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Here There Were Dragons
"The trouble with humans is that it's all or nothing with them. They seem to think that anything impossible could happen in the old days. And just because these are new days, they tell you none of it is true."

Once upon a time, there was magic. Kings had wizards as courtiers. Knights and saints slew dragons. Shame those days have gone by, huh?

Here There Were Dragons is the idea that the past was a time when magic was everywhere, as opposed to our boring old mundane present. This isn't a case where magic went underground or adopted some Masquerade to avoid yet another Witch Hunt; no, this is a case where magic has disappeared almost entirely. But, who knows? It could always come back around again or at least the dragons could, if there were actual dragons...

Compare with Götterdämmerung, where it's the gods that have left or died. See also The Time of Myths. If the story is about the magic going away it's, well, The Magic Goes Away. See also End of an Age.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • InuYasha. Seems like you couldn't go anywhere in Sengoku-period Japan without tripping over a demon. Five hundred years later, though, there's nary a one to be found, or any evidence that they had ever existed. A bit odd in that the characters have run into one the show's Plot Coupons in the present (although it was being guarded by a sealed demon). However, they once saw the soul piper in the modern day, so there are exceptions.
  • Otogi Juushi Akazukin takes place in two worlds, the world of technology and the world of magic. The two worlds were once one, however were split into two by 'God' after a single human proved just how terrifyingly much potential humanity had if they were given access to both technology AND magic.
  • In Outlaw Star the Caster Gun used by Gene is rumored to either have been forgotten technology or magical in nature. It's eventually revealed that the 'old magic' of the universe was fading and the last masters of said magic encapsulated what remained of it into caster shells so that they could still use it. Note that old magic did fade away but Tao Magic, presumably based on an inner persons capabilities, is still around and effective.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Egypt was ruled using magical artifacts and monsters and such. There was even a magician in the Pharaoh's court. The Pharaoh then locked the magic away. This lasted about 5,000 years.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • The Three Kings: Hunt the author has said that at the time of Camelot around 3 in 10 of the human population had some form of magical power. Needless to say this is no longer the case due to the genocide against the mages. These days the mage population is probably in the hundreds of thousands, with the wizard population in the low millions and the non-magicals outnumbering both by a lot.

    Film 
  • Dragonslayer is all about the transition from a magical world to this. Galen, a sorcerer's apprentice, isn't happy about magic fading from the world. Some of the villagers, though, are quite happy they won't have to be worrying about random dragon attacks anymore. In the end all the magic disappears... or has it?
  • The Flight of Dragons deals with the transition between the magical world and the world of science, framed by the wizard Carolinus as 'mankind faces an epic choice'. In the finale, when the protagonist uses logic and mathematical formulas to literally will the Big Bad out of existence, the world of magic is sealed away from mankind forever.
  • The Djinn in Wishmaster discusses how the magic and spells of the past are now forgotten, and there is nothing left to stop him with.

