Go Mad from the Revelation
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
In many stories, there are some experiences that are so horribly mind-shattering that the usual result is stark raving madness. We're not just talking about mundane Shell Shock
here, that'd be the trope called Heroic BSOD
. Instead we're talking about a full-fledged Freak Out
, or possibly even as bad as a Face-Heel Turn
. If you Go Mad From The Revelation
, you're gonna have some sort of psychotic break.
This is a signature characteristic of an Eldritch Abomination
and one of the central tropes of the Cosmic Horror
genre, but other things can cause it as well, such as prolonged torture
or learning some other Thing that Man Was Not Meant to Know
There is generally a distinction between things that happen to the mind because of experience and things that are done to the brain. This trope is the former. Thus, insanity caused by drugs
or a specific, quasi-magical effect (like a Brown Note
) doesn't qualify. Contrast those things with the Shoggoths, who strain people's sanity in spite of never having that as a stated special ability — the thought of them is just that horrible. Confronting a Creature From Beyond The Stars or a Thing That Should Not Exist will lead either to psychological regression into denial, or insanity when the cognitive dissonance becomes too great. HP Lovecraft
was fond of these; his stories abound with creatures from regions of space where the known laws of nature do not apply
, and geometries that violate the laws of physics
This almost could have been Truth in Television
, insofar as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real mental illness, but a character who Goes Mad From the Revelation usually is portrayed in a more generic insanity.
Sometimes, if you whack someone with the "insane stick" enough times, they'll get Bored With Insanity
The main inspiration for this trope is the work of HP Lovecraft
, whose story The Call of Cthulhu
is the Trope Namer
. Occurs in most of his work and a good deal of Lovecraft-inspired work
that use Mad Gods
and Eldritch Abominations
, indeed Cthulhu-inspired RPGs
often make this a game mechanic. Will be absent from stories where you can punch out Cthulhu successfully
The extreme form of a Freak Out
. May take the form of a Heroic BSOD
where the thing isn't going to start working again. If the whole nature of the universe is opened to you because of your velocity, this is Ludicrous Speed
Compare with Brain Bleach
, Brain Fever
, and My God, What Have I Done?
. See also A Form You Are Comfortable With
for a way to avoid this. Often goes hand-in-hand with the Despair Event Horizon
, to the point where a number of examples on this page can be found on the other as well.
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Anime and Manga
- YuYu Hakusho, of all series, has this happen to Sensui in his backstory. Not from any eldritch lore, though, but from simply seeing how horrible people can be—shattering his belief in black and white morality by witnessing the torments sadistic humans inflicted on demons for fun, leaving him an omnicidal maniac. Chapter Black is also noted to be able to force people to go mad from the revelation and its contents aren't supernatural. It's just a compilation of every terrible thing humanity has ever done in loving detail.
- What happens to Kurumi's friend Kaafai from Haou Airen when he's Forced to Watch as Hakuron rapes Kurumi. This is why he shoots Hakuron to death in the end.
- A few characters in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni arguably experience this, most definitely Keiichi and Shmion.
- Suzu in Peacemaker Kurogane becomes Ax-Crazy and a Depraved Homosexual after finding his beloved master dead, and being raped by an old man.
- The reason Schwarzwald from The Big O goes mad and decides to destroy Paradigm City is because he figures out the show's Ontological Mystery (or at least part of it... it's a big mystery).
- Ralph Werec of Soukou no Strain went from perfect soldier to traitorous Omnicidal Maniac when he saw that his people had created the Humongous Mecha he was piloting by killing harmless little alien girls for their Psychic Powers. However, though his reaction is understandable, when one of the sort-of-survivors shows Sara the story in a vision, she keeps her own sanity. Ralph also got sucked into a dimensional rift that gave him terminal cancer directly after said vision.
- Towards the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari finds out that Rei Ayanami, one of his closest confidants, has died and been replaced by a clone, and later still he deduces that there is definitely a connection between her, his dead mother, and the weird presence in Eva Unit 01, and these revelations does indeed shake his already fragile psychological stability quite a bit. It finally comes to a head in The End of Evangelion when the ritual to awaken Lilith/Rei Ayanami reduces him to a fit of shrieking omnicidal insanity. It didn't help that he had just seen Asuka's torn-apart remains only about a minute earlier.
- More or less every single Tipharian in Battle Angel Alita that learns "the secret of Tiphares" (Tipharians undergo a special ceremony at the age of nineteen. During this ceremony, the brain of the Tipharian is replaced with a computer chip) is driven insane. Most commit suicide.
- Alita is a citizen of Tiphares thanks to Desty Nova. Heroic BSOD time!
- The events of the Eclipse in Berserk took a horrible toll on the mind of Casca, who not only lost every one of her men, including Judeau, to things out of nightmare, but was raped by the very essence of evil itself in the form of the fifth member of the Godhand, Femto — who used to be Griffith, one of the two most important men in her life — right in front of Guts, the man she loved. The trauma of the experience rendered her mute, amnesiac and insane, and it was not helped one bit by Guts leaving her for two years to pursue vengeance against Griffith.
- In Fantastic Children, scientist Dr. Radcliffe became obsessed with unraveling the mystery of the Children of Befort. Needless to say, the more he found out, the madder he went. He could have been saved a lot of suffering if he knew that his theory was actually as far from the truth as you could get.
- Space Pirate Mito: Masatsuki Nenga goes insane when he comes to the realisation that his "Justice" is nothing more than a tool of oppression (one that has no issue shooting down a "mob" of villagers, men, women and children) used by a pretender to the throne. This leads to about two episodes worth of him screaming "I AM JUSTICE!" at the top of his lungs whilst firing his gun like the lunatic he is. This would be fine all in all, but the guy doesn't look older than 12.
- Big Bad Millions Knives from Trigun has this as his manga origin story. (In the anime he just decided Humans Are the Real Monsters for semi-logical if not terribly extreme reasons, and then went Evil Plan on them and his brother. In the manga, he was a sweet boy who snapped after discovering the Awful Truth—that there had been an 'Independent Plant' born before him and his brother, and the crew had studied her right to death.
- Notably, if you didn't already know who was going to grow up to be the villain, it would look like Knives handled it better than Vash. They both locked themselves in and attempted to starve to death together, but after Rem broke in and saved them it was Vash who did the Creepy Laugh and Humans Are Bastards and hysteria, and Knives seemed...perfectly okay. He saved his freak-out until after he'd set up all the colony ships to crash.
- Digimon Adventure 02: Certainly not the only factor in his descent, but his visit to the Dark Ocean a perpetually dark realm, populated by various Lovecraftian horrors and where Love and Hope are a foreign concept, was definitely the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back for Ken Ichijoji. One look at his expression◊ in that scene is enough to convince you that this kid just went off the deep end.
- On Moonphase, Kouhei experiences temporary madness after his new power lets him see Hazuki's true form, after which he temporarily becomes a trembling wreck who screams like a madman every time he sees her, he eventually gets over it though.
- In Chrono Crusade, Aion has a tenuous grasp on his sanity after he's Mind Raped by Pandaemonium and discovers the Awful Truth of his origins.
- in 20th Century Boys, approximately 2/3 of the people who complete Friend's VR, which purportedly reveals his face, are Driven to Suicide. It's not his face, it's Sadakiyo's—specifically it's his adult face on a child's body. In a simulation that is otherwise completely indistinguishable from reality, it drives people crazy simply because of how wrong it looks.
- Towards the end of Gankutsuou Heloďse Villefort, who seems perfectly normal in her first appearances, is revealed to actually be a murderous woman who's out of touch with reality. When her husband tells her to her face that she's just a murderous Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, and reveals that he knows she's been trying to kill him and their daughter Heloise collapses to the floor, finally giving into her insanity. Her husband then has her committed to an insane asylum for the rest of her life.
