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"Every era tells the Trojan War legend a little differently. That's only natural. Homer's Iliad features the gods directly influencing the action—even joining in some of the battles. I've gone so far as to shove the gods offstage... I've chosen to downplay the supernatural element in order to emphasize the human element."
Eric Shanower about Age of Bronze
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A form of Adaptational Mundanity that takes a legend and reveals what 'really' happened by stripping all the fantastic elements out of it (or, at the very least, rendering them Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane so that they do not have to be fantastic). This sometimes falls flat, because without the gods and magic, the audience might wonder what the point is. If King Arthur is just another warlord with no Lady of the Lake and no Merlin, he had better be made an interesting character in his own right.

Authors sometimes forget this second part. In particular, the onus is on the writer to make the "imagined" historical events at least as interesting as the legend (and the actual events that inspired them sometimes weren't).

If the historical period in which the original story is set is unfamiliar to audiences (and only touched on for verisimilitude by the writer for that reason), audiences may assume that the real-life historical milieu so lovingly depicted by the art department couldn't possibly have been the source for the story they know and love, and is part of the filmmaker's dastardly invention. This is complicated by the fact that Reality Is Unrealistic, not to mention less dramatic, and so, in the course of taking some of the more fantastic elements out, a certain amount of Hollywood History must be added in.

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This technique is often used to give an adaptation a grittier and more realistic feel in situations when it is perceived that the fantastic elements in the traditional version might seem too whimsical or even silly to the intended audience.

Expect the hero to become Famed in Story, thereby setting the stage for the rest of the story to become Shrouded in Myth.

This tends, as a rule, to be a retelling of the legend in its current form. As a consequence, it can explain the "real history" behind figures who obviously had no real history in the story, because they were introduced to the legend later - even centuries later. Frequent examples include Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale in Robin Hood storiesnote , and Lancelot and Galahad in Arthurian Legendnote .

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Incidentally, the technical term for this technique is Euhemerism, named after a 4th-century BCE Greek, making the trope Older Than Feudalism. Sometimes coupled with a less-than-subtle Take That! against religion, particularly Anvilicious writers will give the characters anachronistically agnostic attitudes towards the gods.

Magical Realism can take the form of demythification in a more contemporary setting, or vice versa, especially if your Retroactive Realism involves one or two elements (often the most beloved elements) that are left purposefully ambiguous as to whether or not the supernatural is in play.

When a writer intentionally does this as a way of drawing out what historians "really think" inspired the legends, it is this trope. When a writer makes stuff up by way of Direct Line to the Author in order to rewrite an existing legend, it is an External Retcon, which is a sister trope.

When stripping away the fantastic happens within the same fictional universe that had the fantastic elements in the first place, that's Doing In the Wizard, which is a sister trope.

When a writer takes definitely historical accounts and reimagines what actually happened, it is Historical Fiction (or Alternate History if the changes are great enough). When a writer makes a subtle reference to actual history in a work of fiction, it is a Historical In-Joke.

See also Oral Tradition, Twice-Told Tale. When it happened in real life, it was called disenchantment.

Not to be confused with Defictionalization or Low Fantasy. See Historical Fantasy for the opposite, retelling history with fantastic elements - though in some cases the approaches can overlap, like putting King Arthur into a Dark Age Europe setting instead of the usual High Middle Ages but still including magic.


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Abrahamic Religions

    Anime & Manga 
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion presents the Dead Sea Scrolls as being left by the god-like alien who seeded Earth with life; this is the justification for the use of Biblical names and symbols used for the "Angels".

    Film 
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings has naturalistic explanations for at least some of the supernatural events in the story of Moses. The Nile is the color of blood because animals killed hundreds or thousands of people in it and it's actually full of blood; the parting of the Red Sea is caused by the water receding before a tsunami. Though it "doesn’t completely shy away from the miraculous".
  • The Last Temptation of Christ portrays Satan and Jesus' divine origin as real, but offers a down-to-earth version of the latter and the Crucifixion. The unconventional-looking Willem Dafoe plays Jesus, he is shocked when he pulls off his first miracle, the Last Supper scene avoids a "Last Supper" Steal by involving a lot more people than the traditional thirteen (including women) and having them seat on the ground, and the Crucifixion scenes skew from traditional religious portrayals in favor of archaeology and non-religious accounts of how Roman crucifixions happened (for example, Jesus only carries the horizontal section to Golgotha, he is nailed by the wrists and also tied, and the two thiefs are nailed to dead trees). Jesus' cross looks like a traditional Latin cross by sheer accident, due to the wooden sign reading "Jesus Nazarene King of the Jews" being placed on top of it; if not for that, it would look like a 'T'.
  • The Man from Earth: While the movie has one possibly supernatural element on which the whole story is based, the way it explains the myth of Jesus is quite realistic. John's immortality is given a highly speculative natural explanation. The characters themselves discuss whether it would be scientifically plausible for a man to stop ageing and live indefinitely. They conclude that it's theoretically possible, if highly unlikely.
  • The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. This is a borderline case, however, as more than one interpretation is offered for the Visions, and indeed implied for 'the Conscience'. Of course, since Joan of Arc was definitely a real person, The Messenger might also be accused of going the opposite route and adding fantastic elements (though this gets into a tricky theological debate).
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian, despite expectations, actually subverts this. It follows the whacky misadventures of a man that is repeatedly mistaken for a prophet in Roman Galilee, from his adoration by the Magi to his crucifixion by the Romans, and shows (accurately) that there were many self-proclaimed prophets in that time and place. Yet the movie does not make any comment on Jesus' nature, and he stays offscreen except for one scene early in the movie where he is seen addressing people from the top of a hill (The Sermon on the Mount). Despite this, many censorers considered the film blasphemous and it was denied a release in several countries for decades.
  • The mini-series Moses the Lawgiver stripped bare the story of Moses.
  • The Prince of Egypt is a partial Demythification of the Book of Exodus, keeping in most of the overtly fantastical elements—like the Burning Bush and the parting of the Red Sea—while reimagining some of the subtler fantastical elements that don't translate quite as well into modern times. To elaborate:
    • Most translations of the Book of Exodus heavily imply that the Pharaoh's court magicians possessed some degree of genuine magical abilities, which allowed them to replicate all of Moses' miracles until the Ten Plagues left them too weak to do magic. For the story's original audience, the intended message was likely that there were many forms of magic in the world, but none of them were as powerful as God's divine miracles note . In the movie, Ramses' court magicians Hotep and Huy are shown to be simple illusionists who use sleight of hand and stagecraft to make people think they can perform miracles, while Moses' miracles are the real deal. Case in point: Moses transforms his staff into a snake and in plain view of the audience and other characters, whereas Hotep and Huy disguise them transforming theirs with darkness and a blinding flash of light, obviously insinuating that they switched their staves for snakes when no one could see; Moses also turns his snake back into a staff after the Villain Song while Hotep and Huy don't—Moses' staff-turned-snake devoured the two fake ones.
    • Many translations make reference to God "harden[ing] the Pharaoh's heart" to ensure that he doesn't free the Hebrews until the Ten Plagues have run their course (presumably to make an example of the Egyptians for future generations), implying that God uses His power to influence certain people's behavior and actions. The movie gives him a pretty convincing Freudian Excuse that makes his actions seem much more understandable. His father Pharaoh Seti is shown to be an emotionally abusive tyrant who constantly reminded his son that the fate of Egypt rested on his shoulders, and that any sign of weakness could bring his forefathers' dynasty crashing down ("One weak link can destroy a chain!"). As an adult, Ramses takes his advice to heart and refuses to free the Hebrews because he considers mercy to be a sign of weakness, only relenting when his firstborn son is killed by the Plagues. It's worth noting that one interpretation of Pharaoh hardening his heart is that God isn't actually forcing him to act cruelly and Pharaoh had to let it happen, which he did; part of the lyrics in "The Plagues" has Ramses sing, "Then let my heart be hardened, and nevermind how high the cost may grow," meaning he's trying to be more like an immovable object against Moses and God's unstoppable force.
  • The Ten Commandments has a scene where Ramses tries to explain away the Plagues as natural phenomena. To paraphrase, he tells Moses that red mud seeped into the Nile River, causing the frogs to leave and the cattle drinking from it to sicken and die, whose carcasses rotted, attracting rats and bugs that spread disease. Then there's the matter of burning hail from the sky...

