Like a Fish Takes to Water

A character, usually a somewhat unassuming one, is inserted into an unusual situation or world. But rather than having difficulty adjusting, the character possesses knowledge, a personality type or physical prowess that allows him to leap up the social ladder to a far higher station than the one he had back home.

See also The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Can also be a Mighty Whitey (if a European does this in a non-European society) or a case of Villains Blend in Better (if a villain does this when a hero becomes a Fish out of Water). Compare Never Accepted in His Hometown. Contrast Fish out of Water.


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    Comic Books 
  • Both Travis Morgan and later Mariah make the changing to living in the Lost World of Skataris very easily in The Warlord. Mariah's easy adjustment catches Morgan by surprise as he did not suspect that the archaeologist was also a champion sabre fencer.
  • Superman and other Kryptonian characters are relatively ordinary under the light of a red sun (such as that of their home planet of Krypton). Under a yellow sun like that of Earth they acquire powers and abilities "far beyond those of mortal men."

    Fan Works 
  • Turnabout Storm: Unlike Phoenix, the Judge takes the whole "Unwillingly summoned to a land full of colorful equines" issue lightly. He adjusts to Equestria almost instantly, and is thrilled to explore and meet its inhabitants.
    Judge: Aren't these ponies just remarkable, Mr. Wright? They have shown me nothing but a good time!
    Phoenix: All they've done for me is make fun of my hair...
  • A common plot point in the numerous "Gappy Stu" fanfics of the Touhou series. An outsider is transported to Gensokyo and almost immediately begins resolving incidents, seducing the locals, etc.

  • Evil Dead's Ashley J Williams is an subversion. At the end of Army of Darkness, he could have become a king, but he chose to go back and become a clerk at S-Mart again.
  • In The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Mr. Limpet [a human played by Don Knotts] is fascinated by fish, and at one point says, "I wish, I wish I was a fish." He gets his wish, and acclimates very quickly.
  • In RED, the love interest crosses this with Unfazed Everyman when thrust into the life of espionage. She is surrounded by old and young spies, assassins and government agents who are fighting over her life all the time. She is kidnapped, drugged, shot at, almost blown up, and kidnapped again. What does she say when she is confronted with the death sentence or life in prison if she is caught? "Awesome." And when she is? That her boyfriend will kick the interrogator's ass.

