You Imagined It

It was Real After All, you had conclusive evidence. Or Was It a Dream? No — it wasn't!

Except that you were feverish or had a hit to the head and everyone else thinks you're unreliable. And you don't have any physical evidence. Hence the Stock Phrase — often gently delivered, because you are, after all, ill.

They may even be right. This can cover the entire range from All Just a Dream through Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane to The Masquerade.

Generally either at the beginning, to inspire the character to go prove it, or at the end.

Usually does not involve your imaginary fantasies actually becoming reality.


  • Somebody suggests this to Brad at the end of The Sandman: Worlds' End.

  • Justified in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
    Uncle Henry: She got quite a bump on the head. We thought for a minute she'd leave us.
    Dorothy: But I did leave you, Uncle Henry, that's just the trouble, and I tried to get back for days and days.
    Auntie Em: There, there, lie quiet now, you just had a bad dream. [...]
    Dorothy: But it wasn't a dream. It was a place.
    Auntie Em: We dream lots of silly things when we...
    • Henry clearly doesn't buy the "dream" explanation.
  • Contact ending.
  • The Congress: This is the defining characteristic of the chemical party state. After Robin visits Dr. Barker in the real world on the airship, he tells her she can't go back to where she left Dylan Trulinger in the chemical party, because that particular altered state of consciousness was all in her head, and she can't return to the same altered state once she left it. Furthermore, this means she has no hope of ever finding her son. Everyone's off in their own little world.
    • Not only does this throw the movie's ending into doubt, it effectively does the same thing for the entire plot of the movie since shortly after the first timeskip. Once she took the ampule and entered the animated zone, was anything she experienced real, including the return to reality to meet Dr. Barker? Or was it all one long Total Recall-style hallucination?

  • Susan, Peter, and Edmund disbelieve Lucy thoroughly in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but Susan and Peter are afraid that she is mentally disturbed, not lying.
  • Inverted in the Discworld novel Witches Abroad, when Nanny Ogg encounters a talking wolf:
    Nanny: Then I thought maybe I was imagining things.
    Granny: No point in imagining anything. Things are bad enough as they are.
  • The supernatural is not believed in by many people of Robert E. Howard's tales, so Conan the Barbarian and Howard's other heroes will usually hear this a lot when they encounter supernatural things, like in The Phoenix on the Sword and The Frost-Giant's Daughter. Usually the protagonist does have some physical evidence that proves him right, like the title mark on his broken sword or a scrap of cloth from the title character's clothing.
  • In the first book of Galaxy of Fear Tash wakes in the night and finds thugs trying to kidnap her and her sleeping brother. She bites the hand that grabbed her and hauls her groggy brother outside while screaming bloody murder. But the thugs are not found, not even their footsteps, though Tash and Zak's are evident. Their uncle believes it was a dream, and that her grief about being orphaned is surfacing like this. Actually the ground ate the thugs and smoothed their tracks. In later books he's much more inclined to believe it wasn't nothing.
    "Please don't cry, Tash. No one is blaming you for anything. You just had a nightmare."
    "It was real. I bit his nasty Gank finger!"
    "You dreamed that you bit someone. It seemed so real that it made you walk-or rather, run-in your sleep. These things happen."
  • This is ultimately how Rayojini resolves the issue of her "dream" encounters with the eloim and other strangeness in Burying the Shadow. It is also the core belief of the soulscapers—all strangeness is created by human imagination.
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, what Jenny has been told for a long time about seeing her brother swallowed up by the forest. When she gets into the forest herself seven years later, Jack tricks her into thinking it another hallucination, but other Fair Folk appear and reveal the truth. It hits her Berserk Button.

Live-Action TV
  • Space: 1999 episode "The Bringers of Wonder". Commander Keonig suddenly becomes irrational and is hooked up to an experimental machine. When a group of people from Earth arrive, Koenig sees them as monstrous aliens but the rest of the Alphans assume he's still hallucinating. Actually, the machine prevented the aliens from controlling his mind the way they did the rest of Moonbase Alpha.
  • Mash episode "Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead". The ghost of a dead soldier is wandering around the 4077th, and only a feverish Klinger is able to see him. When Klinger tries to tell the doctors about him, they ignore him.
  • Happens in the BBC series Inside Number 9 in both a Mind Screw and Double Subversion, in one episode a man befriends a tramp who slowly progresses up the social ladder, getting a job and becoming civilised while the man is slowly persuaded to become a tramp himself, quitting his job, drinking and not paying his bills. The viewer is tricked into thinking that either the tramp will replace the man but then this is subverted by the mans girlfriend telling him that the tramp isn't real and that he's had a breakdown and has imagined him. In fact, the girlfriend, who visits him throughout the episode, died before the episode began and it turns out that the man has murdered the tramp, thinking him to be a hallucination.

Video Games
  • Golden Sun: If Isaac (the only one allowed to participate) loses the Inevitable Tournament in Tolbi, you wake up in the infirmary and are told you must have dreamed the whole thing, including the part where you could see your friends look over the obstacle courses and choose the best place to cheer Isaac from (cheat with Psynergy). And once you win, you... wake up in the infirmary anyway thanks to Post-Victory Collapse. Amusingly, the fact that some Adepts are able to see the future is a minor subplot... but only Jupiter Adepts can do that.

Web Comics