    Literature 
  • So many books and documentaries tried to find an all-encompassing scientific explanation for the story of Exodus that it's hard to trace it down to the first one that brought up the idea. Occurrences like the parting of the Red Sea and the red river are usually attributed to a natural disaster. Other biblical stories like the Flood get similar treatment.
  • Act of God, similar in style to The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail, raises the hypothesis that the Thera eruption was responsible for the Exodus story, the plagues, the Pillar of Smoke By Day, Pillar of Fire by Night, etc.
  • The whole "genre" of Ancient Astronauts theories concerns itself with explaining old myths and religious stories, but Abrahamic religions and the pagan mythologies of their original Semitic believers tend to steal the spotlight. To be specific, these stories are considered fanciful accounts of, like, totally mundane stuff like human-alien interaction. Nothing fantastic at all!
  • In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "Brave To Be A King", Manse finds that the Moses in the Bulrushes legend is being told about Cyrus the Great in his lifetime, and learns that the actual Cyrus was exposed and killed, and the recovered one was actually the time traveler Manse was looking for. To keep history on track, they go back and intimidate the grandfather out of trying to kill Cyrus — so the legend must have become attached to Cyrus at a later date.
  • The Gospel according to Jesus Christ by José Saramago seems to start in this direction, by having Jesus being born from plain intercourse by Joseph and Mary, presenting the Angel that heralds his birth in an ambiguous manner (for example, he shows up later as one of three shepherds who adore him), having the Massacre of the Innocents limited to the village Jesus is staying in, attributing his ability to produce fish simply to good fishing skills, having him in love with Mary Magdalene, and having John the Baptist (who is unrelated to Jesus, but inspires him) be executed for criticizing Herod's marriage and not for claiming the coming of the Messiah. However, Herod learns of Jesus's birth from a dead prophet appearing to him in a dream (instead of the Magi), teen Jesus works for both the Angel (who seems to be really an Angel) and another shepherd who is clearly the Devil, and as an adult, Jesus meets God. Who is evil. And tells Jesus he indeed created him, but as a tool to make all people in the world stop praying to other gods and make them pray only to himself.
  • Leo Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief tries to infer the life and teachings of Jesus without the myths that Tolstoy believed were later applied to them. Tolstoy goes through with this more thoroughly than Jefferson below as he applies it not only to what passages he includes and excludes, but also to the entire translation process itself.
  • Gospel of Afranius by the Russian author Kirill Yeskov presents the four canonical Gospels as honest but one-sided eyewitness accounts of "Operation Pisces", a Roman secret service False Flag Operation to undermine right-wing militia support in Judea. While not denying (or supporting) the claim of Jesus' (who is shown as an unwitting (?) victim of the Romans) divine nature, it explains most of his miracles with actions of the Double Reverse Quadruple Agent Judas and his posthumous appearances, with various impostors (one of whom went on to write the Q document).
  • The Jefferson Bible was an attempt by no less a personage than Thomas Jefferson, a deist who considered Jesus to be a great moral teacher but had a strong dislike for organized religion, to strip the Gospels of their more "fantastic" elements. Deism was a philosophy common in the 18th century that denied the existence of miracles and perceived God as a "cosmic watchmaker" who creates the laws of nature and carries out His will in accordance with them. It still exists but is much less popular and influential than at its peak, and is best recognized today for its influence on Unitarianism.
  • King Jesus by Robert Graves, which mixes the canonical and non-canonical Christian gospels, presents Jesus not as the son of God but the secret grandson of Herod. Though he does perform miracles and is resurrected at the end.
  • In The Master and Margarita, the title character's masterpiece is a novel recounting the life of Pontius Pilate. Excerpts are given from the chapters concerning Pilate's encounter with Jesus, which depict the episode in this way: nothing unambiguously supernatural occurs, and Yeshua is characterized as a philosopher who speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven only as a metaphor and is misunderstood by his followers.
  • Shulamith Hareven's The Miracle Hater is a mostly naturalistic retelling of Exodus, a historical depiction of a desert tribe who don't yet have the kind of religion that Judaism would eventually develop into.
  • In Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain, some of the famous miracles Moses performs in The Bible while leading the Hebrews out of Egypt are really tricks he learned from his first trip into Midian: he crosses the Red Sea because of his knowledge of tides and strikes water from a stone by finding a spring he had once encountered. However, some of his miracles are still as fantastic as the biblical version, and from Moses's perspective there is no difference between them: they're all just applications of his vast knowledge of nature.
  • Orson Scott Card does this with the legend of Noah's ark and other great floods, including the legend of Atlantis, early in Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. (The short version is that the natural rising of the Indian Ocean overran a land bridge between the ocean and the Red Sea, and that was the flood that destroyed the nearby city - which at some point became identified with Atlantis - where Noah lived; Noah had seen the rising waters of the ocean and built his ship in order to escape the flood he predicted would come.)
  • The Red Tent does this with the story of Dinah (daughter of Jacob) in the Old Testament. In this story, instead of Dinah being raped by the prince of Shechem, they had a consensual relationship that her brothers didn't approve of. Instead of Jacob's visions and name change (to Israel) being seen as from God, they are seen as a man slowly going crazy as his family falls apart.
  • The Bible: Out of all the naturalistic attempts to explain how the early disciples came to believe in Christ's Resurrection, one of the most interesting is the Twin Hypothesis. This posits that Jesus had a twin who was otherwise unknown and who came around and impersonated Jesus after he was crucified and buried. This theory was posited by Greg Cavin in a debate he did with William Lane Craig. While it's not a popular view among scholars because it's so contrived, it would at least explain the physicality of the appearances, and would hint at an explanation as to how the tomb became empty.

    Live-Action TV 
  • House:
    • One episode featured a teenage faith healer who apparently sent another patient's cancer into remission with a touch. Only to turn out that he gave her herpes that attacked the cancer, he'd been picking at his sores before he touched her.
    • Another episode featured a doubting priest who began having visions of Jesus, stigmata, and other "prophetic" style symptoms. Eventually, House proved all the physical signs were merely the symptoms of a disease. The visions he figured were just alcohol-induced.

    Music 

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: There is no God or afterlife, all the supposed miracles that occurred throughout history were illusions caused by pieces of lost Precursor technology stolen by Adam and Eve, who were slaves to said precursors; any and all magic and other supernatural phenomena are explained with Clarke's Third Law.

    Western Animation 
  • The Robot Devil in Futurama drags robots who fail to follow the Robotology religion to Robot Hell (a physical place built under an amusement park in New Jersey). The original Devil is not commented upon, though God appears in another episode (and the Second Coming of Jesus is offhandedly said to have happened at one point in the Third Millennium).
  • The Simpsons: The episode "Simpsons Bible Stories" had a segment parodying Exodus. In that segment, Moses (played by Milhouse) and Lisa performed the miracles using non-supernatural means such as when they dropped baskets of frogs on the Pharaoh and parted the sea by flushing toilets. The only part that wasn't demythified was the burning bush (read: God) that snitched on Bart.

    Real Life 
  • The Raëlian movement and the Church of Scientology treat the Book of Genesis as a mistranslated account of alien scientists creating life on Earth.

Arthurian Legend

    General 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Vinland Saga Askeladd is the last remaining direct descendant of King Arthur, who was really a Roman-British general named Artorius. Said character was probably named after him as well, making his original full name "Lucius Artorius Castus". (Same as the King Arthur film, which it might have referenced.)

    Comic Books 
  • In Don Rosa's The Once and Future Duck Gyro, Donald Duck and his nephews go back in time and runs into the (extremely unheroic) warlord Arturius Riothamas (King Arthur) and his bard Myrdin (Merlin). They also accidentally create the basis for the legends of the Holy Grail and Excalibur. The main characters manage to thwart Arturius and flee back to the future, but in the end, Myrdin decides to make the entire incident look like a great victory and create a heroic song about "King Arturius and his Narts of the Round Stable", promising that it will be a huge hit in the future. It is based on a genuine theory about the "historic" Arthur.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Diaries of a Madman plays with this. Several human myths are actually true, including Merlin, whereas others such as legends surrounding several of the human gods are instead revealed to be powerful mages.

