And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the Ring passed out of all knowledge.
A thousand years ago, the Glorious Hero led a rebellion against the oppression of the Evil Emperor McDoom
, rallying an army of downtrodden peasants, Storming the Castle
of the dark empire, and defeating the emperor in hand-to-hand combat. His wise leadership ushered in a Golden Age
of peace and prosperity that lasted for four generations, and he is remembered fondly to this day as the great founder and establisher of freedom in the land.
...huh? Wait a second, that's not right at all! See, this isn't just a backstory; his story was actually told in the previous series. He didn't raise the rebellion; he just got caught up in it, and the attack on the castle was just a diversion so he could catch the emperor alone and assassinate him with a dagger in the back. (It was the most expedient way to get rid of the guy.)
And no one called him "glorious hero" until many years later, when he had dedicated most of the rest of his life to cleaning up the mess left behind by the power vacuum he helped create.
You know this as the reader, but the characters 1000 years later don't. No one from back then is still around today. The language has changed, and ancient records have never been all that good at remaining intact, so certain facts tend to get distorted over time.
The Trope Namer
is the introductory passage
at the beginning of each The Wheel of Time
book: The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
This trope only covers instances where the audience is already familiar with the original picture, and then can see the mythology it gets turned into by later generations.
See And Man Grew Proud
for when the legend of sorts was a catastrophe instead. Compare Future Imperfect
, when it's the audience's era being misremembered like this. Not to be confused with Shrouded in Myth
, which is when the mythologizing process happens while the subject of the myth is still alive.
Anime And Manga
- The origins of the Eastern Zodiac in Fruits Basket. Tohru's mother told her the legend of the Zodiac when she was little, which tells how the Rat tricked the Cat into missing the feast, which causes the Cat to be left out of the Zodiac. The Members of the Zodiac seem to believe this legend, as well, considering that it's one of the main reasons Yuki (the Rat) and Kyo (the Cat) hate each other's guts. However, the true story (which is revealed to the reader, but not the characters, toward the end of the series) turns out to be much different - most notably, the Cat was the closest one to God, until he asked Who Wants to Live Forever?, while the Rat just happened to be the first animal to be made immortal (after the Cat).
- After DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, due to the fact that so much of the old "Earth-1" continuity was pivotal to the Legion of Super-Heroes canon, the pre-Crisis version of history was presented as the 30th century's distorted legends of the "actual" (post-Crisis) continuity. (For a while, at least. But then some RetCons were made, and a Continuity Snarl set in, so who knows is this is still the case in the current version of the Legion.)
- In one Fantastic Four arc they come across a town suffering from Decade Inside Second Outside; inside the town the FF are considered legendary heroes (even more so than in Earth-616 Real Life) and are quite upset when they find out about how the FF are really.
- The religious myth held by the apes in the first Planet of the Apes movie turns out to be a distorted version of Caesar's rebellion and the human war that allowed apes to come to power as depicted in the sequels.
- The prologue to the Lord of the Rings movies says this is why things came to be as they were at the end of the Third Age: people forgot about past threats, and grew complacent. Sauron exploited that. An unusual example in some ways, as some Elves who witnessed the events in question are still around thousands of years later, but most Men have grown estranged from and fearful of them, and thus don't know the facts.
- Also used in a meta way, as Middle-earth is a fictional past of our world before the Ice Ages...but those events were forgotten save for vague legendary hints. This would have been expanded upon in The Book of Lost Tales and The Lost Road
- A comparatively modern example happens in The Rage: Carrie 2. Rachel mentions that a mountain of conspiracy theories has cropped up about "what really happened" during the events of the first film, sarcastically claiming that Carrie went up with Elvis Presley in a UFO. The only thing that everybody can agree on is that Carrie burned down her high school on prom night and then killed herself and her mother.
