Delenn: If you go, you will learn things about me that may change your opinion of me.
Lennier: Delenn, I have pledged myself to your side...come fire or storm or darkness or death. Can understanding be a greater danger?
: In this case...yes.
The heroes need the help of a legendary figure who, over the years, has been idolized
as the paragon of virtue, the source of all that is good and just, a true example for schoolchildren everywhere. The legend has beaten back all enemies, saved the day hundreds of times, and is truly a Knight in Shining Armor
worth looking up to.
And then, when they finally meet this so-called legendary figure, they find out that he's anything but.
This is not to say that the legend didn't actually do all those amazing things people say he did
. He's no Miles Gloriosus
. The guy really is a hero. What he isn't
, however, is a paragon of virtue. He's rude. He drinks. He smokes and is a bit of a womanizer and only got into the hero biz in the first place to make himself rich.
It's not the legend's fault that the heroes have idolized him. He can't control what other people say or think, after all. He, like the heroes, is only human, and the flaws that the heroes are complaining about are merely proof of their own unrealistic expectations. They had no right to expect him to match their daydreams. Exactly how serious the flaws are depends on where it lands on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
; anything from minor foibles or even Good Is Not Nice
to serious Anti-Hero
territory is possible.
The trope name comes from Oliver Cromwell
(1599-1658), who, in an attempt to avoid this trope, once told an artist to paint a portrait of him "warts and all". Official portraits were commonly done with the flaws in a person's appearance "corrected" by the artist. Cromwell wanted his picture to include his imperfections. Similarly, this trope is about the legendary character being finally seen for who and what he is, flaws and all. It is somewhat fitting that Cromwell, whom the English idolize while still admitting to his flaws, is the Trope Namer
.Note to Americans
Usually, this trope involves the lead characters convincing the legend that he must rise above his weaknesses and become the true shining example
that they thought he was. A more Bittersweet Ending
is possible if one of the leads gets caught up in the hero-worship and refuses to see through the foibles to the human being inside. Or worse, if they only realize the legend is human after a Heroic Sacrifice
; if only the reader realizes it and the characters all refuse to, this trope can reach Tragic Hero
about expecting the Knight in Shining Armor
is possible. Contrast Feet of Clay
or Fake Ultimate Hero
, where the "legendary hero" is anything but. Compare No Hero to His Valet
where someone close to the hero does not hold him in awe because he know him. Similar to Broken Pedestal
, but there the characters have a rational grounds for thinking the legend is better than he is because they knew him when he was better. Inverse of Hero with Bad Publicity
. A Historical Downgrade
is doing this to a historical figure.
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Anime & Manga
- Louie from Rune Soldier Louie.
- L/Ryuzaki in Death Note. Light mentions that most people would expect the #1 greatest detective in the world to be more detective-y. Instead, he's a barefoot young insomniac with a sweet tooth, non-existant social skills, and extremely poor posture.
- In Vision of Escaflowne, Chid has a case of this toward Allen Schezar: his mother's tales of Allen's skill, bravery and heroism had led Chid to expect him to be an unbeatable hero. Allen showing up badly wounded and semi-conscious is something of a letdown to the boy, who'd been expecting someone rather more invincible.
- Jiraya of Naruto is one of three legendary shinobi who have saved countless lives. Unfortunately for his apprentice Naruto, he's also a huge pervert who writes porn novels.
- Played with in Fullmetal Alchemist, where the young Princess May Cheng has a sizable crush on famed alchemist Edward Elric - whom she's never met. She imagines him to be dashing, tall, and a complete bishounen with beautiful manners...then she meets the grumpy, snarky, vertically-challenged reality. It's done for laughs when she berates him for "toying with a maiden's affections" - and he stares at her and wonders who in the world she is.
- Holland from Eureka Seven. When Renton runs away to join Gekkostate, he is disappointed to discover that his idol is a Jerkass who doesn't subscribe to his own ideals.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Astray, Kisato is a total fangirl of the legendary George Glenn, the original Coordinator and an Ace of the highest caliber. He ends up coming back to "life" when the team finds his Brain in a Jar and Professor hooks it into a hologram projector. However, he turns out to be a very goofy and playful fellow, which upsets Kisato's image of him as an austere, serene, larger-than-life figure. In the end, she accepts him after he convinces her that he's only human and legends always exaggerate...but she's still put off by how silly he is.