    Film 
  • First Knight is still technically a fantasy film with no attempt made to ground it in real places, but it also strips the Arthurian length down to a group of knights, their leader, the Big Bad and his horde, and a Love Triangle. No magical sword bestowed by some watery tart — or any other magic elements, like Merlin. Like at the end, Arthur isn't taken to mystic Avalon by fey women, he just gets a Viking Funeral.
  • King Arthur (2004) attempts (the keyword being: attempts) to present a historically accurate version of the Arthurian legends. No mean feat: the evidence is vague and contradictory. The film takes the Sarmatian Hypothesis and runs with it, stripping out all magical elements in the process.
    • To name a few: Arthur is Lucius Artorius Castus, a Romano-British cavalry officer who chooses to stay after Rome pulls out of Britain. The Knights are Sarmatian cavalrymen drafted by the Romans, and the Round Table is exactly that, a round table commissioned by Artorius so his men can seat without giving more preeminence to any. At the time of the film, most of the Sarmatians have died already while fighting still restless, non-Romanized Britons (called "Woads"), and even more die in the Saxon invasion. Merlin is the chief of the Briton rebels, who is forced to ally with Artorius to face the common threat of the Saxons. Guinevere is Merlin's daughter, a warrior woman who develops feelings for both Artorius and Lancelot, and only looks "queenly" after she marries Artorius at the end.
    • The film's version of Excalibur in the Stone: It was Arthur's father's sword, and it was used as his tombstone by his wife and son. It remained there until a surprise Woad attack forced young Arthur to take it and use it to fight, and he kept it afterwards. In other words, the "spell" keeping the sword in place until retrieved by its rightful owner was just Arthur's legal ownership of it, which was never challenged by anyone.
  • Transformers: The Last Knight has the history of the Knights involving Merlin. Turns out, he was actually a drunkard who met some Cybertronians.

    Literature 
  • Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court portrays the magic in the Arthurian legend as fraudsters (including the title character) fooling the ignorant. Also subverted, when said title character falls unconscious for 1500 years so that he can personally deliver the story to Twain.
  • Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey, told from the viewpoint of a stable boy.
  • Jack Whyte's Camulod series removed virtually every scrap of magic from the Arthurian mythos - except the Made Of Unobtainium Excalibur and a few characters having psychic dreams.
  • Excalibur! by Gil Kane and John Jakes.
  • Parke Godwin's Firelord. Followed by Beloved Exile, about Guinevere's later life at the End of an Age.
  • Henry Treece wrote three mutually exclusive versions of the historical Arthur and co. starting with the young adult novel The Eagles have Flown, told from the viewpoint of a young Roman Briton who joins Arthur, then The Great Captains with Mordred and Arthur as the protagonists, and finally The Green Man, a retelling of Hamlet based on the original Danish legend, appearing when Hamlet is exiled to Britain.
  • Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur tells the story of how Merlin (not a wizard) built up the legend of Arthur (not a hero, but a common warlord, and a fairly stupid one at that) using a web of deceit and the help of the book's young protagonist.
  • Courtway Jones' In the Shadow of the Oak King similarly strips out the magic except for making Arthur and his half-brother Pelleas telepaths. Merlin is a blacksmith and general wise man.
  • Tony Hays wrote a detective/mystery series set in the Arthurian era, starting with The Killing Way. The lead character is an ex-soldier of Arthur's who sleuths for him after being handicapped in battle. While not actually the first Arthurian books to take the unusual whodunit angle, they're the first ones to be historical-styled. For instance, Merlin is suspected of murder, but it seems Saxon spies did it, and it gets complicated by the warlords of Britain trying to elect a new High King.
  • The Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and its film adaptation with Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley. Or rather, its final twist, which reveals that Uther Pendragon was the new identity of Romulus Augustus after he fled to Britain; Merlin was his British tutor, Ambrosinus, and Excalibur was Julius Caesar's sword, Caliburnus. The only thing magical about the latter two is that Merlin doesn't seem to age and Excalibur ends in the stone, obscuring the original Latin inscription until only "Es calibur" is visible.
  • The Lovers by Kate Hawks, about Tristan and Isolde.
  • Mary Stewart's The Merlin Trilogy, although Merlin is sorta magical and is teased to be the son of an incubus in the first book. After that, it's made pretty clear who his father is.
  • Terry Pratchett has a subversion in the story "Once and Future"; of course Merlin isn't really a wizard, he's a time traveller! The stone holding the sword is an electromagnet. (It's also made clear that, even without magic, the Anachronism Stew of Arthurian Britain isn't any history Mervin's familiar with.)
  • Andre Norton's novella "Pendragon: Artos, Son of Marius" - one of the quartet of stories in Dragon Magic - is set in post-Roman Britain. It ends with an explanation of the later legends of Arthur's death - he was secretly buried in such a way as to give his followers hope of his eventual return.
  • Stephen R. Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle series contains virtually no explicit magic, though Merlin is descended from Atlanteans (who are treated like Tolkien's Elves).
  • Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner trilogy.
  • Joan Wolf's The Road to Avalon has no magical elements except for Arthur and Morgan (portrayed as Arthur's friend) sharing a telepathic link. Merlin is a Roman-trained engineer.
  • The Sword and the Flame by Catherine Christian (published as The Pendragon in the US).
  • Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset is another stripped-down Arthurian retelling (in fact, one of the first.) This one does contain much more historical plausibility and historical research than the movie King Arthur, though it is left deliberately ambiguous if the "curse" put on Artorius is supernatural or just psychological.
  • The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. Nimue, Morgan and Merlin's "magic" is a masterful mix of psychology, timing and chutzpah. The Unreliable Narrator is predisposed to believe in pagan magic, and believes every trick, Merlin and co. pull until Merlin explains in detail how he did it. Sometimes he still believes, despite the explanation. Similarly, pagan ceremonial magic is a mix of psychology, showmanship, trickery, and taking credit for natural occurrences.
  • N.M. Browne's Warriors of Camlann (sequel to Warriors of Alvana). There are elements of magic, but it tries to address historically plausible explanations for Camelot and Arthur. Though good luck, at points, figuring out who is who with all the alternate naming.
  • Elizabeth E. Wein's The Winter Prince deals with such characters of the Arthurian Legend as Artos (Arthur), Medraut (Mordred) and Queen Morgause (Morgaine) without any magic or magical swords at all. It is about people.
  • Robert Aspirin's For King And Country features Mental Time Travel to Arthurian days shortly before the Battle of Badon Hill, with one protagonist going into Lancelot, one going into Morgan le Fae, and the villain going into a traveling minstrel. Among items brought up were:
    • Artorius was not High King, or king at all, he was Dux Bellorum, the Lord of Battle, who had supreme authority over all Britons in matter of war. Any authority he had in peace was just the result of his ability to command respect from the actual kings and queens.
    • The Sword in the Stone was the insignia of Artorius' personal cavalry unit.
    • The Knights of the Round Table were the actual monarchs of Britain, serving as subordinate warlords. There was no actual Round Table, when the monarchs met in council, they sat around a ring made of smaller tables, with the kings seated in rough alphabetical order by name of country.
    • Excalibur's apparently magical power stemmed from two things. First, that it was Damascus steel when everyone else was lucky to have iron weapons, and second, that the lining of the scabbard was coated in mistletoe sap, and as such the sword itself was poisoned with an anticoagulant.
    • Merlin was a druid and scholar. His "magic" was knowing things less educated people did not (such as how to forge Damascus steel).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arthur of the Britons: Arthur is a warlord attempting to unite the Celtic tribes. There's no Merlin or knights (Arthur's trusted second is Kai), the Sword in the Stone is a visual metaphor that Arthur sets up but which doesn't quite land, and so on. His foster father Llud is a demythified version of Lludd of the Silver Hand from the Mabinogion.
  • In Doctor Who, an alternate-universe Camelot appears to run on Magitek, and Merlin was actually the Sufficiently Advanced Alien Doctor. Merlin "living backwards" is revealed to be the Doctor's overuse of Retroactive Preparation, to the point that his final confrontation with Morgaine occurs before he ever travels to Camelot in the first place.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS
    • The third edition Camelot sourcebook has three settings: Traditional, Cinematic or Historical. Historical is obviously this, a no-mana setting where a 5th century Roman general named Artorius has become Riothamus of post-Roman Britain by marrying Vortigern's daughter, and defends the country against the Saxons.
    • In Infinite Worlds, the above world is called Camelot-2. (Camelot-1 is the Traditional version, and Camelot-3 is the Cinematic one.) Camelot-2 was briefly considered by Homeline scholars to be evidence that Artorius was the real Arthur of their own history, until further exploration turned up so many timelines with a "historical Arthur" to fit basically any theory, that they retired the "Camelot" designation altogether.

