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Mythical creatures of mystery: Fish, whales, or turtles (there's a definite preference for turtles
over any other animal) big enough to be mistaken for islands or even continents have shown up in Mythology
for thousands of years. If it's a turtle, the proper term is Aspidochelone
. They are often portrayed as being so
large and ancient that soil and plantlife have grown on its back, sometimes ancient species containing something so rare that the hero (or villain) must marvel at it or try to obtain it. Often the hero gets only a brief opportunity to marvel at its existence, before it decides to set out and dive deep underwater, leaving the protagonist high and dry (or wet and drowning if he doesn't manage to get off in time). How the fauna and flora on its back can survive and grow when it frequently dives underwater is rarely addressed
A subtrope of That's No Moon!
is one of these, there's a good chance
it's Turtles All The Way Down
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Naruto, Naruto and Killer Bee hide and train on an island turtle (which has long since been guarded by the Cloud Village), which is a very good place to hide because they can get it to move if they need to. And apparently it's not a summon, unlike the usual giant beasts seen. Gai's personal summon is shocked by the size of one of the turtles who promptly informs him it's only a hatchling.
- El Doradimon from Digimon Savers is one of these.
- Digimon Tamers has Ebonwumon (aka Xuanwumon). He's got two heads that speak independently. And is a god. And is freakin' awesome.
- Digimon Xros Wars gives us KingWhamon, who carries the Island Zone on his head.
- One Piece:
- An three part episode of Detective Conan takes place in a turtle shaped island around Okinawa.
- Genbu is a Spirit King who occasionally tromps around a nearby continent and is covered in ogres. He's also a Grumpy Old Man.
- In Toriko, one of the Gourmet World's residents is a tortoise that carries an entire fortress city is on its back.
- The Authority: Infinite City, the place where all the Jenny incarnations that have passed are placed, is a city on the back of a giant turtle.
- In the Lanfeust comic book series, the Magohamoth isn't exactly a turtle, and it's intelligent and speaks to people telepathically, but it fits this trope otherwise. The protagonists follow its trail to an island off the coast of a river delta, and after some bizarre hallucinations we get a Distant Reaction Shot, and the entire island is what they were looking for. Below the waterline it looks sort of like a manatee. With a volcano on its back.
- In Forets d'Opale, a series by the author of Lanfeust, a similar creature exists, though much smaller and land-based, clearing tracks through the forests, looking like a six-limbed sea turtle with trees on its back. It gets a Dying Moment of Awesome when it gets rid of an enemy ship by diving under it and ramming it from below, sinking soon after.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Happens in the first of the 1990s Gamera movies.
- In the 1984 fantasy classic, The Neverending Story, there is a giant turtle Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness.
- The Fighting Fantasy book Seas of Blood contains a sleeping Sea Monster mistaken for an island. Essentially, its only purpose is to rob you of some crew members, as the pirates who are exploring the island when it wakes up all meet a watery death.
- Taken to extremes in Discworld: the Great A'tuin the star turtle carries four less-giant elephants on its back, who in turn carry the Discworld itself on their backs, and swims through space. A Turtle Planet, if you like.
- There's also a parody in Jingo: Leonard dismisses sailors' tales about giant turtles being mistaken for islands as obvious myths, on the grounds that "you don't get giant turtles that small".
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, there is a hobbit rhyme about "Fastitocalon," a giant turtle mistaken for an island. Tolkien got the name from an Anglo-Saxon verse bestiary; it was a distortion of the Greek "aspidochelone"="Shield-Turtle."
- A humongous sea snail in one of the later Doctor Dolittle books.
- Larry Niven made a reference to this in The Ringworld Engineers, where Louis Wu discounted tales of such creatures, knowing the same stories had been told speciously by Earth sailors. Of course, the Great Ocean on Ringworld is many thousands of times bigger than the puny little puddles on Earth, so it's not wholly unexpected when it's confirmed such "islandfish" really do exist there.
- The Neverending Story: the wise Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness.
- Hungry Kid Island by Shel Silverstein, about an island that's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: the scalp of a giant hungry child.
Oh, I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island,
Way out in the shimmerin' sea.
There's probably hungry kids out there
Who'll share my lunch with me.
But why call it Hungry Kid Island?
There's no kids around that I see,
So I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island
To solve this mystery.
- There's a Turtle Island in the first book of David Drake's The Lord of the Isles series. True to Drake's own brand of "realistic" fantasy, the only life present is sea plants.
- Near the end of Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War Candy Quakenbush washes up on the shores of an island and happily dozes. The island is not actually a turtle, but another kind of creature entirely, with a tree and other foliage growing straight out of its back. Interestingly, Candy first realizes she must be on a creature instead of an island because real islands in the Abarat are frozen at a single hour of the day, and she notices that the light has changed since she washed ashore.
- The trope is referenced in Star Trek: Titan — Over a Torrent Sea, when the characters observe floating "islands" in the ocean of planet Droplet. Torvig asks a Chelon crewman (as the name suggests, Chelon are turtle-men) if they're relatives of his.
- Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox has Kraken, which are described as an "acorn barnacle, albeit a barnacle which could easily house an Olympic Stadium or two". They are often mistaken for islands. They become a plot point and a Chekhov's Gun.
- A terrestrial variant appears in Iron Council, in which an entire small city is built/carved into the back of a gargantuan tortoise that wanders the plains. People who step off it needn't worry about drowning, but might have to walk a ways to catch up to their home if they stay away long.
- In a "making of" video by Brandon Sanderson about the writing process of the second The Stormlight Archive book, it's revealed that there's a part of the world with several islands like this. Except, this being Roshar, the giant beasts in question are greatshells, not turtles. After Words Of Radiance came out, we get to see a minor heroine seriously impress the island (which is worshiped by its inhabitants). It gives her a crabdragonwasp thing as a reward.