- Perfect Blue: In the anime's denouement, Rumi is permanently delusional and institutionalized.
- Occurs to one of the astronomers in Hellstar Remina when he realizes that Remina's a sentient Planet Eater...and it's headed for Earth.
- Russia from Axis Powers Hetalia during the Bloody Sunday strip, in which he snaps and starts to mow down his own people on the grounds that "they're not really Russians if they don't love me."
- In the Halo Legends segment Homecoming a few of the escaped Spartans find out they've been replaced with clones leading a few to commit suicide.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Happens to Sayaka Miki, and Mami Tomoe from the third alternate timeline. Sayaka starts losing it as she realizes that not only does no good deed go unpunished, but being a Magical Girl is NOT sunshine and rainbows. She ends up becoming the witch known as Oktavia Von Seckendorff since among other things, she brought hope to others only to lose herself to despair and her wishes weren't as selfless as she believed]]; the third Mami goes insane with grief after the Sayaka of her continuity also becomes Oktavia (probably in similar circumstances) and is killed by Homura, since she cannot handle the Awful Truth that being a Puella Magi means she will eventually become a witch; she kills Kyouko and gets ready to kill Homura, so Madoka has to Mercy Kill her.
- And in the backstory of Kyoko Sakura, this happened to her father, when he found out that Kyoko used her Selfless Wish to brainwash people into following him. His mind splintered so badly that he went the Pater Familicide route, with Kyoko as the Sole Survivor of the Sakura clan.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, it's strongly implied, and possibly outright stated, that the experience of going through the Gate is so "awful" that even if you did manage to survive through the pain of whatever it took from you, you could wind up a vegetable.
- Issac McDougal, a.k.a. The Freezing Alchemist, from Episode 1 of Brotherhood went totally off his rocker when he uncovered the country-wide transmutation circle conspiracy, and decided to remedy the problem by attempting to reduce Central to a frozen pile of rubble.
- School Days' Kotonoha and Sekai. Both are dumped by a Jerk Ass Makoto Ito and have realized that he's also screwed around with their best friends. Kotonoha's eyes turn dark around the later half of the anime.
- In Monster after Nina recovers all of her memories and realizes that the memories her evil twin brother Johan thinks are his are really hers (it's complicated), she nearly commits suicide. Thankfully Dr. Tenma intervenes just in time to avert a potentially HUGE Tear Jerker.
- Jeremy has one of these in A Cruel God Reigns after he finds his mother's diary detailing that she knew Greg was raping Jeremy, but did nothing. This leads to his Driven to Suicide Bungled Suicide just as he is going to confess to killing Greg to Ian.
- Mewtwo from Pokemon The First Movie goes off his gourd when he's basically told that his purpose in life is just to be a science experiment and/or a weapon and nothing more to those who created him. As a result, he psychically nukes a lab and a Team Rocket base, kills the scientists who brought him into being, almost kills Giovanni, and decides to make himself judge, jury and executioner to every human and Pokémon on the planet. Ash's desperate attempt to stop the fighting between the clones and original Pokémon is enough to bring Mewtwo back to Earth and question his initial belief on humans.
- In Rurouni Kenshin Soujiro goes temporarily insane when he realizes that he did regret killing people despite clinging to the words of his Evil Mentor: -> If you're strong you live. If you're weak. you die. It doesn't help that the people he regretted killing were his Abusive Parents or that he'd been a Stepford Smiler so long that every other emotion was completely suppressed until then. To top it all off it was Kenshin's words that caused this. It eventually leads to Soujiro's Villainous BSOD.
- Invisible Games has this happen at least twice. In Killswitch a man acquires what may be the last surviving copy of the titular video game and promises to upload online videos of his playthrough. The only video he ever posts is of him staring at the camera and crying while the game runs on a screen in the background. Later, in The Pentintytär Arcade, after discovering the scene of a woman's suicide a young boy begins to play the set of unique video games she had constructed. The story that spans across the games haunts him for the rest of his life and drives him to relentlessly collect the games years after the set has been broken up and acquired by different collectors. He is last seen sitting naked among the game cabinets, crying and clutching a gun.
- From The Sandman: "Not knowing everything is all that makes it okay sometimes." Delirium epitomizes the trope in a little speech to Destiny in Brief Lives where she expresses a chilling moment of complete clarity:
Delirium: Do you know why I stopped being Delight, my brother? I do. There are things not in your book. There are paths outside this garden. You would do well to remember that.
- The Joker is like this at least some portrayals, more so than most Batman villains. More than one interpretation (including the 1989 movie) has shown him bursting into maniacal laughter after seeing his chemically-disfigured reflection for the first time. His fellow Rogues Gallery members are listed alongside him under Freak Out.
- For instance, The Killing Joke. Averted by Commissioner Gordon's resistance to Joker's attempts to drive him crazy in the same graphic novel.
- Then we have the Joker from Flashpoint: Martha Wayne watched her son Bruce die before her and was so overcome with grief, she snapped. She snapped even worse when her husband, Thomas Wayne, revealed that, in another timeline, he'd be Batman, not Thomas.
- The Comedian appears to go medium-mad when he stumbles on the secret island prior to the events of Watchmen, although his behaviour (breaking in to the home of an ex-villain whom "he knew wouldn't understand," weeping uncontrollably, and expressing remorse for all the horrible things he's done which nonetheless pale in comparison to the plot he's uncovered) may be attributable more to a massive attack of conscience and ethical sensitivity, thus arguably making him more, not less, sane. A more straightforward example from this work would be Rorschach's Despair Event Horizon, upon discovery of a little girl's butchered remains, which transforms him from a relatively rational crimefighter into a pathologically obsessed Nietzsche Wannabe intent on imposing his own brutal, uncompromising justice on what he sees as an uncaring, meaningless world.
- Dr Manhattan also deserves a mention, having been through something very like the Total Perspective Vortex and then acquired the power of God. He doesn't exactly go mad, but he certainly wasn't the same person after his experience.
- Enigma features a villain called The Truth who has the ability to look someone in the eyes and remove all the comforting lies they tell themselves. It generally results in either suicide or mass murder.
- In an issue of Fall of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep reveals his true form to the inhabitants of a biker bar: by the time he's left, everyone in the bar is sporting Milky White Eyes and catatonic with shock, except for the bartender, who is busily setting himself on fire.
- Cy has had the dubious honour of Going Mad From The Revelation twice in the same series. The first bout of insanity occurs when Nyarlathotep whispers his true name in his ear; after spending the rest of the evening and the next morning in shock, and attempting to commit suicide, Cy finally descends into catatonia for the next year. The second time is some time after Cy's recovery, when he manages to save the world by sending Nyarlathotep back to the court of Azathoth; unfortunately, he manages to catch a glimpse of its main occupant. Cy doesn't survive this next brush with insanity.
- In Captain Britain, the precognitive Cobweb goes mad when she makes the mistake of looking into the very near future, which has just been invaded by a cybernetic nightmare from another dimension and is steadily being dominated by an insane reality-warping Prime Minister by the name of Mad Jim Jaspers. Naturally, after puking her guts out and mumbling a few garbled prophecies, she tries to swallow her tongue.
- Captain Britain himself had his own brush with this trope when he was first confronted with a supernatural occurrence he couldn't dismiss or explain away - in this case, extradimensional beings contacting him in the middle of a Trans-Atlantic flight. He promptly freaked out and jumped out of the plane. At this point in time, Brian got his powers from an amulet and scepter given to him by Merlin and Arthur. (Yes, them). This has been retconned at some point to Brian getting his brains rattled by a psychic attack and jumping to protect the plane's passengers (At this point he couldn't fly yet).