    Literature 
  • Subverted In Dragon Slippers, Creel is convinced that dragons have been extinct for decades, as no one has sen one in living memory. Because of this, she's not too troubled by her aunt 'sacrificing' her to said dragon, as it means she can go off to seek her fortune.... and she's promptly carried away. oops.
  • Robert E. Howard's original Conan the Barbarian stories are said to have taken place in Earth's prehistory.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's letters indicated that the same was true of The Lord of the Rings.
    • The effect actually happens within The Lord of the Rings; at the time of the War of the Ring the magic was almost completely faded from the world. For a random example, at one point there were so many Balrogs they had their own army instead of only one, and the current dark lord is only a pale imitation of the old one, who was order of magnitude stronger still.
    • Tolkien retconned the purpose of the quest in The Hobbit to be Gandalf's move to deny Sauron a weapon of mass destruction by making this literally true.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell opens with Britain's rich history of magic having faded away by the Regency Era. Then it slowly trickles back… This trope is well summed up by a book written by a man who found spells he had once been able to cast becoming ineffective, titled A Faire Wood Withering.
  • The Dark Tower has the Prim, a magic that was lost when the Old Ones brought in science.
  • Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away setting posits that magic is powered by something called Mana which is very much like other natural resources. When it was plentiful on Earth, wizards cast mighty spells and great gods ruled the Earth, but as foolish and wasteful uses drained Earth's irreplaceable mana supply, magical creatures became mundane and gods withered away into "myth", leaving nothing of the great magical civilization but confounded savages standing in crumbling empires.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In the opening of the series, dragons have been extinct for over a century, and magic has faded to such a degree that some people think that it doesn't exist. As the series progresses, however: dragons return to the world, causing magic return to its previous potency.
    • In the fourth book, it's actually hinted that The Maesters are actively trying to get rid of magic.
  • Fritz Leiber's Newhon stories are kind of an odd case, since they are set in a different universe, yet have easily indentifiable real-world cultures like the Conan stories, and in at least one story, the characters are explicitly in Ancient Greece. (Many years later, while compiling a collected edition of the stories, Leiber wrote a prequel explaining that they were temporarily transported to Earth by their Trickster Mentor Ningauble, though remaining vague on how or why.)
    • Ningauble's cavern tunnels lead to many different worlds. The boys got lost and went down the wrong tunnel. When they emerged, their memories changed to match the world where they wound up.
  • The Age of Misrule plays this ramrod-straight. The only possible subversion is that, then, it starts to come back. And then gets sealed away again, but that's another story...
  • The Shannara series has this with a long gone and nearly forgotten age of mythical creatures before the advent of man. The only remnants of it are the elves, Elfstones, and a magic tree that keeps demons sealed within another dimension.
  • In the Liveship Traders series, people use a funky kind of magical wood found in the Rain Wild for all sorts of things, such as building ships that come alive and birth control. They eventually find out that (a) dragons used to exist (they find this out when they find a survivor), and (b) the wood was essentially dragons in utero and they pretty much killed a bunch of dragons in order to create things.
  • The trilogy The New Heroes is set in a world where superheroes existed, but twenty years prior to the first book, they all disappeared for a reason unknown. The reason is later revealed, along with the fallout. And of course, given the title, The MagicHeroes Come Back
  • In The Death Gate Cycle, Earth was full of magical beings up until about The Renaissance, then they faded out, only coming back After the End for the series.
  • In The Unicorn Chronicles series, unicorns and dragons once lived on earth but human persecution forced them to migrate to Another Dimension.
  • Pretty much the whole premise of Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! novel. Big dragons can no longer exist, right...?
    • The first two Discworld books exhibit this in general. In The Colour of Magic Rincewind encounters dryads in a tree and says he thought that The Fair Folk were all extinct (which they are shortly afterward). They encounter dragons later in that same book, but they are imaginary and can only exist inside the Wyrmburg's magical field. In The Light Fantastic it's implied that trolls are also on their way out, many of them having already become immobile. Later books drop this, save for the case of Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, who are the last of the Barbarian Heroes and somewhere in their 80s.
      • The dying out of barbarian heroes is less a shift from a magical world to a mundane one, and more a shift from a Heroic Fantasy world to a Dungeon Punk one. In other words, in the later books it's less that trolls are dying out, and more that they've stopped living under bridges and eating people, and started living in Ankh-Morpork and joining organised crime or the Watch.
  • Invoked almost literally in Faith of the Fallen in the Sword of Truth series. In the setting, dragons are biological creatures that depend on magic to fly and survive. Because of events far too complicated to explain here, magic is slowly dying out in the world and Richard, while traveling, comes across the remains of a dragon and wonders if this means they're all dead. A few books later, we find out they're still around.
  • Played with in The First Law Trilogy. There WAS an Age of Wonder, where demons walked amongst men, monsters roamed, and great magic was wrought by the Magi... but that was a long time ago, and as far as the 'civilized' people of The Union knows, may well just be myth and legend. And indeed, they're not entirely wrong - according to Bayaz, First of the Magi, the magic is literally leaking out of the world - and even those that remains of the Magi of old, are slowly growing weaker and weaker. Still, more remains of the old world than most people realize... which could come back to bite a lot of people in the ass. And the rest of their anatomy, for that matter. Ultimately, most of the problems that appear has to be solved through mundane means - politics, money, violence, or a combination of those. Attempts to call upon ancient magics or find forgotten artifacts of power tend to either backfire badly, or just fail outright.
  • Implied in pretty much all mythologies. The big Elephant in the Living Room, back when those myths were believed, was that in the past you had heroes and magic and gods running around, but by the time of those telling the story, all such things had vanished with no explanation.
  • Our world in The Talisman is a place where there used to be a lot more magic. Wolf can only detect the dying remnants when he makes some medicine for Jack out of weeds.

