Mr. Negative, a Spider-Man/Punisher villain introduced in the "One More Day" storyline is regularly quoted saying "Mr. Negative was never born, so he is ever living!" He loves saying things like that. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Negative wasn't born, he was made. The human trafficker who took on the identity of Martin Li is the one who was born, but that's besides the point.
In one issue of Dagar The Invincible, in a story very much inspired by Macbeth, the warrior takes on a warlord called Magg-Deth whose medallion is proof against sorcery, but whose guilty conscience over murdering Ban-Dro, his rival, to take his throne plagues him with visions of the rival's visage and a sword that will slay him one day. Three beautiful witches that Dagar becomes involved with visit Magg-Deth with a prophecy about how only an entire nation can slay him, and only after that nation has entered the Dark Fortress that the warlord calls home. But as Dagar reveals during the final showdown with him, he is the sole survivor of the nation of Tulgonia, which makes him an entire nation. Needless to say, Magg-Deth dies by Dagar's blade soon after.
In one of the episodes Thrud the Barbarian meets a beast that "cannot be defeated by the hand of a mortal man" and promptly kills it with a kick.
In Thessaly: Witch for Hire, Thessaly is told that "no one and nothing" can defeat the monster coming after her... so she sends Fetch, a ghostly being who is quite literally no one and nothing.
In the comic book version of Batman The Brave And The Bold, Batman teams up with Kid Eternity, who has the power to summon great heroes of the past, to battle General Immortus. However, when Immortus reveals the Spear of Destiny prevents anyone born of woman from defeating him, Eternity can't think who to summon - "Even Hercules and Gilgamesh had mothers!" Batman suggests summoning the World War II hero G.I. Robot.
Used by a Villain in Les Légendaires as part of his Evil Plan: the God of Evil Anathos attempts to come back by reincarnating into one of the protagonists, but, as specified by the prophecy, only the one wearing his personnal mark can be his host. After finding out their Elven teammate Shimy is the one wearing the mark, Danael has her relocated out of range while he retains Anathos, and orders the others to kill her should Anathos arrive. Turns out Anathos had planned this all along, and also put his mark on an item Shimy offered to Danael. Since Danael wears the item, and as thus technically wears the mark, Anathos is able to possess him instead and come back despite the heroes' efforts.
Ironically, the Legendaries later end up defeating him through the same trope: during their final fight, Anathos states they can't defeat him because only a God can kill another God, thus him committing suicide would be the only option (as at this point no other God is around). He ends up being stabbed by Jadina with Danael's sword, which was forged with Danael's blood and as such count as part of his body.
The first story from the very first issue of Superboy uses this. Superman encounters an old high school friend of his named Margo Griffiths; back when they were teens she was told by a fortune teller that "Margo Griffiths will cease to exist," on her 21st birthday. All his other predictions wound up coming true, and with her 21st birthday coming up she's scared out of her mind. Superman is able help her out of her funk by convincing her to marry her fiancee. As the two are wed, he tells her "You don't have to worry about anything happening to Margo Griffiths anymore—- you're Margo Vaughn now!"
An indie comic called Pixy tells the story of a couple who has an abortion - the titular Pixy - who likes to call them up from the afterlife when drunk. On a road trip with his dad, Pixy happens upon the source of all life and information in the world: The Holy Hot Dog Stand, He Who Writes on the Milk Cartons, and extorts Him for candy with a bazooka. The Holy Hot Dog Stand, He Who Writes on the Milk Cartons says, "I'm the almighty, no one of woman born can harm me." Then guess what happens.
Hagar: I'm the rough and tough Hagar the Horrible, and I don't take any grief from any man!
Helga: How about taking out the garbage for your wife?
In the Daria fanfic The Thirteenth Man Mack develops godlike powers and is forced to fight another godlike being. When informed that his opponent cannot be defeated by any weapon made on Earth, Mack beats him to death with rocks from the moon.
Disney's The Princess and the Frog abuses this trope. Prince Naveen, turned into a frog, can only be freed of his curse when he kisses a legitimate princess. He kisses commoner Tiana, which turns her into a frog as well. Later, they discover that kissing Tiana's friend Lottie, the temporary princess of the Mardi Gras parade, could also lift the curse, but they are too late. They decide to get married as frogs, which leads to Tiana becoming a princess by marriage.. which ends up turning both back into humans.
In Ladyhawke, a curse can be lifted only if the characters confront the bad guy both in human form, which is impossible until a priest foresees "a day without a night; a night without a day" and the exact time it will happen. It turns out to be a solar eclipse.
It's a good thing the curse left them human when that happened, instead of stuck in their animal forms.
Bullet Proof Monk features a trio of prophecies which determine the one most worthy to protect a scroll that grants great power. These prophecies, performed off-screen by the nameless monk protagonist at the movie's beginning, are defeating an army of enemies while a flock of cranes circled overhead, fighting for love in the palace of jade, and saving his brothers whom he did not know. Later in the film, the monk watches while the other protagonist, Kar, performs modern day versions of these prophecies. Fighting a street gang under a circle of mechanical cranes. Fighting his Love Interest, Jade, in her mansion. Finally, he saves several of the monks' brothers from the Big Bad. The real kicker, however, is that Jade also performed all three, as shown during the flashback when Monk was explaining it. She lured away Funktastic and his crew after Kar beat his ass (then dropped his weapon). She equated love and respect while defending her lifestyle in her own house. And she was the one who rescued the monks, while Kar was fighting the Big Bad with Monk. Thus both of them become the scroll's next guardians.
Mind you, this twist requires that the prophecy knows that in English, "crane" can mean either a bird or a lifting vehicle. It's magic after all...
In Excalibur, "no weapon forged by man" can hurt Mordred. He's killed by Excalibur.
Mother Nature would like to add that a large icicle, rock, tree branch or angry boar passes the test, so this prophecy is less difficult to get around than one would think (however, all of these aren't exactly an advantage when fighting a good swordsman). Additionally, there's also poison, slings, non-metal arrows, garrote wires, fire, fisticuffs, starvation...