- According to Shattered Glass Optimus Prime's bio, he discovered something so shocking from Cybertron's past that it made him to go insane, and to the present day no one knows what it was he found.
- One issue of Hellblazer features a Well-Intentioned Extremist priest who gets into the habit of calling the police when teenagers start confessing their misdeeds to him- and at one point, he goes so far as to physically assault a girl who confessed to having sex with her brother. And then the Devil shows up; after letting him know how badly the teenagers have suffered, he ushers the priest back into the confessional and lets him hear his confession. Minutes later, the priest burns the church to the ground; from then on, he's straight-up Ax-Crazy, murdering people from one end of the country to the next, culminating in his attempt to rape a young John Constantine- which results in him getting a razorblade wedged in his face, being arrested, and committed to an asylum. After being released over twenty years later, he bumps into Constantine again at a local church; by now completely lucid, he explains everything, then jams a pencil in either eye and headbutts the pew in front of him.
- John himself was pretty horribly traumatized by what happened in Newcastle in '79, and had to go in and out of institutions for several years afterword.
- Prior to this, in Swamp Thing Constantine leads a mentalist to make contact with heroes and villains battling what appears to be a giant, black shelled mollusk that even defeats the Spectre, implied to be an aspect of God. Though the entire experience has been traumatic, Constantine's patsy gets a good look at the shell on the creature to snap his mind: It's not a shell, it's a fingernail. The entire battle had been fought on a scale so alien, whole armies had been assaulting just the fingertip of their foe without realizing.
- The being in question was The Great Darkness
- After reading the last page of a Great Big Book of Everything in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, Ultraman turns into a nihilistic follower of Mandrakk.
Ultraman: There is a God...and he hates us all.
- An issue of Marvel's "What If?" ends with Rogue (after killing Mr. Sinister) discovering the ULTIMATE TRUTH behind the Marvel Universe. The last picture of said issue has her (looking quite rattled and/or mentally shattered, take your pick) sitting down amidst a handful of Marvel comic books strewn around the ground.
- Much of the plot of TRON: Ghost in the Machine runs on this trope. The story opens with the protagonist of the game being so paralyzed by what he saw inside the computer system that he went from being an avid programmer to being a shut-in afraid to touch electronics. From there, the whole comic spirals into a genuine Mind Screw.
- In the Tintin book The Shooting Star, scientist Philippulus goes mad from the news that an asteroid is about to destroy Earth, and starts calling himself "Philippulus the prophet" while rambling about divine punishment.
- Happens in Power Pack when the kids' parents learn that the kids have superpowers. They're ultimately saved by being led to believe that the superpowered kids were fakes switched for their real kids.
- From King City: The sight of the Demon King, even in its incomplete state, is known to have driven some people over the edge of sanity.
- During the original Galactus storyline in Fantastic Four, the Human Torch fell into a brief Heroic BSOD moment after traveling to the far reaches of space to find the Ultimate Nullifier. The Watcher assured the Fantastic Four that the state was only temporary, as his brain would soon purge itself of the memories of his travels for the sake of its own sanity.
Human Torch: I traveled through worlds so big...so big...there..there aren't words..! We're like ants..just ants..ants..!
- In All-Star Superman Lex Luthor acquires all of Superman's powers. All of them. In the end, he is stopped not by anyone, but Superman's Super Senses. Luthor sees the universe as Superman does and realizes that Superman isn't a villain - his altruism comes from his understanding of how interconnected the universe is. Luther went sane from the revelation!
- If you think Humongous Mecha can't have an Eldritch Abomination of their own, you'd be wrong. The original Marvel run of The Transformers featured Unicron, a Planet Eater and Physical God disguised as a giant robotic planet. His appearance in that run of the comics causes Brainstorm, an otherwise quiet, sensible, and reasonable Autobot who is looked up to by the others as a paragon of forethought and planning, to utterly lose his shit and simply start babbling a Rapid-Fire "No!" while trying to shoot the planet sized monstrosity with a dinky laser pistol. It doesn't end well for him. For comparison, it's a bit like if you were suddenly attacked by Satan if he were the size of the Earth; the realization that the threat is real and the monster has a form far outside what you were ready to deal with could break even the most level headed individual.
- And then it happens to Shockwave, as well, who for the first time ever can't figure out what he's seeing, and just stands and stares at what's happening. He has to rely on Starscream for help.
- Considering which settings Aeon Natum Engel uses, it's quite common. There is also a Running Gag with the readers going mad when they are figuring the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot.
- This is described as having happened to the entire arakkoa race in Travels Through Azeroth And Outland.
- Poor, poor Nyx...
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, it is hinted that the science-loving King Sombra goes through this after a discovery pertaining to dark magic.
- In the setting of the Mass Effect fanfic Inglorious Boshtets, this is what happened to many people who viewed the porno magazine Fornax's "Forbidden Issue," which featured Tali's idiot crewman Prazza performing a sanity-blastingly obscene sex act that thankfully remained undescribed.
- Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic gets in on the act in The Monster Mash. They really need to erect a warning sign on that fourth wall.
- Occasionally a character in The Infinite Loops will completely freak out when they realize what's happening. This is known as Sakura Syndrome in-universe, due to Sakura being the first known case of it happening.
- In the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light, Jared Holloway spends the most time getting Mind Raped by the Slender Man. He briefly dances on the edge of going mad but decides to take his own life instead in the end.
- In Divided Rainbow, Celestia authorizes Discord to cast what amounts to a grand Masquerade-by-way-of-brainwashing on practically the entire world, to prevent this from happening to the Swapped Element Bearers. There are still several close shaves.
- The typical fate of those who hear the voice of Dark Tails in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Not only does it drive several individual characters like numerous Marmolins or Venus the Seedrian and Trinity to gibbering madness, it's mind-blasting enough to cause entire space fleets to go insane and destroy themselves.
- The Transformers fic Eugenesis implies this is caused Wheelie's unique speech-patterns, just by looking at Quintessonian religious texts. Ratchet dismissed this as pure coincidence, but given what we learn at the end of the fic, perhaps not.
- It's later implied to be the reason for the Liege Maximo's Start of Darkness as well.
Film - Animation
- Toy Story — Buzz Lightyear ends up doing this after discovering he is indeed only a toy and not an Intergalactic Space Ranger as he previously believed. He snaps out of it later, though.
- And in Toy Story 3, Lotso endures a long and grueling journey back to Daisy's house, only to discover that he had been replaced. As Chuckles puts it, "Something changed inside him that day. Something snapped."
- In Frozen, Elsa fled her kingdom Arendelle and built her own ice palace on a distant mountain, mistakenly believing that Arendelle would be safe from her dangerous power. When Anna delivers the news that Elsa in fact unleashed an eternal winter, Elsa is sent into a flurry of panic that leads her to freeze Anna's heart.
Film - Live Action
- The Gone series: When she meets the Darkness in Plague, Brittany goes mad and comes to believe that it is God.
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has the Total Perspective Vortex, which did this to its first subject. It's believed that this will happen to anyone; the Vortex allows someone to comprehend just how significant they are in the vastness of the universe (they become hopelessly incapable of functioning when the answer turns out to be "not at all").
- In an episode of the radio series, Marvin the Paranoid Android keeps a couple of minor adversaries occupied by tying them up and playing a recording of his autobiography. They start gibbering and raving.