- As noted above, The Wheel of Time. The series describes history as a circular repetition of seven Ages, and the story is set in the Third Age, which is both after and before our own time. One minstrel in the first book claims to tell tales of an ancient Age which are recognizable as distorted memories of the 20th century, and many of the events of the series bear a distinct resemblance to any number of what we know as ancient mythologies.
- Also happens in-universe every now and then, particularly with Birgitte, who's met half the heroes of the legends in person and probably been the other half.
- The Trope Namer comes from a line at the beginning of every book, but there's a short-term example of it at the end of most books too. Most of the novels end with a line about how rumors and legends spread about the important event at the climax of the book, and how they would be wrong and/or contradict each other about most details, but would usually get the most important detail right. Legend fading to myth within a year or so, in-universe.
- The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson, is set 300-odd years after the Mistborn trilogy. The events of the trilogy have taken on mythological and religious significance to the later generations. The most humorous of these changes is the ancient High Speech; when an example of it is given, it's quickly recognizable to readers as the silly-sounding thieves' cant used by a few characters in the original trilogy!
- In Dragonsinger from the Dragonriders of Pern series, we are introduced to the legend of Moreta, the Dragonlady who saved Pern from a deadly epidemic at the cost of her own life. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (published at a later date) recounts the actual events that gave rise to the legend.
- Another backwards-example from Elizabeth Moon: Gird is considered to be either a saint or a god in The Deed of Paksenarrion, then the author went back and wrote the Legacy of Gird books to show what really happened.
- Foreshadowed in the books when ancient contemporaneous accounts of Gird are found in a lost fortress. Apparently their saint was a bit of a Boisterous Bruiser, which is not a surprise, and The Alcoholic, which is.
- In Till We Have Faces Orual lives long enough to see her sister's life become the Eros And Psyche myth.
- In "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" by Poul Anderson, a time traveler is actually responsible for events in a Gothic tribe that will later become mythologized in the Icelandic Völsunga saga ... events which are much more painful, human and error-filled at the time than later generations will realize.
- Septimus Heap:
- Five hundred years after Queen Etheldredda's death, her actual gain of immortality and trapping in the Palace attic have become a myth that is recounted in The Magykal Papers.
- The myth of the Black Fiend that lives in the Summerhouse of the Palace seems like a follow-up of Ullr's exploits 500 years earlier.
- Used several times in The Lord of the Rings: Even when elves are immortal and remember the distant past, they cannot be everywhere, so Gandalf only learns how to identify the One Ring by reading a scroll that is obscure even to the lore-masters, for their scripts and tongues have become dark to later men. A lot of legends are lost because they don’t have a translation to the common tongue, Celeborn claims that “Old wives keep in memory word of things than once were needful for the wise to know”, and it seems that only the hobbits, with their obsession for stories and relationships, wrote history books. The book even shows that The Lord of the Rings' story will eventually be forgotten and replaced by Myth:
The second disappearance of Mr.Bilbo Baggins was discussed in Hobbiton, and indeed all over the Shire, for a year and a day, and was remembered much longer than that. It became a fireside-story for young hobbits; and eventually Mad Baggins, who used to vanish with a bang and a flash and reappear with bags of jewels and gold, became a favorite character of legend and lived on long after all the true events were forgotten.
- At the start of A Canticle for Leibowitz, after the Simplification, humanity's knowledge of its own history has so far degraded that they think the Flame Deluge was caused by supernatural forces. It's ultimately inverted, though, in that after another several hundred years, they manage to piece together what really happened just in time for it to happen all over again.
- The Saga Of Recluce uses this a lot, as each book mentions a legend or a myth and the actual event is recounted in a separate book, often bearing little resemblance between the event and the legend/myth. Once such instance is the Legend itself.
- In Holes the main character says that he had a great-great-grandfather who had stolen a pig from a one-legged Gypsy, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants. The book tells us that it was actually that his great-great-grandfather had been given a pig by an old Egyptian woman missing a foot. He was supposed to carry her up a mountain and let her drink from a stream. If he failed to do this he and his would be doomed for all of eternity.
