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Fantastic Aesop

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Calvin: Well, Hobbes, I guess there's a moral to all this.
Hobbes: What's that?
Calvin: "Snow goons are bad news."
Hobbes: That lesson certainly ought to be inapplicable elsewhere in life.
Calvin: I like maxims that don't encourage behavior modification.

A situation in which the characters learn some sort of moral or lesson which is impossible to apply in Real Life. The lesson may be perfectly reasonable in context — but totally useless to the audience, who presumably live on modern day planet Earth.

Often Science Fiction and Fantasy stories will use metaphors or analogies to teach a moral lesson which does apply to the real world — for example, using Fantastic Racism to apply to a lesson about real-world discrimination. Though if things aren't handled well, it's easy to end up with the fantasy setting undermining the intended message — for example, delivering a lesson about discrimination using a race established to be a legitimate threat. Other times the lesson just has no direct relevance at all (at least without a generous level of interpretation) — such as teaching a moral lesson against using Time Travel or The Dark Side to fix your problems.

A common Fantastic Aesop is a warning against the use of magic or non-existent technology — when the work seems to be warning against the use of any new technology, see Science Is Bad and Ludd Was Right. Other common uses include the Butterfly of Doom (be careful with time travel!) or Be Careful What You Wish For, in cases where the wish is literally granted, immediately, by magic.

This is commonly used as a Spoof Aesop, generally acknowledged when the characters explicitly state the ridiculous moral they've just learned.

Compare with Space Whale Aesop: the lesson itself is reasonable, but the consequences are unrealistic. Often a clear metaphor or analogy to real life can come across as a fantastic aesop if interpreted in its most literal form — check out Warp That Aesop for those examples.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The English dub of the Sonic X pilot has one that doubles as a Mythology Gag invoking Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog's infamous "Sonic Says" segments.
    (The city's Special Forces, policemen driving racecars, are chasing Sonic when he gets on top of one of their cars.)
    Driver: Hey, you! This is dangerous! It's irresponsible! What happens if kids start trying this?
    Sonic: (turns to camera) Kids, don't use Formula 1 racecars to chase hedgehogs.
  • In Delicious in Dungeon the main party learn that the taboo against eating monsters is pointless and using them as a food supply when Dungeon Crawling is a better idea than trying to survive on nutritionally limited rations from the surface.
  • Franken Fran: Practically every issue, Fran observes a flaw of human nature and takes some bit of wisdom from it that the reader can share. Things like, "Don't get so addicted to being revived from death by a maestro surgeon that you keep killing yourself over and over", or "Don't turn yourself into an anime character for love, or your skin will molt off and your lover will crush you to death trying to escape the alien you appear to be", or maybe "Inner beauty may shine through a layer of bandages, but those bandages are there to cover something horrifying".
  • In Naruto, bringing people back to life requires human sacrifices and is considered wrong by almost everyone.
    • The first Jutsu, Impure World Resurrection, is described above.
    • One of them was originally created to bring puppets to life, and can resurrect a person if their body is habitable, but will cost the jutsu user their life. Chiyo uses the jutsu to resurrect Gaara, who'd died as a result of the One-Tailed Beast being extracted from him, partly as penance for putting the beast in him in the first place.
    • Finally, the Samsara of Heavenly Life technique can only be used by someone who possesses the Rinnegan, an eye power which was held centuries ago by the Messiah figure. This technique was used by Nagato to revive nearly the entire population of the most politically important city in the world. As confirmed by Obito Uchiha in a chapter near the end, this technique also costs the user their life.
  • While not an aesop, in a similar vein in One Piece the main cast starts to speculate about how regaining their shadows from Moria caused them to reform from being disintegrated. After a brief conversation over this, Zoro asks them why they even bother as the same situation will probably never happen to anyone ever again.
  • Princess Mononoke: Don't shoot elder nature gods if you don't want them to turn into Eldritch Abominations.
  • Pom Poko spends a lot of time establishing the negative impact industrialization and city expansion have on local nature and its resident supernatural creatures.

