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Forgot I Could Change the Rules

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King Jaffe Joffer: Even if she said "yes," they still could not marry. It is against the tradition.
Queen Aoleon: Well, it is a stupid tradition.
King Jaffe Joffer: Who am I to change it?
Queen Aoleon: I thought you were the king.

Bob has near absolute authority in his land, but an existing law will hurt him or someone he loves. Often this law forces an Arranged Marriage, other times it can be a minor crime treated with a draconian punishment, or it might be something else.

Bob agonizes about how helpless he is to change this law, until he remembers, or is reminded, that he does have the authority to change the law.

Now this might come across as an idiotic moment for Bob, but Bob was raised to respect tradition. So actually using his authority this way didn't occur to him until just then. Especially when it is a normally good rule that works out badly in this case; this is a traditional reason for the existence of pardons. For the Doylist explanation, however, there wouldn't be any conflict if he did just that.

Now in reality, some rules were out of the reach of all but the most absolute monarchs. Rules that could have been changed would also be met with resistance unless the ruler was strong willed enough to enact these changes. Sometimes fiction will deal with these difficulties as well, but not always.

This often falls under Dramatically Missing the Point, but Comically Missing the Point can be a cause as well. Often overlaps with Stating the Simple Solution.

Contrast Screw the Rules, I Make Them! (Bob is happy to enforce, and even change, the rules for other people; he just chooses to ignore following them himself).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Princess Knight: Sapphire's father realizes this at about the two-thirds point in the anime. Just as he's about to release a proclamation that would allow women to rule Silverland, he is by apparently complete coincidence kidnapped by the baddies, who have gotten tired of waiting for Sapphire to slip up and reveal she's actually a girl.

    Comic Books 
  • In one issue of The Simpsons, Mayor Quimby passes a law intended to abolish Daylight Saving Time. Thanks to the wording of this law, Springfielders are now free to set their clocks to whatever time they choose. Springfield descends into chaos, and finally, Lisa points out that the mayor "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot by setting his own clock to before the law was passed.

    Film Animated 
  • The Sultan at the end of Aladdin, in regards to the "princess must marry a prince by a certain age" law. He's freaking out at the beginning because there's only three days until the deadline and Jasmine hasn't chosen anyone, but by the end he sees she's chosen Aladdin, who has proven himself to be worthy despite being a poor thief. At the beginning of the movie he expressed concern over making sure Jasmine is cared for when he's gone, which is implied to be part of the reason he hadn't considered changing the law before she had at least found someone to marry — the other part, of course, being that he's a bit of a ditz.
    Sultan: It's that law that's the problem...
    Jasmine: Father...?
    Sultan: Well, am I Sultan or am I Sultan!? I decree, from this day forward, the princess may marry whomever she deems worthy!

    Film Live Action 
  • The page quote is from Coming to America, when Prince Akeem, the sole heir to the throne of Zamunda, comes to America to find a woman worthy to be his queen (i.e. someone with a personality instead of the Extreme Doormat his parents paired up him with), pretending to be a poor African foreign exchange student. When his father King Jaffe Joffer finds out, he personally comes to New York to bring Akeem home. Joffer plainly tells Akeem's Love Interest how things must be, and she accepts it, telling Akeem to go home. On the way home, Joffer argues with his wife that it's traditional for a prince to marry someone of similar stature. Queen Aoleon, who sees that her son loves the girl and who herself was given to Joffer as part of an Arranged Marriage, points out that he is the king of Zamunda and thus decides what tradition is. Joffer ends up pulling a Bride and Switch on Akeem, having decided to break with tradition.