- A shorter term version of this happens to Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files. We, the readers, know that every time he comes out on top at the end of the book, it's by the skin of his teeth and the help of his friends and allies, he barely survives, and he usually has a hospital stay and not much else to show for it after all's said and done. Others, like members of the White Council, don't know all that, so they see him as this badass superwizard who rides zombie dinosaurs and takes down nigh-invincible enemies single-handedly. This leads to amusing situations like a group of combat veteran Wardens hesitating to arrest him when Harry, in fact, is concussed and can barely stand up straight.
- The fifth series of Warrior Cats is a prequel to the series called Dawn of the Clans. In the first book, The Sun Trail, a she-cat named Rainswept Flower falls into a hole on the moor. After main character Gray Wing saves her, his friends Shattered Ice and Jackdaw's Cry figure out that they can get shelter by tunneling under the moor. Thus, tunneling is invented. The following release, Tallstar's Revenge, takes place in a more familiar time, which is many years after Dawn of the Clans. In it, a hilariously skewed version of tunneling's origin is told where Shattered Ice is some lone action hero who braves a blizzard to dig a hole which saves everyone from starvation. Since it was mentioned in Secrets of the Clans that stories of the dawn of the Clans are told differently every time, and we've seen several of these stories, it can be reasonably assumed that we'll learn how ridiculously twisted some of the other ones are as well.
- Warhammer 40,000 is full of this.
- The Emperor was not a god, half his campaigning was in order to eliminate the concept of religion (and one of his children turned against him because he ordered him to stop worshipping him). These days, he's the central figure of humanity's state religion.
- Many of the more primitive worlds ascribe Space Marine landings as the God Emperor sending his Angels of Death, sometimes the Marines looking for initiates are remembered as selecting the worthiest to live with them in paradise.
- Done Heartbreakingly in a novel where a set of toys are seen in a shop...which date back to and originated in the Soviet Union. When asked what the letters (CCCP) stand for, the shop's owner says "No one remembers anymore."
- Forgotten Realms has several, including the incident where elves imprisoned three fiends, but the warning became a legend, then a fairy tale, then Curse Escape Clause was fulfilled and three very pissed off nycaloths were released, so they assembled The Army of Darkness which eventually crushed Myth Drannor. For that matter, City of Song itself, despite being relatively recent, became semi-mythological, or at least unpleasant details tend to be left out — that keying selective spells to attack "allied" races being outlawed after some precedents, or that Cormanthyr ended up ruled by a council because Srinshee was exasperated enough to claim its throne by blade-rite only to give a public speech outlining her disgust over their behaviour and teleport away.
- Lampshaded in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Gaepora is giving exposition via the legend that has been handed down through the ages in Skyloft, as instructions on what Link is supposed to do. Then Fi, who was actually around when the legend was written, comments that oral tradition is not a very efficient method of data preservation, and proceeds to recite the same legend, but far more detailed.
- This trope is also used to explain the apparent plot holes in the various games' backstories: most of the games take place hundreds or even thousands of years apart, and history has been muddled a bit since the actual events occured.
- This is present in the game Shining Force. The game opens with a tale of the defeat of Dark Dragon, who vowed to return in 1,000 years. The opening then states that after ten centuries of peace, Dark Dragon was "forgotten by all".
- The gods are perhaps a straighter example since they're really just regular people who developed highly advanced technology in ages past - most of which has been forgotten or lost even by their descendants.
- The final scene of Mass Effect 3 implies that this will ultimately happen to Shepard, since the scene shows a grandparent telling a child the story of "The Shepard." This is also used to explain the various differences caused by the player's choices through their individual playthrough.
- The events of Transformers Generation 1 have faded into myth during the Beast Wars and Beast Machines era. When Starscream returned by possessing Waspinator, he fooled Megatron into believing that Starscream was a loyal Decepticon who fell in battle against Unicron. Black Arachnia knew enough history (Galvatron killed Starscream for betraying him) to call him out on his lie.