    Comic Books 
  • Age of Ultron: The moral of the story; do not mess around with time.
    Tony Stark of Earth-26111: Listen to me, the reason... the reason why we don't go back and forth through time and fix things... The reason we don't just do whatever we want whenever things don't go our way is because we can't. Time is an organism. It's part of us. It lives and breathes and every time you travel through it, you rip it. You tear it. You hurt it. If you keep doing it eventually you will kill it. You'll break it beyond repair. Do you hear me? What happens when time is dead? What happens when you kill it?
  • Chick Tracts: One tract has a completely sincere example — a talentless kid sells his soul to the devil for incredible fame and basketball skills. The Fantastic Aesop is "don't sell your soul to the devil"... except the end of the comic outright says the devil never had his soul. In other words, the kid traded nothing for ridiculous success.
  • One More Day: Fantastic Aesop: The story is essentially a result of Quesada wanting to split up Mary Jane and Peter, but at the same time didn't want to imply a "divorce is okay" moral. Apparently, he was fine with impossibly implying "making deals with the devil is okay".
  • The Vision (2015):
    • Androids/synthezoids are not human, no matter how hard they try to be "normal", and will not be at ease in human society.
    • Creating synthetic humans with super strength AND bad tempers will result in trouble.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: One story arc involves Calvin bringing a snowman to life. The snowman became a vicious monster and created an army of "snow goons" that kept trying to kill Calvin. After defeating them by spraying them with the hose to freeze them solid, and thus getting in trouble for leaving the house after midnight, Calvin stated that he had learned a lesson from this misadventure: "Snow goons are bad news", which he was glad was completely inapplicable.

    Fan Works 
  • Hard Reset (Eakin): After being killed by the Elements of Harmony, Twilight's reaction is that there's probably a decent friendship report somewhere in the fact that "misusing the power of friendship can not only hurt you, but can make every particle in your body explode at the same time". A valuable lesson for us all.

    Films — Animated 
  • The first three Toy Story films have the same moral: "If you are a living toy, be loyal to the kid who is your owner." It may be an analogy for being loyal to your friends, but not only are humans unaware their toys are alive, but the relationship between a child and a toy is different from real friends, no matter if toys are alive or not. Or, the moral may be that this friendship is not different; treat your toys like friends even if in real life they aren't alive.
  • (Learned by Joaquin) in The Book of Life, if you are immortal and invincible, a willingness to fight isn't really courage.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Legend: NEVER, EVER, TOUCH A UNICORN, as you'll unleash Armageddon and the devil will try to seduce and marry you. All right. We won't touch unicorns. Thanks for warning us.
  • As an example of Applied Phlebotinum's success ruining the metaphor, One Magic Christmas teaches us that Santa Claus can bring loved ones back from the dead; so have faith... in Santa Claus.
  • Star Wars:
    • An overarching theme of the series is that The Dark Side is inherently corruptive, and therefore should never be used, even for good ends.
    • Revenge of the Sith contains two in one movie. You Can't Fight Fate plays into the central plot and Anakin's attempt to save Padme from dying led to her path to death. The movie also touches on Immortality Immorality with Palpatine suggesting that immortality is a Sith exclusive technique.
  • The Time Machine (2002) had a Butterfly of Doom follow the time traveler around when he tried to change time to save his fiance — the lesson being presumably "don't use time travel to change the past".
  • If you are Adam Sandler in the movie Click and find a "universal remote" that can apply TV-like functions (e.g. mute, fast-forward, etc.) to the universe, don't use fast-forward to skip the boring parts of life like traffic jams, or the remote will "remember" how you used it and automatically fast-forward through important parts of your life as well just because it contained a boring bit you previously skipped.
  • Boggy Creek 2: And the Legend Continues: Bigfoot searchers should leave Bigfoot alone — he's a part of nature's unspoiled beauty. Even Crenshaw comes to this conclusion by the end!
  • I, Robot (along with most robot stories, including the one which coined the term "robot"): Don't create artificial servants, as any sufficiently advanced device will either spontaneously decide to eliminate humanity or be too stupid to realize we didn't ask it to.