- And getting a glimpse of the universe as it looks through Marvin's eyes is certainly never a good thing. In the first book, a ship's sentient computer responds to a direct link into Marvin's brain by committing suicide. In Life The Universe And Everything, billions of genocidal battle robots are gradually paralyzed by despair when Marvin's forcibly linked into the defense grid. In the movie, Marvin uses the "point of view gun" to telepathically project his perspective onto an attacking army of Vogons. The weeping Vogons have to be picked up by health workers and carted off in a fleet of trucks.
- And then there's Prak, whose brief scene is a Parody of this trope. Near the end of Life, the Universe and Everything, an overdose of truth serum causes Prak to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" about the entire universe, and drives everyone who hears it mad. However, what he has to say is much briefer than everyone expects, and apparently frogs and Arthur Dent are very important to the universe. Prak himself dies after several days of uncontrollable laughter upon meeting Arthur Dent.
- When the people of the planet Krikkit discover that there is a universe beyond their home nebula in Life, the Universe, and Everything they can't cope with the revelation and collectively decide that the universe must be destroyed.
- The Krikkiters are a special case, as the 'nebula' that surrounded their star system was actually an ancient, malevolent AI that was trying to get them to destroy the universe.
- Spider Robinson's novel Telempath involves a virus which multiplies the human sense of smell a thousandfold. It is estimated that one third of the population goes mad or commits suicide due to the olfactory overload.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Methuselah's Children, Slayton Ford goes mad when he meets the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Interestingly, after Ford goes mad, Lazarus Long mentions he is afraid that if he met them he wouldn't go mad.
- Discussed in John Dies at the End. "Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt."
- Stephen King:
- Seeing the true form of the titular It tends to drive a person crazy.
- The ending of King's short story The Jaunt offers another memorable example of the trope.
- Also, seeing the ring of stones in King's short story "N."
- The "thing with the endless piebald side" in Lisey's Story.
- In the revised first book of The Dark Tower series, a man comes Back from the Dead and claims to have knowledge of the afterlife. When he tells Roland's girlfriend what it is, she begs Roland to kill her. He does.
- Sex with recurring villain Randall Flagg in his true form in The Stand makes Nadine Cross catatonic. By comparison, the narration mentions in passing that sex with him in his human form is "only" as traumatizing to his partners as sex with a dog or horse.
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has the "good" scientist, Dr. Lanyon, undergo this when he sees the Hyde-to-Jekyll transformation.
- In The Wheel of Time, the test for becoming a chief of the Aiel — a desert warrior society with elaborate honor customs — involves passing through an artifact that causes them to relive key moments across thousands of years that led to their formation. Aiel are such a prideful people that the shameful truth of their origins (being descended from those outcast from a tribe of extreme pacifists) hits hard. Rand enters at the same time as an Aiel, and by the end that man is clawing out his own eyes. Rand has a rather unfair advantage here, since he wasn't raised as an Aiel. Rand later reveals the truth to everyone, and hordes begin to defect from the old warrior lifestyle every day, either vanishing altogether, joining a rogue tribe, or taking up a pacifist slave life.
- Seen again later with the Seanchan. Their culture believes that women who can use magic are far too dangerous to go free, but also too useful to kill... so they slap collars on them which utterly enslave their wearer and make them puppets to a master, called a sul'dam. Recently, the main characters have disovered that the collars can't be used by anyone who does not have some degree of magical prowess themselves... meaning the sul'dam are essentially the same as the women they treat as objects. When one sul'dam discovers this she undegroes a borderline mental breakdown, and it's speculated that if this knowledge got out publically, it would shake the very foundations of the Seanchan Empire.
- In Ishamael's backstory, he was a brilliant and world-renowned philosopher, until be became Genre Savvy to the fact that his world runs on Eternal Recurrance. This revelation set him on a downward spiral of madness and nihilism that culminated in him becoming an Omnicidal Maniac and Death Seeker.
- In Darkness Visible ordinary people can go mad when exposed to unreality. As things deteriorate this eventually happens to something like a quarter of London's population.
- In Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, Dwayne Hoover goes on a rampage after reading a solipsistic novel by Kilgore Trout which says that its reader is the only human being in the world and that everyone else is a machine.
- Although it's made clear that Hoover had already gone quite mad by this point, and it's this pre-existing mental condition that makes him believe Trout's book to be a personal message from God.
- He couldn't help it; he had bad chemicals in his brain.
- The Demu from The Demu Trilogy have their species-wide psychosis because they can't cope with their rite of passage revelation that they are descended from a species that were pets of Neglectful Precursors.
- In the second and third Firekeeper novels, the Healed One, ruler of the nation of New Kelvin, is the one person able to read a book that details the true history of their people. The secrets therein driven more than one newly ascended Healed One mad.
- In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart goes insane, becoming permanently catatonic, when he finally recognizes his own desire to destroy for the sake of destruction. He, in turn, previously revealed to Cherryl Taggart the monstrosity of his world, beating Cherryl, and cheating on her in the same night, driving her to see what had happened to the world, and resulting in severe psychotic episode. This leads to (possibly accidental) suicide.
- In Larry Niven's Draco Tavern story "The Subject Is Closed", one of the tavern's visitors describes how one alien race claimed to have discovered the truth about the afterlife. This is the last that was heard from them, and visitors to their world discovered that they had systematically committed mass suicide. It was later decided to destroy the detailed records of what was found, because those who studied them too closely also committed suicide.
- As mentioned above, a Cthulhu Mythos protagonist protagonist who isn't transformed into something... not nice or dead at the end of the story usually suffers this trope. (In the original HP Lovecraft stories, outright madness wasn't as common.)
- Occurs on a global scale in Lovecraft's short story "Nyarlathotep", which tells of one man (although he's really a messenger for the god of chaos) revealing such cosmic secrets that entire cities are driven mad and civilisation collapses.
- In William Tenn's story Firewater, humanity is being observed by aliens that appear to have god-like powers, and anyone who tries too hard to understand them goes insane. Near the end, it's revealed that the aliens have a similar problem with understanding humans.
- The Bishop Murder Case: Philo Vance posits that someone went mad from studying quantum psychics.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Chessman of Mars, this is claimed for looking on the face of the dead O-Mai, a jeddak said to have died without showing a mark, and whose body was said to lie in a haunted room.
- In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Grey Knights, Balurian Imperial Guardsmen are driven out of their minds by seeing the tomb of Saint Evisser. Some "saw a world of glory and bounty" and ran blindly into it only to fall into pits or be attacked by cultists, some collapsed and others struck at comrades in the conviction that all around them were corrupt.
- In Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the Big Bad Storm King and his minions exist in a place "between life and death" that gives them plenty of time to contemplate Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Unprepared mortal minds that dare to touch them (or do so accidentally) are driven stark raving bonkers. Also, Du Svardenvyrd, the tome of the mad prophet Nisses, contains sufficient knowledge of the workings of the world to drive anyone who reads it past the Despair Event Horizon.
- The author and main character of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a victim of this.
- Warrior Cats: Having already developed a near-crazy obsession with the Warrior Code, the realization that her parents were in fact Leafpool and Crowfeather and her very existence was "breaking the code" pretty did away with what was left of Hollyleaf's sanity at the end of Power of Three.
- Also, in The Original Series finding out that Tigerclaw is indeed evil, just like Fireheart was trying to tell her all along, pushes Bluestar over the edge for several books.
- Invoked a lot in Simon R. Green's Nightside novels. One book features Madman, a former theoretical physicist who'd worked out the means to observe reality as it truly exists; his name says it all. In another incident, a minor character asked the animated corpse Dead Boy what it was like being dead, and was reduced to quivering catatonia by the reply.
- In Chris Wooding's novel Poison, the titular character gives up all desire to live after discovering that not only is she a fictional character who was created by the 'hierophant' — a God-like being in the book's universe, and that her home did not exist before she came into being, but that said hierophant has been controlling her all her life, making her choose certain courses of action and make certain decisions. Luckily, she gets over it after discovering that her death would mean the death of those around her, as the story she is in is centred entirely around her.