  • H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. He quickly goes from State Trooper to Great King.
  • John Carter of Mars gains superstrength on Mars, thanks to Earth's higher gravity. When he arrives on Mars he's an ordinary warrior (albeit with exceptional fighting skills). By the end of the third book, he's Jeddak of Jeddaks, Warlord of Barsoom, and in charge of the Twin Cities of Helium and Lesser Helium. In later books he conquers even more cities/civilizations.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, Carcer goes from a wanted criminal to an important member of the secret police when sent back in time. The police officer chasing him, Vimes, probably doesn't count: while he does quickly pick up a position in the watch as sergeant and largely organizes the people against the city forces, he's not necessarily in a better or worse position than he started.
    • Not to mention Carrot Ironfoundersson. Raised by dwarfs, knew the city of Ankh-Morpork like the back of his hand within weeks of his arrival.
  • Lampshaded in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Cao is referred to by a man known for evaluating people thus: "You would be a capable minister in peaceful times and an unscrupulous hero in chaotic times." Cao Cao bears it out: before the Yellow Turban Rebellion, he's a loyal, if minor, magistrate. As the land descends to chaos, he comes out on top of the feudal lords of central and northern China. His line would eventually supplant the Han.
    • This is fairly common in the book. The civil war offered opportunity to minor nobility to go far farther than they would have normally, assuming they had the talent to survive the turmoil. Of the other two emperors of the titular Three Kingdoms, one was the son of a merchant. The other was distantly related to the emperor, and starts the novel selling shoes and weaving straw mats.
  • Quite a few people who lived normal, uneventful lives in the year 2000 in Virginia become extremely rich and/or influential when thrust back in time to 1632 Europe in the 1632 novel series, due to their knowledge or political acumen.
  • In Dune, one of the signs of Paul's Messiahdom is that he is able to, among other things, perfectly utilize a stillsuit without instructions.
    • The full awesomeness of the Dune Prophecy is "He will know your ways as if born to them."
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court has the title character replace Merlin as court mage, eventually gaining much power and even an army.
  • World War Z mentions people like this, mostly paranoid survivalists or gangs of thugs who managed to carve out an area for them to 'rule' when civilization collapsed.
  • In Abarat, everyone notices how quickly outsider Candy gets used to Abarat. Most outsiders take weeks to fully adjust to its quirks. Foreshadowing, of course, since Candy was an Abarattian princess in a former lifetime.
  • Leviathan: Deryn never fit in as a typical Edwardian young lady, but when she sneaks into the Air Service, she not only fits in with the other middies but is shown to be the best of them all.
  • In the Guardians of the Flame series, a group of college students is transported into a fantasy world and end up using their modern knowledge to establish a kingdom dedicated to liberty and equality - and defended with gunpowder and machinery.
  • The old girlfriend Jonathan Thomas Meriwether accidentally helped summon in the first book of Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series became acclimated to that universe's way of life rather easily, to the point of happily going off with a talking rabbit at the end of the second.
  • In the Emberverse novels, some characters and groups take more readily to the end of technology than others. Especially noteworthy is Norman Arminger, who parlays an influential position in the Portland chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism and a decent theoretical knowledge of medieval combat tactics into a neo-feudal kingdom that emerges from the chaos as one of the major military and economic powers in the region.
  • In the beginning of Mostly Harmless, Arthur Dent has settled down on the planet Lamuella and discovered that his skill at making sandwiches earns him near-worship by the primitive natives.
  • Harry Potter spent 11 years being told magic didn't exist. Within a few months of learning that brooms could be used for flight, he became the youngest Quidditch Seeker in a century and proceeded to have a nearly undefeated run (the only times he ever lost were due to outside influence, such as Dementor attacks or taking a bludger to the skull).
    • Hermione Granger is muggle-born, and so likewise grew up without even knowing she was a witch until age eleven. Her naturally studious nature makes her the best and most knowledgeable student in her class.
  • In Domina, Adam Anders was just a rich kid with mild sociopathic tendencies who got thrown into a city of criminals who like using a Bio-Augmentation device to turn themselves into monsters, and then the Composer showed up with zombies. Turns out sociopaths are pretty good at killing without remorse. He even makes quite a bit of money on the side hunting non-human monsters.
  • Waldo Butters from The Dresden Files lacks any major talent in magical abilities in a world of gods, angels, demons, necromancers, The Fair Folk, and a whole slew of other things in the Fantasy Kitchen Sink. However, his analytical mind and understanding of proper theory is beyond the hero Harry Dresden, who is a very powerful and dangerous wizard. So, with the right aide in magical theory and proper battery he goes from one trying to deny magic exists despite being attacked by a necromancer who revived his coworker as a zombie, to a curious coroner who studied Harry for some biological answers to making some minor Magitek, to dressing light Batman to fight evil when Harry was out of commission, to becoming a Jewish Jedi Knight of the frikking Cross complete with a holy blade in the form of a lightsaber.
  • Jerin Whistler of A Brother's Price is a country bumpkin, and when he receives an invitation to spend some time at the royal palace, he is bored at first, because there is absolutely nothing to do. Then, as tends to happen in novels, he finds out about an intrigue against the royal family, and puts to use his hobbies, which include code breaking and lockpicking, as some of his ancestors were spies and the family upholds traditions.

    Live Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • In Brütal Legend, Eddie has no problem getting used to his new surroundings, and even picks up battle-axe usage oddly quickly. It's foreshadowing, of course. Both his mother and father were from that world; his dad was a human hero, while his mother was the queen of demons and said battle-axe had belonged to her.
  • Olimar becomes a pikmin-chucking badass pretty quickly for a humble space freighter.
  • The Player Character in Knights of the Old Republic takes quite well to Jedi training for a junior Republic Navy crewman. Of course, the Tomato Surprise arguably subverts this.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, when Betty jumps through a wormhole into the present, she has no trouble adjusting to the land of Ooo and immediately manages to beat a monster whose Anti-Magic had thwarted a whole legion of wizards. Within a few months, she's elbow-deep into research about the origins of magic, something she apparently was investigating pre-Mushroom War. This doesn't work out as well for her.
  • Fry from Futurama makes several comments throughout the series about how he fits in better in the future. While he's still a naive delivery boy, he is much happier with his now futuristic life. He eventually is the most important person in the universe. For more than one reason.
    • "That Guy" is a Disco Dan who should be even more out of touch than Fry, having been frozen since The '80s. Nevertheless, his business acumen and ruthlessness serve him well, and he's able to run a business despite initially not even knowing what it does. The only reason it didn't last is he forgot to have his terminal disease cured.
  • South Park: In "Go God Go", Cartman has great trouble adjusting to life 500 years in the future. In "Go God Go XII", he has lived there for some time, has formed a tenuous alliance with the Otters and gets around much more confidently.
  • In one episode of Timon & Pumbaa, Simba finds himself with the duo in Rome, Italy. Simba is not at all bothered by his Fish out of Water setting as opposed to this usual appearances in either the Pridelands or the Jungle, and adapts to his location quite well. Even going along with Timon and Pumbaa's antics!
  • Over the Garden Wall: Wirt is socially awkward in his hometown, but is considered a pilgrim of sorts in the Unknown; at least, according to the members of the tavern.
    You're a pilgrim! You're the master of your own fate!
    The maker of your own destiny!

Alternative Title(s):

Like A Duck Takes To Water