    Live Action TV 
  • A rare example that sets the modern era in the "age of magic" is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. According to the spin-off comic, Fray, at some point in the future the magic gets sealed away. At present, it appears that this point in the future is the end of Buffy Season 8.
  • The opening narration to the first episode of Carnivàle says that man "forever traded wonder for reason" on the day of the A-bomb test at Trinity.
  • The opening narration of Merlin "In a land of myth, in a time of magic..." seems to indicate this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Earthdawn and Shadowrun are two roleplaying games that take place in a world where magic ebbs and flows over the eons. The term "Worlds" is used to distinguish a period when the mana levels are high enough to support magic or nearly nonexistent. Earthdawn takes place in the Fourth World, when the Five Races (and others) are commonplace and magic is a steady trade. The Fifth World is the present day (well, an Alternate History version of "the present day" that splits off around 1999), when magic is nearly nonexistent. The Sixth World of Shadowrun begins in 2012, with the return of dragons, magic, and the Five Races.
    • Interestingly enough, the current owners to the rights for Earthdawn have a product in development called Equinox. Not much is known about it yet, except that it's supposed to take place in the Eighth World.
      • As the current rights owners for Shadowrun and Earthdawn are different (Catalyst Labs and Red Brick Limited, respectively), it's likely that the games are no longer interconnected as they used to be.
  • Rifts Earth was once a magical place, until the sealing of Atlantis also took most of the magic away, too. It came back in a big way: the reemergence of magic and the opening of several (hundred/thousand) interdimensional portals was caused by the mystical aftershocks of millions of lives being simultaneously wiped out by atomic bombs being used on population centers... at noon on the winter solstice during a total eclipse of the sun and at least one planetary alignment, effectively a mass human sacrifice at the worst possible time, when mystic energy was more or less under a 100x multiplier. Unfortunately, planets use things like Earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes as magic pressure release valves...
  • GURPS recently put out a new supplement; Thaumatology - Age of Gold. The setting is a 1930's pulp reality with magic on the way back. The triggering even was discovery of Philosopher's Stone in ancient tombs - apparently common enough in the distant past, its rediscovery is leading to a renaissance of magic research and even the emergence of magically-powered super-heroes.
    • In GURPS Technomancer, since the magic came back, most people assume the legendary past was actually high mana, even though there's no evidence to support this.
  • The Warhammer Fantasy world, while still plentifully enmagicked, has lost a lot of it since the olden days because of the elves partially sealing the Chaos Rift, greatly decreasing magical potency and also preventing daemons from rampaging across the world.
  • Replacing magic with technology, you have The Dark/Golden Age of Technology of Warhammer 40K, when Mankind had access to unbelievably awesome technology. Nowadays finding the tiniest scrap of it makes a man rich beyond his wildest dreams. Why is it called the Dark Age? Because men's use of technology meant they didn't worship the God Emperor (the truth is a bit more complicated, the Emperor didn't want anyone worshipping him in those days, and wanted science to replace religion).