Not fully impossible, but close. In a German film Haunted Mill, said mill is haunted by evil ghosts who can only be destroyed by "snow in the summer". The heroes spend half of the film figuring how to lure the ghosts onto a REALLY HIGH mountain, only to discover that a fire extinguisher also works.
In Rock & Rule, the villainous Mok's computer predicts that the demon can only be turned back by "the magic of one voice, one heart, one soul," but then adds there is "no one" who can stop his plan. Mok doesn't count on Omar and Angel singing together as one voice, one heart and one soul.
Jonah King: No man of this Earth can kill me! Milton: I'm not of this earth!
The 2008 Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories, which revolves around Sandler's character telling seemingly-prophetic stories, has a couple examples. One story he tells involves Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing out of nowhere, which is later fulfilled by a Lincoln penny dropping off of a bridge he's standing under. Another, which involves him being set on fire, comes true when he is "fired" from his job.
The sorcerer Nevyn did some selfish things which resulted in his fiancée killing herself. When he learns that she will be reincarnated, he rashly swears "never to rest" until he has made restitution. It takes him 450 years to fulfill his promise, during which time she is reincarnated seven times. Nevyn's name literally translates to "no one" and this is played on several times. Including once when a guard tells Nevyn his lord will see no one. "Well then tell him No One is here to see him!"
In Daggerspell, there is a prophecy concerning the villainous lord Corbyn. "He shall not die in battle except by the sword, and no man's hand can slay him." He is eventually slain by a seventeen-year-old girl.
After it was discovered that the leader of the warband coming after Corbyn was (unknowingly) a half-elf, the sorcerer Nevyn pointed out that he would have qualified as well - but he'd never have succeeded unless he knew that he qualified. It's implied that there is a psychological component to the protection. The real key is that his father took away his original name, and said he would be "No one" which in turn shows up in more than a few prophecies and omens - significant, because he was actually a prince of the realm and a son of the king, although he was a younger son which makes this a bitter play on his position as a useless son (neither heir to the throne nor the back-up to the heir to the throne) even before he became a literal no-one. Lampshaded by himself many years later when the country is in danger of being torn apart because of a succession crisis. It's a bitter irony that the person who technically has the strongest claim to the throne is the nobody herbman who, by virtue of the reasons for his impossible lifespan, would also be an impossible choice for the throne.
Given the overwhelming influence of Shakespeare on Moby-Dick, it's no surprise that one of Ahab's crew members makes a similar prophecy concerning Ahab's death.
There's several in Moby-Dick, all by Fedallah, but the one that stick out most poignantly is "I go before thee, my captain." No, Ahab, that doesn't mean you're invincible while Fedallah's alive, it just means he'll die before you.
The Macbeth example is purposely referenced, complete with a similar prophecy, in E. L. Konigsberg's book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.
In Stardust by Neil Gaiman, a character is imprisoned "until the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together". She is freed when Robert Monday marries Victoria Forrester (making her Victoria Monday), and Yvaine, who is a star and therefore the daughter of the moon, admits that she's fallen in love. Yvaine, being in love, gives herself entirely to Tristran; from then on, she belongs to him and no one else.
In The Lord of the Rings, the Witch-King of Angmar is the subject of a prophecy made by the Elf-lord Glorfindel, who foretold that he would not fall by the hand of man; naturally, he was slain by Éowyn, a woman who entered the battle in disguise, with the aid of Merry, a hobbit. This was intentionally based on Macbeth, whose prophecy Tolkien thought was cheating; the Ents (actual walking trees) came from the same idea. Note how nicely Tolkien covers his bases here: Éowyn is a member of the race called Men, but is female, while Merry is a man of his own race but is a Hobbit, not a Man. And killing the Witch-King takes both of them. In old English, as in many Germanic languages, "man" was a cross-gender word originally. The entire scene can be considered a pun on the human female: Woman, derived from wif-man (literally wife-man, but more accurately translated as "woman-person"). Thus, one Norwegian translation uses the archaic expression "Kvinnmann", ("female man") which literally means the same thing.
Tolkien has a prophecy theme in The Silmarillion. One involves the death of Huan, the Hound of Valinor, which will happen only when he fights the greatest wolf ever to live. So at one point Sauron the shape-shifter (yes, that Sauron) decides to try to play the prophecy by turning into the greatest wolf in the world... and it doesn't work, because the greatest wolf ever to live won't be around for another three pages or so. So Huan kicks Sauron's ass.
In The Light Bearer, a novel about the Roman Empire's conquest of Germania, an evil Germanic warrior is told "you shall not die by the sword." He is killed in the Coliseum by the female protagonist, who strangles him with her own hair.
One of the Star Trek: New Frontier books does a variation on the old "No man can defeat you" one: "No man or woman" can defeat the Big Bad, but one member of the Excalibur crew is a hermaphrodite.
Legend said that any mortal man who read more than a few lines of the original copy of the Necrotelicomnicon would die insane. This was certainly true. Legend also said that the book contained illustrations that would make a strong man's brain dribble out of his ears. This was probably true too. Legend went on to say that merely opening the Necrotelicomnicon would cause a man's flesh to crawl off his hand and up his arm. No one actually knew if this was true, but it sounded horrible enough to be true and no one was about to try any experiments. Legend had a lot to say about the Necrotelicomnicon, in fact, but absolutely nothing to say about orang-utans, who could tear the book into little bits and chew it for all legend cared. The worst that had ever happened to the Librarian after looking at it was a mild migraine and a touch of eczema.
In Sourcery, Ipslore bargains with Death that the latter can't claim him or avert the conquest he predicts until the day his son Coin throws away his wizard's staff. Ipslore gloats that no wizard would ever conceivably do such a thing. Coin is a sourcerer and actually more powerful than his father, but just a kid. Once he realizes what's been happening, he does throw the staff away—twice. It is noteworthy that, at the time the prophecy was made, Death noted that reality wouldn't allow a prophecy unless it had a chance, however small, to come true.
