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Nature Is Not Nice

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"The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control... and not the other way around."

You've found yourself alone in the woods. No big deal, nature is a perfectly fine place to spend some time, wandering around. But now you can't see the edge of the forest anymore. And you realize that you can't see the sun, either, so you can't tell which direction to go in to get out. Let's add some scary strange noises. Watch yourself randomly running in some direction, looking for a way out, screaming for help, as the sun goes down and afternoon turns into dusk, which turns into a moonless night. You are so screwed.

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The truth is, nature isn't consciously cruel; it just doesn't care about you. The forest is a big scary place in which you can get lost, or killed by disease or wild and ferocious animals. The desert has only about a hundred ways for you to be injured or die. The jungle is even worse. Even a lake or a river is a dangerous place for a person who isn't prepared.

This trope comes into play when a work's creator chooses to use that fact, that nature is a dog-eat-dog environment full of disease, natural disasters, parasites, predatory animals, killing and other ghastly things, rather than romanticizing it or portraying nature as harmonious or maternal. The focus is on the horror, danger, amorality, and ruthlessness of untamed nature.

This is why Appeal to Nature is a Logical Fallacy. Related to the Naïve Animal Lover, who doesn't realize how brutal wildlife can be. Compare this with Death World. Contrast this with Ghibli Hills. Inversely related to All-Natural Snake Oil.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Princess Mononoke skillfully combines this with Humans Are Bastards. The human characters want to assassinate the local forest god so that the wilderness will become easier to conquer, but the local nature spirits are no angels, either, and are demonstrably willing to maim and kill anyone in their way.
  • In Trigun, this was the defining moment in Vash and Knives' childhood, as they watch a butterfly caught in a spider's web. Vash wanted to save both, while Knives was more than happy to just kill the spider.

    Comic Books 
  • In the New 52 DC Universe, Alec Holland gave up trying to replicate the formula that gave him his powers because of this. The plant world is dangerous, and submersing Earth in it would be a disaster.
  • In Sin City, Marv has an Internal Monologue commenting on perceptions of nature. He notes that most people consider nature something beautiful and friendly, and remarks that they have probably never spent a night tied to a tree in the woods. Marv is one of the most violent, dangerous men in a series entirely filled with violence and danger, and he is terrified of the woods.

    Fan Works 
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers:
    • Discussed by Tagg and Fool when they share their mutual experiences as a field researcher and someone who was raised by Pokemon and is often invoked in both of their thoughts about the subject.
    • When Helios rescues Algira in the alternate timeline, by knocking the Swellow hunting her and her friends into a lake, they chatter happily while the Swellow is suggested to be being eaten in the background. Helios invokes the trope by name.
    • Kirk learns this firsthand when he ends up in Kalos and gets his meal stolen by a Hydreigon, who mocks him about being a weak "pet" unfit for wild life.