- In Dragon Ball, Bulma tells Future Trunks that Vegeta is a noble warrior; needless to say it's jarring and very disappointing for him when he goes back in time and sees just how much of a Jerk Ass Blood Knight his father really was.
- Saiyuki has this happen all the time to the main characters. Sanzo's team is famous as a group of demon slayers led by a legendary priest, so they're wanted in pretty much every town they pass through. What the townspeople don't realize until it's too late is that said priest is a young chain-smoking jerkass who shoots anything that annoys him, and that his companions are demons themselves. And while they live up to the "demon slayers" part, they normally only care about defending their own lives. They usually get the deserved thanks for solving the town's issues just because they're the only ones strong enough to sort them out and often have to do it anyway to progress on their journey.
- Astro City does this a cuple of times:
- In Confession, Altar Boy learns that his mentor, the Confessor is a vampire — and Confessor refused to declare he had not killed people as a vampire. However, his Heroic Sacrifice not only won over Altar Boy, it inspired him to take up the mantle.
- In Life in the Big City, an alien is put off by Crackerjack's arrogance, boasting, and foolishness, but follows him for a night and is almost persuaded not to send his race information they need to invade. Eventually he does it; not because Crackerjack is less than a hero but because other humans displease him.
- For the last couple decades, it's been quite popular to portray Batman as a serious Jerkass, particularly to his friends and allies.
- Booster Gold is a Large Ham who seems, at times, to be more interested in product endorsements, fame, and getting rich than he is fighting crime. Nevertheless, he really is a true blue hero who has regularly put his life on the line when the situation called for it. After the death of Ted Kord though, he became the hero he always wanted to be seen as. He has to constantly pretend to still be a greedy, shallow idiot so that he can effectively defend time. Sacrifice is a predominant theme in his new series.
- The Warlord: This was the main theme of the 1992 miniseries, which largely consisted of the Warlord's friends and family telling the viewpoint character "Well, yes, he's a hero, but..." There's a fair amount of it in the current series, as well.
- One issue of Jonah Hex is nostalgically narrated by a writer who, in the time frame the issue takes place, was a mute orphan. After his father dies, he runs into Hex, who saves him from being eaten by wolves. The two of them have some adventures (during which he constantly narrates about how awesome Hex is), he saves Hex's life, and then Hex leaves him to fend for himself in the Canadian wilderness.
- Happens with the entire human race in the short Judge Dredd spinoff The Robot Hunter. A single robot, Smokey Joe, is sent to establish a massively roboticised infrastructure so the colonists arriving later will have a prebuilt utopia. Unfortunately Joe idolizes humans and makes sure every robot he builds know all about how awesome and fantastic the wonderful humans are. When the colonists show up, the robots see a bunch of soft and feeble fleshbags and not the living gods they were expecting. So they very reasonably decide that these are "simulated humans" sent as a test, and since their programming only apply to real ones, there's nothing stopping them from putting the lot in cages and doing horrible things to them. When their super-intelligent leader realizes their mistake and what they've done, his programming breaks so bad he regresses into childhood. Despite, uh, never actually having had one.
Films — Animation
- In Legend Of The Guardians The Owls Of Ga Hoole, Soren finds out that the ragged, one-eyed, rather cynical old owl Ezylryb is actually his hero, the legendary Lyze of Kiel.
Lyze: Fancy it must be hard, meeting your hero and seeing that he's real and not a myth.
Soren: You're just not—
Lyze: Well what did you expect? Some Tyto alba with gleaming armor and battle claws, the moon rising behind him? (holds up his mangled talon) Well this is what it looks like when you've actually fought in battle. It's not glorious, it's not beautiful, it's not even heroic. It's merely doing what's right. And doing it again and again, even if someday you look like this.
- This is one of the bigger morals in Mary and Max, and Max's psychiatrist name-drops the trope twice.