In The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, the titular curse can be broken only by someone who would lay down his life three times for the royal family. When Cazaril breaks the curse, there turn out to be two distinct twists involved. More obviously, he doesn't have to die as the result of laying down his life, just to expect that he will. More subtly, it's sufficient if the person he lays down his life for eventually becomes a member of the royal family: the first time he lays down his life, it's for the princess's future husband, before they even meet. And most interestingly, it's not just a prophecy for prophecy's sake: it's necessary. As Cazaril realizes, this has to happen "for the practice," so that when the important events occur, he's not freaking out about dying.
in an arguably closer example, in the backstory Arvole dy Lutez received a prophecy that "he should not drown, except upon a mountaintop." As mountaintops are not known for their resemblance to large bodies of water, he considered himself immune from drowning. He was later drowned in the cells of the Zangre, a huge, mountainous fortress, with sheer walls larger than most cliffs.
In the final book of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, a prophecy states that the Big Bad will be vanquished only when such things as "rivers burn with frozen fire", "night turn to noon", and "mute stone and voiceless rock to speak" occur. Some characters set a natural dam on fire to melt a frozen waterfall, another uses magic to light up an entire valley in the middle of the night, and they are clued to the location of the lost Empathic Weapon needed to do the deed by the sounds of the wind blowing through hollowed-out rocks.
In Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen, one character threatens to slay another "not by day or night, neither with the staff nor with the bow, neither with the palm of the hand nor with the fist, neither with the wet nor with the dry." This is said to be a repeat of an old prophecy in which the god Indra slew the demon Namuci "in the morning twilight, by sprinkling over him the foam of the sea." The repeat comes true when its target is asphyxiated by the foam of a fire extinguisher at sunset.
In Diana Wynne Jones's Howls Moving Castle there's an entire poem (that a couple of the characters take to be a regular spell but Howl realizes is a curse) of things that must happen before the Witch of the Waste can locate him. They all eventually come true, frequently by Sophie accidentally making things happen in unexpected ways. The poem is Song, by John Donne. Though it's a good thing Howl stops the third verse from being read.
The Big Bad of K.A. Applegate's Everworld series, Senna, never heard the prophecy that claimed that "no man's sword or arrow" would kill her, but it still worked out when she was killed by her half sister with an upgraded Swiss Army Knife.
This is quite literally the plot of Moonsword by Diana Hignutt. A druidic prophecy states that "no man and no born woman" can wield the Applied Phlebotinum which will kill a demon, so the druids turn The Messiah into a woman much to his chagrin. Les Yay ensues.
In Isaac Asimov's Azazel stories, one person is supposed to die one year after accepting some important position. His friend calls the eponymous demon, and the latter makes it so nothing on Earth can harm him. After the person sees it, he accepts the position. One year passes and he gets a meteorite through his heart.
In Kate Eliott's Crown of Stars series, Sanglant cannot be killed by 'any creature, male or female'. He ends up getting run over and killed by an out of control wagon being driven by a hermaphrodite. He got better.
There are two seemingly contradictory prophecies surrounding The Stone of Tear, a massive fortress that has never been breached. The first says the Stone will never fall until the People of the Dragon come to it, while the second says the it will never fall until the Dragon Reborn wields Callandor, a "sword that is not a sword" which is housed within the Heart of the Stone. So why would the Dragon ever be allowed inside the Stone if it is destined to fall after his people come, but how can the Dragon gets his hands on Callandor without the fortress it's inside falling to people under his command? By sneaking in. The Aiel, known historically as the People of the Dragon even though almost no one remembers that, raid it on the same night. Both prophecies are fulfilled at the same time: Rand takes Callandor, proving that he is the true Dragon Reborn, and the Aiel are able to capture the Stone, revealing them to be the People of the Dragon.
As prophesized, the Dragon Reborn is born to a maiden. In this case "maiden" does not mean virgin but refers to the Aiel warrior society, the Maidens of the Spear.
Simon R. Green has used this trope at least twice, in Winner Take All and Shadows Fall. Both times it's invoked with the same loophole, in that an entity foretold to be unstoppable by any foe, living or dead, gets its ass handed to it by an undead hero.
The mages who sealed the portal that contains Takhisis in the Dragonlance world mandated the a white (good) robed magic user, and black (evil) robed magic user and a kender had to work together for it to open, assuming good can't work with evil, evil with good, and nobody works well with kender.
A story within a story, set in Megan Whalen Turner's King of Attolia tells of a deal a man made with the moon to allow the area to become prosperous, and in return, he'd cover the hills with silver. She agrees on the condition he never lies by moonlight. The silver is olive trees, which have silvery leaves, which then feed the starving people in the area, directly and indirectly. The man becomes famous for his honesty. When he is about to tell a lie in the moon's light, a friend bashes him on the head. The king accepts that the trees will die, but the moon says he told no lie.
In The Net Of Dreams has a villain who is protected from "stone and steel, iron and incantation", and "any poison administered by the hand of man". He is killed when a female dancer ejects a poisoned ruby from her umbilicus into his wine glass. She specifically uses this method so that even if the 'man' part of the protection applies to all humans, she did not use her hand to deliver the poison.
Per the wording of the protection, beating him to death with a wooden club should work just fine too. Or with one's hands, since punching someone isn't a poison.
The Roger Zelazny story The Bells of Shoredan features a prophecy to the effect that "eyes will never see the weapon" that will kill a particular character. He is killed by an assassin with an invisible sword.
Though it isn't prophesy-related, there's a variation of the gender-switch in the Nancy Drew mystery The Curse of Blackwood Hall. When a woman's jewels are stolen, she is warned by her husband's spirit (read: con-artists) that she must tell no man or woman about the theft. Her jeweler finds a loophole and takes her to see Nancy; neither man nor woman, but a nineteen year old girl.
