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Myth Prologue

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A quick way to establish the fantasy setting and premise of your story is to tell a mythical story about it in the opening minutes of the work. A character (usually but not always the protagonist) will tell a tall tale of power and magic, such as a Creation Myth, Great Offscreen War involving gods and monsters, or the Super-Empowering of something or someone. This story invariably features a being or MacGuffin of some sort who will turn out to be central to the plot.

The story then jumps to the present day, where inevitably, things are different. Perhaps in the story, War Was Beginning and now it's been going on for centuries, the world is no longer magical, or now postapocalyptic. This provides the perfect opportunity for the myth discussed in the prologue to make its way into the story.

Note that "myth" in the title is used loosely — while the trope is most commonly applied to mythology (in-universe or out), the trope applies to any fantastical story from the setting's world history that informs the plot and serves as exposition, especially if it's on a global scale.

Usually a Distant Prologue set in The Time of Myths. Alternatively, it may be told via Opening Monologue or Framing Device (in cases where another character tells the story in-universe). It also sometimes appears as a Storybook Opening, with the tale read to us from a book. Compare The Legend of Chekhov, where a story told early on turns out to be real and important later on (while in this trope, the importance is immediately apparent). Might use an Art Shift. See also When It All Began.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Every volume of Aoi Horus No Hitomi opens with a short segment loosely styled after ancient Egyptian art mostly featuring the gods of Egyptian Mythology.
  • The Case Study of Vanitas begins with Noe narrating the story of the Vampire of the Blue Moon and how they were exiled for being a bad omen while swearing revenge. It later turns out that this story isn't as accurate as other vampires believed as it turns out that the Vampire of the Blue Moon was actually a Nice Guy with no interest in revenge.
  • The manga adaptation of The Faraway Paladin opens on a recitation of the setting's Creation Myth, which is important to the magic system: the unnamed creator deity used the Language of Magic to speak concepts like earth and sky into existence, and then declared the result to be "good"—which caused "evil" to also be created, leading to his death at the hands of the newly formed evil gods. (In the original Light Novel, Gus explained this myth to Will in the middle of chapter 1, after a prologue of Will waking up in his new world.)
  • The Record of Lodoss War OVA opens with a recitation of the Divine Conflict in the backstory of the setting between the gods of light and darkness that split the continent of Lodoss away from the mainland. A compressed version of this myth is used as the Opening Narration before each episode.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: "The Rose Bride" begins with a story about a prince comforting a young princess and giving her a ring that should lead her to him.
  • The Sword of Paros: The manga opens with a brief narrative of the legend about the three treasures of Paros: the Sword of Paros, Kanan's Jewel of the Dead, and Keiron's Great Jeweled Crown. According to the legend, whoever possesses the three items is to rule the land; but, if they are touched by someone ill-fitted to the role, it will be the ruin of that one's status. Then the story proceeds to mention the princess Hermina, hinting she would be the Chosen One who would eventually rule Paros against the male oppositions. Actually, it is a Deconstruction of the trope: Hermina realizes that her entire life she was forbidden from deciding her own fate because of her royal blood, so she decides to prioritize her happiness by running away with Fiona, leading to the fall of the fourth dynasty of Paros.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast opens with a story told with stained-glass windows and narration of how the spoiled prince runs afoul of an enchantress in disguise and is transformed into the beast as punishment until he can learn to love and be loved in return.
  • At the beginning of The Book of Life, the tour guide takes a group of children in detention to a secret room in the museum to tell them about the two kingdoms of death: the Land of the Remembered, ruled by La Muerte and the Land of the Forgotten, ruled by Xibalba, and also the Candlemaker, an intermediate between them. With that established, she starts telling the story of Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin through wooden figures.
  • Castle in the Sky: The second prologue (which plays during the opening credits) uses stylized animation to portray the rise and eventual fall of the Laputian civilization. It ends with Sheeta standing alone then cutting to her falling as her pendant lights up and she then floats the rest of the way to the ground.
  • FernGully: The Last Rainforest opens with Magi Lune telling Crysta about the time when the spirits of nature lived in harmony with the animals and humans until Hexxus, the spirit of destruction, appeared and almost destroyed the forest. Magi Lune sealed him in a tree but the humans had already fled in fear and the fairies thought they went extinct (actually, they survived but lost completely their connection to nature).