- David Langford's short story "BLIT" uses a mind-breaking fractal image as a terrorist weapon.
- And one of the most famous examples in literature. Robert W. Chambers' short story anthology The King in Yellow concerns the eponymous and forbidden play that drives readers and viewers mad. The King in Yellow and everything related to it was later incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Which was given a modern film remake by John Carpenter as Cigarette Burns.
- In the chapter "The Castaway" in Hermann Melville's Moby-Dick, the cabin boy Pip falls overboard and the immense emptiness of the ocean drives him mad. "By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul."
- Parodied and Inverted in Don Quixote, who goes mad for trying to make sense of the purple prose that plagued the chivalry books he has read, but never was any reveal because even Aristotle could not make sense of that. Chapter I, Part I:
- William Gibson's short story "Hinterlands" has a parade of lone astronauts drifting at a particular point in space, setting off radio flares, who are either taken by some force, or more often, not taken. Those who are taken come back with scary new science and technology, but are all batshit crazy and almost all eventually kill themselves without revealing much of what they saw. Those who are not taken are so profoundly crushed at being rejected by Space God that they all attempt suicide, and are then employed as counselors for those batshit crazy returnees.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Jewels Of Gwahlur" Yelaya warns Conan the Barbarian.
Here I have lain for so many centuries, to awaken each night at sunset and hold my court as of yore, with specters drawn from the shadows of the past. Man, if you would not view that which will blast your soul for ever, get hence quickly! I command you! Go!”
- The Master boasts of this:
It would blast your soul to hear from what far realm I summoned them and from what doom I guard them with ensorcelled crystal and golden serpents.
Their iron nerves had withstood an ordeal that might have driven weaker men mad. He knew it was with no weaklings that he conspired, but men whose courage was as profound as their lawless ambitions and capacity for evil.
- The Oculus from the Fablehaven series has this effect.
- Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Anyone who swims in the Pool of Knowlege gets their eyes turned partly silver, and slowly turns into an Eldritch Abomination, who eats fear instead of food.
- Revelations are relative: the society depicted in Isaac Asimov's Nightfall lives on a planet with six suns, and its members are greatly unnerved by prolonged darkness. They're about to have their first full eclipse in two thousand years. Things get bad. (It's implied this has happened at least seven times before, each time leaving a few survivors who rebuild from a preindustrial technology level.)
- The actual sanity-shattering revelation is how vastly larger the universe (or even the immediate stellar neighborhood) is than they'd ever imagined, and how tiny and insignificant they and their world are by comparison.
- A similar theme appears in Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe, and Everything, although in this case instead of breaking down in despair the aliens in question decide that they will "solve" the problem by becoming Omnicidal Maniacs and destroying the rest of the universe.
- To quote the text: "Aton, somewhere, was crying, whimpering horribly like a terribly frightened child. 'Stars — all the Stars — we didn't know at all. We didn't know anything. We thought six stars in a universe is something the Stars didn't notice is Darkness forever and ever and ever and the walls are breaking in and we didn't know we couldn't know and anything —'"
- In Robert E. Howard's Kull/Bran Mak Morn story "Kings of the Night," Gonar knows things.
I know secrets that would blast even your brain, Bran, should I speak them.
- In Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence, Niccolň Machiavelli met a slave-girl who was transformed by potent hypnosis to be a "memory palace," a kind of exotic hard disk drive. Machiavelli then attempted to restore the girl to a human state, but when she did, she remembered all the perils of her life and defenestrated herself.
- In Terry Pratchett's Strata, a species of aliens takes a plunge past the Despair Event Horizon and commits collective suicide upon learning that the world they live on is in fact artificial and their entire prehistory was an elaborate forgery.
- In The Dresden Files' Turn Coat, Dresden barely manages to avoid this after looking upon the skinwalker with his wizardly Sight. When he Sees it, he blacks out, only to awaken some time later as a gibbering, incoherent mess, and in physical pain. He recites prime numbers to prevent himself from remembering it for a time. It takes locking himself in a room and assaulting his mind with the image over and over again to get his mind straight (he also gets a Psychic Nosebleed). Even then, he'll never forget what he saw.
- The Bookof All Hours by Hal Duncan: several instances it seems. The first is the realization that Thomas Messenger is destined to die, again and again throughout the infinite multiverse of the Vellum, sparking Jack's effort to find the one reality where the man he loves defies the rules and lives. Another has to do with the backstory that contributed to starting the whole story in the first place: one of the reasons the Unkin that joined Metatron's Covenant to fight the Sovereigns was because of the realization that there is in fact no judeo-christian God. Imagine being a believer, undergoing the event of touching the Vellum underneath reality (thus thinking you've been "chosen" or something), and finding out that in eternity dwells... nothing. Just some other humans that, like you, managed to touch the multiverse under reality. One of the biggest is the idea of the Unkin trying to build Heaven in the Vellum - trying to build a tiny, insignificant outpost of crude meta-human order amid the vast, hostile wilderness of eternity that exists beneath the multiverse.
- In Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud, one of the astronomers goes insane from The Cloud uploading its knowledge upon him.
- In The Bible, God tells Moses that this will happen if he shows his true form to Moses. Except instead of going mad, you go dead from seeing God.
- One of the short stories in the Chuck Palahniuk collection Haunted 2005 has something called a "nightmare box" which does exactly this to whoever looks inside it.
- In Burying the Shadow any attempt by a soulscaper to heal an eloim's mind results in the soulscaper going stark raving mad.
- The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling: Let’s just say that Jack’s study of his student’s perpetual motion machine doesn’t make him the... most stable of individuals.
- Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, although nothing supernatural actually happens to him. Alone with a savage tribe and faced with the primordial immensity of the jungle, he goes native in the worst sort of way, sets himself up as some kind of god, and descends into acts of brutality left unnamed.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Red Wedding drives Catelyn Stark completely insane. As death approaches her, she laughs madly as she claws at her own face.
- Both lampshaded and subverted in The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan, the Apocalyptic Log of a woman who was Driven to Suicide by some kind of entity disguised as an old oak tree. She is a novelist by profession, so of course she's actually familiar with this trope.
I seem to have been afflicted with some unprecedented calm, something that settled over me while I was upstairs and which shows no signs of abating. Again, I know we're running counter to the received wisdom, in which our heroine, having glimpsed some unspeakable atrocity, parts ways with her sanity (at least for a time) and runs screaming into the night. Perhaps it's only that those sorts of books and movies are, too often, made by people who have never, themselves, stood at this threshold. Even Catherine ran screaming, that sunstroke day at Cabeza de Lobo
. Couldn't I at least be as weak as poor Catherine?
Fine. Then I'll write it down.
- Prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus Curse in the Harry Potter books has this effect.
- Glory in the Thunder: The implied ultimate fate of Posthumous Character Diadem Correl, and most other Gods of Truth.
- In Bird Box those who view the mysterious creatures outside are driven insane.
Live Action TV
- In Smallville, The Helmet of Nabu reveals the fate of everyone to the wearer and drives them insane.
- Firefly both pokes fun at this trope and plays it straight. One theory on the Reavers is that were men who were driven insane by seeing the edge of space. Not only is this theory eventually shown to be wrong, but Jayne is immediately puzzled: he's been out there, and it just looks like more space. However, at one point the Reavers intentionally induce Reaver-like insanity in one victim by killing the rest of his shipmates while he is Forced to Watch. The Movie reveals that at least part of River's psychosis was the result of learning what happened on Miranda.