Classical Mythology

    Comic Books 
  • In Age of Bronze, Eric Shanower's graphic novel series based on the The Iliad, the gods don't appear, and there's no evidence that they actually exist in the world of the adaptation. This is deliberate, as the afterword makes clear.
    • The series is set in the 12th century BC (the time the events that inspired Homer, who wrote around 800 BC, are believed to have happened) and there is great attention to detail to make architecture, dress, weapons, etc. be true to the period. So while the Homeric names, personalities and relations between characters are kept intact, they are cosmetically as far from any other adaptation of the Illiad, usually based on the Classical Greece of 500 BC or later, as they can be. The Achaeans are Mycenaean Greeks, and Troy is mostly Hittite with some leftover Minoan influences.
    • The Judgement of Paris is a dream. A dream Paris claims to have had, anyway, during a seductive speech he makes to Helen.
    • Helen of Troy is only fairly attractive, not beautiful (but she is very conscious about her image and spends a lot of time on it; this, coupled with her exotic appeal and personality, is what makes Troy fall in love with her). Odysseus and Agamemnon say that she's the most beautiful woman in the world because the Hellene soldiers will fight more willingly than they would for the real reasons for the war, which are more complicated and less glamorous.
    • Helen is also the daughter of Tyndareus. Her mother believes that she hatched from an egg after she had intercourse with Zeus in the form of a swan because she is insane. However, the story has taken life of its own and become a rumor that Helen is of divine origin.
    • Many people referred to as children of gods are actually priests of that god. Oenone, Tethys, and other nymphs are just wise women that engage in healing and divination, and call themselves the daughters of the gods they worship. Anius and the Oenotropae are just a priest of Apollo and his three priestess daughters, living in Delos; instead of Agamemnon kidnapping the Oenotropae to feed his army, he docks in Delos and uses the food left there by the Greeks over the years as temple offerings.
    • Heracles was a roving warlord whose strength and charisma was such that he ended up revered as a god by his own men, and was later killed by his wife. His earlier sack of Troy is narrated differently by a bitter Priam, who attributes it to "a dispute over a couple of horses" with Priam's father, Laomedon. Priam's sister Hesione is not saved from Human Sacrifice but taken as war bounty.
    • Cheiron, while called a centaur, is a big, hairy Mountain Man rather than a half man, half horse creature.
    • The story of Iphigenia being rescued at the last minute by Artemis was invented out of whole cloth by Odysseus to try to comfort her mother.
    • The exceptions are the many prophecies of doom. Cassandra's, of course, are the most detailed and accurate, but true to myth, they are taken for incoherent ramblings and not believed. Instead of being cursed by Apollo for refusing his advances, she was raped by a pedophile at the temple of Apollo, when she was a child, and she grew up believing that the pedophile was Apollo and that he had cursed her (in reality he just told her that nobody would believe her about the rape). The curse is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy here: Cassandra acts crazy because she thinks no one will believe her, and people don't believe her because she acts crazy.

    Film 
  • In Helen of Troy (1956), the gods never appear in person but the characters all devoutly believe in them. Achilles's invulnerability is rumored, but one character remarks that his armor or luck is perhaps just that good, and arrows later do just bounce off his armor. He dies from the proverbial arrow in the heel after Paris prays that he may hit a weak spot, but it could be due to him falling from his chariot and hitting his head on a rock.
  • Hercules (2014). A constant theme of the movie is legend vs reality. The adventures of Hercules shown in the film are purported to be the "truth behind the legend", with fantastic elements rationalised as hallucinations or fanciful inventions/exaggerations; the 12 Labors were just stories (deliberately spread as they helped in his reputation). All mythical creatures are unfounded beliefs. Hercules' murder of his wife and children, the result of a curse by Hera in the legend, turns out to be committed by a jealous king who'd drugged Hercules, then had his family killed while letting Hercules believe he did it later. However, Hercules' legitimate Super Strength is unexplained, and Amphiarus' visions are treated as real.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? changes the setting of The Odyssey to Mississippi during The Great Depression. Ulysses is a fugitive from prison, Penelope divorces him and tells their children he died, Polyphemus is a one-eyed criminal, Zeus is the state governor, Tiresias is a blind railroad worker with a gift for prophecy, and Homer is a blind radio station manager.
  • Troy purposefully strips out the prominent supernatural elements of the original poems — or renders them ambiguous. The gods are never seen, and never act, despite their large roles as Physical Gods in Homers telling. Achilles is a Nay-Theist who pooh-poohs the gods at every turn. Hector, of all people, paraphrases Stalin: "How many battalions does the sun god command?" The priest of Apollo acts as an inverted Cassandra — he always gives exactly the wrong advice and is always believed. There are many other changes from the original plays unrelated to the trope.
    • Achilles's mother has a brief scene, but she looks more like a wise woman than a goddess. When a young boy says that people believe that she is a goddess, Achilles himself scoffs at the idea. The child also asks about his invincivility, and he responds that if he were invincible, then he wouldn't be bothering with a shield. note 
    • On the other hand, Achilles' blasphemy tends to be followed by bad luck, and of course he is shot in both the heel and the chest (several times, in fact), but he removes the arrows from his chest before dying and his men find him dead with just the one arrow stuck in his heel.
    • In general, the film seems to interpret anything where the gods would be involved as a metaphor or exaggeration. This isn't too far from how some historians view it, with a common reading being that any kind of major feat or unlikely event would be credited to the gods - for instance, a passage going something like "Athena blocked a spear thrown at Achilles" could be read as "the spear thrown at Achilles miraculously missed him."