  • Hercules: The film begins with a straightforward retelling of the Ancient Greek creation myth... until the muses interrupt and turn it into a gospel number. But the story beats are the same, telling the story of how Zeus stopped the Titans and tamed the world.
  • Isle of Dogs: The opening shows Jupiter narrating the legend of the first clash between free dogs and the cat-loving Kobayashi clan, whose leader is beheaded by a boy warrior who chooses to protect the dogs, foretelling the modern-day struggle between the Trash Island dogs and Kobayashi's regime.
    Jupiter: At the end of the bloody dog wars the vanquished mongrels became powerless house pets: tamed, mastered, scorned. But they survived and multiplied. The Kobayashis, however, never forgave their conquered foe.
  • Moana begins with Gramma Tala telling the myth of how Maui stole Te Fiti's heart and was defeated by Te Ka. The film is then about Moana trying to recover the heart of Te Fiti.
  • In the first minutes of Raya and the Last Dragon, Raya tells the audience about how their world Kumandra used to be united, fertile, and defended by dragons before the dragons were wiped out by the Druun, and how Kumandra has now split into five warring clans. Raya winds up finding Sisu, the titular last dragon, and eventually brings dragons back to Kumandra.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: The first minutes introduce the land of (American) holidays. It's a circle of trees, each with a door representing its respective holiday — an Easter egg for Easter, a turkey for Thanksgiving, a shamrock for Saint Patrick's Day, a Christmas tree for Christmas, and a jack-o-lantern for Halloween. The narrator suggests that the viewer may have seen this land in their dreams and, if they never asked where the holidays come from, it's time to begin, as the Halloween door opens to introduce the dark, scary but also amusing Halloween Town.
  • NIMONA (2023) begins with Nimona telling the story of the great heroine Gloreth, who slayed a monstrous evil and founded an order of knightly protectors. The story then jumps a thousand years to a high-tech society that worships Gloreth and upholds her ideals of protection through classism.
  • The Road to El Dorado begins with the Creation Myth of the two gods upon a flying serpent who created the world, and raised the golden city called El Dorado. The natives of this city mistake tricksters cum brigands Miguel and Tulio upon the horse Altivo as their gods come for a visit.
  • Song of the Sea begins with young Ben and his mother painting a wall mural of a selkie, the Daoine Sídhe, the Great Seanchaí, Macha's owls, and Mac Lir, all of which will come into play throughout the story.
  • Strange Magic starts with a map being opened on a table to show the Fairy Kingdom and the Dark Forest, "side by side, but worlds apart". The narrator explains that all along the border between the kingdoms, magic primroses bloom and that they are used to make love potions, because "everybody deserves to be loved". The camera approaches as it focuses on an animated lavender butterfly, then the map vanishes to show the title and then the real scenery appears, showing that the butterfly is Marianne, one of the main protagonists.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: The movie begins with a prophecy where the three golden balls that keep the golden city protected will be removed, dooming it. Only The Chosen One can save the golden city.
  • Watership Down by Nepenthe Productions begins with a highly stylized Creation Myth. The great Frith (the sun) made the world and all the creatures on it. The rabbits, however, wandered everywhere and became Explosive Breeders. To combat this, Frith remade some creatures into predators, bent upon hunting and slaying rabbits. Frith then gives the rabbit progenitor this admonition: "Be quick, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed." This is repeated at the end of the tale as Book Ends.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Evil Dead 2 starts by explaining the Necronomicon, its origins, and its powers. The book supposedly disappeared in the year 1300 AD, but is rediscovered in the present and is the source of the evils that terrorize Ash in the film.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army starts with a young Hellboy's adoptive father Professor Bruttenholm telling him the story of the titular Golden Army and how it was used by the king of the fairies in an ancient war against humanity before being locked away.
  • Jack the Giant Slayer: At the start of the movie, Jack's father and Isabelle's mother tell them a story about a group of monks journeying to the sky via giant beanstalks. They found a race of evil, man-eating giants, who climb down and ravage the kingdom, before the monks and the king forge a magic crown from the heart of a slain giant that lets the wearer command the giants, and order the giants back up to the sky and chop down the beanstalks.
  • Lady in the Water: The film begins with a telling of the story of Those In the Water, who leave their realm and enter the human world at great peril to inspire those who will change the world.
  • Unlike the book, which opened on Bilbo's birthday in the Shire, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring opens with the story of how the rings of power were forged (effectively introducing the races of Middle Earth in the process), how Sauron used the One Ring of Power to take over Middle Earth, how Isildur failed to destroy the ring once Sauron was defeated, and how millennia would pass before it was fished out of the water once again. Galadriel, narrating, mourns that there are so few still alive who were there to witness it.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Black Panther (2018) begins with N'Jobu telling the story of the vibranium meteor hitting Africa, infusing the land that would become Wakanda with vibranium. It also tells of how the panther god Bast revealed the heart-shaped herb to the first Black Panther, giving him superpowers.
    • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings begins with Ying Li telling the legend of the Ten Rings and their bearer, Xu Wenwu. The Rings give him the power to conquer all in his path and he builds an army that he names after the Ten Rings. For centuries they fight their enemies from the shadows, the power of the rings keeping Xu Wenwu from aging until he goes in search of the mystical land of Ta Lo and is met by a sole female warrior who proves to be a match for him in combat and has the ability to control the Rings herself. The two quickly fall for each other, and eventually have a son who happens to be the one Ying Li is telling this story to.
    • Thor begins with Odin narrating the history of the conflict with the Frost Giants and how they would attack the mortal realm. The Asgardians would come to Midgard's defense, eventually driving the Frost Giants back to their homeworld and seizing their source of power. It then shows that he's telling this story to his young sons, Thor and Loki.
    • Thor: The Dark World begins with Odin telling of the origins of the Dark Elves and introduces the Aether. His father King Bor waged war to stop the Elf leader Malekith from using the Aether to plunge the Universe into darkness before sealing it away where no one would ever find it.
  • The Mummy Trilogy:
    • The Mummy (1999): Before the title, Ardeth Bay tells how the high priest Imhotep was punished for loving the pharaoh's mistress and using forbidden magics to try to bring her back to life, for which he was given their most powerful curse, transforming him into the eponymous monster.
    • The Mummy Returns opens with the tale of the Scorpion King, who after being driven into the desert following a failed military campaign, makes a pact with the god Anubis and is granted command of Anubis' armies. After taking revenge on his enemies, Anubis takes the Scorpion King's soul, forcing him into service for eternity.
  • National Treasure: The movie begins with young Ben Gates searching his grandfather's attic for something. His grandfather catches him but then decides he's old enough to know the truth of their family's secret, a secret entrusted to their ancestor by Charles Carrol, the last signer of the Declaration of Independence. A clue to a treasure from antiquity that had been built up and fought over by kings, pharaohs, and emperors, growing larger each time, was rediscovered by knights of the First Crusade, who formed the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. They then spirited the treasure away to the Americas where it was hidden by the American Founding Fathers, with a series of clues and maps to reveal its location but these have all been lost except the one clue that the Gates family possesses: "The secret lies with Charlotte".
  • Once Upon a Warrior opens with the tale of Sorceress Irendri, a powerful Sorcerous Overlord whose reign of terror entire centuries ago dominates the land until she was sealed in a magic amulet. After the opening musical credits, cut to the film's present timeline where Irendri's amulet was shattered leading to her escape and second attempt at taking over.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: In the Prolonged Prologue, Galadriel narrates about the quasi-mythical lands of Valinor, and how she witnessed the great events of the mythical First Age. She believes that remnants of evil from the First Age are still looming around, and talks about hunting down a certain Evil Sorcerer who escaped, while everyone else, even the Elves, "began to believe that Sauron was but a memory."
  • The children's television series The Secrets of Isis begins with an ancient Egyptian mystic presenting a magic amulet to his queen. "O my queen!" said the royal sorcerer to Hatshepsut, "with this amulet you and your descendants are endowed by the goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements! You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles, and command the elements of sky and earth!" Much later, science teacher Andrea Thomas unearths this amulet, and being of Hatshepsut's bloodline, becomes the Mighty Isis, Champion of Justice.
  • Shadow and Bone opens with Kirigan explaining the existence of Grisha, the formation of the Fold by the Black Heretic and how it weakened Ravka, and how a Sun Summoner is prophesied to destroy it.
  • In the first scene of The Wheel of Time (2021), Moiraine narrates how the Dragon broke the world and how the Aes Sedai "pick[ed] up the pieces" as she gets dressed. Her voiceover says the Dragon has been reborn and is now of age, and she and Lan set out to find them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Pathfinder supplement Concordance of Rivals describes the creation of the universe in several parts at the beginning of each chapter as excerpts from a Fictional Document of same title: how Pharasma, the Sole Survivor of the preceding cycle of existence who would become goddess of birth and death in this one, created a barrier to protect the formless existence from Those Who Remain, the creation of the first gods and outsiders and the Cain and Abel relationship between the creator deities Asmodeus and Ihys, and eventually predictions of The End of the World as We Know It.