  • Captain Underpants: After noting that the fourth book did have a legitimate moral for the first time in the series about not making fun of other cultures, the author points out a more important moral: "Never, ever, EVER hypnotize your principal. Because if you do, your life may go from bad to worse at the snap of a finger!"
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione uses a time-traveling device to allow her to attend all of the extra classes that no one would be able to attend under normal circumstances. The lesson? Don't use time travel to take multiple classes at once or you'll exhaust yourself.
  • The lesson in The Wishing Maiden seems to be that magically granted wishes, if allowed to run rampant, will incite wars and create chaos.
  • Worlds of Shadow: Bringing your dead loved ones back from the dead won't work-they'll just be a soulless shell.
  • Bad Dream by John Christopher is has a moral about the dangers of science fiction-style virtual reality, which does not currently exist. Apparently, Christopher feels that if virtual reality gets really good, it will become a Lotus-Eater Machine. Rather than treating this as an in-universe problem, he rants for pages and pages about the dangers of virtual reality, in a tone not unlike those who rant about the corrupting influence of video games or modern music. Given that he explicitly rejects the video game parallel, the most probable interpretation is that he feels virtual reality is a near-future problem and wants to prepare resistance ahead of time. (Death Dream by Ben Bova and The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin approach the matter similarly, but not as venomously in the former case and not as lengthily in the latter.)
  • In Worm, Taylor talks to middle-schoolers about why being a supervillain sucks. She explains that while, if you're one of the few who make it big, you can make truly insane amounts of money, the chances of dying are also high.
  • In the first book of The Dresden Files, Harry warns us not to try to catch faeries at home, because we don't know what to do when it goes wrong.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Woman Who Lived" devotes a good deal of time to discussing the Aesop that "Just because you're immortal doesn't mean you should stop caring about mortals."
    • Far too much Doctor Who, from "The Aztecs" to "Waters of Mars" has the moral "You can't alter established history and should not attempt to do so".
  • In The Good Place episode "Best Self," Michael tries to put an aphoristic button on their afterlife experiences so far. He comes up with such statements as, "The real bad place was the friends we made along the way," which Eleanor dismisses as "nonsense."
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus plays this for laughs: "Oh, now this is where Mr. Podgorny could have saved his wife's life. If he'd gone to the police and told them that he'd been approached by unearthly beings, from the galaxy of Andromeda, we'd have sent a man round to investigate. As it was, he did a deal with a blancmange and the blancmange ate his wife. So if you're going out or anything strange happens involving other galaxies, just nip round to your local police station and tell the sergeant on duty, or his wife, of your suspicions. And the same goes for dogs."
  • Out of This World (1987): Commonly taught "Don't use your special powers to do X" aesops. Should you ever gain the ability to stop time, don't use it for personal gain, or directly to make other people happy. (Using powers to triage a friend's problem is sometimes okay, but just magicking your best friend a cute date is right out.)
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch:
    • "Don't use your special powers to do X" aesops; we've learned that using powers to get out of doing laborious and trivial tasks, for personal gain, or directly to make other people happy are all bad ideas. (Using them to triage a friend's problem is sometimes okay, but just magicking your best friend a cute date is right out.)
    • Interestingly subverted in one episode, where she decides to use magic to interfere with other people's lives (usually aesops in the show are about her using magic for herself) and does three different things to do so. She injures a first-string football player so Harvey would be called up to the main team, rigs a class president election with Jenny winning instead of Libby, and implants knowledge of how to perform "lead to gold" alchemy to her science teacher. The first two changes are self-limiting, with both Harvey and Jenny getting Be Careful What You Wish For aesops: Harvey is immediately injured himself due to his inexperience with football, while Jenny quickly realizes she has no real power as class president apart from the lunch menu and school dances. Harvey actually finds he enjoys not having to play football, and Jenny resigns in favor of Libby after all. The science teacher, on the other hand, becomes fabulously rich and a much better teacher (teaching because he wants to, rather than for the money). When the magical authorities find out, they don't really care that she has messed with her classmates' lives; they only care that she changed the nature of the universe by rewriting atomic law (allowing gold to be created at will by the science teacher who knows how to do it). She ends up getting off scot-free for the other two stunts she pulled.
    • One of the novelizations has Sabrina trying to explain that she can't use magic to decide what classes she wants to take because it's somehow unfair since her mortal students can't. She quickly realizes how flimsy this argument is and does it anyway.
  • In Supernatural, resurrection is generally associated with a transformation into a monster or a demon deal. Sam and Dean, who have come back from the dead numerous times, both struggle with these implications.
  • In GoGo Sentai Boukenger, the moral regarding Eiji/BoukenSilver (he's mixed race and fighting against his other half) would be a Hard Truth Aesop since he's fighting against his racially undesirable side...except it falls into this because he's a Half-Human Hybridnote , something you can't be in real life. Even then, it's somewhat justified, since with the exception of his mother, his non-human half is a race of literal monsters who desire destruction.