    Literature 
  • In Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Daniken put forth the theory that classical mythology was based on ancient people's encounters with extraterrestrials.
  • Dares Phryx (5th or 6th c. CE) and Dictys Cretensis (2nd or 3d c. CE) both wrote more-or-less realistic narratives of The Trojan War, with a strong sense that this is the later-corrupted "real story" (both authors' pseudonyms are names used in Homer — they're presented as eyewitness accounts by Trojan War veterans); e.g., in Dares, rather than using a giant wooden horse, the Greeks enter Troy through a gate decorated with a picture of a horse.
  • The Edison Marshall novel Earth Giant featured a demythified portrayal of the life of Heracles. For example the famed tale of how he crushed two snakes to death as an infant is changed to him having been five years of age and the snakes had been residing in a sack of dry cornstalks, eventually making their way to the chamber where Heracles and his brother Iphicles slept, rather than being sent by Hera, though it is believed by those in-story to have been the case. Another example would be that centaurs are simply men riding upon horses at a time when most people used chariots, something that Heracles does not find to be any less wonderful than meeting someone who is half-man and half-horse would be.
  • The First Fossil Hunters (2000) by Adrienne Major introduced the idea that cyclopes were based on findings of dwarf elephant skeletons in Mediterranean islands (or made it mainstream, at least). Without tusks, elephant skulls are almost as round and flat on the front as human skulls, and the trunk socket can be easily confused for a single eye. Furthermore, elephant leg and foot bones are oddly humanoid-looking when compared to other herbivorous mammals. The same book attributed griffins to the finding of Protoceratops skeletons in Central Asia.
  • The short story "The Gardens of Tantalus" by Brian Stableford, collected in Classical Whodunnits, is a Demythification of the Lamia incident in Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana, in which the "lamia" is a human, but metaphorically venomous, Femme Fatale, and Apollonius's own "magic" is a combination of natural philosophy and common sense. The story is supposedly written by a student of Apollonius, who is tired of mythological tales attaching themselves to a rationalist philosopher.
  • A footnote in House of Leaves, containing an idea that a character in the book thought up and then abandoned, explains the Minotaur as King Minos' deformed son — the body of a man, the head "of a bull"- who was born so ugly that Minos would publicly accuse his wife of bestiality rather than accept his son as an heir. The labyrinth was a prison so complex, with the Minotaur himself being "gentle and misunderstood," that the Athenians who were "fed" to the Minotaur died mostly of starvation. Guess what the author of that idea (and, hypothetically, King Minos) thinks of Theseus.
  • The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea, Mary Renault's novels about Theseus. Successful in that Renault does make Theseus a complex and compelling character in his own right. She also succeeds in capturing much of the spirit of the myth because her first person narrator, Theseus, believes in the gods and their influence in his life, even if none of the book's events are depicted as blatantly supernatural - modern readers would interpret them quite differently.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin's novel Lavinia is a mostly realistic version of Vergil's "Aeneid," though it does add the supernatural touch of Lavinia having proleptic conversations with the spirit of Vergil. By the end, Lavinia has learned how to use people's perception of the supernatural to her advantage.
  • A few stories in The Lost Books of the Odyssey present the story of The Odyssey as one put together by far more mundane sources, such as Odysseus as a wandering bard, who ended The Trojan War in a matter of months but spins out a far grander tale to get away from the boredom of kingship.
  • Older Than Feudalism: There is a book called "On Incredible Tales" by one Palaephatus (an ancient Greek author). A nice reading, if you suffer from a really bad case of insomnia.
  • Robert Graves:
    • Hercules My Shipmate retells the story of Jason and Argonauts. The gods are real for the characters but their physical reality is not clear.
    • Homer's Daughter is based on Samuel Butler's theory that the Odyssey was written by a young woman, who based it on her own realistic experiences, and based the character of Nausicaa on herself.
  • C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The jealousy of Ungit (Venus) for Istra (Psyche)'s beauty is presented as the jealousy of the priest of Ungit for drawing away worshippers. Psyche's "marriage" to the god of the Grey Mountain (Cupid) is being chained to a tree on the side of a mountain as a sacrifice. Orual later finds Istra living on the mountainside, clearly insane and claiming to live in a palace that Orual cannot see. However, Orual later sees the god with her own eyes.
    • The trope is discussed within the story, as Greek philosophy is taking hold and some of the characters themselves are Euhemerists. A younger high priest of Ungit speculates that the stories of Ungit being both the mother and the lover of the God of the Grey Mountain are just allegorical ways of saying the earth (Ungit) creates the air, which in turn nourishes the earth with rain. The heroine silently wonders why they bother to wrap that up in a myth, if that's all the myth is saying.
  • David Gemmell's Troy series dispenses with the gods so prominent in the original plays.
  • The Egyptian portrays the Minotaur as a Decomposite Character of sorts, with "Minotaur" being the name of the Cretan high priest who wears a bull mask a majority of the time, to the point that he is mistaken for a bull-human hybrid when he is first encountered in dim light. The Cretan God on the other hand subverts the Demythification, being a bull-headed sea serpent, but otherwise just an average, man-eating beast... That is dead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The BBC documentary Atlantis: End of a World, Birth of a Legend is actually a dramatized retelling of the Thera Eruption around 1628 BC, which is identified both as the reason for the decline of the Minoan civilization and the inspiration of the myth of Atlantis. The narrator - only one who ever says "Atlantis" - likens Plato's description of the Atlantean capital being built in concentric rings of land and water to Santorini (Thera)'s shape.
  • Hallmark's miniseries Hercules (2005). The existence of the Gods made rather ambiguous (Hercules being fathered by an escaped prisoner of war with a lightning shaped scar), but they do throw in mythical creatures of Ancient Greece. It's heavily arbitrary on when to dismiss the fantastic. In addition, Hercules' Super Strength and fighting prowess is explained as a Charles Atlas Superpower brought on by Training from Hell.

    Theatre 
  • Oedipus the King and most adaptations of the same story downplay the Sphinx. The in-depth human tragedy seems to lose something by also having a Riddle-Spewing Man-Eating She-Beast going around in the Backstory.

    Video Games 
  • It is easy to forget now because of all copies it spawned, but Age of Empires was the first RTS game that was explicitly history-based, not fantasy like Warcraft or sci-fi like Starcraft. Consequently, fantasy and sci-fi units are absent (except as cheats), the Trojan War scenario features neither gods nor the famous Horse, and mythological heroes like Jason, Perseus, Hector, Ajax, Achilles, and Odysseus (plus the few non-Greeks Amon-Ra, Xu Fu, and Shotoku) are common swordsman, cavalry, archer, or priest units with just slightly better stats.
  • In Assassin's Creed, The Advanced Ancient Humans known as "The First Civilization", "Those Who Came Before", or the "Isu" are given as being the inspiration for many if not all gods from ancient mythologies, the first individual to explicitly appear being named Minerva as the player character, Ezio Auditore in this case, immediately identifies her as such a god but she denies any actual divinity.
    • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is set in Greece during the Peloponnesian War with many landmarks being based on mythology as both real historical sites that inspired the myths—the palace of Odysseus on Ithaca, for example—as well as completely fictional ones such as the gigantic stone statue of Zeus in the first real area of the game. In the series' typical fashion, many myths are also alluded to in other ways such as the first larger sequence of the game concluding with the Eagle Bearer having to fight "the Cyclops of Kephallonia", a one-eyed bandit leader who wields a huge spiked mace and is noted as keeping goats, much like how Polyphemus is portrayed in The Odyssey. This makes it all the more surprising when an actual cyclops appears later. It's ultimately still connected to Clarke's Third Law, though.
  • Empire Earth zigzags this for its Greek campaign. The first level has a village chieftain named Hierakles leading his people to a new land where they build a temple and a city on top of a hill (the Acropolis), the Trojan War is fought without divine intervention, while Theseus was a leader of Athens who united the outlying city-states against Sparta and Thebes. The last (of very few) supernatural events is when Theseus ascends to become a god; this marks the campaign moving from being based on Greek myth to being based on history.
  • A Total War Saga: TROY breathes this trope as part of its "truth behind the myth" approach to the Trojan War. All throughout the game are references to Greek Mythology conveyed through more realistic and plausible explanations that could have inspired them.
    • The game depicts various mythical creatures in more mundane forms that could possibly be distorted by future audiences into their more recognizable fantastical forms. The Minotaur is a Cretan outlaw with a bull skull headdress and labrys harkening back to the old Minoan culture, the Cyclops is a muscular feral shepherd or pirate (the latter referencing how some Cyclopes, including Polyphemus, were sons of Poseidon) wearing a dwarf elephant skull, the Centaurs are equestrian tribesmen who would have among the first instances of horsemen encountered in the Greek world, the Harpies are marauding bands of bandit women wearing feathered cloaks, and the Amazons are Scythian warrior women (excavations of Scythian kurgans have uncovered skeletons of warrior women).
    • Several of the heroes in the game have subtle design influences that call back to their mythological inspirations. Achilles (and his Myrmidons) wears a helmet with cheek-guards resembling ant mandibles, a reference to the mythical origin of the Myrmidons being transformed from ants. Aeneas has several costume elements that harken toward his supposed Roman descendants, such as his cheek guards resembling a legionary's galea, his sash and cingulum, and his sword and shield resembling the iconic gladius and scutum.
    • The iconic Trojan Horse is given three possible interpretations in game. The first are mundane siege towers with sail crests that resemble a horse's mane. The second is a horse-prowed covered boat that can be used to sneak troops into the city, which requires the services of Odysseus much like how he devised the plan for the original Trojan Horse. The third are earthquakes, which reference how Poseidon was the God of both Horses and Earthquakes; a symbolic horse rather than a physical construct.

    Webcomics 
  • Wayward Sons: The Greek gods weren't gods, they were superpowered aliens.

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, cyclopes, centaurs, and Amazons have appeared as inhabitants of other planets, though these were presumably unrelated to their counterparts in Ancient Greece.

