In the Fantasy
genre, myths, legends, and folk tales aren't imaginary. They are real. Maybe not exactly to the letter
, but they're invariably based in fact.
In a setting where All Myths Are True, just about any mythological element can be introduced to the story without challenging the Willing Suspension of Disbelief
, any In-Universe
myth is almost certainly The Legend Of Chekhov
, and expressions of disbelief tend to come across as Arbitrary Skepticism
This Law Of Fiction
is particularly strong in Urban Fantasy
settings—if your world is based on the real world, it makes sense to draw from real myths. Bonus points if there's a Masquerade
to set up Domino Revelations
There are practical, Doylist
reasons why this phenomenon is so ubiquitous. For one, most people are already familiar with some amount of real-world folklore. It's much easier for both the audience and the writer to draw on that existing knowledge than to try and figure out something completely new and unusual
. Additionally, there's an element of Magic A Is Magic A
consistency—if it's established that there are vampires
, it sets a precedent that some amount of the stories we've heard are true, and once that door is open it's easy to slip in werewolves and faeries and wizards.
A work that sticks faithfully to just one mythological canon—no more, no less—falls under A Mythology Is True
. This is often paired with One Myth to Explain Them All
, which provides a handy loophole
to sneak in other myths. At the opposite extreme, if enough disparate myths cram themselves in all at once, the setting can become a Fantasy Kitchen Sink
If different religions
coexist mix-and-match style, we call that a Crossover Cosmology
. When In-Universe
myths are true, it's a case of The Legend Of Chekhov
, and perhaps And Man Grew Proud
or Prophecies Are Always Right
as well. And if you start crossing into Another Dimension
, chances are you have a Multiverse
on your hands.
The following examples need to be moved to other tropes, deleted, or added to a YKTTW
for a new trope.
The tropes most commonly confused with this one:
- Robert A. Heinlein's later novels, beginning with the novel The Number of the Beast (though he used the concept almost 40 years earlier in his short story Elsewhen), deal with the World As Myth, and expand it to the multiverse. In his multiverse, All Stories Are True and Exist, somewhere — and if you've read the stories, it's possible to visit the universe in which the story takes place. He shows this by having his four protagonists visit several universes, albeit unknowing. A side effect of this is that all worlds are part of a story, somewhere... and that anyone who writes a story has become the literal God of the universe the story creates.
- In Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw points out one character's objection to a certain religion by logic, leading to the final conclusion that we don't know which god is God, "All names are in the hat."
- The Harold Shea series of short stories features a multiverse much like that of The Number of The Beast.
- The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones features its own in-universe pantheon and myths, all of which are far more real than people believe (and far more factual than recorded history).
- From Principia Discordia:
Greater Poop: Is Eris true?
Malaclypse the Younger: Everything is true.
GP: Even false things?
M2: Even false things are true.
GP: How can that be?
M2: I don't know man, I didn't do it.
- In the Dune novels, the Bene Gesserit have a whole system of false myths called the Missionaria Protectiva. They purposely spread made-up prophecies that any member of their order can fulfill if needed. Thus, a member stranded on an otherwise hostile world can appear to be The Woman From the Prophecy.
- Which ends up biting them in the ass, hard, when Paul Atreides starts fulfilling prophecies left and right and the Bene Gesserit are so used to treating prophecies as fakes and tools that they don't see the messiah in front of their faces until it's too late to do anything about it. Lampshaded by Herbert in one of the Appendixes, an after-action report by the Bene Gesserit that points out all the clues that a lot of people who should have known better ignored. The report concludes that the only explanation is that the Bene Gesserit were themselves in the grip of a higher plan all along: In other words, yep, All Myths Are True and that's what they get for playing with fire.
- Nothing's ever simple in Dune, though. That report was commissioned by the Lady Jessica, Paul's mother, who has a vested interest in maintaining the mythos that is part of Paul's power base.
- It's also clear that while Paul is a Kwisatch Haderach, he's not the one the Bene Gesserit intended. When discussing the idea, Mohiam only talks about him being able to access male genetic memory. They completely failed to realize the prescience. The only group aware of it before Paul was the Guild and they weren't talking.
- In Brandon Sanderson's The Well of Ascension, the Twist Ending is that the prophecies have been deliberately altered by a powerful being in order to manipulate humanity/the heroes into freeing it.
- Young Wizards plays with this trope, in that many myths were inspired by the non-mythical actions of the godlike Powers That Be. For example, the extremely powerful Winged Defender is the inspiration for (among other things) Thor, Athena, Prometheus and the archangel Michael.
- The Eberron setting of Dungeons&Dragons has a version of this: in contrast to most settings in which Clerics derive their powers from one of a set of specific gods chosen by the DM and which definitely and demonstrably exist, in Eberron, anything a cleric believes in sufficiently works. Clerics can be devoted to abstract concepts (like "Justice") instead of specific gods, and there's at least one religion in which the followers know their god doesn't exist (yet) because they're in the process of building him.
- Subverted in this Abe Kroenen comic. Of course, everyone present takes the fact that Atlantis exists in the first place as unsurprising.
- Wayward Sons focuses mainly on Greek mythology, but features figures from several other ancient cultures.
- Tasakeru: True in-universe. Each sentient sees their species' version of the God of Time the first time Zero becomes his keshin.
- In the first few years of the franchise, each time a new threat appeared, the Turaga elders had a legend ready to explain their presence. Eventually, the Toa got rather annoyed with being kept out of the loop until the last minute, finally getting the Turaga to explain just where they got all their information:
- The original backstory said that the Great Spirit brought the Matoran out of darkness to the island of Mata Nui. We later find out that it was actually the Turaga who rescued them (as Toa Metru) from their ruined city of Metru Nui, they just credited the Spirit with giving them the strength and abilities to do so. (They also treated Metru Nui's existence as a Greatest Story Never Told to keep the Matoran from remembering and getting homesick.)
- One story said that poor workers were sent to the dreaded realm of Karzahni to be punished. In truth, poor workers were sent to Karzahni to be fixed; it's just that Karzahni was a really crappy healer and he never let anyone leave.
- One legend that isn't real is that of the monster Irnakk — that is, it wasn't real, until the Piraka entered an area that brought worst fears to life... (Thankfully, Irnakk only existed briefly before vanishing.)