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE has the Legend of Mata Nui, which is one of the first things the player can discover in Mata Nui Online Game and appears as the beginning of the first film, "The Mask of Light". Told using simple stones in a circle of sand, it shows how Mata Nui brought the Matoran people to a tropical paradise and taught them the Three Virtues, only to get cursed by his envious brother Makuta. It then foretells of six heroes who would protect the Matoran, fight Makuta's grasp, and reawaken Mata Nui. It's later revealed that certain details of the Legend are Metaphorically True.

    Video Games 
  • Bug Fables opens up with a story about how Queen Elizant I started the Explorer's Association in search for the Everlasting Sapling, then went to a "deep sleep" and her successor carried after her. It cuts to the present, revealing that Kabbu was explaining that this is what he heard about to Maki, which turns out to be true.
  • Dark Souls 1 begins with a cutscene describing how the world of the game, and its ruling gods, came to be. First, the world was ruled by immortal, everlasting dragons. Then, the First Flame came to be, introducing disparity into the world, and 4 beings acquired Lord Souls from within the flame, and overthrew the dragons and became the gods.
  • Diablo III begins with Deckard Cain recounting the Prophecy of the End Days, involving a war between Heaven and Hell, shortly before a big meteor, the First Sign of said prophecy, hits the cathedral that he and Leah are in and blasts him deep into its depths.
  • Dragon Age: Origins opens with Duncan reciting the (official, Chantry-sanctioned) origin narrative of the Darkspawn, whom you will be fighting throughout the entire game. While the Darkspawn are definitely real and the fact that their first invasion occurred soon after the Tevinter magisters breached the Golden City is undisputed, subsequent games reveal that Duncan's story is more of a thousand-years-old legend than actual history, with many details incorrect or intentionally falsified.
  • Krut: The Mythic Wings opens with a narration revolving around the legend of an ancient war where the Kruts, a noble race of eagle-headed Bird People warriors, defend the kingdom of Himmaphan from the invasion of stone ogres. The Kruts emerged victorious, but are nearly driven to extinction with the survivors going into hiding, and their past histories turning into myths. You assume the role of a Krut warrior named Veera who emerged from hiding to defeat the returning stone ogres.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past opens with the myth of how people fought over the Triforce and how Ganon was sealed in the sacred realm after he obtained it.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker opens with the tale of how the Hero of Time defeated Ganondorf, but then Ganondorf came back, and in absence of a hero, the Goddesses flooded Hyrule to seal him away.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks opens with Nico, a character from Wind Waker, explaining how New Hyrule was founded after the events of said game, told in an "ancient tale" format because he has a penchant for dramatics.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword opens with the tale of how the Goddess Hylia sealed away the demons that destroyed the surface and created Skyloft to keep humans safe. By the time the game takes place, people think that the surface — as in, the ground — is a myth.
  • Ōkami begins with the story of how Shiranui and Nagi slayed Orochi 100 years ago.
  • The Paper Mario games tended to precede the title screen with a lengthy introduction, and in multiple cases, this is done through a story involving a plot-relevant legend before seguing into the events of present-day in which this plays a role.
    • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door's opening scene begins with a book that tells the story of the ancient city in which the Thousand-Year Door resides. Long ago, a bustling and prosperous town stood tall, before in but a single night, an ominous cataclysm swept over the town and buried it beneath the earth — in time, a small port town was built again over its remains, and though its inhabitants live normal lives in the shady town of Rogueport, the legend that an ancient treasure lies in the underground city beneath is carried among whispers in present day. This is used to segue into Princess Peach visiting the town and encountering a merchant who seems to know a thing or two of said treasure, which leads into the events of the game. This legend also omits several details of the story that are only uncovered across the course of the story: mainly that the mysterious cataclysm was the work of a horrifyingly powerful demon sorceress who held a reign of darkness in its aftermath for long before Rogueport was built, and that the titular door is the entrance to the vast palace that was sealed alongside the great demon's spirit by the four heroes who bested her.
    • Super Paper Mario opens with a tale of a legendary book, rather than showing its contents immediately. Its introduction tells the story of a fabled and prophetic book that was written by an ancient tribe. But though many sought its knowledge, none found happiness, as the tome held frightful predictions that culminated in the end of all worlds, and the fear and clamoring surrounding the book led to it eventually being hidden away. The game's story has a large focus on the Dark Prognosticus' final owner, which the same opening soon reveals to be the one known as Count Bleck using it as the instruction book for his plan to destroy every world, which he starts by forcibly wedding Peach with Bowser to create a Chaos Heart that will let him tear open an all-consuming hole in the fabric of reality. The actual book's contents are the events of the game itself to a certain extent, and the legacy of the once great tribe from which it came are prevalent throughout every world of its story, even Mario's own, as both remnants and descendants of the civilisation exist even in present day. Count Bleck's own tale is also deeply tied to the Tribe of Darkness who guarded the Dark Prognosticus, and it was the extreme traditions and foolishly cruel actions of the fatalistic sect he was born into which led to his evil plot.
  • Skullgirls opens with a narration describing the legend of the Skull Heart, a mysterious artifact that grants a woman's wish at the cost of transforming her into the titular Skullgirl.
  • Them's Fightin' Herds: The prologue, and the very beginning of chapter 1, set up how the Predators were banished long ago, how all the ungulate races distanced themselves after the event, and how the Predators plan to return back to terrorize Fœnum.
  • Undertale opens with the tale of how the war between humans and monsters started, and how the monsters were sealed underground. It then tells the myth of how those who climb Mt. Ebott never return.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 1: The first cutscene in the game has Shulk telling the ancient story of how the two titans in the Endless Sea, the Bionis and Mechonis, waged eternal battle before both dealt fatal blows to each other, after which Mechon life blossomed on Mechonis and biological life came forth on Bionis. It turns out not to be myth at all.

