Rip Van Winkle

The main character of the series (often after getting into arguments and/or just being an idiot) settles down for a nice midday nap. When he wakes up, it's several decades later. He sees the effects of his absence - anything he did wrong can now never be fixed; those who loved him are miserable after his long absence; and everything has changed (The Future Is Shocking may ensue). Sometimes, in the end, someone will shake him, calling his name out repeatedly, and it will turn out to have been All Just a Dream or an elaborate hoax. Other times, the character will be stuck in the "future."

A combination of Yet Another Christmas Carol and Wonderful Life sans Christmas elements, often with some Twenty Minutes into the Future mixed in.

This is Older Than Feudalism, with the story it's named after being an old American folktale (sans the All Just a Dream ending), which itself is derived from an earlier Dutch folktale, and variants stretching back to the third century CE.

Compare the King in the Mountain and Human Popsicle. Not to be confused with Rob van Winkle or a certain Nazi vampire. Compare Cold Sleep, Cold Future, where the duration is longer, and Asleep for Days, where it's shorter. See also Year Outside, Hour Inside, where the victim doesn't sleep away the years but spends them in an enchanted place. When the character is conscious during this it's The Slow Path.

An extreme version of this trope is Slept Through the Apocalypse, where the world has ended while the protagonist slept.


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  • In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Princess Sakura wakes up for the first time after losing her feathers... about a day ago. She will spend the entire series between now and the Tokyo arc effectively sleepwalking.
  • Happens to Shinji Ikari in the third Rebuild of Evangelion movie, who has the misfortune of spending fourteen years - more or less as long as he'd even been alive before - as a Human Popsicle, with the double whammy of finding out that he accidentally annihilated the Biosphere in a futile attempt to save his love interest. The earth is a Post Apocalyptic Wasteland, most of his friends are dead, and those who aren't are ten years older and now hate his guts for the afore mentioned catastrophe, including his former Parental Substitute who gives him the no-son-of-mine treatment and puts an Explosive Leash on him, and his former friend/comerade/flat mate who tells him in no uncertain terms that she despises him, shattering a wall of security glass to do so.

  • Played for Laughs in The Beano in an early comic strip called Rip Van Wink about a man who had been asleep for 700 years so was completely unused to the then modern world.
  • Captain America. Believed to have died in WW2, he was in fact kept alive as a Human Popsicle in an iceberg in the Arctic (his super-soldier serum kept him from freezing to death for decades before being found and rescued in the Modern Era (orginally 1964) by The Avengers.
    • Captain America ends up referencing this trope when he confirms that Peter Parker is back in his body after the whole Superior Spider-Man mess. The Human Torch tells Peter this, referencing the time he was dead.
    • One interesting aspect of this is that Cap's service in World War II is one of the few comic stories not subjected to Comic-Book Time, as all they have to do is extend the time he was frozen.
  • Pretty much Captain Marvel's whole cast. He, his family, and many of his enemies took long naps as an explanation of how they transfered from the Golden Age to the Modern Era.
  • Richie Rich dreamed one time that he somehow slept into his old age and now appeared on Jackie Jokers' version of "Here Is Your Life" with all his friends, family members, and even adversaries being much older.

    Fan Works 
  • A common theme in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction is taking advantage of the fact that this effectively happened to Luna as a result of her being Sealed Evil in a Can for a thousand years.
  • In Tangled In Time instead of dying, Ganondorf was comatose for decades with his body being taken care of by the Twinrova before he wakes up.
  • In "How Things Smurf" from The Smurfette Village series, Hefty and Toughette are trapped in a Crystal Prison for half a millennium, and wake up to find themselves in the modern world circa 2005 with their fellow Smurfs Brainy and Brainette now elderly.

  • One of the earliest narrative films ever made, Rip Van Winkle, is a 4 1/2-minute film dramatizing the Trope Namer's visit with some strange spirits, followed by his 20-year-nap and revival in the woods.
  • Tom Canboro (Gary Busey) in the Christian film Tribulation (from the Apocalypse series) wakes up a few years into the Tribulation period after being in an automobile accident, complete with Time Passage Beard.
  • The original ending to Army of Darkness had Ash take too much of the potion that was to return him to his own time. He overshoots his own time by one hundred years and awakes to a post-apocalyptic world.
  • In the film Merlin's Apprentice, the titular wizard rests out in a cave after Camelot comes to peace and wakes up 50 years later to find Camelot in ruins and Arthur dead.
  • Justified in Captain America: The First Avenger, where Steve Rogers gets frozen in the arctic in the 1940s and is woken up again in modern times. Needless to say, he's a bit surprised when he puts it together (because Steve had been at the baseball game SHIELD put on the radio to put him at ease).

  • Epimenides the Cretan, according to Diogenes Laertius (early 3rd century AD), was sent to a farm to get a sheep but went to sleep for 57 years. When he woke up he thought only a few hours had gone by so he continued on his quest for the sheep. When he arrived at the farm he found it had been sold and the style of dress had changed. It is also said he died at the age of 157.