- Learning about it subconsciously. Once she had conscious knowledge of it, she got noticeably better. Which isn't to say it made her sane.
- In Star Trek, having sex with a Deltan makes one go mad. Or so we've heard. More precisely, the sex is apparently so good that Terrans, at least, have trouble coping afterwards, unless they're Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Then the sex was sorta 'meh'.
- The Original Series episode "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" revolves around Kollos, an ambassador of the Medusan race, whose physical appearance is so hideous - or maybe so beautiful - that any humanoid who looks at them directly goes insane. Kollos, in contrast with Shoggoths and Eldritch horrors, is clearly a good guy.
- From "The Alternative Factor", Matter!Lazarus goes stark raving mad upon learning of the existence of his Anti-Matter double and becomes hellbent on destroying him, even if it means the destruction of both universes.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Sound Of Drums", we learn that every Time Lord is forced at the age of eight to stare at a gap in the fabric of reality. Through this gap the entire Time Vortex can be seen, containing all that is, was, or will ever be. In the words of The Doctor, "Some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad." It's initially suggested that this is what happened to the Master, though it's later revealed in The End of Time that his madness was deliberately engineered by Lord President Rassilon to help pull the Time Lords out of the time locked Last Great Time War.
- Dalek Caan in "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" is arguably a case of someone who went sane from the revelation: despite exhibiting all the obvious characteristics of a Mad Oracle, having seen the whole of time itself left him utterly and completely disgusted at his own genocidal race and thus set things in motion to have the Doctor and Donna Noble defeat the Daleks.
- In the episode "The Age of Steel", the Cybermen are defeated by the Doctor stopping their emotional inhibitors from working. This causes them to remember who they really are, and what they have become, and they subsequently go insane as the shock kills them. The Doctor effectively uses the same technique to defeat Mercy Hartigan in "The Next Doctor", severing her link with the Cyber King and allowing her to see the monster she's become, destroying her mind.
- Ghost Light introduced Redvers Fenn-Cooper, an explorer and hunter who was unlucky enough to witness Light's sleeping form in the cellar of a Victorian mansion. The experience turned his hair white and drove him into the depths of insanity. By the time the Doctor arrives, he's disassociated his own identity so well that if he does acknowledge his own name, it's in the third person.
- The Torchwood episode "Adrift" has a victim of the Rift who's permanently insane as a result of looking into the heart of a dark star. He's living in a secret Torchwood-sponsored care home in an old bunker, with at least a dozen other patients. He screams for twenty hours a day...
- In Upright Citizens Brigade, a house has a "bucket of truth" in it that shows immutable truth; most people are driven to absolute despair by the sights within. A police captain who has been wallowing in despair looks into the bucket and shouts at the heavens, "Don't you think I know that?!"
- Buffyverse:Lilah's timid about entering the White Room, mostly because of one employee who went in there and ended up in an asylum as a result.
- Married... with Children puts a humorous spin on this trope. In "Wabbit Season", poor Al Bundy has temporarily gone insane after an unpleasant incident at work, and when Peg brings him home, he's babbling about "selling a lot of shoes after midnight." A kiss from Peg brings him back to his senses, but what makes it even funnier is when Al explains what happened:
Oh Peg, it was horrible. Sixteen straight hours of shoe-selling mayhem. The last thing I remember, I was on one knee, waiting on an overflowing glacier of a woman. The first thing they teach you when you're a rookie shoe salesman is, when you've got a fat one in the chair, never look up. I looked up, Peg! I saw underwear
! It said "Saturday" on it! Beat Peg:
So what? Al: TODAY'S WEDNESDAY!
- In season 6, in the episode "If I Could See Me Now" we discover that Al has bad eyesight and experiences the world mostly as fuzzy blobs. The kids convince him to get glasses after driving home with Al behind the wheel. Upon finally getting his glasses Al sees the world around him, especially his house and family, as it really is. He clutches his head and screams in agony, parodying this trope. He finally destroys his glasses as he would rather cling to the world he knew rather than face the truth.
- The Twilight Zone
- In the original series episode "Deaths-Head Revisited", a retired Nazi general returns to the death camp he worked at, only to be tortured to insanity by the ghosts of the people he murdered. Let's just say they showed him everything they went through while in his "care".
- The 1980s revival episode "Need to Know" featured William Petersen investigating an insanity epidemic in a small town. It turns out a resident has discovered the meaning of life, but to hear the secret is to go crazy.
- The Thriller episode "The Cheaters" follows a pair of magic spectacles from owner to owner. Each goes mad, as the cheaters show their wearer the truth of everything seen through them. The final owner decides to look at himself in a mirror, just as the creator of the glasses did before his death. They offer to let him off without seeing the truth, but he insists, and instantly goes mad and then kills himself.
- This happens in Being Human, when Annie (a ghost) whispers to her killer, Owen a "secret that only the dead know." He snaps almost immediately. Interestingly enough, when George asks what she said, Mitchell shakes his head slightly, indicating that Annie shouldn't say—as well as the fact that he knows it too.
- Lampshaded in Babylon 5, when G'Kar has a guest over for dinner:
Na'kal: "Breen. You've managed to import breen from homeworld. How?"
G'Kar: "It .. isn't actually breen."
Na'kal: "But the smell, the taste..."
G'Kar: "It's an Earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It's a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs. I suspect it's one of those great universal mysteries which will either never get explained or which will drive you mad if you ever learned the truth."
- One episode of Criminal Minds is about a man who goes off antipsychotic meds in an attempt to access lost childhood memories, only for them to turn out to be so traumatic that they cause him to go on a killing spree.
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Serenity Now" Jerry has become emotionally mature (as opposed to his shallow self) by letting his emotions out. At one point he asks George to "let it all out". We cut back later to see George in a similar state of emotional maturity, but Jerry is horrified beyond words. Even though Jerry doesn't go insane, the revelation burned out his emotional maturity and returned him to the shallow sitcom character he was before.
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000 Tom and Crow are given psychotropic drugs for Pearl to observe the effects. Tom's view, while creepy, is apparently normal to him. What makes Crow go mad? The Milky Way bar Mike was holding is now a Snickers!
- Another Played for Laughs in The Legend Of Dick And Dom episode "Hairwolf"; a man is driven mad by the horrors of the Hairwolf eating his hair and dances around giving cryptic warnings like "Don't go to the castle, it's dangerous!", "Don't play the bassoon in the bath, it's wrong!" and "Don't feed a whote rabbit brussels sprouts, it'll turn green!"
- In season seven of Supernatural, Sam is being driven mad by memories of his time tortured by Lucifer in the Cage.
- This is reported to be common when an ordinary human sees a Wesen in Game Face on Grimm. Apparently, a tolerance can be built up, as Hank demonstrates.
- "Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined)"
- Leoben Conoy - "To know the face of God is to know madness."
- The Hybrids, who control the Cylon Basestars, continually spout out apparent gibberish that some believe to actually be the words of "The One, True God."
- D'Anna Biers experienced this trope first-hand in the Temple of Five after looking upon the faces of the Final Five.
- The Stone Tape. The scientists question a man who used to play in the castle as a boy. He breaks down and reveals how a friend was accidentally trapped in the haunted room during a game of dare.
"He made out it spoke to him...and then the Others
"Can I meet him?"
"What for? He don't remember. They took him up the County, you know. They put him right. They can do that. He don't care a button he just la-a-a-ughs all the time
- Sex with Brother Justin after he's transitioned into full-on Anti Christ mode has this effect in Carnivŕle.
- At the end of Episode 11 of Season 4 of Breaking Bad, Walter is in desperate need of money. When he finds out his wife has had to give a huge portion of it away in a bid to keep their actions hidden, he lets out a scream of anguish ... and then starts cackling like a maniac.