  • Ghoultown's Drink With the Living Dead ends on a note that not only is the only lesson to take from this song a Space Whale Aesop, but the thing it teaches to not do, while possible, is so rare it may as well be this trope.
There ain't no fancy moral to go with this I fear
Unless you aim to kill a man and drink down his last beer!
  • Heather Dale: It's pretty much guaranteed to happen in any song dealing with The Fair Folk. "Changeling Child" has the message "Don't make deals with faeries" and "Fair Folk" has the message "Leave faeries well alone and ward them off with Cold Iron".

    Tabletop Games 
  • White Wolf's Werewolf: The Apocalypse features an evil, polluting corporation as the main villain. The lesson is supposed to be that Corporations are Evil, but because of the logic of power creep and the need to have everything relate to the spirit world, the lesson ends up as, "companies which cavort with demonic entities are evil". Which... um, yeah. The environmental themes end up as irrelevant window dressing.
  • The "moral" for Mage: The Ascension and its "sequel" Mage: The Awakening is basically "Don't use magic recklessly or frivolously, or you might cause a Reality-Breaking Paradox and kill yourself."

  • Shrek: The Musical has the song "Freak Flag", which starts off as a catch-all Be Yourself message but is derailed when the fairy tale creatures realize that their problems, such as being animals with human intelligence or having magical powers, actually gives them an advantage in confronting their problems. Not really applicable to real-life discrimination (then again, as an adaptation of Shrek this may have been intentional).
    Humpty-Dumpty: We've got magic! We've got power!
    Who are they to say we're wrong?
    All the things that make us special
    Are the things that make us strong!
  • The Gingerbread House. From the New York Times review:
    The moral of "The Gingerbread House" would appear to be that retailing your children to strangers will not bring satisfaction. Glad that's been cleared up.

    Video Games 
  • In Life Is Strange, the main character suddenly manifests time travel powers after seeing a girl- who turns out to be her old friend Choe- shot. She discovers a lot of clever ways to use it, but no matter what she does, it never seems to make anything better in the end, and it's ultimately revealed that her use of the time travel is what's causing the coming apocalyptic storm, and the only way to stop it is to go back to the first time she used her powers and let the girl get shot. In other words, you shouldn't use time travel powers that are miraculously given to you after a terrible event, because the universe might have arbitrary rules that make time travel a bad idea to use.
    • Though, given that the other ending is later shown to be the canon one, it might be "saving the people you care about is worth the consequences" or something in that vein, which would instead push it into a Space Whale Aesop.
  • From Altered States by Zap Dramatic: From "The Raise", don't listen to talking mice or you'll get arrested for staring at a hallucination of a stripper.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: The main moral lesson that the game tries to convey seems to be "The magical force that flows through all life in the galaxy is really evil and we shouldn't base our morality on it."
  • Star Fox: Assault: At the end of Assault, after the aparoid queen is defeated, Fox begins getting all philosophical about the bugs' motives, eventually coming up with; "She tried to bypass evolution by stealing souls. But you have to be born with one." The Star Fox team all nod approvingly at Fox's sage words.

    Web Comics 
  • Mob Psycho 100: Just having Psychic Powers doesn't make you a better person, or give you fulfillment in life. Both the characters who want psychic powers so they can feel special and the ones who have them and act like they make them a superior breed of human are revealed to be emotionally immature at heart, while the world's most powerful psychic would rather not have to use his powers at all, and knows that being the world's greatest psychic won't magically grant him everything he wants out of life.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Lampshaded.
    Bob: Hmm, there's a lesson in all this... (...) Never let sixty angry kids use a herd of laser cows to take over your house.
  • Played straight in Sinfest: buying a sapient fembot is evil and sexist.
  • At the end of the Nanase Craft parody comic in El Goonish Shive, the fairy Circe makes a point of accepting the differences in our bodies that make us unique over using a magical item to "fix" ourselves.
    Diane: I appreciate the attempt at a self-esteem pep talk, but we have non-superficial reasons for wanting these things, and if magic makes it possible, safe and reversible... why not?
    Circe: Um, good point

