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Immortality Through Memory

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"When does a man die? Is it when he's shot in the heart with a pistol? No. When he's stricken with a deadly disease? No. When he eats soup... made from a deadly mushroom? No!!! It's when... he is forgotten!!"

The fear of death is one of the most common fears known to man. Many will try whatever they can to avoid it, but it comes to us all the same. Of course, there are those who will try to find a way to escape this natural part of life, but plans like those often don't pan out.

But then, there's another group of people, the ones who accept that they or their loved ones will die, but do not fear that fact. They don't care that they will eventually meet their end, because they know that so long as they aren't forgotten by those who still live, they will never truly be gone.

Compare Remember the Dead, which takes a more literal case of this trope in regards to the afterlife. Could potentially overlap with Fame Through Infamy, if a character attempts to achieve this by being remembered as a horrible person. Often overlaps with Legacy Seeker, since those who wish to leave behind a great legacy often do so specifically because of this belief. This trope is the opposite of the Un-person, who is not only dead but also forcibly forgotten.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, right before performing his Heroic Suicide, Dr. Hiriluk declared his belief in this idea, stating that a man does not truly die when they are physically killed, but rather, when they are finally forgotten.
  • To Your Eternity: Fushi is physical manifestation of this trope. When someone important to him dies, he earns a vessel that allows him to assume their shape and abilities at the time he last saw them. However, the Nokkers can steal the vessel form he is in by killing him in that form. This also gives Fushi a partial Death of Personality with regards to who that vessel once was. Only by defeating the Nokker who took his vessel can Fushi regain the vessel and his memories of who the vessel was. If Fushi loses all of his vessels, he ceases to be and The Bad Guys Win.

    Films — Animation 
  • Coco: While the dead themselves have Remember the Dead immortality, for those who are still living, the dead live on through this trope. Once the last person who remembered someone dies or forgets, the person who died experiences a "second death" in the real world and they also die in the afterlife.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • This is Liu Bowu's goal in Beware of Chicken. Due to his broken meridians he is unable to attain imortality the normal way, through cultivation, so his plan is to instead invent something so world-changing that nobody will ever forget his name.
  • Going Postal: Workers on the Clacks towers, a semaphore-like telegraph system, circulate the names of their dead throughout the network without end so they can live on in the Clacks.
    Grandad: His name is in the code, in the wind in the rigging and the shutters. Haven't you heard the saying "A man's not dead while his name is still spoken?"
  • One of the companion books to Titan A.E. featured the Hodrians, who believe that as long as a person's name is still out there, they endure. So they create "memory spheres", basically glass capsules with the name written on a slip of paper inside. Much of their activity consists of finding new places to stash the things; their original planet is buried in them.
  • In a cut portion of The Essential Guide to Warfare, Hu Jibwe, scholar of military history at the Salmagodro Grand Academy, theorizes that the Mandalorian war chant Dha Werda Verda or "Rage of the Shadow Warriors" in Basic, dates back to the reign of Mandalore the Ultimate, the penultimate Taung Mandalore, as the Taungs were on their way out as a result of the bloody Mandalorian Wars, and was a plea by the Taungs to not be forgotten by primarily non-Taung Mandalorian culture they knew would outlive them.
    Hu: "I've always thought it a poignant work — a plea that the Taungs not be forgotten by the newborn culture they knew would outlive them."
  • The Last Unicorn has this as a Central Theme:
    • Mommy Fortuna keeps the harpy Celaeno captive, knowing full well that the creature will break free and kill her. The reason being, Celaeno is an immortal being, and will always remember the one who bested her.
    • Lady Amalthea sacrifices her chance at happiness with Prince Lir by defeating the Red Bull and turning back into a unicorn; Schmendrick consoles Lir by telling him that she will remember him and his love for her "when human beings are fairy tales told by rabbits."
  • From Life's Little Instruction Book:
    816. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
  • Stanza 77 of the Gestaþáttr, the first section of the Hávamál, which is a collection of poems and sayings attributed to Odin in the Poetic Edda, concerns this trope, telling the reader that they will die one day, but what will never die is the memory of their deeds.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Deconstructed in the episode "Cold Comfort": the actions of the Big Bad of the episode (a humanitarian who orders the assassination of the daughter of a recently deceased senator in order to prevent her from putting said Senator in a cryogenic facility so he can harvest the brain and see if his doctors can find a potential medicine for an Alzheimer’s-like disease his son has) are all led by his decision to make his humanitarian foundation outlive him come hell or high water (if his son is found unable to carry on his duties, the foundation will be shut down, so he had kept it secret even from his own son). Detective Goren is more than a little disgusted that the humanitarian is so damned petty and makes it known to him in the denouement. Goren and ADA Carver even point out the worthlessness of his scheme now that he is going to jail.
    Detective Robert Goren: [Your son's] future? Your future! You don't plan on dying, remember? You want to be immortal, you got to be immortal! And not in a, a tub of nitrogen, no! Your vessel to eternity is the Durning Foundation. To carry your legacy burning bright through the centuries. No, it's not enough for you to be humanitarian of the year; you got to be humanitarian of the millennium! Shame on you.... Humanitarian... to everything and everyone, except your son... your son's tragedy. Because, Spence, however much you may like humanity, it's people that you can't stand.
    Detective Robert Goren (as Durning is taken away): Worst thing that can happen to a man that wants to be remembered?
    ADA Ronald Carver: What's that?
    Detective Robert Goren: In a year or two his own son won't know who he is.
  • Westworld: Alluded to by one of the hosts in Season 2:
    Akecheta: You live only as long as the last person who remembers you.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • This is the Aesop behind The Epic of Gilgamesh. After his chance at immortality is stolen from him, Gilgamesh comes to the realization that true immortality comes not from living forever, but from leaving behind a great legacy that will allow you to be remembered long after you're gone. This marks the final step in Gilgamesh's Character Development from an arrogant and selfish man into a wise king.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • On April 7th, 2014, Ultimate Warrior had this to say about this trope on WWE Raw, which came one day before his death:
    "Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, YOU... You are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with warrior spirits, and you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity, so much so that you will tell your stories and you will make THEM legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior, you are The Ultimate Warrior fans... and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run FOREVEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRR!"