Max: [Dr. Hazelhof] said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don't get to choose our warts. That they are a part of us, and we have to live with them.
- Played with by the North Wind in Penguins of Madagascar. While they are a competent and heroic team, they're also rather egotistical and unsympathetic, causing much of the antagonism between them and the penguins. Cemented when the North Wind abandon the penguins inside Dave's submarine to "regroup", even after Private saved them from a Death Trap.
Films — Live-Action
- Hancock: Only one character manages to see through the appearance to heroism.
- In Star Trek, Zefram Cochrane was the genius who gave the human race warp drive, thus taking the first step in the founding of The Federation. Star Trek: First Contact revealed that he was a cowardly, womanizing drunk whose intentions in building the first warp ship was "dollar signs, and lots of them".
Commander Riker: Someone once said "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment."
Zefram Cochrane: That's rhetorical nonsense. Who said that?
Commander Riker: You did, ten years from now.
- In Cat Ballou, Catherine is dismayed to find that Shelleen, whom she hired due to his high reputation with a gun, is constantly drunk and uncoordinated as a result. Even his horse shows a similar laid back attitude.
- Schindlers List pointedly includes Schindler's womanizing along with his heroic actions.
- Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong has a good one. After Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is taken away by Kong, the crew goes off to rescue her, but about half-way (after a run in with some Raptors) Bruce Baxter, the intended star of Carl Denham's (Jack Black) film, decides to turn tail much to the disappointment of Adrian Brody's character. "I always knew you weren't the tough guy you played in the movies, Baxter, I just never figured you for a coward." Later on though, as Jack, Carl, and the rest are about to be killed, Baxter returns with the crew for a Big Damn Heroes moment and gets to be the action hero he always pretended to be.
- The all-powerful Wizard of Oz turns out to be nothing more than a Snake Oil Salesman. His confidence trickster skills do, however, eventually save the day.
- Malcolm X includes Malcolm X's early life as a criminal and the various controversies surrounding his life. It also finds time to remind the audience that Martin Luther King cheated on his wife. However, it ends with an anvilicious monologue about how Malcolm X was a great guy.
- Evee is of this position in V for Vendetta, although it's an unusual case because V wants to embody an idea instead of be a hero (because ideas are bulletproof) while Evee wants to remember him as person who lived and loved, as apart from the faceless totalitarian government he opposed.
- Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain is a Fake Ultimate Hero and among the most successful. Inquisitor Amberley Vail, his long-term associate and (apparently) lover, is perhaps the only person who can see past his sterling reputation. However, she herself thinks that he is too hard on himself, and possesses many heroic attributes. And she has a point. For all of his self-deprecation Cain does have a heroic side that shows through every so often, though he always quick to claim that he only saves people left, right, and center for strictly selfish reasons (the only one he fools is himself). Thing is, thanks to the unreliable narration from Cain's viewpoint, there's no way to be sure how much of Cain's heroism is really fake. Certainly, his handwaving to explain the selfish, cowardly reasons why he performed seemingly heroic acts looks rather thin at points. Assuming he is telling the truth about what he does, he's often actively trying to avoid danger and yet somehow ends up in it, so you can agree with his self-depreciation. On the other hand, more of the time he actively puts himself in harm's way even when there are numerous moments he could have quietly slipped away with no one the wiser and no harm to his reputation.
- In Mitchel Scanlon's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Descent of Angels, Zahariel's first glimpse of Brother Amadis disappoints him: merely a man, not a figure like Lion. But the longer he looks at him, the more he understands his character and heroism.
- In Rick Riordan's The Battle for the Labyrinth, they meet up with Briares, the Hundred-Handed One, and find him demoralized and unwilling to fight, much to Tyson's distress. In the end, however, he does join in the final battle.
- In Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet, the somewhat callow hero lands on a planet inhabited solely by women — and women whose myths recount the days where there were men, wonderful and marvellous beings. Meeting with a real, merely human man leads them to rapidly conclude that he's really an alien, not being wonderful and marvellous enough. Dealing with him, however, brings various women to realize that he really is a man. (Not at all hurt by his Character Development, all the way up to offering to make a Heroic Sacrifice at the climax.)