  • Quite prominent in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. Wild Pokémon can be very aggressive and territorial, and the wilderness is shown to be a potentially very dangerous place. There's a reason the Viridian Forest has so many signs giving advice on how to avoid a Cruel and Unusual Death.
  • In Equestria Divided this is House Everfrees hat.
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    Film 
  • Werner Herzog appears to be of this opinion, as can be seen in several of his films. His ending narration to Grizzly Man (a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a Naïve Animal Lover who ended up being Eaten Alive by a grizzly bear) perhaps puts it best.
  • The book and film Into the Wild, which chronicles the experiences of Christopher McCandless, a young and idealistic college graduate who abandons everything for attempting to live off the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher slowly realizes this trope's truth as his supplies dwindle and it becomes evident that he was very poorly prepared for his adventure, ending up starving to death alone.
  • Blackfish seems to make a point to contrast the sugary family-friendly SeaWorld TV commercials with orcas performing tricks and being petted by trainers to the terrifying footage of orcas attacking the trainers and sometimes each other. Although the film also presents the whale's natural environment as being a relatively harmonious one.
  • While it's not abundantly clear in the film itself, this trope was one of the main inspirations behind Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Von Trier has stated in interviews that he was moved by a nature documentary he once watched which treated the animal world as a kind of barbaric, earthly hell, in stark contrast to the more idyllic portrayal common to fiction. Which brought us gems like a stillborn fawn, demonic forest animals, and ominous lines like, "The forest is the devil's church."
  • The film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a scorpion nearly consumes the children who take refuge inside a Lego brick.
  • The Grey follows a group of plane crash survivors lost in the Alaskan wilderness. The freezing weather, lack of food, and presence of wolves are all treated as completely impersonal rather than actively malicious, and the main character's Rage Against the Heavens moment makes his helpless fury in the face of such indifference very clear.
  • Godzilla. See the page quote, and it's not just in the 2014 movie. Godzilla frequently either attacks humans for violating nature, or shows an indifference towards the fact that his passing by causes thousands of deaths.
    "History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man!" - Blue Öyster Cult, "Go Go Godzilla!"
  • The live-action version of The Wind in the Willows uses this for the Wild Woods, the home of the Weasels. This is the Weasels' life philosophy, as described in their Villain Song, "Secret Of Survival (In a Very Nasty World)".
  • For all of its peerless beauty, Nature is presented more of some kind hostile wasteland than a land of wonder in The Revenant. From vicious animals, the rampaging Native American tribes, deceitful and murderous Frenchmen to blisteringly cold and harsh environments, the North American Frontier is unflinchingly cruel to protagonist Hugh Glass and many other of its characters. As one of the Double Toasted guys put it, "even the grass looks miserable!". Admittedly a lot of it is because of man's cruelties towards man, but even if we ignore these parts the rest more than cover up for the savagery inherent in the wilderness.
  • In Numb, the journey to the gold coins is suggested to be a trek of a few hours. Between the snow and natural wilderness obstacles, it takes a day and a half just to reach the cache, and three of the protagonists perish.