    Web Original 
  • Slice of Life: From the twins' encounter with Discord:
    Pumpkin: "I learned not to accept favors from semi-omnipotent beings of pure chaos."
  • Lampshaded by Allison Pregler in her review of Billy Owens and the Secret of the Runes:
    "Well, it just goes to show you if you cast coma spells and cheat at carnival games, your magical pawn-shop professor will get his soul lost in a magical amulet given to you by some crazy Gypsy lady. And such an avoidable tragedy."
  • Kurzgesagt: Discussed in What if the World turned to Gold: after any attempt to turn the Earth into gold causes an apocalypse of some sorts, the narrator comments that there's probably a lesson to take away from it, but he's not sure what it is.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: At the end of "The Two Hundred," Stan gives a moral at the end. A natural Aesop given the story would be something about appreciating your time with family or loved ones, but the actual moral he gives is "Don't put Roger (the alien) in the Large Hadron Collider!"
  • Animaniacs: In the short "Super Strong Warner Siblings" (which parodies Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers), Yakko tells the kids in the audience that "playing with giant bugs isn't cool".
  • Big City Greens: "Dream Weaver" gives us Don't stay up all night messing with your families' dreams, or you'll be too tired to spend the day with them.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Many or most of the ecological problems depicted are caused by supervillains doing things like making monsters that eat rainforests or building factories to build air conditioners which are then torn open to release CFCs. The only solutions to the problems are the ring-wielding kids or Captain Planet fixing things. The series is supposed to teach about protecting the environment, but the overarching morals seem to be "Don't be a supervillain. Let people with magic rings do all the work." The only attempt to counteract this message is in the And Knowing Is Half the Battle segments at the end of each episode that usually show something an actual viewer can do.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is generally pretty good at avoiding this, but it still runs into it on occasion:
    • "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" delivers the moral that friendship is important because everyone has a special connection with their friends, even before they've met. Which is a nice thought, and may very well be true In-Universe, but in real life it's entirely impossible to become really good friends without having ever crossed paths in the past.
    • "Marks and Recreation" has Rumble learn that a pony's cutie mark doesn't prevent them from developing skills in other areas. This both serves as a metaphor for being well-rounded and dispels some of the darker fan theories surrounding cutie marks.
  • Many Time Travel stories (ex. The Fairly OddParents! episode "Father Time", the Danny Phantom episode "Masters Of All Time") try to teach a moral about accepting what you can't change, usually by having characters' attempts to change the past make the present/future worse instead of better. However, the message this almost always sends is "Don't use time travel to solve your problems because meddling with time can make things worse" — not exactly a temptation the viewers will (likely) ever be tempted with.
  • Kim Possible:
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In "Frenchfry", the titular experiment cooks addictive, bloating junkfood, after which point he is supposed to eat whomever ate his food. The message is supposed to be about healthy eating, but it comes off more as 'don't use alien mutants to cook for you'. Lampshaded when Nani,note  upon being notified of Lilo's recent weight gain, immediately realizes that it is far greater than what is physically possible with unhealthy living and that Jumba's mad science is to blame.
  • Filmation's Ghostbusters: In the episode "The Haunted Painting", Eddie is trying to learn to paint, but is frustrated with the slow pace of developing his artistic skills. He goes to Madam Why and asks her for a set of magic paints, but she declines, stating the episode's intended Aesop: "Practice, practice, and more practice! That's what it takes to be good at something like painting. And that's also what will make you truly happy with your work". Eddie later receives a set of magic paints which, unknown to him, were actually delivered by the villains. The paints let him create a high quality painting, but trap the Ghostbusters in a magical world controlled by Prime Evil. The end result is an Aesop more along the lines of "Don't use magic paint from an unknown source".
  • Steven Universe: While the actual aesop of the episode "Steven and the Stevens" is the classic, 'Don't be a jerk', our main character takes a... different lesson from it, which he immortalizes in song. To be fair, he just got back from seeing dozens of versions of himself die right in front him.
    By the way don't back in time/ Or you'll destroy yourself!
  • What If…? (2021): The lesson of "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" is "Don't use Time Travel to undo the death of the love of your life or you might create a paradox that destroys the universe."

Alternative Title(s): Fantastic Moral