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The Power of Legacy
Stretching the truth to avoid shaming a fallen comrade: so morally ambiguous a paladin can do it.

Dominic: So you kept quiet... so mom could remember him as a hero.
Donovan: I'm a bard. We know the power of legacy.

She didn't know why she'd been asleep all that time. Should he tell her, and betray that memory, even if it was false? No, of course he shouldn't.
Will Parry, The Amber Spyglass

Warning: Ending Trope/Death Trope, uncensored spoilers ahead.

The mission is over. The MacGuffin has been acquired, the Big Bad has been defeated, and the Hero is on his way home. Unfortunately, it is a bittersweet victory: Bob was killed during the mission, dying just in time for the Hero to hear his last words. Upon his return, the Hero meets Alice, who was very close to Bob, often a significant other, and must perform a Death Notification. She asks the hero what Bob's last words were. The hero, compassionate guy that he is, takes her hand, looks her in the eyes, and...

... lies.

Wait, what?

The hero has a good reason for doing this, however. At the end of his life, Bob did something that would tarnish his legacy. Maybe his last words were horrifying. Perhaps he did a Face-Heel Turn. Whatever the reason, telling Alice the truth would only result in damaging Bob's legacy, as well as hurting Alice by knocking down someone she held as a hero. Even if the hero has never told a lie up to that point, he will find it best to stretch the truth so that Bob can be remembered fondly. If this takes place at the end of the story, the hero will get away with it, but if the story goes on after the hero's lie then it will usually come back to bite him in the butt.

Note that this is the same trope whether the character outright lies or deliberately fails to mention the fact that would taint his friend's legacy. Also note, the Power of Legacy is used to defend a character's honor. If they lie/keep silent to shame the person in question, or to just prevent Alice from hearing his last words when they would actually help his legacy, that's being a Jerk Ass.

Not to be confused with The Power of Friendship or The Power of Love, although they may be the reason that The Power Of Legacy is invoked.
Related to Never Speak Ill of the Dead. Let Them Die Happy is also related, except going in the opposite direction — lying to a dying character to ease their final moments. May overlap with Treachery Cover Up.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • Deconstructed, then averted in Preacher: When Jesse is hanging on to Cassidy from a plane, he tells Cassidy to tell Tulip he loves her, then orders him to let go. Cassidy then reveals himself by telling Tulip he couldn't hear what he said. But at the very end, Cassidy's goodbye letter explains to Tulip what Jesse had really told him.
  • In the original Judas Contract arc of Teen Titans, the other Titans gave Terra a hero's funeral, a statue in their hall, and told everyone (including her half-brother, Geo-Force) that she died a hero. The truth was that she was The Mole and Evil All Along.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight: Batman takes the blame for Two-Face's actions, in order to keep Harvey Dent's "White Knight" reputation intact (and to make sure the criminals Harvey put behind bars stay there). There were other options, such as blaming the Joker, but those weren't brought up, and were slightly less airtight.
    • The power is strong enough that years later during the events of The Dark Knight Rises Gotham celebrates Harvey Dent Day and crime rates are at an all-time low. Bane shatters the legacy by revealing the truth.
  • In Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father, who Luke believes is dead. According to Obi-Wan, Luke's father was "the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior, and a good friend." Whether or not he's actually lying is up for debate (remember the scene between Luke and his ghost on Dagobah), but he does leave out telling Luke about how his father betrayed the Jedi council, crossed over to the dark side, helped kill all the Jedi, including children, etc. Luke remembers his father as a hero until the famous Luke, I Am Your Father scene.