Fairy Tales

    Ballads 
  • The Tale of Two Sisters, found across much of Europe, is usually some variant of this: Two sisters loved the same man, who was engaged to the younger. The older one arranged to have her drown so she would inherit the engagement. The body of the younger girl is found by a bard (who may mistake her for a swan) and uses her bones or hair to make a harp or fiddle. The bard is invited to play at the older one's wedding and brings along the instrument, but before the ceremony starts it sings out what happened in the girl's voice. However one Gaelic version removes the animated instrument by having the married sister compose and sing the song while the tide rises around her, which the other hears and later sings to her stepchildren, and the widow overhears her.

    Film 
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is a sci-fi spin of Pinocchio. Instead of a magical puppet, the protagonist (David) is a prototype for a Ridiculously Human Robot Kid who can feel love. His designer is an A.I. engineer who made him as a Replacement Goldfish of his dead son. Jiminy Criket's role is played by a robot teddy bear named Teddy, and Pleasure Island is a red district-type city. David looks for his father not inside a whale, but in a building in flooded New York City, and wants the Blue Fairy to turn him into a human boy so his human "mother" will love him back. He thinks he found her in flooded Coney Island, but it's just a statue. Thousands of years later, he is found by blue-colored highly advanced robots who... still can't make him into a real boy... but can make a clone of his mother who will love him.
  • Ever After does this for the Cinderella fairytale, with the story in a somewhat more down to Earth environment devoid of external magic. The Cinderella character is Danielle, a French noblewoman who's reduced to servanthood by her stepmother and one of her stepsisters after her dad dies. The crystal slippers actually are based on the shoes that belong to Danielle's Missing Mom and the Pimped-Out Dress was made by humans, not by magic. There's no Fairy Godmother... but there is a Cool Old Guy and sorta Crazy Inventor Godfather, who's none other than Leonardo da Vinci. To go to the Ball, Danielle gets help from her other stepsister Jacqueline as well as the family servants. The Prince, Henry, is a flawed human being with both pros and cons, and he doesn't take the revelation about Danielle being a "commoner" well, so Leonardo has to give him a harsh pep talk before he goes and apologizes to her.
  • Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen was an omnipotent Humanoid Abomination who was implied to be the living embodiment of winter itself and possibly a member of The Fair Folk. In Frozen, however, Queen Elsa is a human being born with winter powers. Frozen II changes this a bit when it's revealed that Elsa's powers come from being the magical half of the fifth spirit, a bridge between magic and humanity.
  • The 1955 MGM musical The Glass Slipper is another down-to-earth "Cinderella". The normally magical elements are given practical explanations, though the overall style does still verge on the edge of Magical Realism.

    Literature 

    Theatre 
  • Rossini's opera La Cenerentola tells the story of Cinderella minus the magical elements. As in Ever After, the Fairy Godmother figure is a Cool Old Guy, in this case the prince's tutor Alidoro who gives Cinderella her elegant clothes and takes her to the ball after she shows him kindness while he's disguised as a beggar.. The glass slippers are replaced by a pair of matching bracelets, and instead of having to leave the ball at midnight, Cinderella chooses to leave to make the prince search for her and test whether or not he'll accept her even in rags.

    Webcomics 
  • In Kevin & Kell, everybody knows the Easter Bunny is real. But while people may assume it's magic, in reality is the rabbit council who is in charge of a whole program to dispatch different easter bunnies to different areas to take care to hide the eggs.

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, Robot Santa was built as a defictionalization of Santa Claus by The Friendly Robot Company in 2801. He lives in Neptune, assisted by local Elf-like Neptunian aliens, and spies on Earth's inhabitants 24/7 to decide who has been bad or good before visiting every Christmas Eve (or "Xmas"). Unfortunately, his standards are so high that almost everybody is put on the naughty list and he attacks them with all sorts of weapons, turning Xmas into a night of traditional hiding and terror.
  • Klaus is an Origin Story for Santa Claus, except that he's just a lonely old man who winds up distributing toys to a small village. The children come to believe he's magical, but the various traditions are given mundane explanations: Why don't the children ever see him? Because Jesper is very good at sneaking into houses and delivering presents. Why does he come down the chimneys? Because they are usually the only way to get into the heavily fortified houses of Smeerensberg. The coal in the stocking and the Naughty List? Made up on the spot by Jesper punishing a bully who was a jerk to him when he first arrived. Workshop full of elves? Just an appreciative Sami family giving a helping hand. Flying through the sky on a sled pulled by reindeer? Ehh, it's a long story. However there is no explanation for the strange wind that may be the spirit of Klaus' deceased wife, and whatever happened to enable Klaus to continue delivering presents even after his own passing.

Germanic Mythology

    Comic Books 
  • The Mighty Thor: The Norse gods are real, but not gods. They are extremely long-lived interdimensional beings who have technology so advanced that it looks like magic to humans. Also actual magic in some cases. They were confused with gods and worshipped by ancient Scandinavians.

    Film 
  • Beowulf (1999) changes the setting to The Future After the End and is arguably more supernatural than its basis (not only are Grendel and his mother demonic entities, but Beowulf himself is half-demon). One element is less supernatural, however: Instead of Grendel sparing Hrothgar because he is a king and kings have divine protection, he does it because Hrothgar is his father.
  • Beowulf (2007): Hrothgar, Beowulf and Wiglaf are stripped completely or almost completely of classical heroism and depicted as very flawed people, Grendel is a Tragic Monster who won't hurt Hrothgar because his mother forbid him to, Beowulf uses a chain and a door to rip Grendel's arm off instead of his bare hands, the killing of his mother is a flat out lie, and the epic as we know it is just a very distorted version of events that Beowulf tries to disown in his dying breath, without success. Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are still real and supernatural, however.
  • Beowulf & Grendel:
    • Grendel is the last "troll" - trolls being either Neanderthals or Neanderthal-like cavemen. They are taller, stronger, and hairier than (other) humans, but not excessively so, and still use weapons and clothes. They can also go out during the day (but Grendel only attacks at night) and don't turn to stone (though Grendel apparently manages to disguise himself as one while at night, Beowulf missing him despite sitting right in front of him).
    • Grendel is also mentally challenged. His name was given because he grinds his teeth in his sleep, but the poem writer will make the world know him as a grinder of man bones. And he attacks Hrothgar's hall because his men killed his father, but won't attack Hrothgar himself because he spared him as a child. Finally, Beowulf doesn't rip Grendel's arm out with his own strength; he merely traps it, and Grendel cuts it to free himself. One of Beowulf's men worries that, as a troll, he might be able to grow it back. Of course, this does not happen and he dies from the injury.
    • Confusingly (and disappointingly, for those who were looking for a complete demythification of the story), Grendel's mother is still a superpowered aquatic monster. At least there are no giant snakes around her watery lair. Another man offers to swim into it, but Beowulf turns him down and does it himself.
    • Grendel "spares" a praying Christian priest, which convinces the Danes to convert to Christianity in order to be protected against Grendel. In reality, Grendel spared the priest because he was confused about his behavior and ultimately didn't see him as a threat. When Grendel is killed, the furious mother comes to town with a vengeance and kills everyone on the way to the hall, Christian and Pagan priests included.
    • The Original Character Selma the Witch never does any witchy stuff. She's just a local woman who lives removed from other people and has more knowledge of, and sympathy for Grendel.