In Timothy Zahn's The Last Command, Mara Jade knows she can't avoid The Emperor's last command before his death and constantly hears it in her mind: "You will kill Luke Skywalker!" Every night she's haunted by a false vision of the Emperor's death (where Luke and Vader turn on him and kill him with their lightsabers). The only way to get rid of this is to kill Luke. However, by that point, she no longer wants him dead, having realized that Vader was the one who killed the Emperor singlehandedly, and the Emperor simply wanted revenge on Vader for betraying him (by killing his son). The solution? Kill Luuke Skywalker, Luke's clone created by the crazy Jedi Master Joruus C'baoth. Apparently, the extra U is not a problem.
In Brian Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, in the language in which the prophecy about the "Hero of Ages" was originally written, said Hero of Ages was always referred to with a pronoun whose closest English equivalent is "it": one that's usually applied to things without genders, and not to male or female humans. The main characters spend a little bit of time wondering about this, because it would have been helpful to know if the Hero was going to be a man or a woman. Why is this an example? The character who ends up becoming the "Hero of Ages" is a eunuch.
In James Clavell's Shogun it has been prophesied that Ishido will "die an old man with his feet firmly planted in the earth, the most famous man in the land". So Toranaga has him executed by being buried up to the neck in an upright position, and passers-by are invited to saw at the most famous neck in the land. "Ishido lingered three days and died very old."
Live Action TV
Revelations: When a mystically empowered villain boasts that he "shall not age a day, miss a target or receive a wound until a dozen angels sheer their wings into the sea and it weeps tears of gold back up to heaven," Damien sneers and throws him into a vat of wet concrete. "Guess you better hope that happens, then," is all Damien bothers to say about the prophecy as the immortal magician is trapped inside.
Interesting, particularly, in that this is a typical way of causing a Prophecy Twist, but unexpected once another "escape clause" has been mentioned.
In season 3 of Angel, a prophecy states that Darla's baby will not be born. The prophecy comes true when she stakes herself to dust, leaving the baby behind. The trope namer is even mentioned in the following episode — "Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped."
The Judge: You're a fool. No weapon forged can stop me. Buffy: That was then. * Buffy shoulders a bazooka* Buffy: This is now. The Judge: [confused] What's that do?
The Judge's vampire companions, Angelus and Drusilla, know full well what that does. They flee very quickly before Buffy even fires. The Judge, on the other hand, just stands there and gets blasted into hundreds of small pieces.
Additional example, from the first season finale. We learn early on that there is an unalterable, unavoidable prophecy that Buffy will die during her battle against The Master. Because of this, he goes into their fight full of confidence, and kills her without difficulty. However! The prophecy says nothing about cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and his victory is very, very short-lived.
A very Macbeth like example in The Sarah Jane Adventures at the climax of the "Secrets of the Stars" story. The villain is using ancient astrological magic to mind-control everyone in the world one star-sign of birth at a time. Pity that Luke is an artificial human being who was never "born" in the usual way.
In the Merlin mini-series, Vortigern consults a soothsayer to find out why his castle keeps falling. The Soothsayer (taking false information from Mab) tells him to mix the blood of a man with no mortal father into his mortar and the castle will stand. Merlin, who was the only candidate found, knows that there's a spring under the castle, so he's basically building on water.
In the BBC Merlin series, you cannot kill a High Priestess by any mortal blade. However, the show does show how easy it is to poke holes in this: one high priestess is killed by lightning, another is smashed into a wall and left to die from her injuriesnote technically she died a year later with a magical blade in a Thanatos Gambit, but the wall-smashing was still her cause of death, and the last is killed by Excalibur. In addition, all three were killed by Merlin, who is an immortal.
One Blood Ties episode featured Pandora's Box, which no living person can resist opening. Since Henry, as a vampire, isn't a living person, the box doesn't affect him.
Discussed in one episode of Bones, when Bones and Booth discuss whether they could catch each other if one of them committed a murder. Booth boasts "I always get my man," and Bones replies smugly, "I am a woman."
The Riddle Song is composed of four of these:
A cherry that has no stone: A cherry blossom.
A chicken that has no bone: An unborn, or "pipping", chicken.
A ring that has no end: The ring is rolling.
A baby that is not crying: The baby is asleep. (Easily the weakest of the four)
A variant of this song replaces the last two with "a blanket without a thread" (wool on a sheep's back) and "a book that no man could read" (the book's still in the press).
There's a song where a woman sings she will not marry until streams run uphill, and a few other conditions. Of course, she then falls in love, and finds her conditions are met.
Althaea, from Greek myth, was told by the Fates that her newborn son Meleager wouldn't live any longer than it took the log in her hearth to burn up. She smothered the log, preserving his life. Decades later, when Meleager murdered his uncle (on his mother's side, naturally), she threw it in the fire. Meleager died once it was consumed.
In the fourth branch of the Mabinogion, this is literally Lleu Llaw Gyffes' entire life, more or less. His mother, Arianrhod, curses him so that he can't be named or receive arms, until she does it, and that he can't have a wife of any race that walks the earth. At this point, his uncle Gwydion tricks her into naming and arming him, and creates a wife out of flowers for him. His death can occur only while he is neither inside nor outside a house, neither on foot nor on a horse, neither clothed nor naked, neither by day nor by night and with no weapon lawfully made. He ends up being impaled in a failed attempt on his life by his wife's lover Gronw Pebl while standing clothed in a net, with one foot in a bath and another on a goat, in a thatched, wall-less bathhouse at dusk. The spear used was forged every Sunday for a year - hence 'unlawfully made'. He eventually gets his revenge on Gronw by impaling him on the same spear - right through a boulder Gronw was using as a shield.
Agamemnon couldn't be killed in his house or out of it, naked or clothed, feasting or fasting. He was killed in his bath house, covered with a net, while eating an apple. The name for such a condition is "liminality", being between two different or contradictory states.