    Literature 
  • In The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, the only real enemy the protagonist faces is the cruelty of nature. Or it could be an evil forest spirit.
  • To Build a Fire is a particularly poignant Jack London short story about a man desperately seeking to make the eponymous fire in subzero weather. He fails.
  • Brian's Saga by Gary Paulsen. Nature is the antagonist here as the protagonist has only the titular hatchet to avoid dying in the Canadian wilderness after an airplane crash.
  • Into Thin Air, both book and film versions. This is about a guided tour of Mount Everest gone terribly wrong. The book is nonfiction, the film was based on it.
  • Cassie from Animorphs learns this in The Secret. Disappointingly, the lesson doesn't stick.
    • After she is nearly killed by the indigenous life in the rainforest, Rachel goes on a tirade screaming that the rainforest that so many environmentalists want to save is nothing but a den of horrors. As far she's concerned, everyone would be better off if the entire rainforest was paved over with shopping malls. However, after morphing into a jaguar and seeing how much life there is on it, she admits that it is beautiful and she doesn't want the rainforest to be paved anymore... if only because now as an apex predator she has nothing to fear from the jungle.
  • In Micro: this trope is driven home in many ways including a former scientist getting torn apart by ants.
  • Rainbow Six: The Horizon Executive plans to wipe out humanity with a virus, so he and a selected few would be left to inherit the Earth. When Rainbow Six tracks them down in South America and destroys their compound, they are left in the jungle without clothes or tools. According to the epilogue they didn't last long, which goes to show that nature doesn't care if you have its "best interest" in mind when choosing who survives or dies.
  • A common theme in Carl Hiaasen's novels are antagonists so used to modern convenience and so woefully ignorant of nature that they can't set one foot in the Everglades without getting instantly lost, injured, or eaten.
  • This trope is a central theme of State of Fear.
    • Best summed up when the team is captured by a native tribe. An actor companion (who pushes how "civilization" is ruining the pristine world") thinks they'll be okay as this is a group of Noble Savage types who are smarter than they seem. Main character Kenner sets him straight.
    Kenner: You think civilization is some horrible, polluting human invention that separates us from the state of nature. But civilization doesn't separate us from nature, Ted. Civilization protects us from nature. Because what you see right now, all around you, this is nature.
  • Exploited in Daughter of the Lioness when Nawat Crow and his band get rid of some people by stripping them naked and putting them in the middle of the jungle.
  • In the Discworld book Unseen Academicals, Lord Vetinari uses this concept to make a point.
    “I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
  • Applied full force in Moonflowers, where it's revealed that The Wild Hunt's leader—aptly called the Horned Hunter—isn't just a powerful fairy, but a force of nature. Which means he embodies predators. His deer-skull mask has huge, menacing antlers and burning red sockets, which he uses to gore people like an actual stag. The Irish gods are at their wit's end trying to break his curse on Alima Song and her family—as Maidin the river-fairy notes, they need to respect nature's laws, so while they could make him stop hunting specific people, they'd need to sacrifice others in exchange. And if they openly tell the Hunter to stop hunting, there's a serious risk he'd use that as an excuse to kill EVEN MORE people in retaliation for "going against the natural order." This means the only real option is for Ned Song to kill him before he kills anyone else.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams uses this trope as a primary source for action, as Adams and his friends often have to rescue visitors who learn the hard way that the wilderness is a dangerous place to be in if you don't know what you're doing.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Berstuk, the evil god of the forest from Slavic Mythology.
  • As a general rule, in Norse Mythology natural phenomena are personified as giants (Jotnar). Fire, ice, and time are examples of this. Meanwhile, the gods usually represent man-made concepts like war, sailing, wisdom, and song. Norse mythology can thus be seen as a representation of a war between man and nature. And in the end they will end up destroying each other.
    • Scandinavian folklore in general is also rife with this rope; nature is inhabited by Fair Folk and Eldritch Abominations that can and will hurt or kill you if you're not careful and don't treat them with the respect they deserve.
  • In the Book of Job, God Himself justifies this trope when the Voice from the Whirlwind speaks to Job, as an example of the inherent injustice of the universe. Descriptions of vultures hunting out the corpses of the slain to feed their chicks, and ostriches abandoning their young in the dirt to be crushed or trampled abound. In the words of biblical critic Robert Alter:
    One of the remarkable aspects of the Job poet's vision of nature is that it so completely unsentimental. The creatures of the wild (with the exception of the peculiar ostrich) are endowed with an instinct to nurture their young. For carnivores, however, that nurture involves violence—destroying living creatures in order to sustain life in the offspring. The concluding image, then, of God’s first speech is of the fledgling eagles in the nest, their little beaks open to gulp down the bloody scraps of flesh that their parent has brought them. The moral calculus of nature clearly does not jibe with the simple set of equations and consequences laid out in Proverbs and in Psalms.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Early in Dilbert, a personified Mother Nature made a few appearances, each time doing something rather nasty without shame.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is the reason Green magic in Magic: The Gathering isn't a "good" color; while there are many cards that reflect the life-giving and nurturing facet of Mother Nature, there are also many cards that reflect Mother Nature's brutality as well.
  • The Thyrsus from Mage: The Awakening embody both nature's beauty and its brutality.