    Literature 
  • Dwarves in A Song of Ice and Fire are humans with dwarfism (most often from achondroplasia, just like in real life), and they tend to work in entertainment, rather than gold mining and smithing. Tyrion has gold to spend freely, but that's because his family is the richest in Westeros, not because he is a dwarf. Later on, he loses this after his fall from grace and is forced to work in entertainment, as well.
  • In Dance Of The Tiger, "trolls" are Neanderthals, and "troll children" are Human-Neanderthal hybrids, stronger than either parent because of hybrid vigor but "cursed" with sterility (as some hybrid animals are). The schelch, an unidentified and possibly mythological animal mentioned in the Nibelungenlied, is the extinct giant deer Megaloceros.
  • Michael Crichton wrote Eaters of the Dead (better known as The 13th Warrior) as a bet, after hearing a scholar friend claim that the story of Beowulf was "a bore". Crichton took offense and set out to prove that the story was not a bore if presented in a way that resonated with modern audiences, just like the original resonated with early Medieval audiences. The result is a fake scholar book combining the story of Beowulf with Ahmed ibn Fadlan's historical travelogue of Eastern Europe in the 10th century. In this version, ibn Fadlan joins a Norse rescue mission to face a seemingly supernatural enemy in Denmark. Instead of Grendel, the enemy is a remnant tribe of cannibalistic Neanderthals, called the Wendol. Grendel's invulnerability to human weapons is a misunderstanding, because the Wendol always take their dead and wounded with them, leaving only Norse bodies behind after a battle. Grendel's arm is just one Wendol's arm, but it is a valuable trophy because it is the first incontestable evidence that the Wendol can be injured. Grendel's mother is replaced by the tribe's matriarch, and the snakes guarding her watery lair are replaced by Wendol camps around her lair and live snakes she keeps over her body. The dragon (or "fire-wyrm") is an optical illusion created by Wendol raiders carrying torches as they descend from their mountain lair.
    • The movie zig-zags the trope, dabbling in some standard wise woman prophecy and mysticism. The book counterpart is more ambiguous and features wise dwarves instead of a wise woman. The dwarves are normal Norse with dwarfism, but Bullywiff's men seek their advice because their culture believes that dwarves have supernatural powers. On the other hand, the movie also gets rid of the reveal about the Wendol's nature and makes them normal, if technologically backwards humans. Maybe.
  • "Frost and Thunder" by Randall Garrett has the main character, Theodore, time-transported to ancient Scandinavia. He uses his pistol to help the locals defeat an enemy tribe of man-eating "giants" (implied to be non-Homo sapiens hominids as in Crichton's Eaters of the Dead) before being returned to the present. Afterwards, he muses that he was probably assumed to be a god — specifically Thor, with his "hammer" that creates thunder, kills distant enemies, and returns to his hand as if it never left (his gun was initially taken for a hammer because he was using it to crack nuts).
  • Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, one of the major sources for Norse Mythology, uses this technique in the prologue. As a 13th century Christian, Snorri advanced the theory that the Norse gods were warriors who left Troy after it was destroyed, travelling to Northern Europe where their advanced knowledge meant they became chieftains. After they died, hero cults arose around their tombs, which eventually led to them being worshipped as gods. The same outlook is also presented in another work attributed to Snorri, "Ynglinga Saga", the first section of Heimskringla, but here, the Aesir are not identified with surviving Trojans, but an unrelated people whose home city Asgard was located somewhere in southern Russia or the Caucasus, and who migrated northwards to evade Roman imperialism (about a millennium after the destruction of Troy). As Heimskringla is about a decade younger than the Prose Edda, it seems Snorri eventually dismissed the identity of the Norse gods with the Trojans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Vikings uses Norse sagas that feature monsters and supernatural events as part of its source material, but gives the supernatural elements of them a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane approach (sometimes leaning farther into Unexplainably Magic with its prophecies). No one questions that Aslaug is the daughter of Sigurd the dragonslayer and Brynhild the Valkyrie, but whether they actually are her parents or even existed is left ambiguous. The show integrates the legendary inspirations with other historical sources, and often changes around both to fit its needs.

Other Mythologies

    Anime & Manga 
  • Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix series often features this, despite the title character being an immortal god-bird. Many characters in the earlier historical chapters are gods and other figures from Japanese Mythology re-imagined as ordinary humans and Strange Beings & Robe of Feathers imply that various mythical creatures are actually aliens or time travelers. Tezuka dispensed with this as time went on, however, with the final completed volume, Sun featuring such oddities as battles between Youkais and Bodhisattvas and retconning the alien angle out of the aforementioned Strange Beings (although Sun goes back and forth between the past and the (then) future of 2008, and it's entirely possible the part bits are an hallucination).
  • Requiem from the Darkness features a strange subversion where a trio of outright supernatural beings are using their powers to fake or perpetuate myths of other supernatural beings. Through the series many myths and legends are examined and many of them are simply the trio using trickery to fool others. For example a sociopathic murderer is explained away as a tanuki, a shapeshifting badger dog, who is suffering from Shapeshifter Modelock.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Animal Planet mockumentaries:
    • Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real explains dragons and reptilian sea monsters as a unique lineage of crocodile relatives that arose in the Triassic, evolving flight and the ability to make fire from their mouth through a chemical reaction, which they use for defense and to cook their meat. Originally all dragons were bipedal tetrapods (so wyverns) but one aquatic lineage evolved six limbs and survived the K/T mass extinction, from which it recolonized the continents and gained flight again.
    • Mermaids: The Body Found explains mermaids as an offshoot of the early hominid evolutionary tree that went back to live in the sea. Since they are primates (therefore, mammals) these mermaids have scale-sless skin and up and down propulsion, like dophins instead of fish, and their flukes are modified feet with bones, similar to a seal. They also live in pods and not all are female.
    • Werewolves: Dark Survivors explains myths surrounding werewolves as a derived strain of rabies that causes porphyria and other symptoms, with a few historical tidbits about berserkers for good measure.
  • In The Great Wall, the Tao Tei, described in many classical Chinese texts as gluttonous monsters and one of the Four Perils, are changed to a species of aliens that arrived on earth in a comet. They attack China every sixty years to gather food to feed their queen and the Great Wall was built to repel them.
  • Although it's basically Historical Fiction, and accurate in many respects (less so in others...), Kingdom of Heaven has tendencies towards this school of film-making with respect to the legends of the Crusades. However, the Director's Cut of the movie heavily implies that the Hospitaller is an angel. Also invoked when Balian throws a stone at some kind of naturally oily desert plant, causing a spark that makes it burn, and he says that's what Moses saw.
  • Lifeforce (aka "The naked space vampire movie") posits that vampire legends are based on a race of alien Life Energy parasites.
  • In Ondine, the suspected selkie is just a really good (human) swimmer. The "seal coat" is actually smuggled drugs, the "selkie husband" is a drug baron, her mystical song is actually a foreign pop song, and Annie getting a replacement kidney is pure coincidence.