The Oracle of Delphi was quite fond of this trope:
When king Croesus of Lydia asked if it was a good idea to invade Persia he was told that if he did a great empire would fall. When he asked how long his kingdom would last, he was told that when a mule was the king of the Medes it would not be shameful to flee. At the time the king of the Medes and the rest of Persia was Cyrus, who was half Mede and half Persian and therefore a mule. And the great empire that fell was Croesus' own.
Later the emperor Nero experienced something similar. When the oracle told him (after insulting him for having his mother killed) that the number 73 would mark the hour of his downfall, he thought that he would have a long reign and die at the age of 73 (and burned the oracle alive for the insult). He was overthrown the next year when the 73-year old Galba rose up in rebellion.
Hinduism just loves this trope. It's taken Up to Eleven when the Genre Savvy Asura Hiranyakashipu obtains a boon from Brahma that made him unkillable by human, deva, or animal, during night or day, by anything animate or inanimate, on earth or space, inside or outside. He was slain by Vishnu's avatar Narasimha, a demigod with a lion's head (the avatar's name means "Man-lion" - neither wholly human nor animal), at twilight (neither night nor day), by being disemboweled with Narasimha's claws (neither animate nor inaminate), and having his guts spilled into Narasimha's lap (neither earth nor space) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out). Vishnu also surprised the Asura by bursting out of a pillar in his own palace. That was not part of the prophecy; Vishnu is just that Bad Ass.
Also, in Ramayana, the rakshasa king Ravana asked Brahma for invulnerability to gods, spirits and animals — but not humans, because he wasn't afraid of them and considered them beneath his notice. He was subsequently killed by Rama, a humanavatar of Vishnu.
Perhaps the oldest version of "It is fated that no man can kill me so I got killed by a woman" (older than the Lord of the Rings version) is the Hindu myth of Mahishasura and Durga. Mahishasura received a boon from Brahma that stated that he could not be defeated by any man or god, including Brahma himself. After defeating the great trinity (Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu), it would seem that no one could defeat him until, of course, the three of them sent their "divine feminine force" to Shiva's wife, Parvati, transforming her into the badassAction Mom (it is stated that she is very beautiful) Durga. Needless to say, being a woman and being so badass, she easily defeats Mahishasura.
Also involving her is the Hindu myth of the battle with the asura Raktabija, who received a boon that any blood spilled by him would become another copy of himself. After defeating the trinity (again), he fought Durga. When she was unable to kill him, her rage spawned her into becoming Kali, the even more badass version of herself. After drinking all of Raktabija's blood, therefore spilling none, she went into a crazy frenzy, and began a dance so powerful it threatened to split the earth itself apart. She calmed down only when she accidentally stepped on her husband, Shiva, and wounded him. Realizing what she had done to her love, Kali bit her tongue in shame and quelled her fury.
A Polish legend tells of a nobleman called Twardowski:
Twardowski made a deal with the devil to gain magical skills. In exchange, the devil had agreed for Twardowski to give over his soul when he visits Rome. Of course, for many years afterwards, Twardowski didn't even get close to Rome. His career ended, though, when he visited a certain inn: the devil then popped up and pointed out that the inn was called... guess what.
A followup legend (and poem) has Twardowski tricking the devil into three last demands. The last one is for the devil to live with Twardowski's wife after he's taken to Hell for a year. The devil high-tails it.
In another version, his initial wish was to visit the Moon, but forgot it due to all the other great places the devil took him. However, when the devil was about to take his soul, he reminded him of the original wish, and since the Moon is a heavenly body, denied of demonic creatures, the devil was forced to break the bargain. The man still ended up on the Moon, somehow, and apparently became immortal in the process.
Alternately, as he's being dragged down to Hell, Twardowski remembers a song about the Virgin Mary his mother used to sing to him. He sings the song and the Devil has to let go due to the holiness of the song. God then puts Twardowski on the moon because even though he used this deal with the Devil to do good things for people, he still sold his soul and can't get into Heaven.
In Norse Mythology, Baldr and his mother Frigg had dreams of his death which they took as prophetic. Frigg, in a display of motherly concern, extracted promises from just about everything on earth that they would not harm him (Baldr was pretty popular). However, she neglected to ask mistletoe, either considering it too young or too nonthreatening to pose a threat. Then all the gods thought it would be terribly clever to have fun throwing things at Baldr that would normally kill him but now wouldn't. Loki, being a complete bastard, made a spear out of mistletoe, gave it to Baldr's blind brother and had him kill Baldr with it.
Then all the gods went to the underworld, and asked Hel, goddess of the Underworld, to let him come back to life. She said that she would do it only if they could get literally every living thing on the planet to say that they wanted him back. So they go around and eventually get everyone except for one person to agree. They go to this person, who is actually Loki in disguise, and ask him. And Loki tells them to fuck off. He was pretty much the biggest dick in all of mythology, so much so that Ragnarök is basically caused by him being such a bastard that it breaks the world.
The mythic king of Denmark Frode I was given a set of armor that could resist steel, so nothing could wound him. Naturlly he dies during battle, not by his enemies, but since it was a hot summer day he dies from a heat stoke in the heavy armor.
There's a story about the siege of Troy in which it was prophesied that the first Greek to land on Troy's beach would be killed. Odysseus solves that problem by tossing out a shield and jumping on that instead, tricking other men to jump behind him.
In a different version of that story, there isn't a twist; instead Protesilaus jumps out anyway because he knows he'll have immortal fame for the deed.
Older Than Dirt: In Egyptian Mythology, The Sun God Ra decrees that Geb and Nut (God of the Earth and Goddess of the Sky) will be unable to conceive children on any day of the year, for fear that their children will be powerful enough to usurp his place as the king of Egypt. Thoth, God of Wisdom, later tricked him into gambling away a small amount of his sunlight every day, until by the end of the year, Thoth had saved up enough light to add five days to the calendar. Nut bore Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nepthys on four of these five days. Isis would go on to learn Ra's true name, gaining great power over him.