Mythology & Religion
- According to The Talmud, there were four famous rabbis who were exposed to the mysteries of Creation: Ben-‘Azai, Ben-Zoma, Elisha‘ ben-Abuya, and ‘Akiva ben-Yosef. The first died, the second went mad, the third became an apostate (due to misunderstanding what he saw), and only the fourth one remained faithful.
- The myth of the Kunekune
- In Gustav Schwab's ballad "Der Reiter und der Bodensee", a traveler lost in the snow unknowingly rides right across Lake Constance — the ice wouldn't normally be strong enough but it happens to be an exceptionally cold winter. When he arrives at a village and asks where he is, he realizes what he's done, imagines the cold abyss that was under his horse's feet, and dies of terror.
- In The Goon Show episode "Lurgi Strikes Britain" Neddie Seagoon goes bonkers after realising how Grytpype and Moriarty have duped him, and starts yelling gibberish - the main symptom of the fake eponymous disease.
- In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tobias Ragg goes insane upon finding out just what Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett have been getting up to in the evil basement (in particular what is actually in the pies he's been eating). By the time he gets out of the basement, his hair has gone completely white and he eventually slits the title character's throat with his own razor before proceeding to continue to turn the crank on the grinder. In the film version, the killing sequence is more of a calm Tranquil Fury than anything else.
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley rapes Blanche in an attempt to invoke Rape Portrayed as Redemption, but Blanche, who's already a little nutty, has a total breakdown instead and falls into permanent insanity. It really is as heartbreaking and disturbing as it sounds.
- Hamlet: The eponymous character is sent awry by being told that his uncle had killed his father, by the ghost of his father. Hamlet himself believes he is merely pretending to be mad but it is made clear to the audience that he is no longer playing with a full deck.
- Not really. It's never made clear if Hamlet really is mad or just pretending to be for his own purposes. He becomes far more lucid when he's either alone or with only Horatio. In any case, people have been debating on the subject for several hundred years, and are still doing so today.
- Horatio warns Hamlet that the ghost might do this to him, and the ghost himself warns that just "telling" Hamlet about purgatory could do it:
"Hor." What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord... and there assume some other, horrible form which might deprive [you] of reason and draw you into madness?
"Ghost" I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, [etc., etc.]
- Oedipus Rex discovers that he's sleeping with his mother. He then cuts out his eyes.
- Most of the characters in the visual novel Saya no Uta are absolutely nuts by the time any of the three endings are over. Ryouko Tanbou, Fuminori's doctor, particularly suffers. After witnessing the reality of Dr. Ougai's experiments more than a year before the story, she's a classic case of paranoia who through her own intelligence has kept her paranoia carefully hidden in every day interactions.
- Homestuck has one when John realizes what his father really is...
- The datasphere in 8-Bit Theater. Once Red Mage and Thief concluded that reading it would drive a normal man insane and an insane man normal, (or kill him,) they decided to try it on Black Mage. Once he was incapacitated, they called Fighter over...
- Who is fine. He even understood that the 612-dimensional sphere contained information concerning "every possible way to build any possible device to destroy every possible thing in all creation."
- While it did shut down his higher brain functions for some time, Black Mage snapped out of his condition pretty fast. For the record, Black Mage's face, currently hidden in the shadow of his hat, made Onion Kid go into a coma. He later said it felt like everything good was gone from the world...
- And lately, Red Mage got the idea of using the datasphere to learn how to destroy the monster currently inside himself, as it threatens to take over his body.
- Hilariously, the result was the death of the monster. And Red Mage was fine. If that makes sense, recall that Red Mage was the monster. Oh, and he might be catatonic.
- In Narbonic, this is how the Science-Related Memetic Disorder finally manifests itself.
- In Dave, anyhow. He finally went mad... from the revelation that he would go mad. Nice.
- All mad scientists go mad, sooner or later, by definition. It seems to be genetic. Helen went mad in an Italian restaurant when her mother's lawyer met with her.
- The Order of the Stick features "The mysterious Vaarsuvius, keeper of a thousand arcane secrets. And each one would drive you MAD! MAD!" V tends to boast.
- Captain SNES: The entire series is about video game characters finding out their lives are simply video games, and their sorrows and such are for our amusement. They don't take it well. Except for Kefka, who, being a nihilist, feels he was vindicated
- We are all made of CORN!!!!!!!
- Jack Hyland in Gunnerkrigg Court. They had the bad fortune to get caught in Zimmy's nightmare world when she had a psychic freak-out, ending up alone and unheard by the any of the others also caught in it. Although they weren't there long, it did not affect their mental state very well.
- Though being possessed by an etheric spider might have had more to do with it.
- Checkerboard Nightmare had the minor character Shrodinger the Cat, who could see every possible reality simultaneously and was, naturally, driven insane by the information overload.
- In Sinfest, to a minor degree, this is why God does not show his face and uses the hand puppets. His showing a image of his face to two people caused a bit of a fight. Now imagine if He showed His face to a few more people...
- When Slick ate the Fruit of Knowledge and found out he was a cartoon character, he tried to kill himself by jumping off a cliff. That works out about as well as you'd think —except that the river was Lethe.
- Nodwick has a storyline about That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know, which has fallen into the hands of She Who Must Be Obeyed in the Lands That Know No Name. As it turns out, only men are not meant to know it. To women it's simply hysterically funny.
- The DCAU has many villains that were driven to crime because of the horrible circumstances forced upon them (Clayface, Parasite, etc.) but only one character seems to snap purely because of the knowledge he has received: The Question. When he cracks the Project Cadmus secret files and learns of the overthrow of the government of a parallel world and the ever-increasing likelihood that our Superman will likewise kill the president and instigate a worldwide catastrophe he loses it, begins to mumble incoherently to himself, and eventually tries to kill Lex Luthor himself so that Superman will never have the chance. Things go downhill from there.
- This is parodied in a The Simpsons Halloween Special based on Night Gallery, in which Bart promises that a story based on a particular painting was so terrifying that it would instantly drive people mad. "..but it was far too intense. So we just threw something together with vampires. Enjoy!"
Homer: They're dogs! And they're playing poker! AAAAAHHHH!!!
- The episode "The Blunder Years" has a magician make Homer return to his twelve year old self, only to have him go into a screaming fit throughout the night and a good chunk of the next day. It turns out it was a repressed memory of Homer finding the corpse of Smithers' father at the bottom of a quarry.
- This is basically what happens to the Frank Grimes character after spending a bit of time with Homer. Grimes snaps after seeing how a Fat Idiot like Homer can have a better job than him, get paid more, have a nice house, and have decent food while he had to endure the hardships of his parents abandoning him when he was young, making just enough money to get cheap food, and living in an apartment that is above a bowling alley and beneath another bowling alley. After he sees people praise Homer for something so mind numbingly simple, Grimes goes off the deep end before he accidentally kills himself via electrocution.
- On one episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, the villain loses it when he realizes he's just been defeated by chipmunks.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold — In "Deep Cover for Batman!", Batman's only ally in this reversed dimension, Red Hood, is being questioned and tortured. We learn that he was disfigured by being thrown into a vat of chemicals by this universe's version of Batman. Sure enough, we see him look in a mirror, get a glimpse of green hair and bleached skin — and hear a truly maniacal laugh start to rise. Averted when he grabs a chair and smashes the mirror, presumably at the last minute he could retain his sanity. What made this so effective? Really, it's the voice actor — that laugh is as scary as anything Jeff Bennett ever unleashed.
- Turtles Forever — As The Shredder surveys The Multiverse, he discovers that each of its infinite worlds contains its own group of Turtles, a revelation that causes him to hatch a plan to destroy it all—even if it kills him in the process.