- In Piers Anthony's Xanth, when the Gorgon asked Good Magician Humphrey to marry her, he set the same condition as anyone else who wanted an answer from him: she had to work for him for a year. When Dor discovers this, Humphrey explains that he feared this trope, because the Gorgon had thought herself in love after he cast the spell to keep her from turning people to stone. Working as his housekeeper for a year would ensure that she knew of all his little quirks and annoying traits before she married him — if she married him. A little later, the Gorgon explains to Dor that she had worked this out, and it is exactly what convinced her that he was the right man.
- In Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, Trev was bitter about his dead father. Nutt pointed out that his father had been only human, not a god; a good father; and, if perhaps a Fearless Fool who had gotten himself killed, yet people who had risked their lives had been important to the human race — an insight which profoundly moves Trev.
- Discworld also references the Trope Namer in Feet of Clay when "Old Stoneface" Vimes, a Captain Ersatz of Cromwell, is persistently described as having 'warts and all' by historical romantics who essentially use this as their justification for considering him the bad guy (King Lorenzo, on the other side, was "extremely fond of children" but he looked the part).
- The Wizard in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, aka the Great and Powerful Oz. Less so in the book, where he is portrayed as a kindly old man who has simply gone astray in his balloon, as in the 1939 film, where he is shown as a Snake Oil Salesman.
- John "Black Jack" Geary of The Lost Fleet. After being in suspended animation for over a century, he's found by a fleet on its way to a major offensive. He quickly discovers that he's nearly worshipped by people on his side of the war. This trope is a major theme of the series as a whole.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, although Harry had known Dumbledore for over six years and saw him as a father figure, he realizes that he doesn't really know the true Dumbledore: what he does outside of school, what his history is, whether he's truly the paragon of virtue that Harry's viewed him as for years. That's what makes it all the more soul-crushing for Harry to read the (surprisingly true, considering the author) biography of Dumbledore written by Rita Skeeter, depicting a youthful Dumbledore championing Wizard superiority and being buddies with Grindelwald, who was effectively the Wizard Hitler. By the end of the book, Harry accepts that Dumbledore is not perfect, and that he is still the greatest wizard who ever lived regardless of how he used to be.
- Since she's commonly proclaimed to be the best wrestler in the world, Sara Del Rey attracts a lot of admirers who don't realize she commonly wrestles as a ruda, thus many a wrestler honored to be in her presence get a little disappointed to find themselves in the midst of a cranky, disrespectful bully who at times even resorts to unnecessary, cowardly shortcuts. For the most part, though, she remains respected, if not liked, as they still often admit she is among the best wrestlers in the world. To Del Rey's annoyance, Cheerleader Melissa, Christina Von Eerie and Courtney Rush still wanted to be her friends even after seeing all her faults firsthand.
- Before he became a professional wrestler, Colt Cabana looked up to Adam Pearce. By 2007, Colt Cabana had come to realize everything he admired about Pearce was still worth admiring but he also had to admit Pearce was a jerk beyond description.
- Guybrush ends up one of these in the eyes of fangirl Morgan Le Flay in the third episode of Tales of Monkey Island, though this is a big case of Wrong Genre Savvy on her part. She built up such an expectation of him as an unparalleled swashbuckler and unstoppable pirate that she never realized he was the protagonist of a comedic puzzle-adventure game.
- Two examples from Metal Gear Solid:
- Mass Effect 3 plays with this by giving the players the decision of following this trope straight or not when Liara asks for input on a time capsule she's leaving for future generations to discover in case they fail to defeat the Reapers, with input that while hopefully allow them to succeed where they failed. Shepard has the option of letting Liara decided for herself how to comment on his/her work, painting them as a larger than life heroic figure, or not covering up his/her flaws and letting history decide for itself.