The giants Otos and Ephialtes could not be killed by anyone else. Indeed, Zeus' thunderbolt bounced off them. They tried to storm Olympus and take it over. After Apollo figured it out, he had Artemis turn into a deer and run between them. The brothers threw their spears, missed, and killed each other.
In Celtic Mythology, Cú Chulainn is immune to a curse that renders all fighting men of Ulster crippled for nine days and nights when needed most, owing to the fact that he is not an Ulsterman, and is technically still a boy, anyway. Thus, when Medb invades, he remains as Ulster's defender.
In WWE, there is a sure fire to get your ass kicked: Go to the ring, and at any point in your speech say the words "no living man can beat me"
"flying horses made of rock" (Connie's soft rock album by the group Pegasus)
"from a pit that can swallow a man, comes a pit that a man can swallow" (Whit's End receives a large delivery of cherries, which contain pits that a man can swallow and grow from a tree in a pit big enough for a man to fall into)
"water traveling up" (a new satellite dish, made by Aqueous Technologies, is hoisted onto the roof)
"forest comes to building" (Nathan Forest, a radio station manager, comes to Whit's End)
Trope Namer: In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the witches tell Macbeth he can only be defeated when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill, and also that none of woman born can harm him (hence the name of the trope). He ends up being defeated by an army that chops down the wood and carries it with them to conceal their numbers, and killed by Macduff, who was born by Caesarean which meant that, in Elizabethan times, he would not have been considered to have been "born" in the same sense as most men. In the modern-day adaptations, different things are used. In one BBC adaptation, the quote is "pigs will fly"; Macbeth is stabbed after the police land on the building in a helicopter. Oddly, the original quote is hardly translatable into French. So the French version actually says "no man of woman born".
A minor plot point in Henry IV is a prophecy saying King Henry "should not die but in Jerusalem", which he takes to mean he will die on Crusade. He falls ill before he gets the chance, and dies peacefully in his bed. In the Jerusalem Chamber at his palace.
Once Upon a Mattress: The musical comedy is set in a land ruled by Queen Aggravain and her husband King Sextimus the Silent— King Sextimus being cursed to remain mute until "the mouse devours the hawk". Attempts are made at forcing the conditions in a literal fashion, but the curse is only reversed when the meek and mousy Prince Dauntless the Drab finally stands up to his vicious and overbearing mother Aggravain.
In Alexander Pushkin's Scenes from a time of Knights, the main hero, after an unsuccessful rebellion against evil knights, is condemned to imprisonment "until the wall of this castle will go in the air and blow away." Then his friend, a monk, invents gunpowder.
In Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, the Baronets of Ruddigore have been cursed since time immemorial to commit a crime every day, or else die in frightful agony. The latest Baronet Logic Bombs the curse simply by being aware of it but ignoring it—since wilfully defying the curse amounts to attempting suicide, which is a crime...
In Odin Sphere, a prophecy tells the player which enemy each of the characters should face in the final Boss Rush to get the good ending, each element being one of these and detailing which character to use to thwart each disaster. In the order they are carried out...
"A fiery six-eyed beast speeds the guiding hand of salvation. The one who removes the torment is mine own son." The spell of transformation into the three-headed Beast of Darkova was a secret of the Titanian royal family, now stolen and used by Ingway. For him to be calmed and released from his hunger for human flesh, he must be defeated by someone of Titanian royal blood. Fortunately for Prince Cornelius, the beast has no hunger for pooka flesh.
"The Lord of the Netherworld emerges in a triumphant march of death. One that threatens the darkness is the shadow of the lost master." With Queen Odette slain, King Gallon of Titania, who had been imprisoned in the underworld and cursed into eternal torment by Odette after he transformed himself into the Beast of Darkova and ravaged his own kingdom until slain by his son Edmund, is free to lead the Halja into the world of the living. As with the other Darkova, only someone from the Titanian royal family can put him down - but it also takes someone with Odette's power of death to undo the curse that traps him in his undead body. Oswald, as both the Shadow Knight whose soul was sold to Odette for power and the unwitting orphan son of Titania's exiled Prince Edgar, is the only one capable of killing him for good.
"The looming blaze cometh, burning down the forests. The flood of fire that man cannot withstand is halted by the world tree and vanishes." King Onyx, his home in Volkanon extinguished by Armageddon's ravages, travels to Ringford to buy his people more time and sets the fairy's home ablaze. Do not feel ashamed at being trumped by this one - even Onyx believes no world tree exists. However, the observant may notice that Elfaria and Melvin had True Names from Norse mythology - Fimbulvetr and Nidhogg, respectively. With that knowledge, it's reasonable to assume that Mercedes has one as well - Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Pit the two against each other, and they will strike each other dead.
"Though blades and arrows are unleashed, the flooding fire cannot be stopped. It can only be chained." This refers to the chain Psypher, Graveryl, and its wielder, Velvet. She managed to use Titrel to shut down the Cauldron and avert Armageddon; clearly, it is best if she finishes the job. Especially since her Uncanny Family Resemblance to her mother is the only thing that can make King Valentine hesitate in his insanity.
"The Lord of Snakes consumes all left behind. Born in chaos and fire, sleep in mother's arms, life disappears from the land, all comes to an end." There are three women in the party, but two are already indisposed with other tragedies. The mother in this case refers to Eve, the mother of humanity - and since Velvet is cursed and Mercedes slain, it falls on Gwendolyn to repeat her victory against the Lord of Snakes - Leventhan. The spirit of Princess Griselda offers an additional clue for this one: "Knock down the crown."
This is utilized during gameplay in Fire Emblem Awakening. Naga is the Divine Dragon; Grima is the Fell Dragon. Even when Naga blesses the divine blade, Falchion, with her own power, her power cannot destroy Grima for good; destroying Grima with the Falchion will only put him in a millenium-long sleep. Only Grima can destroy himself. This is a Eureka Moment for the Avatar (a.k.a you) - the Avatar is the vessel of Grima, and during the final fight with him, the Avatar can kill himself/herself to destroy Grima for good. Not that the Avatar stays dead.