    Video Games 
  • Dwarf Fortress randomly generates a world history for each new game. If the world history includes the death of most Forgotten Beasts and Megabeasts and humanity has become a dominant civilization, the game enters the Age of Twilight.
    • Two additional Ages dealing with this trope exist beyond that. The Age of Fairy Tales begins when magical creatures make up less than 10% of the world population. The Age of Civilization begins when there are no magical creatures at all.
  • God of War seems to have an interesting explanation as to why there are no Greek gods anymore: Kratos.
  • In Chrono Trigger there was the Kingdom of Zeal, a Floating Continent whose existence was based around the use of magic. There are almost no clues of its existence in any other eras (though Lost Technology and a few refugees make appearances here and there), and this being a Time Travel story, you eventually find out why.
    • It also inverts the trope: you go back far enough, you come out to before there was magic (this is why the party member from that time, Ayla, can never learn it). Psionics, on the other hand, exists... and is used by the dinosaur-people Reptites. The only reason humanity survives to reach the age of magic as opposed to the more advanced Reptite civilization? Sheer luck - Lavos took out the Reptite capitol when it hit Earth and the Ice Age killed the rest. This is a (very confusing) plot point in Chrono Cross.
  • In The Longest Journey, magic was integral part of our world... ca. twelve thousand years ago. But since Man Grew Proud, all magic and magic wielders had to be exiled into Another Dimension called Arcadia to prevent humanity from destroying itself. The Earth as we know it (which is called Stark to differentiate between it and the real Earth) became the world of science and the onset of the game sees Arcadia starting to "leak back" into Stark.
    • Dreamfall: The Longest Journey has the Barrier restored to full strength, cutting off magic from Stark. However, this results in the Collapse, with most advanced technology (e.g. Anti Gravity, Faster-Than-Light Travel) simply ceasing to work. Many fans speculate that this means that these technologies are impossible through pure science and that humans in Stark were using magic without knowing it. This would partly explain the alarming frequency of Anti Gravity accidents, as magic is inherently unstable.
    • By that same token, Arcadia in the sequel is much different. Magic and magical creates were everywhere in the first game. However, in-between the games, a horde has devastated the land, leaving it vulnerable to the magic-hating Azadi Empire, who chase away the horde but refuse to leave afterwards. All magic-users and magical creates are herded into ghettos. This is despite the fact that all Azadi "inventions" are, obviously, Magitek due to the fact that laws of physics are in constant flux in Arcadia, thus necessitating the use of magic to stabilize them enough for things like steam engines to work.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, the world of Sylvarant goes through this repeatedly. An evil organization known as the Desians prey on the world's mana and slowly makes magic weaker. Each time the situation becomes sufficiently dire, The Chosen One is born to perform a pact with the goddess Martel that seals away the Desians and fully restores the mana to the world — for a time. They always return eventually, neccessitating the birth of a new Chosen. A series of plot twists eventually reveal the whole truth behind this situation, and suffice it to say it's far more complex than how it's initially presented.
  • The premise of the Golden Sun franchise is that the power of Alchemy was sealed away in the distant past. Among the select few who know about the seal, conflict arises between those who want to remove the seal and those who want to maintain it.
  • While magic still exists in the Overlord, actual dragons are extinct. And in Overlord II the dwarves join them. While other magical beings such as the Elves, Unicorns, Gnomes, Fairies, Mermaids, the Overlord himself and the Minions still exist they suffer anti-magic persecution in the same game.
  • This is the setting of Brütal Legend: The giant mythical beast has been dead for millenia, titans had born, built a civilization, kicked ass and ascended to a higher plane of existence, the landscape is littered with their giant relics and the rebellion against the demons has already failed. And then The Hero shows up and inspires some.. well.. legends of his own.
  • In the Chzo Mythos it is shown that magic used to be common and achievable in our world. Then the magic waned and almost entirely went away, which is shown to be a good thing, because the lack of magic would cause the Eldritch Abomination to die if he ever crossed over to our dimension.