- The game also does this with Javik, an ancient Prothean who was put into stasis 50,000 years ago and whom the player has the option of reviving. Liara, an archeologist who has spent her entire life studying Prothean artifacts and ruins, has built up an image of the entire Prothean race as a race of sages and scholars and diplomats. Reviving, and then interacting with, Javik reveals that the Protheans as a race were social Darwinist militaristic conquerors, and that Javik himself is a bit of a racist who holds all of the "primitives" surrounding him now in contempt. This latter attitude is somewhat understandable; when Javik went into stasis, humans and asari were still living in caves, and the salarians were swamp-dwelling animals who hadn't actually reached sapience yet.
- This occurs to an extent during the Legacy DLC for Dragon Age II, which delves into the shady past of Hawke's father Malcolm. Though his past had been a mystery, Malcolm was by all accounts a good father who loved his family dearly and was even something of The Ace, being both a master mage and an excellent hand-to-hand combatant. During the DLC, Hawke (and their sibling, if still alive) discovers that Malcolm had never wanted a child with magic (he had at least one) and he was also a practicing blood mage who used his powers to imprison an ancient darkspawn mage named Corypheus. However, Hawke also learns he only used his Blood Magic to buy passage out of Kirkwall, and only because he was coerced by the Grey Wardens.
- Assassin's Creed: A major element of the franchise is taking historical situations and people and showing them in a more naked and honest light than is typically found in the history books. For example, Richard The Lion Heart is shown as something of a Blood Knight, Niccolò Machiavelli is shown as more of a statesman than a ruthless schemer, and the Patriots involved in The American Revolution are shown manipulating public opinion to make their war seem more just than it is. At the same time, the games also take some liberties by having major historical figures be allied with the Assassin and the Templar factions that are engaged in a Secret War for control of humanity's hearts and minds.
- In Assassins Creed III, Samuel Johnson is arguably the nicest of the founding fathers. However, when Conner asks him why he isn't speaking out about slavery even though he freed his wife's slave, he says "It's complicated" and ducks the issue. Even though he himself is opposed to slavery, he doesn't really want to force the issue for fear of dividing the colonists, a trait that was true even years later.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, there is a celebrity named Poppy Mitchell. She is an actress popular in the romantic comedy genre, and she has a reputation as "America's Sweetheart." One mission in the game requires you aid a paparazzi in capturing video footage of Poppy engaging in anal sex with one of her co-stars. Another later mission requires you to get footage of her fleeing from the police while drunk driving. Needless to say, these two incidents pretty much destroy her squeaky-clean image.
- Rose of all people in Homestuck, from Kanaya's point of view.
- Also, Dirk seems to have a very high opinion of Alpha!Dave. While he certainly was an amazing hero, he's far from flawless. And although we haven't seen it directly, the same is probably true for Roxy and Alpha!Rose as well.
- Rotten.com: The site doesn't paint a romanticized version of the world. The darker sides of so-called (American) heroes and history are discussed in detail.
- Played with in the first episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Batman and the Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes) end up on a distant alien planet that reveres the Beetle (actually, a previous owner of the scarab) as their savior. Like the Firefly example, Jaime tries to convince the aliens that he's no savior and that they should stand on their own two feet, but it fails... until the climax of the episode.
- In Hey Arnold!, Eugene is disillusioned when he learns that his idol is a foul tempered hypocrite. However, he's also a good person as demonstrated when he selflessly saves Eugene and Arnold from untimely deaths.
- On Daria, an old sports hero comes to Lawndale High for a dedication, and everybody has to put up with what a Jerk Jock he is. The discrepancy between his honored status and caustic personality becomes even more difficult when he dies in an accident, evoking sympathy and Never Speak Ill of the Dead.
- Beast Wars: Invoked by Dinobot via his Last Words:
"Tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truly, the ill deeds along with the good, and let me be judged accordingly. The rest... is silence.
- The Simpsons:
- Often spoofed with Krusty the Clown in who is often smoking or doing other disturbing things which children might find shocking. He doesn't care about the kids, comedy or entertainment one bit; he's in it for the money.
- A topic of the episode "Lisa the Iconoclast", in which Lisa discovers the town's founder, Jebediah Springfield, was actually a pirate who even tried to kill George Washington. Eventually she decides not to reveal this to the rest of the town, believing that his good image has always kept the town morale high and that it's better to keep the myth alive.
- This is what unconditional love is all about.