  • Inverted in The Once and Future King, where King Arthur chooses not to change the law about burning adulterous wives after Guinevere's affair with Lancelot is revealed. He is not (particularly) jealous of them. He loves Guinevere, he loves Lancelot, he is the king and the law is barbarous, but no, he will not change it, because no-one should be above the law.
    • He pretty much ignores the two of them until he can no longer pretend to be ignorant of the affair, and at Guinevere's execution (Lancelot has fled) he's actively rooting for Lance to come and save her (and does as much as he feels he can honorably do to make it easy for this to happen, such as making sure that his strongest knights are nowhere near Guinevere). His character arc of the last book or two involves realizing that the law needs to apply to everyone. And this winds up biting him in the butt in the most painful way: watching from a distance, he's overjoyed that Lancelot does appear and save the queen. Then messengers start bringing him news of the guards ... the ones Arthur himself put there, knowing Lancelot could defeat them ... who have been killed, and some of them are his close relatives. So instead of just letting them escape, he's got to chase the two of them off to Joyeux Gard and make war against his best friend.
  • Played with in Incarnations of Immortality. In the first novel, it isn't so much that Death forgot that he could change the rules; it's that he didn't know that he could (in fact, he didn't even know half of them), causing infant souls born under questionable circumstances to go to Purgatory and later triggering an end to all death worldwide because he refused to take one soul. At the end of the book, he realizes that it's his prerogative to do what he damn well pleases as the Incarnation of Death, and that all of Satan's rulesmongering didn't mean a damn thing. He also changes the rules regarding infant souls, sending one to heaven instead of Purgatory in the end. The last is retconned in later books, as Death is acting outside of his authority.
  • In Breaking Dawn, Jacob has to submit to the will of Sam, the Alpha Wolf. When Sam orders him to help destroy the Cullens (and Bella), he remembers that he was born to be the Alpha but he had voluntarily given up the birthright. Choosing to become the Alpha frees Jacob from obeying Sam's orders.
  • Inverted in The Fangs of K'aath: Prince Raschid briefly ponders at all the grand reforms he could do arbitrarily if he were Shah, but ruefully reminds himself that he would be assassinated within a day by the nobility and/or bureaucracy if he tried.
  • Defied in the Book of Daniel and Book of Esther. Once the kings of Persia pass a law and mark it with their seal, it cannot be repealed even by them. This gets them into trouble several times when they're tricked into passing laws that would lead to the death of their loved ones. Usually they get around it by passing a second law, i.e. "Decree 1: The Jews are marked for extermination... Decree 2: But they can defend themselves when their attackers arrive."
  • Defied in The Saga of Darren Shan — the titular character is condemned to death for failing the Trials of Death (which are exactly what they sound like), despite the fact that he's a child. Short of elevating him to the rank of Prince as a reward for exposing a traitor's plot, the Princes refuse to use this method to deal with the situation, because that's how bent on upholding tradition they are. The concept is raised, but they find it immensely shameful.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • Lampshaded by Rose in "The Doctor Dances":
      The Doctor: History says there was an explosion here. Who am I to argue with history?
      Rose: Usually the first in line.
    • Inverted/deconstructed in "The Waters of Mars". The Doctor really can't change the rules, at least without causing seven kinds of hell to break loose, but he temporarily forgets this.
      The Doctor: The laws of time are mine! And they will obey me!
  • In an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Iolaus is convicted of a theft he didn't commit. When Hercules brings in the real thief at the last minute, the king protests that the execution has already been decided and law and tradition must be upheld. Both Hercules and the king's daughter tell him firmly to make a new law and tradition, and after some initial shock he decides he quite likes the idea.
  • Played with on Merlin. Arthur is quite anguished over the fact that he can't marry Guinevere, because she's a servant girl. And then Merlin reminds him that one day, he will be king, and he can change the rules so he can be with her. He still waits several episodes after he becomes king to marry Gwen, for no apparent reason.
  • The episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers where Ernie coaches soccer and has to pick which kids get to join the team. He laments that all the kids are really great and if it were up to him he'd let everyone play. A gentle reminder later, cue Ernie having a lightbulb moment and making two teams.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Iolanthe by Gilbert and Sullivan:
    • A comedic version of this occurs. The Chancellor wants to marry Phyllis, who is his ward.
      Lord Chancellor: Victory! Victory! Success has crowned my efforts, and I may consider myself engaged to Phyllis! At first I wouldn't hear of it — it was out of the question. But I took heart. I pointed out to myself that I was no stranger to myself; that, in point of fact, I had been personally acquainted with myself for some years. This had its effect. I admitted that I had watched my professional advancement with considerable interest, and I handsomely added that I yielded to no one in admiration for my private and professional virtues. This was a great point gained. I then endeavoured to work upon my feelings. Conceive my joy when I distinctly perceived a tear glistening in my own eye! Eventually, after a severe struggle with myself, I reluctantly — most reluctantly — consented.
    • A song or so later, Iolanthe's life stands forfeit for breaking her vow not to reveal herself to the Lord Chancellor, and so do the rest of the fairies' — all save the Queen — for marrying mortals just as Iolanthe did. It takes the Lord Chancellor's brilliant legal mind to save the day by changing the fairy law to mandate death for any fairy who doesn't marry a mortal. Hasty marriage for the Queen, and everyone goes home happy.

    Western Animation 
  • It happens in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic when Twilight Sparkle's School of Friendship fails to get accredited, in part because the Chancellor is a racist bastard and in part because of legitimate safety, security, and quality concerns, and thus isn't allowed to open. In the end Twilight realizes she, as a princess and someone who is best friends with Princess Celestia, can just change the rule from "no school can operate without EEA approval" to "only EEA schools need EEA approval" and christen her school as a "friendship school" in order to remove the EEA from the equation completely. Or so she thought, as the season finale reveals the EEA can come along later and take control of a non-EEA school if the circumstances are dire enough...