Yves the Tale-Chaser in Planescape: Torment can tell a story of a man who received a terrifying blessing from his hag mother: anyone who struck him would die instantly. For a long time he reveled in his invincibility, picking fights and goading people into attacking him, until the Mercykillers captured him (with nets) and sentenced him to death. Of course he scoffed at that, because there was no one who would try to execute him. They lowered him into a pit where he couldn't fight anyone and gave him a cup of poison, but he refused to take it, and laughed that they couldn't kill him that easily. Then he realized they weren't feeding him anymore...
One of the books in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind tells the story of a Dark Elven noble named Andas, of whom it was prophesied that "his blood shall never be spilled", and that he cannot be killed by magic, illness, or poison. Indeed, the prophecy seems to come true, leading people to call Andas "The Hope Of The Redoran," in accordance with the wording of the prophecy. When he grows up, he lords this over his friends and peers as a sign of his superiority in combat, and it gives him the arrogance to challenge his cousin Athyn to a duel for an important political position. It ends with Athyn beating Andas to death with a quarterstaff, after Athyn's combat instructor gave him the idea. (Up until then, Athyn had been despairing.)
In the text game of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Arthur must have both tea and no tea, and present them at the same time to a door for it to open. The computer mocks him constantly about the impossibility of the situation. The way you do this is by going into your own mind and removing your common sense, at which point you can simply type "get no tea" and the puzzle is solved.
At the beginning of Dragonsphere the protagonist receives an amulet that can only be invoked by a man already dead. The presenter even points out that this makes it pretty useless and that it's just meant as a symbol to wish him luck.
When the King's treacherous brother confronts the Hero for the finale, he helpfully taunts: "You don't even know how to hold a sword. You are already dead!"
In an event leading up to the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft, the Darkspear trolls and their allies try to liberate the Echo Isles from the control of the witch doctor Zalazane. When he's finally run to ground, Zalazane boasts that the magical barrier around him can't be breached by any living thing. Cue the laughter of Baron SamediBwonsamdi, a powerful spirit of the dead... note Oddly, due to either an Obvious Rule Patch or a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, neither Death Knights nor the Forsaken can breach the barrier, despite being undead and thus not living things.
Baltimore: Well heroes, I'm impressed that you've made it this far. But all for naught! For you see, no mortal man — Kiki and Darklight, female mages: Ahem! Baltimore: — or woman... can strike me down!
Subverted & lampshaded in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, where on page 1558 a princess concludes that since it is said "he who enters ... must face his inner demons" she is clearly exempt for being a woman. On page 1561 her inner demons point out that it was a stupid plan.
Most of the spells used in Gargoyles have escape clauses like this.
The first example in the series is actually a subversion: the spell that traps the gargoyles in stone stasis will not end "until the castle rises above the clouds," which seems primed for a No Man of Woman Born twist resolution. Instead, David Xanatos buys the whole thing, dismantles it, ships it to New York, and reassembles it at the top of a skyscraper tall enough to literally raise the castle above the clouds, in a sort of Magic A Is Magic A version of Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.
Nor is this the only time that he uses the application of modern technology and a lot of money to create a literal solution to a figurative problem. In "City of Stone" he enlists the gargoyles to help him lace the sky above Manhattan with flammable gas and set it on fire in order to break Demona's spell of petrification, which can only end "when the sky burns."
Meanwhile, "The Price" presents a straight use of the trope when Xanatos obtains a magic cauldron with the power to make the person who bathes in it live "as long as the mountain stones." Which is true, for a certain value of "live". However, Xanatos and company were Genre Savvy enough to suspect a twist. They wanted to test it on Hudson, but he escapes, so Owen tests it with his arm. It emerges from the cauldron solid stone.
Due to magical meddling, neither Macbeth (a human) nor Demona (a gargoyle) can die unless they perform a Mutual Kill on each other. While the correlation is never made explicit, this means that Macbeth cannot be killed by "one of woman born" because gargoyles hatch from eggs. Weisman has stated that this was the original reason for the pair's immortality, but was scrapped for some reason (if memory serves, it was one of those "one more things that needs to be explained").
In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Seer No Evil", the Rangers get a set of predictions from a gypsy moth named Cassandra. Chip's was the most elaborate, and the most ominous: "Before the next sun rises, Chip will follow a bear with two tails who will dance with a tiger. He will fall from a circle of light, and only a flying horse can save him. Finally, he will walk under an elephant, and the trunk will fall, and... *slashes throat* then, all is darkness!" As the Rangers investigate their next case, all the predictions start coming true, one by one. And just when Chip thinks he's avoided his fate by walking under an elephant, a steamer trunk lands on him. Luckily, he's saved by a Prophecy Twist when he slips through a hole in the floor and so ends up underneath it, where it is very dark. The throat slashing gesture was made by a bad guy.
"Where is the one not born from a woman?" "My mother was a mouse!"
In the animated version of The Mummy, Alex and his presumably male companion were faced with a challenge: A bridge that had many giant axes attached to pendulums swinging across them. An inscription near the bridge declared that "No man could pass alive." Naturally, Alex's companion turned out to be female.
There's a bit of Fridge Logic here though. Technically Alex should've been able to cross. You know; since he's a boy and not a man.
In Disney's Ariel, a curse of a werefish can be healed by "living silver." It turns out that silverfishes qualify.
On Codename: Kids Next Door, Heinrich's kidnapper Black John Licorice declares, "No man has ever out-sugared Black John Licorice!" Stickybeard smirks, "Now, who said anything about a man?" before revealing his challenger as Numbuh 5. It proves true anyways though; she doesn't out-sugar him, she just keeps the contest going long enough for the sun to rise and activate their curse.
Straw Feminist bank robber Femme Fatale robs the Townsville Bank of all its Susan B. Anthony coins. As she leaves, she boasts there is "not a man alive who can stop [her]." This cues the arrival of the Powerpuff Girls, and she clearly realizes she's in trouble.