    Video Games 
  • In some ways, this is the heart of early gameplay in Minecraft. There is no real enemy or driving plot; it's just your struggle to survive in a hostile wilderness where the wild animals happen to be monsters.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • This is present throughout the series with Spriggans, a hostile tree-like race of Plant People. Though they are revered as "Nature's Guardians'' and are associated with Kynareth (one of the Nine Divines and goddess of the heavens, wind, and elements), they're generally an unfriendly group of nature spirits who attack anyone who intrudes on their domains. (Usually by commanding animals, including bears and bees.)
    • The Daedric Prince Namira has elements of this. She is associated with all things considered grotesque or revolting, including many of the dark aspects of nature. These include disease and decay, as well as being represented by typically revolting creatures such as insects, slugs, bats, and rats.
    • Peryite, the Daedric Prince of Pestilence and Tasks, also has elements of this. He is associated with the "Natural Order" (compared to Jyggalag's "Perfect Order" which is inorganic stasis), which, unfortunately for mortals, primarily manifests as outbreaks of disease, and death in wake of those outbreaks.
  • E.V.O.: Search for Eden has a more active example of not-nice nature, where Life, a strange and rapidly-evolving creature, routinely finishes off an era by committing genocide against certain species to pave the way for other species to grow and thrive. Evolution in this world is an extremely harsh mistress.
  • Half the point of Shelter. You play a mother badger leading her five cubs on a journey to a new home. Starvation, rushing rapids, or predators can very easily claim them, quickly and totally unceremoniously.
  • Somewhat the point of The Long Dark. You play as a poor soul who is lost and stranded in the Canadian wilderness due to a geomagnetic event that has rendered all modern technology useless and consequently thrown humanity off the top of the food chain. If you don't freeze, or starve, or die of illness, you'll likely be torn to shreds by a wolf or a bear.
  • Subnautica is a survival game where you play as an employee on a terraforming/mining vessel, the Aurora, as it crash-lands on an alien planet covered almost entirely by ocean. The ocean is brimming with life that's just big enough to see you in the same way you'd see a cheeseburger, and of course you'll still need to avoid dying of starvation or dehydration, or just drowning.
  • Morrigan of Dragon Age: Origins is this trope personified. She grew up in the wilds and, lacking any human contact besides her Humanoid Abomination mother Flemeth, would often shape-shift into various animals to live among them. Rather than a kindly Friend to All Living Things like most Nature Heroes, she's a borderline sociopath who has little compassion for anybody and doesn't hesitate to resort to violence or even murder to get what she wants.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising: Viridi, Goddess of Nature, though unlike most examples where nature/its personifications are apathetic about humanity, Viridi despises humans and is extremely vocal about her beliefs that Humans Are the Real Monsters. To that end, she aspires to Kill 'em All using Reset Bombs designed to both wipe out humanity and restore the local natural order by creating massive forests.
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon has a lot of dark Pokédex entries. Almost every one seems to revolve around Pokémon hunting or attacking each other (or humans). Hau outright mentions that nature can be scary.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles centers around the battle between two gods: the Bionis, representing nature and organic beings, and Mechonis, representing technology. It starts out like most RPG plots, where the heroes are defending the world of the good nature god from the evil technology god. But then it's flipped entirely on its head. Mayneth, the technology god, was Good All Along and was out to save the world from the Bionis, or rather Zanza, who turns out to be the true Big Bad of the game. Far from a benevolent deity, Zanza is a complete sociopath who sees all the living beings he created as nothing more than a food source, regularly commiting genocide with his own personal army of monsters (horrifically transformed from a race he created solely to become them) whenever life becomes capable of space travel so they don't leave him and deprive him of energy. While Mayneth genuinely loves her subjects, Zanza cares for no-one but himself and is only concerned with preserving his power.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X also utilizes this trope much like the previous game, except that it's much more obvious this time around. Mira is full of hostile beasts, and it's usually not a good idea to take mercy on the wildlife. Just ask Carl, who, if you decide to spare a group of infant Suids (swine creatures), they'll eventually grow up and attack some people, including Carl himself.
  • Rift: Pretty much the defining trait of the Life-elemental Rifts, where the plane within contains killer plants and creatures in a dog-eat-dog world of predation.
  • This is the primary challenge of Don't Starve, being a survival game. Sickness and dehydration aren't incorporated into gameplay and the crafting system is fairly generous, but the player character has to feed themself and avoid freezing to death, burning to death in a forest fire, electrocution from a lightning strike, or being killed by any number of wild animals that are either hostile to players who get too close or unwilling to roll over and die when a player attacks them. However, there are also a number of monsters specifically out to get the player character, such as the packs of ferocious wild dogs that appear out of nowhere periodically, the entity who attacks you if and only if you're caught in complete darkness, and the shadow creatures who attack when your Sanity Meter gets too low. The expansion packs add even more ways to die, such as poison, heatstroke, a giant bear who wants to eat your food stockpile, and falling rocks.
  • Like other sandbox games, Starbound has this as its core gameplay element. The lowest tier planets are known as garden planets and are described as a "lush and pleasant" world. The animals there are hostile.
  • Flowers and greenery are a symbol of death in Grim Fandango as "sprouting" (shooting someone with special seeds that quickly cause their bodies to sprout flowers) is one of the only ways to render someone Deader Than Dead in the Land of the Dead.