  • Vagrant Story centers around the last place of magic left in the world - Lea Monde. The trick is that we've seen what the world looked like with magic; it was called Final Fantasy Tactics (which was itself an example to Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics A2, which had much more advanced magic and magitechnology). What happened in the intervening centuries between each of them is unknown. (Funny enough given the trope name, there are lots of dragons in Vagrant Story.)
  • Obviously, in Spyro the Dragon, there still are dragons, but this applies to the Forgotten Worlds in Spyro: Year of the Dragon. The dragons left the Forgotten Worlds long ago, and as a result the worlds' magic is dying out.
  • The Dragon Age setting has elements of this trope, along with Death of the Old Gods. Griffins died out and dragons had been hunted into extinction centuries ago. However, the current century is named the "Dragon Age" specifically because of the return of dragons to the world.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has Dragon burial mounds scattered across the landscape, having been hunted to near-extinction thousands of years ago and considered to be near-myth by the inhabitants of Skyrim. Now something is bringing them back to life and those people who considered them myth become suddenly very aware that they may have built their town right next to one.
  • Legacy Of A Thousand Suns takes place eons in the future, but before humans came to earth they existed on Tor'gyll with other magical creatures, including dragons, elves, dwarves and orcs.
  • In a way, the civilization of Metroid fits into this; the wonders of the Chozo have faded away to myth and stories, and from Metroid Prime it was shown the Chozo society was, despite their unmatchable technology, one closer to that of a magical one, what with their prophecies and ghosts. Consider as well that there is Ridley, the last space dragon flying around, and as the games advance the amount of mythically focused things seems to go down, and you have this trope Recycled IN SPACE!.
  • In Dark Souls II, true dragons are practically extinct. The Guardian Dragons in the Dragon Aerie are mere wyverns. There is only one true dragon present in the game and there are hints that even that dragon might be a fake. The gods have suffered a similar fate. Barely any traces of their existence remain and even their names are long forgotten.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • In the backstory of Suburban Knights, magic once existed side by side with science. The gradual decline of magic started when the wizard Malecite challenged the alchemist Aeon in a duel and lost. Aeon's inventions laid the foundation of the world of science and technology as we know it today, while Malecite was forced to watch all magic fade away. Technically magic still exists, both in the backstories of most of the reviewers (though how canon to the specials those are is debatable) and in the movie itself. It just is that using magic drains life force, unless one has the Hand of Malecite to protect them. In the commentaries Linkara lampshades this detail and handwaves his own painless use of magic by saying his hat protects him.

    Western Animation 
  • The SWAT Kats have had to fight supernatural villains on a few occasions. The modern skyscrapers of Megakat City are built on the ruins of a medieval citadel, from which strange things sometimes emerge... The presence of magic in the city's past is so well-known and well-studied that the cops are unsurprised when confronted with undead skeletons and the museum includes ancient spellbooks among its exhibits.

    Real Life 
  • Look in any geology or paleontology book. Giant flying reptiles? Massive beasts trudging across the land? Horrid monsters lurking in the deep? Earth's distant past was one of these!
    • Of course, plenty of modern creatures would be equally outlandish to one who had never encountered them. Huge beasts with one massive horn jutting from their face? Hairy man-beasts in the jungle? Feathered, flying lizards with clawed pincers instead of a face? Familiarity, as one palaeontologist has observed, breeds familiarity.
    • It's also thought that the fossils left behind by these creatures may have inspired the legends of dragons and such in the first place.
      • Mammoth skulls found in Europe and the Mediterranean during the Iron Age are thought to have given rise to legends of the cyclops.
  • On a more personal level, Growing Up Sucks. Suddenly, the world isn't always such a magical, wonderful place when there are bills to pay and chores to do.

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