- The titular Ren from The Ren & Stimpy Show often went completely insane in various episodes leading to much horror. Two notable examples of this came at the end of "Svën Höek" where Ren completely lost it upon finding out what a mess Stimpy and Sven made in his house and the episode "Stimpy's Fan Club" at the end of which he contemplated strangling Stimpy in his sleep.
- This happens rather frequently with Ren:
- In "Hermit Ren," he gets so sick of Stimpy he leaves to join a hermit guild. They provide him with a cave and a boulder to lock him in forever. Completely alone. It doesn't take long for him to lose his mind. He gets kicked out for creating imaginary friends.
- His Recycled In SPACE counterpart goes insane in "Space Madness" when, confined to a spaceship on a long mission, he is deprived of all contact besides Cadet Stimpy. Interestingly Stimpy does absolutely nothing to instigate this as the only bit of mischief he causes in this episode occurs after Ren is long gone.
- Ren goes more than a little nuts at the end of "Farm Hands" when he thinks he and Stimpy are the last survivors after a devastating tornado. However, it turns out the farm's cow (a gorilla) also survive (and took a dump on them).
- Ren and Stimpy both slowly lose their sanity in "Big Flakes" while they're trapped in the cabin.
- In the episode of The Powerpuff Girls which deals with Mojo Jojo's origin, he is shocked to discover that prior to gaining his intelligence, he caused Professor Utoninum to hit the container of Chemical X that poured into his 'Perfect Little Girl Formula' resulting in the birth of the Powerpuff Girls. He is so shocked that he continuously mumbles "It was me?"
- Also to point out, since it was the blast the girls were born from that transformed Mojo and gave him his intellect, it can be pointed out that he also caused his own origin.
- An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes had Jimmy finding that the horrible episode was All Just a Dream...until he realizes he just fainted and the situation is, indeed, as bad as it was. This happens several times until he's reduced to a blabbering mess.
- Averted in The Real Ghostbusters episode, "The Collect Call of Cathulhu."note The guys lay eyes on Cthulhu himself... and aren't driven to madness. Word of God reasoned that it's because the Ghostbusters encounter horrifying things on a regular basis.
- The Animaniacs short "Wally Llama" has the eponymous llama, who claimed to know the answer to every question, go crazy when he realises he doesn't know why it's 8 hot dogs to a pack but 10 hot dog buns. Admittedly, the seven minutes of harassment by the Warners prior to this probably didn't help his psychological state.
- Freakazoid!'s origin has Dexter Douglas beamed into cyberspace after typing in a very specific line of code and exposed to the entirety of the internet. One can only imagine what would happen if he were exposed to the internet of today.
- In the Evil Con Carne episode "Gridlocked and Loaded", Hector wants to steal all the gold from a boat but gets caught in traffic. When he finally makes it to the dock, he finds that somebody beat him to it. That somebody turns out to be the dorky intern he kicked out of the car moments before. This causes him and Boskov to literally go blind with rage.
Hector: That guy. That guy. THAT GUY I HATE!!!
Officer: Are you...all right, sir?
Hector: Yes, thank you. I have merely gone blind with rage. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to jump off the pier.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Cheese Chasers", the dog goes insane when he tries to process the facts that the mice want the cat to eat them because they are tired of cheese and the cat wants the dog to kill him because the mice' behavior put him off of eating mice forever. He screams "it just don't add up!" and chases after a dog catcher to turn himself into the pound.
- Played for laughs in the "Pluto Nash Day" skit from Robot Chicken, where a bunch of studio execs, upon learning that The Adventures of Pluto Nash was a Box Office Bomb, go crazy and start killing themselves and each other.
- Played for laughs in South Park. In "Tsst", a group of television nannies try to correct Cartman's bad behavior before realizing what he is and giving up. Supernanny is the last one to attempt it. Within three days she's confined to a psychiatric hospital where she spends most of her time eating her own excrement and sobbing uncontrollably while screaming "From Hell! It's from Hell!".
- Gravity Falls has Fiddleford Hadron McGucket revealed to have gone under this after working with the journals and repeatedly erasing his memory of any unusual events that occur in the town.
- It is generally forbidden to collect all of the Tales Of A Thousand And One Nights in one set, and not just because it would be difficult to do so. According to legend, reading them all in one sitting will make whoever does so go mad from the sheer majesty of it. This is because your brain would short out from lack of sleep. Seriously, a thousand and one tales with a narrative thread that connects them would be a LOT of reading for a single sitting.
- Paul Cohen said that he suspected that this had happened to Kurt Gödel, that his discoveries in logic caused him to have paranoid delusions later in life.
- Some studies show that extreme pessimists have the most realistic grasp of their abilities, place in the world, and the probability of something happening. They're also most likely to be seriously clinically depressed. The study differs depending on which study is consulted and what questions you ask. If it's something that people, in general, are overly optimistic about (e.g. Wide-Eyed Idealist) the pessimists will be accurate. If it's something that people are overly paranoid about, (risk of death in a terror attack) the pessimists will be inaccurate.
- The sad story of George Price, who used several mathematical and biological models to derive a mathematical equation that predicted that altruistic behavior and kindness do not actually come from true selflessness and concern for others, but are only naturally selected in order to promote one's own genetic heritage (people are more likely to be altruistic towards individuals with more similar genetic makeup, which explains why people often care more about their family than others). This theory predicts that there is no inherent selflessness in humans, and the altruistic acts are actually evolutionarily self-serving. Unable to accept such discovery, Price decided to randomly perform altruistic acts, which led him to give away most his possessions. When he was broke and kicked out of his rented house, he decided to take his own life. People said it was because of his despondency over his inability to continue helping the homeless.
- Some have tried to poetically paint Friedrich Nietzsche this way. It sounds good: "He got so close to the Truth, a Truth he didn't believe in!" or something like that. He would have probably disagreed very much, being quite the despiser of any clichéd thought, but who knows? He really did pump out quite a few writings in the 1880s, and yet was very definitely insane by the end of that decade. Ultimately he succumbed to the brain disease that ailed him (identified as syphilis at the time, but whatever it was, it was there).
- Hallucinogenic or disassociative drugs have the potential to cause feelings of this; with some individuals, permanent psychosis can result.
- While not exactly "mad", Scientologists contend that anyone who reads the Xenu story without proper preparation (i.e., $200,000 in "donations") will become physically and mentally weakened. This may have something to do with a kind of "shock treatment" backfire similar to the VR in 20th Century Boys. However, there were originally plans to make a Film of the Book in order to let the public in on the
joke secret. Hubbard changed his mind when he realized how much money he was making off the "audits".
- Wikipedia. Some pages aren't for the meek of the psyche, such as, say, the aptly-titled Ultimate Fate of the Universe.
- Possibly Buckminster-Fuller.
- The Unabomber, after his Motive Rant in the CIA's Project MKULTRA.
- The sheer size of the Universe can drive people mad, as a certain unfortunate monk experienced it. For example, watch this video of star size comparison: Link
- Some speculate this was the reason Nicolay Gogol burned the second and third volumes of "Dead Souls". Others, however, claim it was because he realized he couldn't redeem the characters and thus the plot arc was futile.
- A more mundane example happens whenever people suffer extensive bodily trauma. During that time, the body releases adrenaline that dulls the pain so your unaware of the extent of your injuries until after you escaped a dangerous situation. In addition, there is also the psychological shock where your mind is essentially refusing the reality of the situation by disconnecting from your emotions and whatever else is going on around you. This was best exemplified in Saving Private Ryan, where during the Normandy Invasion a soldier casually wanders around the battlefield looking for his severed arm after having it blown off.
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