There's a variant in another episode: HIM put the girls up to various challenges, including forcing them to "make everyone in Townsville cry", hoping they would do something bad enough it made them literally cry. They end up making it rain, which made it look like the citizens were crying.
There is a Russian story about some lad who is stuck in a foreign land until his new boots (received at entrance) are gone, but they cannot be worn out, burned, or thrown away. The lad gets rid of them by feeding them to the host.
French folklore is full of tales about canny peasants outwitting Satan at his own game, essentially through the use of this trope.
For example, one story tells of a peasant who, in the middle of the worst famine the country's ever seen, asked the Devil to make his lands rich and fertile for one year. The Devil agrees, on the condition that he gets everything that's above the ground, but the peasant plants carrots. Furious, the Devil comes back and says he'll make the land fertile for one more year, on the condition that he gets everything grown below the ground. Of course, this time the peasant plants corn. Fed up, the devil agrees to a final deal: he'll make things grow miraculously, but at the end of the year he gets everything above the ground AND everything under it. So the peasant plants trees, and hunts in the forest...
There's a similar story about a sharecropper and a white landowner. The landowner promises to give the sharecropper the bottom half of the crop, assuming he will plant cotton. The sharecropper plants potatoes. The next year the landowner asks for the top half, and he plants carrots. The third year, he asks for the top and bottom parts of the crop, and the sharecropper plants corn, so the landowner only gets the tassels above and the stalks below, and the corn in the middle is for the sharecropper.
In Quebec, a similar tale involves a bet between the Archangel Michael and Satan, where the farmers of Quebec and their crops are the object of the bet.
Another example has the devil appearing in a town and challenging the inhabitants to bring him a clock he cannot fix. No matter the state of the clocks they bring, the devil is able to fix them, even making missing parts appear out of thin air. Finally, one person brings him a clock that works perfectly, which means there is nothing for the devil to fix.
A high number of stories that involve selling souls to the Devil in exchange for work invoke this.
In an example form French folklore the Devil builds for a town an indestructible bridge in one night across a river that destroyed all previous bridges, in exchange for the soul of the first one to walk on it. Naturally, the mayor makes his dog pass first, since, As You Know, dogs have no soul.
Devil's Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale, England. Legend holds that the Devil appeared to an old woman, promising to build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. When the bridge was finished the woman threw bread over the bridge and her dog chased after it, thereby outwitting the Devil.
There are several similar legends all over the place, for instance also about the building of the chapel palatine (now cathedral) of Aachen. Here they chased a she-wolf inside when it was finished.
And in Quebec just about any bridge or church has at least even odds of invoking a similar legend - either an animal cross first, or the Devil specify in the contract "First soul to enter the completed church" and the priest decide that he can make-do with a church that's missing just the one stone.
When trying to build a bridge over the Schöllenen Gorge in Switzerland, the locals are said to have failed so often that they called for the Devil to build their bridge, and he did so in exchange for the soul of who passes the bridge first. They sent him a billy goat.
There's an Irish story in which a farmer sells his soul to the Devil for enough money to send his three sons to school as a doctor, a priest, and a lawyer. Come the end of his life, the Devil shows up to collect, and the farmer begs for just one more day to say goodbye to his sons. The Devil agrees, and the doctor arrives to send his father off, but begs just one more hour for his brother. The priest comes in, and begs another hour, but come the third son the Devil says no more hours, so the lawyer asks him to refrain from taking his father's soul until the candle stub in the corner burns all the way down. When the Devil agrees, the lawyer blows the candle out and pockets it.
There's a widespread fairy tale ("Clever Greta" is one title) in which a ruler is determined to throw a man into prison for some reason. However, he will let the man off if his famously clever daughter can show up "neither clothed nor naked, neither walking nor riding, not on the road but not off it, and bearing a gift that is not a gift." The exact terms vary. The answer to this version is: wrapped in a fishing net, one leg thrown over the back of a goat that is walking in a huge rut, with a fly in a basket that flies away as soon as the lid is taken off. Some versions add that the ruler is so impressed that he marries her. She uses her wits to help someone challenge one of his verdicts, so he kicks her out in a rage, saying that she can take whatever she likes most from his palace, but it's over. She hosts a farewell dinner in her chambers, then leaves in the carriage with a fat roll of carpet. The ruler wakes up the next morning, hung over, in her father's farmhouse. Well, he said she could take what was most precious! Charmed, he forgives her and takes her back.
The ancient Aztecs had a prophecy stating that their greatest capital would be built at a place where an eagle was sitting on a cactus and holding a snake in its mouth - possible things, but looking for it would be like a needle in a haystack. Eventually, they finally found it, and it became the site of Tenochtitlan. The Mexican flag has a picture of this on it. One tiny snag though - it happened on a rock in the middle of a lake. So they built the city on the lake.
There is a legend that Seleucus I Nicator was warned by the oracle to avoid Argos. He avoided all cities with that name. However, he failed to avoid every single altar with that name...
In one Tabletop RPG, it was foretold that "No hostile man would ever invade the empire's borders." What the PCs did not realize that there was an Amazon tribe that used WOMEN as warriors.
Similarly in Warhammer 40,000 the church was forbidden "Men under arms" which lead to them adopting the Sisters of Battle as their official military arm.
The Roman Emperor Domitian believed a prophecy that said he would die at noon on a certain day. On that day, he locked himself in his room with a servant and allowed no one to enter. He asked the servant several times what time it was (Roman hours depended on sunrise and sunset, so it could be difficult to tell), but the servant lied and said it was past the hour he was fated to die. Relieved, Domitian allowed other people in the room. One of them was the assassin who killed him, almost precisely at noon.
Confederate Brigadier Micah Jenkins survived several brushes with death after proudly proclaiming he could not be killed by Yankee bullets. Ultimately, he's killed by Confederate fire.