    Webcomics 
  • Children of Eldair: The first comics are a portrayal of the creation of the world of Eldair.
  • Jupiter-Men: Following the In Medias Res action sequence, the story opens with Quintin narrating the backstory of Jupiter-Man, Jupiter City's own superhero as part of a How We Got Here. Quintin then declares his belief that Jupiter-Man has superpowers, which earns him a fat F since this is supposed to be a social studies project. Unbeknownst to his classmates, Quintin is more correct than he realizes...
  • Realta opens with Elowen's grandfather telling her about how the Zodiac spirits fought the fae alongside humanity and gave them powers, which would develop into the twelve Realta-led clans. Shortly afterwards, Elowen learns the truth of the world now and that she is Realta herself.
  • Vixen: NYC begins with Mari telling the story of how the trickster god Anansi empowered the totem that would then be passed down through her family. She then inherits it and the comic is about her learning to use its power.

    Web Original 
  • RWBY: "Ruby Rose" explains the origin story of the world, especially the monstrous Grimm that are drawn to the negative emotions of humanity.
  • StacheBros: "The Curse of Toadsworth Mansion" opens with a story about how the Mushroom Kingdom was once ruled by a tyrannical king. According to legend, a traveler from the Beanbean Kingdom (Prince Peasley II) showed him a map to riches so he would be spared his wrath, only for the King to disappear after getting swallowed by darkness from within the treasure chest. As a result, the Toadstool family took the throne.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: "The Boy in the Iceberg" begins with Katara telling the audience about the Avatar, a powerful individual who kept the peace between the four Elemental Nations, but vanished when war broke out. Since then war has been going on for a hundred years. Of course, who should Katara and her brother then find but the Avatar? A condensed version of this story becomes the show's Opening Narration in subsequent episodes.
  • The Dragon Prince is introduced with a narration showing how Xadia used to be a united magical land where everyone drew power from the six primal sources until a human mage wreaked havoc with dark magic. Humans were then exiled to the west while the fearsome Dragon King guarded the Xadia border. But now, the Dragon King is dead and the humans have taken his only egg...
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The pilot episode begins with Twilight reading out an old story about the ancient history of Equestria and how Princess Luna turned against her sister and was banished. In this manner, the show introduces its basic worldbuilding and sets up the pilot's conflict.
  • Shaolin Wuzang: Episode 1 opens with a montage of paintings depicting the reign of terror, defeat, and sealing of the demon Heihu. Sound from the depicted scenes can also be heard — the cries of the people, flames, and Heihu's shrieking and a gong as he is sealed away. The main story picks up a few centuries later when Heihu's seal is weakening.

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Xadia

An enigmatic figure recounts the history of Xadia and the divide between Elves and Humans.

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