    Webcomics 
  • Oddly enough Vegan Artbook has done this, when comparing the eating of meat to a list of barbaric things that animals do, such as "animals steal from each other" "animals kill rival males" "animals rape their females" "animals kill their own babies". But then it contradicts itself with its more frequent messages of having compassion towards animals and scorn for humans.
  • Frequently played for laughs in Sandra and Woo, mainly centered around the realities of carnivorism. Woo and Shadow have sometimes threatened to eat Sid the squirrel, even though they're normally friends, and Shadow had even shared a chunk of his childhood with Sid. Or an Eagle captures Woo to eat him, only to watch Woo eat its eggs. Or most recently, the carnivore animals claim to have been inspired by Zootopia to act nice to the herbivores, but it turns out to be a trick to attack and eat the herbivores now that their defenses are down.

    Western Animation 
  • The Everfree Forest from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, filled with dangerous animals such as the wooden Timberwolves, fits the role of "real" nature in a setting where the ponies themselves have a direct and semi-magical role in running most of their world's ecosystems and do so in the stereotypical harmonious way.
  • Zarm from Captain Planet and the Planeteers. He's a spirit of the Earth, like Gaia, but the two fought eons ago and he went to colonize another planet, which subsequently destroyed itself. He represents the "dark" side of nature, i.e., ruthless competition and natural selection; his main tactic seems to be supporting dictatorships and spreading conflict.
  • In the Futurama episode "Naturama", the characters appear as different animals in three segments of a nature documentary show. They either die, or their efforts prove to be pointless, or both. The narrator draws the lesson: "For in the end, nature is horrific, and teaches us nothing."
  • South Park
    • The episode "Rainforest Shmainforest" in which the kids get lost in the rainforests of Costa Rica, and they are attacked by big bugs, wild animals, and hostile tribesmen, until they are saved by the "good" loggers who are clearing the forest.
    • In "Douche and Turd," the boys fall in with an offshoot of PETA who take the protection of animals to extremes, including breeding with them. The members go on and on about how much they love animals and doing their best to save them from the horrors around them. When the place is raided by rapper Puff Daddy and his posse. They start firing off guns with the PETA members throwing themselves in front of the animals, their last breaths used to yell about how "we die for you!" The animals respond to all this by...chewing on the corpses, then running off, making it clear they didn't give one damn about these strange creatures who were keeping them from their rightful homes.
  • In Family Guy, a clip from a nature documentary is shown narrated by a stereotypical black guy. It shows a cheetah hunting down some prey:
    Damn, lookat dat sumbitch go! He haulin' ass! Dat thing come by my house, I killit! That little rat-lookin' thing just got ate! DAMN NATURE, YOU SCARY!
  • The Forest of Doom from The Amazing World of Gumball is a dangerous place filled with hostile monsters, including the squirrels, that has managed to nearly kill Gumball and Darwin every time they've entered it. It even looks like a skull from the sky.
  • Parodied in Cow and Chicken where Cow gets lost in an overgrown jungle and spends the whole episode struggling to survive. The kicker? She's just been in the family's backyard the whole time, and is brought in by Dad right after she's decided to eat a squirrel.
  • Spongebob Squarepants:
    • In "Jellyfish Jam", SpongeBob decides to take a wild jellyfish home as a pet. Things are all fun and games until the jellyfish draws in the rest of its hive to SpongeBob's house. Unsurprisingly, the jellyfish swarm are extremely irritable creatures and they attack SpongeBob (and Squidward), forcing him to realize that he cannot truly domesticate wild animals.
    • But this wouldn't be the last time that SpongeBob misjudges or underestimates jellyfish. In "Nature Pants", SpongeBob decides to give up his job, home, and friends just to live free as a wild man alongside the jellyfish in their natural habitat. But he only ends up getting attacked by the jellyfish (and sea-urchins), and is forced to take shelter in a cold, dark cave where he realizes his mistakes.

    Real Life 
  • This is one of the basic lessons of military survival schools.
  • Grizzly Man and Into the Wild (see the Film folder above for more details) are respectively a documentary and drama regarding the true stories of the lives and deaths of Timothy Treadwell and Christopher McCandless, two naive men who both died (albeit from very different causes) in the remote wilderness of Alaska due to their ignorance.

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