    Literature 
  • Though mythological creatures are still present in A Song of Ice and Fire, they tend to be subdued and more 'realistic' in some way:
    • Dragons have two wings and two legs instead of four.
    • Giants are gorilla-like hominids, more like Bigfoot than straight giant humans.
    • Unicorns are goat-like creatures (or surviving Elasmotherium, according to some fan speculation).
    • Manticores are scorpion-like arthropods.
    • Basilisks are venomous reptiles that kill with their bite, not their glare.
  • Baudolino by Umberto Eco does this with the "conspiracy" version of the various Grail and Templar legends surrounding the Crusades - the same material that Eco dealt with earlier in Foucault's Pendulum. The historical conspiracy is replaced by two petty criminals and forgers trying to make a profit by selling fake relics. Although it's clearly fiction, and the way that these two characters come up with nearly all the Dan Brown stuff on their own without planning is meant as a joke, the gist of it must be closer to reality than the organised, large-scale conspiracy version. Also, Baudolino himself is basically a medieval Münchhausen.
  • Blindsight explains that vampires are not supernatural beings, but a Human Subspecies that evolved to prey on normal humans in prehistoric times. Since they were predators, they had superior pattern-recognizing skills and general intelligence, larger canines, better night-vision and the ability to put themselves into suspended animation for long periods of time. However, their intelligence came with a price: their advanced pattern-recognition, combined with the vertical and horizontal receptors crosswired in their visual cortex, caused them to experience fatal seizures whenever right angles take up more than 30 degrees of their visual field. This explains why they were warded off by crosses and ultimately lead to their extinction when humans invented architecture.
  • Happens In-Universe in Discworld with Pastor Oats, an Omnian who's very bad at his job because he can't help but pick up on the inconsistencies in his holy text, such as a prophet defeating a Sea Monster that turned the seas to blood combined with his knowledge of red algae that turn the water poisonous to sea life; or the one who caused a famine with the knowledge of the wind patterns that can cause droughts for years.
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe introduces the Great Old Ones and their cults, which are able to create all kinds of blatantly magical effects with incantations and rituals. The Doctor, as usual, handwaves the entire thing: just as the Time Lords use mathematics to achieve their sufficiently advanced technology, the Great Old Ones used language, and brought their own physical laws forward into our universe with them. (This is roughly the same explanation that would later show up in "The Shakespeare Code".) Millennial Rites takes this even further, introducing a character from the next universe who appears to do the same thing through sigils.
  • Robert Silverberg's Gilgamesh the King is a retelling of The Epic of Gilgamesh, sans supernatural elements; the "scorpion people", for instance, are just a family with a skin condition.
  • Stephen R. Lawhead's King Raven novel trilogy changes Robin Hood and his followers to Welsh and the setting to the Norman invasion of Wales during William II's reign, in order to make the anti-Norman resistance popularized by Ivanhoe less anachronistic ("Robin" is here a corruption of "Rhi Bran", supposedly Welsh for "King Raven", though since Robin's actual name is Bran then it should be "Bran Rhi").
  • I Am Legend does away with anything supernatural about vampirism. It's all caused by a bacteria. All legends of supernatural effects are either given a scientific-sounding explanation or else turn out to be mere legends. For example, repelling vampires with a cross works but is unreliable. Why? The sight of formerly revered items causes self-loathing in the vampire; a once-faithful Christian might be repelled. A formerly Jewish vampire is repelled by the Torah, but unaffected by crosses.
  • Caleb Carr's The Legend of Broken mostly plays this straight. The "sorcerer" Caliphestos is just a scholar, healer and proto-scientist (and hates being called a sorcerer) and the Bane a tribe of goblin-elves is the product of inbreeding among people exiled for not matching up the the physical standards of the City-state of Broken. However it's hinted that the lost manuscript on which the story is based was written by Broken's founder based on dream visions and Caliphestos has a seemingly supernatural rapport with the pantheress Stasi that's never really explained.
  • Scott Westerfeld does this in Peeps, where vampires, and all of their traits, such as being afraid of sunlight and mirrors and crosses are explained away as parasites affecting brain chemistry. Even vampires turning into bats is explained.
  • Parke Godwin's novels Sherwood and Robin and the King change the setting to the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of England, when the idea of a Saxon Robin's resistance against the Normans actually makes sense.
  • Timewyrm: Genesys featured the Doctor and Ace wandering into the middle of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu is a neanderthal, Gilgamesh is a perfectly human Boisterous Bruiser... and Utnapishtim is an alien starship captain, his flood-defying ark is a spacecraft, and the Scorpion Men are robots with lasers. Oh, and Ishtar is being impersonated by an alien criminal who Utnapishtim is trying to hunt down.
  • Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash posits that Sumerian mythology and the Babel story are distorted retellings of real events surrounding the fragmentation of language.
  • The Realm Of Albion, by Marcus Pitcaithly, demythifies elements of Mabinogion, other Celtic Mythology, and the late-medieval romances Amadis de Gaul and Perceforest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who does this occasionally. Almost any supernatural element in the show is explained as either alien or extradimensional. Even vampires turn out to be alien fish using perception filters to appear human. The "teeth" are the product of human subconscious trying to warn the person of a threat. (At least, some vampires are. Other vampires are actually blood-sucking, The Virus-spreading monsters, repelled by faith [a "psychic barrier"] or garlic [or "garil", which is space-garlic], and only killable by driving a stake through the heart. But they're still from space or the future, so that's okay.)
  • The second season of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has non-supernatural versions of a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl note , a Caribbean zombie note  and a yeti note .
  • Primeval often "explains" legendary creatures and phenomena like dragons, mermaids, haunted houses or the Egyptian monster Ammit, as prehistoric (or future!) animals that passed through the time portals into historical times and were embellished by people.note 
  • While The X-Files most often veered into the supernatural, it would sometimes do the opposite and offer mundane explanations for supernatural Twice Told Tales. Maybe.
    • "The Jersey Devil" threw away every aspect of the Jersey Devil mythology except the name and the New Jersey Pine Barrens location, recycling the titular monster as a maneating Bigfoot. Which was later revealed to be an anthropologically modern family of (white) cannibals living buttnaked in the woods. Maybe.
    • "Dod Kalm" explained rapid aging and ghost ships as side effects of bacterian activity.
    • "Quagmire" had Mulder and Scully come to investigate a series of deaths attributed to a Stock Ness Monster, only to discover that they were committed by an alligator. Maybe.
    • "El Mundo Gira" explains the Chupacabra as a man carrying an enzyme that makes otherwise inoffensive fungi grow rapidly fast, deforming him and killing any animal or human he comes in contact with. Mulder, naturally, believes that the enzyme came from outer space, but an UFO "seen" in an area of Chupacabra activity turns out to be a hazmat team coming to retrieve one of the Chupacabra's victims. The legend is shown to evolve rapidly as it is retold by superstitious Mexican immigrants, diverging according to their own biases (Flakita's version features the UFO and The Greys coming out of it, Gabrielle's version has no aliens but is melodramatic and Soap Opera-like).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Conspiracy X, psychic phenomena are simply another aspect of physics which mainstream human science still haven't figured out. All humans (excluding extremely rare mutations) are psychic, to a degree (explaining things like "intuition" or "empathy"). "Magic" and most magical creatures are actually also a result of this: the vast majority of humans produce more psychic energy than they use, and the excess "seeps" out of their body to create a sort of psychic background force, the so called "Collective Subconscious" of humanity. "Magic" is the manipulation of this psychic "seepage" to achieve all sorts of effects (the rituals work because enough people subconsciously believe they should), demons and spirits are intelligent manifestations of people's fears, and vampires and werewolves are people who were "infected" by the seepage until they were physically and mentally transformed into subconscious archetypes: "The Stalker" and "The Predator", in this case.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Empires II follows its predecessor in being a Medieval RTS that is completely based on history and devoid of fantasy. The scenario editor contains some Arthurian Legend, Robin Hood, and Nibelungenlied hero units to be used at the player's discretion, but they are all common swordsman, cavalry, archer, or monk units with better stats. Anyone that would require magic (like Merlin or Morgaine) is absent. Likewise, the campaigns may include legends or references to them for storytelling purposes, but they are not supernatural: Barbarossa's "The Emperor Sleeping" scenario is about carrying his body to be buried in Jerusalem rather than Barbarossa being a King in the Mountain, Genghis Khan's campaign ends with the Mongols believing that he will come Back from the Dead one day rather than him doing so, the only supposed miracles of Joan of Arc referenced are those that can be rationalized in some other way, etc.
    • In the scenario "The Battle at Hanoi" of the Rise of Rajas expansion, Lê Lợi receives 500 gold and his sword Thuận Thiên ("Heaven's Will") from a "Turtle Monk" after escorting him safely to Hanoi. In the legend, Lê Lợi received the sword from the golden turtle god Kim Quy. In addition, the sword only increases Lê Lợi's attack by 4, rather than making him a giant with the strength of 1000 men.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • "The Deep South": Mermaids are mutated humans living in the underwater ruins of Atlant... a.
    • "The Honking" parodies Horror tropes with a Haunted House with in-built Portrait Painting Peepholes, "robot ghosts" that are actually holograms leaking from improperly shielded "dead robots", robots turning into "werecars" who turn other robots into werecars after running them over and infecting them with a computer virus (victims in the Arctic are turned into "abominable snowmobiles"), and revealing that Calculon has lived 1000 years by upgrading himself and going through different identities.
    • "A Pharaoh to Remember" parodies Ancient Astronauts with the planet O'Cyris IV, whose culture is modeled on Ancient Egypt. Fry takes this as confirmation that aliens created the Egyptian civilization, but Leela clarifies that it was the Egyptians who took to the stars and colonized O'Cyris IV. Another episode, "That Darn Katz", later shows that other aliens visited Egypt in 3500 BC, built the Great Pyramid, and were worshipped as gods. We know them as house cats.

    Real Life 
  • One of the earliest Spanish accounts of Inca religion doesn't negate the existence of Viracocha, but portrays him as a con man who pretended to be a god in order to be made king.


Alternative Title(s): Euhemerism, Low Low Fantasy, Demythtification

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