- The Saga of Arrow-Odd: Sailing past Greenland, Odd sights a small island covered with heather and sends five men to explore it. The island goes down, drowning the men. Afterwards Odd learns what looked like an island was the back of the sea-monster Lyngbakr ("Heather-Back").
- In an already-submerged and miniature example, the baby hermit crab from Pagoo takes shelter in a tiny vacant shell that's attached to a cluster of stalked barnacles, only to be shaken about when his new home starts crawling. He's unwittingly become a tenant of "Traveling Towers", a barnacle-colony atop a snail shell which an adult hermit crab (Pagoo's "landlady") is wearing.
- The Italian singer, Ligabue, had a Fish Island◊ on the cover of his album Arrivederci, Mostro!
Mythology, Religion, and Legend
- The mythologies of several Native American cultures tell of a giant tortoise that rose out of the sea when animals needed land to live on. In fact, the Iroquois Creation Myth has the entire planet as just one really big turtle in an infinite sea. Some current-day Native Americans prefer to use "Turtle Island" instead of "North America".
- One of the most famous early examples would be the island in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, which he discovered was on the back of a whale. Before they realize what it is, the crew find many rare fruits and plants on the surface. Due to the fact that he's possibly the unluckiest man of his time, his entire crew manages to escape (the only time they ever, however), and he gets left behind when the whale submerges and is lost at sea for years.
- Supposedly the origin for the island of Bohol in the Philippines (you can find it as a little speck at the heart of the archipelago) is that a woman fell from the sky, so a turtle turned itself into an island that she could live on. It Makes Sense in Context, sort of.
- In The Voyage of St. Brendan, Brendan and his companions make land on the back of the fish Jasconius at Easter and celebrate Mass. For seven years, Brendan and his companions return to Jasconius on Easter Sunday to celebrate Easter on its back.
- The Leviathan (or, sometimes, the Kraken) is occasionally portrayed as such. One of the original myths of the Kraken was that it was simply a giant monster that would sleep at the surface for so long that plants would grow on it and ship crews would mistake it for an island. Anyone unfortunate enough to light a fire while ashore would wake the Kraken, which would then submerge and pull the ship down with it.
- Russian folk tales have the Wondrous Whale Fish for this role.
- Indian (Subcontinent Indian, not Native American Indian) Mythology has it that the world is carried on the backs of four elephants which in turn are carried on the back of a turtle named Akupara. This was likely the inspiration for Great A'Tuin and Torterra.
- Aztec Mythology told that the land was created from the corpse of Cipactli, a gigantic crocodile. The gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, who normally hate each others' guts, teamed up to kill the monster. Cipactli stayed at the bottom of the sea, so Tezcatlipoca lowered his foot to lure it to the surface. After getting it bit clean off, the two gods turned into snakes and strangled Cipactli, thus forming the North American continent.
- Singapore has a particularly localised myth to explain the origins of its own turtle-shaped island, Kusu Island, which houses several temples and is visited more by devotees than tourists.
- Myth has it that Indonesia was a giant solidified crocodile, as told in an episode of the Crocodile Hunter.
- Older Than Feudalism: Pliny the Elder in his Natural History describes a giant fish called pristis, which is so big that sailors have taken it for an island and landed on its back.
- SCP Foundation. SCP-169 is a sea creature 2,000-8,000 kilometers long that has spent at least the last few millenia just below the surface of the ocean. The rock-like plates protruding from it constitute an archipelago of islands.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Al-Qadim setting. The Zaratan, a huge turtle (200-350 feet across) with rock outcroppings on its shell and flippers that looked like small reefs. When asleep on the surface, it could be mistaken for a small floating island.
- 1E Oriental Adventures setting adventure OA5 Mad Monkey Vs. Dragon Claw. An uninhabited island is actually a huge dragon turtle (100 yards across) sleeping on the ocean's surface.
- Space Master supplement Aliens & Artifacts. Living Islands, which can grow up to 2 kilometers in diameter. They can dive under the surface, leaving whatever was on top of them behind.
- Atlantis: The Lost World generic RPG setting. Leviathans are giant marine turtles 200-400 feet long. Their shells are encrusted with corals, mollusks and seaweed, and when basking on the surface sailors often mistake them for small reefs or islands. If the sailors "go ashore" and are still there when the leviathan dives, the results are disastrous.
- In Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, this island is alluded to as being the island where the egotistical, bullying Sinbad lives.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- In the original series, the Lion Turtle Aang meets near the end of his quest masquerades as an island with real trees and other plant life.
- In the The Legend of Korra, we see that in the ancient past there were a number of Lion Turtles, each with a city of humans on their back that they protected from the dangerous spirits roaming the world. Whenever humans left the city, the lion-turtle would use energybending to give them one of the four types of elemental bending to defend themselves, and then they would return it when they came back to the city. The street-urchin Wan was the first to steal fire from a lion-turtle simply by not returning it when he was supposed to. When he was exiled for bringing fire into the city, the lion-turtle allowed him to keep it so he could protect himself in the wilds.
- Episode "A Turtle Island" of the Alfred J. Kwak series. The heroes take advantage of the situation by coaxing the turtle to take the island out of the way of an incoming tropical storm.
- Once in Adventure Time, Finn and Jake visited the City of Thieves. It's built on the shell of a giant dead tortoise in the middle of the desert.
- The Turtle Island cosmology mentioned above in Mythology has become the basis for a famous often-cited "argument" or thought experiment in cosmology and metaphysics known as "Turtles All The Way Down":
- The Mary River Turtle and other species that actually grow algae on their shells.