iroh went into Heroic B.S.O.D. and wanted nothing to do with ruling the Fire Nation. His scheming brother Ozai tried to convince his father Azulon to name him as heir, Azulon did not take it well and ordered Ozai to kill his own firstborn, Zuko. And Ozai would cheerfully have done it too, but he made a deal with his wife: she would make an untraceable poison with which to kill Azulon, in exchange for letting Zuko live. Ursa then fled the Fire Nation, leaving Zuko a "Well Done, Son!" Guy, his sister Azula a Daddy's Little Villain, and Ozai free to continue trying to Take Over the World.
  • Parodied in Yin Yang Yo!: A fairy creates a villain that grows every time Yin and Yang lie. At the end, she shows up and congratulates them on learning their lesson... only to have the townspeople angrily point out that she destroyed the city in the process.