    Video Games 
  • In Genshin Impact Sumeru arc, the leaders of Sumeru still venerate the late Rukkhadevata and reject her replacement goddess Kusanali. Turns out Rukkhadevata has been corrupted by 'Forbidden Knowledge', a Mind Virus that causes the Eleazar plague through Sumeru for hundreds of years. She has done a lot to mitigate its effect, but there is one last thing to do: have Kusanali, her designated replacement erase the very last trace of her, because as long people remember Rukkhadevata, Forbidden Knowledge will remain along with her. The effect of this act in-game is one of the most profound.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, this belief is the origin behind Lea/Axel's catchphrase, "Got it memorized?". As Lea explains in Birth by Sleep, he wants everyone he meets to remember him, as through people's memories, he'll live forever.
  • Alluded to in one of the loading screen quotes in Might and Magic: Heroes VI
    "A thing lives only as long as the last thing that remembers it".

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: In the Recreation trailer, as Church and Tex watch the others, apparently from the afterlife, the latter tells the former, "They say you're never completely dead if someone still remembers you."

    Western Animation 
  • In the Gargoyles episode "The Price", Immortality Seeker Xanatos captures Hudson to test whether a magical cauldron can truly grant eternal life. Hudson spends the entire time deconstructing Xanatos' motivation, by pointing out the pitfalls of immortality and that Xanatos deep down is afraid of death. At the end, Hudson leaves Xanatos with an Armor-Piercing Question concerning Xanatos' legacy.
    Hudson: A friendly word of advice. True immortality isn't about living forever, man. It's about what you do with the time you have. When all your scheming's done, what will your legacy be, Xanatos?

    Real Life 
  • Near the end of Genghis Khan's reign, he wrote a letter to the Taoist monk Qiu Chuji asking him to make a visit, with the intent of learning the secret of immortality from him. Qiu Chuji wrote back, stating that through Genghis' achievements, he was already destined to be remembered for all time, effectively being immortal through that.
  • In a similar vein to how this trope is used in his book, Going Postal, after Terry Pratchett's death, many messages carried the mention "GNU Terry Pratchett", and the phrase even made it into one of Minecraft's splash texts.
  • Because Judaism has traditionally been agnostic about any kind of afterlife, the tendency when someone dies is to say yehi zichra baruch - "may their memory be a blessing".
  • After the death of Technoblade, one YouTube comment declared the following:
    "There is no immortality, but the memories left in the minds of men" - Napoléon. In this sense, Technoblade truly never dies.