    Literature 
  • Probably the most famous example is from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in which Kurtz's Famous Last Words were "The horror, the horror!" Marlow, however tells his fiancee that "His last words were... your name."
  • In the Animorphs series the Andalite high command pressure Ax into doing this with his murdered older brother Elfangor upon learning he used his last minutes to give morphing power to humans. Ax reluctantly takes the blame so that the Andalite citizens can continue remembering his brother as a hero untainted by disgrace. It's a rare case, though, where the decision to do so clearly isn't liked by the main characters, who feel the Andalites over-enforce their Prime Directive law and because Ax has now been barred from advancing further in the military. He becomes enough of own hero in the end, allowing him to be promoted to prince.
  • In The Amber Spyglass, the third book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra is kept asleep for the first two hundred pages. When she wakes up, she thinks that she may have caught some disease, and that Mrs. Coulter had been taking care of her. In reality, Mrs. Coulter had been drugging her. Will decided it would be better to let her keep the good memory, even if it was a lie.
  • Wilfred Owen uses a combination of this trope and Exact Words in his war poem, S.I.W.
  • Boromir's dying words are a confession: "I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. I am sorry. I have paid." Even when discussing where Frodo has gone, Aragorn refuses to tell the others this.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Andrew tells Xander that Anya died saving his life, when all indications are she was merely killed during the Final Battle.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, 2nd pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Gary Mitchell gains vast psionic powers and begins to think of himself as a god who regards humans as insects to be crushed. After Captain Kirk manages to kill him:
    Kirk: "Captain's Log, stardate 1313.8. Add to official losses, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner. Be it noted she gave her life in performance of her duty. Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell. Same notation." (to Spock) I want his service record to end that way. He didn't ask for what happened to him.
    • Likewise, in "The Doomsday Machine" Kirk states that his log will note that Commodore Decker died in the line of duty, omitting the part where the man pretty much went insane with survivor's guilt and almost got the crew of the Enterprise killed. It's heavily suggested that Kirk is attempting to imply by omission that Decker performed a Heroic Sacrifice by piloting the Constellation into the Doomsday Machine to destroy it, instead of the truth where he went out in a futile suicidal gesture by crashing into the machine with a shuttlecraft.
  • In Firefly, when Mal was about to kill Jayne for trying to sell the Tams to the feds, Jayne begged Mal to least not tell the others that he betrayed them. Fortunately for Jayne, his concern for how the others will remember him convinces Mal to give him another chance.
  • Castle: Beckett decides to do this for Captain Montgomery, and the rest of the cast agrees.
  • Ally does this for Billy after his death: she tells Georgia his Last Words were "Tell Georgia I love her", but he'd died in the midst of a tumor-induced hallucination:
    Billy: "You see that woman?" (points to Ally) "I've been married to her for 12 years. And every day, when I go home to her... and our kids... it's everything."
  • Stargate SG-1: O'Neill is forced to work with a former friend who's been in a sort of exile because of suspicions of Unfriendly Fire that killed a mutual friend of theirs. Turns out he had killed the other man on purpose, because that man was betraying them by signaling their position to the enemy. A variation, as he didn't care so much about the traitor's legacy as he did that the widow, who was also a friend, would lose her husband's pension.
  • Played for Laughs on Arrested Development. Tobias paints himself blue and walks off to an audition for the Blue Man Group. Unfortunately, he's hit by a car and taken to the hospital. (In a variation on this trope, he lives.) At the hospital, it's revealed that Michael was the last person to see him before he left.
    Lindsey: Did he say anything?
    Tobias:(flashback) I just blue myself.
    Michael: He said some wonderful things.

    Video Games 
  • At the end of Metal Gear Solid, Snake gives a rather generic speech about how Grey Fox had wished the best for Naomi, who Fox had practically been a big brother to. Snake decides to skip the part where Grey Fox confessed that he had been the one who had killed Naomi's parents.
  • One of the quotes in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri.
    Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours—the works. People need heroes. They don't need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden is asked by Ruck's mother to find her son in the Deep Roads, where he's been missing for two years and assumed dead. While the Warden finds him alive, he's been turned into a half-crazed Ghoul as a result of the being infected with the Taint either by constant exposure or consuming Darkspawn flesh to survive. The Warden has the option to agree to his request to tell his mother that they found his body in the Deep Roads, letting her believe he died a hero.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, the late arcs reveal that there are at least two characters who invoke this. On one side Eva, the (not quite) Sole Survivor of the Rokkenjima massacre, blew up the island to erase what happened and hid the truth to Ange, at the cost of being herself painted as the culprit in the future. Ange eventually learns of the real culprits, and it drives her to suicide, heavily implying that it was her own parents. On the other side after her initial plan went horribly wrong, Beatrice paints herself as a cruel witch and claims to have committed the murders so that the memory of the family wouldn't be tainted. However she wanted at least Battler to know the truth and understand her.

    Web Comics 
  • At the end of Buck Godot, Security Chief Parahexavoctal is revealed to have committed several large-scale crimes in pursuit of his assigned duty, including (but not limited to) genocide and the large-scale enslavement of a sentient race. When confronted with his sins, he continues to claim that he just did what he had to do. The Prime Mover acknowledges this, and decrees that his record shall stand unblemished. Par smiles and thanks him for fulfilling his ultimate wish, even as he is wiped from existence.
  • In the Trope Naming example from Dominic Deegan, quoted above, the person they were talking about had challenged Donovan to a duel over Donovan's wife just before jumping into a portal to Hell.
    • Later, at the end of that story arc, Dominic invokes this when recounting Siegfried's death. Using his second sight, he had seen that Siegfried had held a genocidal campaign against orcs since boyhood, and is now in hell, but just before going to Hell he punched out all of Dominic's teeth. When Milov or Jayden ask how their friend died, Dominic's epitaph paints the knight in a much more heroic light. It comes back to bite him.
  • On this page of Jack, Lieutenant Bullock recounts how he told a fellow soldier's parents that their son died while pulling wounded men out of a fire. What really happened... well, it wasn't quite as dignified, involving a poor choice of place to take a dump and a landmine.
  • In The Order of the Stick, O-Chul accepts responsibility for destroying the gate to protect the already-tarnished-enough legacy of Well-Intentioned Extremist / Knight Templar Miko Miyazaki.


Planning For The Future Before The EndLast WordsSay Your Prayers
The Power of HateThe Power of IndexThe Power of Love
Post Mortem ConversionDeath TropesPremature Eulogy
Plagiarism In FictionTruth and LiesRecruiters Always Lie

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