  • The trope namer.
  • Sleeping Beauty: Due to a curse, the title princess falls asleep. She wakes up 100 years later. Much has changed since then, including the fashions - the prince notes how outdated her dress looks.
  • The novel Son of Rosemary brings the heroine of Rosemary's Baby up-to-date by having her awaken from a twenty-plus year sleep, just as her demonic son's plotting to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • In Andre Norton's Android at Arms, the protagonist is one of several important political figures who were kidnapped, stored as Human Popsicles, and replaced with Ridiculously Human Robots. When they are initially decanted from cold storage by a power failure, they compare notes to learn that they were all kidnapped in different years, and that several of them have been prisoners for decades.
    • That's the short and not quite accurate version - they were "defrosted" previously but were under Mind Control until the power failure knocked out the Mind-Control Device.
  • H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes, where a man previously in a coma for centuries happens to awaken to find himself now not only in a bleak, dystopian future, but also the richest man in the world due to the compound interest on his bank accounts which had been compiling for so long.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 3001: The Final Odyssey, the last and final volume in his Space Odyssey series, finds Frank Poole—previously killed by HAL in the first book—discovered by a space-tug after floating about the Kuyper Belt for a millennium; the absolute zero temperature of deep space having preserved his body, which the ultra-advanced society of 3001 is able to heal and bring back to life.
  • In a supporting-character example, Wulf Saxon from the Hawk & Fisher novel The Bones Of Haven got trapped inside a booby-trapped magical portrait for 23 years while attempting to rob a sorcerer. No time passes for him, but by the time he's set free, his family are all dead or penniless, his friends have become callous and hostile, and the city he'd once hoped to reform has become a Wretched Hive far worse than he remembers.
  • Spider Robinson's "The Time Traveler" in Callahans Cross Time Saloon is a variant on this - the protagonist hasn't been sleeping, but he is imprisoned by a dictatorship in the early Sixties and not allowed any contact with the outside world. When he's released in the early Seventies, the culture shock between the era of JFK and the era of Vietnam/ Watergate makes him contemplate suicide.

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Enterprise, episode "Twilight." Captain Archer wakes up many years in the future, after the destruction of Earth, to learn that he contracted an alien disease causing a form of anterograde amnesia: every six months, he wakes up with no memories since he contracted the disease. It all ends with a Reset Button as they use Techno Babble to retroactively cure the disease, returning us to the plot arc. It's really just an excuse to run an Alternate Universe plot about the Enterprise's mission failing.
    • TNG also previously did a somewhat similar story with the episode "Future Imperfect". It had Riker falling unconscious after exploring a cave that was flooded with toxic gas and waking up to discover that at that moment he had contracted a strange alien disease that apparently wiped all his memories between the time he fell unconscious and the 16 years since. However at the end it turned out to be an elaborate holographic illusion created by a lonely alien (played by the kid from Dream On) who had captured Riker and was impersonating his fictional future son.
    • Voyager did one as well: a backup copy of the Doctor stored in a piece of the ship that had ended up in an alien museum was reactivated and discovered that 700 years had passed since Voyager left the planet. From his point of view, he was on Voyager just yesterday. There's also "Timeless," in which the Doctor is reactivated 15 years in the series' future and discovers that he, Harry and Chakotay are the only three members of the crew still alive.
  • Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie technically qualifies. She wasn't asleep, but she was trapped in her bottle for 2,000 years before Nelson found it, and she clearly had no contact with the outside (as proven by the fact that she couldn't speak English until he wished for her to be able to).
  • The premise of The Munsters Today, as told in the opening theme song, was "We went to sleep some twenty years ago / And woke up with a brand new show!"
  • Parodied in the sketch comedy The State: A man is in a coma for "one hundred and nineteen...almost two hours." However, the world at large seems to have changed as if he'd been in a coma for decades.
  • Parodied on Kids in the Hall, where they had a sketch where a man fell asleep for 20 minutes and woke up to a world largely the same, except for everyone, including the man, acting as if years had gone by. And "the Elongulator," which is not described any further.

  • The song "Four of Two" by They Might Be Giants does this to a man who falls asleep waiting for a date to arrive, not realizing that the clock he's looking at is broken & the girl has stood him up.
  • "We Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who is an interpretation of the original story, which used the twenty year nap to illustrate that the Revolutionary War (which happened while he slept) really didn't change anything at all, and he was basically living in the same world. It's a bit hidden in the song, but certain lyrics like "And the marching on the left/ Is now the marching on the right/ And the beards have all grown longer overnight" make it a definite reference.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • There is an ancient Christian martyrological tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus — seven Christians who flee to a cave to escape persecution by the Roman Emperor Decius (around 250 AD), fall asleep, and awake decades later (usually during the reign of Theodosius II, 408-450 AD) to find the Roman Empire has become Christian.
  • The Talmud contains the story of the ancient Rabbi and scholar Honi ha-M'agel, who slept for 70 years, and awakened to find his teachings misinterpreted and all of his friends dead. The texts probably dates from the early 3rd century AD.

    Video Games 
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the main character Laharl planned to take a ten day nap... and slept for 2 years. He would have slept longer, but his 'loyal' vassal Etna woke him up.
  • This happens to the main character, their sibling, and adopted parent in Bleach: The Third Phantom. Luckily, the protaganist takes it better than the others, or else things would've really gone to hell.
  • In Portal 2, Chell gets caught in cryogenic stasis for an indefinite amount of time (the "hotel room" she was in started out intact, and afterwards was severely decayed) at the start of the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Ever17, Takeshi spends 17 years in cryo-stasis, and upon waking up, discovers that he has 16-year-old children. The story of Rip van Winkle himself is discussed in some of the routes.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation