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Real Event, Fictional Cause

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This trope is when a real-life historical event is revealed to have a fictional cause behind it in a work. This can be due to a case of Been There, Shaped History in some cases.

This may be done to lend a darker context to tragic historical events.

Compare Beethoven Was an Alien Spy (with real people instead of events), Been There, Shaped History (which can overlap) and Historical In-Joke (same). Also compare Fictionalized Death Account, and also We Didn't Start the Führer and Demon King Nobunaga for when this is combined with a Historical Villain Upgrade. Related to Famously Mundane, Fictionally Magical, where a Real Life object has greater significance in fiction. Also compare Painting the Frost on Windows, for when a fictional/mythical cause exists for a mundane phenomenon that may be an extremely common everyday event. Contrast Secret History, where historical events (in Real Life, not an obvious Alternate Universe with publically known superheroes/aliens/whatever) are said to actually have causes other than the commonly accepted ones.

A supertrope to The Tunguska Event, Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs, Caused the Big Bang, Who Shot JFK?, Alternate Landmark History and Historical Rap Sheet (when an In-Universe Big Bad is mentioned to have caused, or at least been part of, some historical atrocity or disaster).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Giant Impact (also known as "First Impact" in-universe) is stated to have been the result of Lilith's starfaring vessel, the Black Moon, crashing into primordial Earth about 4 billion years ago, with said vessel's rocky exterior separating from the vessel and coalescing into the Moon; as for the real-life explanation, it's a cover-up story by Seele in-universe.
  • Rurouni Kenshin does this with the assassination of Okubo Toshimichi. In real life, Okubo was assassinated by a group of samurai unhappy with his rapid modernization/westernization and abolition of the privileges the samurai had enjoyed. In the story, Social Darwinist Shishio has his dragon assassinate Okubo as a step to weaken Japan and make it easy for Shishio to take over the country. The group of samurai who killed Okubo in real life were also planning to kill him, but they only find Okubo's body after he is already dead and claim credit for the deed.

    Comic Books 
  • The Boys: Fanatical Nazi superhero and Captain Marvel/Thor knockoff Stormfront was responsible for destroying the levees around New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. He did so to engage in some old-fashioned ethnic cleansing and to allow Vought American to buy the devastated lands at the lowest prices possible.
  • Death Vigil: Implied. While Bernadette and Allistor are expositing to Clara the significance of the Codex, Bernie mentions that the last known translation was kept in the Library of Alexandria, "and that problem was taken care of a long time ago."
  • The Marvel Universe has a handful:
    • The 1666 Great Fire of London started due to the demonic presence of Dormammu.
    • The Black Plague was caused by the anguish scream of a cosmic being.
    • The Tunguska Event is either caused by time travel shenanigans or powerful magical rituals with explosive after effects.
    • Hitler postponed the invasion of the Soviet Union – with the Nazis ultimately failing before the harsh Russian winter set in – in order to attack Atlantis first.
  • The Sandman: The 1916 - 1926 Encephalitis lethargica pandemic was caused by a sorcerer summoning and binding the Anthropomorphic Personification of Dream.

    Fan Works 
  • Strange Times Are Upon Us has Brokosh and the crew of the IKS HoSbatlh accidentally cause the solar storm of 1859 after they accidentally Time Travel from 2410 and trigger a solar flare to destroy a Breen warship that was dragged along with them.
  • In Know Thyself, according to the Oracle, the Salem Witch Trials were orchestrated by the machines as a culling method for the wizards in the matrix.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: Given the location of where it's found, Dib and his friends come to the conclusion that the Tunguska Event was caused by the Meekrob cargo pod containing Project Domination crashing to Earth.
  • The eruption of Santorini is portrayed in Sixes and Sevens as the result of a battle between Hela and Odin. The destruction of the Minoan civilization happens the same as well, though the ensuing rise of the Greek Pantheon is portrayed as the Muses calling upon said gods to settle in the area to protect the decimated populace.
  • Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus: The Lost Colony of Roanoke was caused by the Infinity Train taking the settlers away.

    Film — Animated 
  • Anastasia shows that the Russian Revolution was caused by Grigori Rasputin making a Deal with the Devil as vengeance against the Romanovs for trying to assassinate him.
  • In DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp the Genie explains that Evil Sorcerer Merlock was responsible for the sinking of Atlantis and the destruction of Pompeii.
  • Moana depicts the Long Pause, when Polynesians suddenly stopped sailing for roughly 2000 years after the colonization of Samoa and Fiji. According to the movie, this was caused by Maui stealing the Heart of Te Fiti, the source of the creator deity's power. Monsters and demons started to roam the seas looking for it, making navigation dangerous.
  • In Suzume, the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 was caused by the Great Wyrm managing to fully emerge from a door. While the Wyrm was subsequently bound with the Keystones, the door itself was buried in rubble deep beneath Tokyo and remained open.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the American Civil War was caused partly because the vampires want to support the Confederacy's racism policy against the black people, as the vampires feed from those people. The war also has vampires becoming the Confederacy's troops.
  • In Forrest Gump, the titular character is an Accidental Hero who routinely shapes history by being at exactly the right place at the precise time. Who discovered the Watergate burglary? Gump. Who sparked the T-shirt phrase "shit happens?" Gump. Who designed The '60s Smiley Face? Gump. If it's a critical juncture in American history, Forrest Gump went jogging through it.
  • Godzilla (2014): The many nuclear "tests" the United States conducted in the 1950s in the Pacific Ocean were actually secret attempts to destroy a gargantuan prehistoric sea-beast that they accidentally stirred from dormancy. The prologue shows the Castle Bravo detonation at Bikini Atoll being used to try and kill Godzilla.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): The Creative Closing Credits reveal that a war between Titans and Advanced Ancient Humans was the cause of one of the last great ice ages, which was also what forced the Titans into hibernation for thousands of years in the first place.
  • The Hunt for Red October: The movie adaptation implies that Captain Marko Ramius defecting to the United States with Red October was partly the cause of Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power, as a result of the incident discrediting the more militaristic party officials who were backing Konstantin Chernenko's leadership (the original book was published in October 1984, months before Gorbachev took power).
  • Men in Black:
    • The 1977 New York Blackout was caused by an alien releasing a Hyper-Destructive Bouncing Ball into the area as a prank.
    • The 1964-65 New York World's Fair was a cover operation so that the first alien ambassadors to Earth could land — their ships became the flat circular tops of the observation towers. The movie jokes that this was the only reason the fair was held in Queens. It becomes a Chekhov's Gun later when MIB are trying to stop the Bug from leaving Earth — all the other New York-area spaceships registered in MIB's database are gone and they're trying to figure out how the Bug intends to leave when Agent J looks over a picture of Flushing Meadows, sees the observation towers, and asks whether those still work.
  • According to Space Jam, Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls after saving the Looney Tunes from a horrible fate, because Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson believed he couldn't play the game anymore.
    Podolak: Did you hear that, Michael? They think you can't play basketball anymore.
    Jordan: Only one way to find out.
  • The Filipino horror anthology film Shake, Rattle & Roll Fourteen: The Invasion all but outright states that Ninoy Aquino was killed by Buboy the Little Devil, a sadistic, reality-warping boy brought to life from a comic. This also meant that he indirectly kickstarted the EDSA Revolution that lead to the ousting of president Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
  • In Wonder Woman (2017), Diana hypothesizes that World War I is caused by Ares' influence on humanity. It's actually zig-zagged. Ares may have given humanity the means to destroy each other, but humans decided to go to war all on their own. That said, Ares actually was manipulating things in an attempt to lead towards World War II, but had no role in its actual occurrence, as he was long dead by then.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men Origins: Wolverine has a fictionalised version of the Three Mile Island incident, in which the nuclear plant is actually a secret laboratory for mutant experimentation, and a fight between Wolverine, Sabretooth and Weapon XI caused one of the plant's cooling towers to collapse.
    • In X-Men: First Class, the Cuban Missile Crisis was instigated by Sebastian Shaw as part of his plan to have mutantkind become widespread from the nuclear fallout and dominate over humans.

  • In sci-fi/horror novel DARLAH, the NASA lunar missions were discontinued not because of dwindling funding and public interest, as in real life, but because of dangerous and possibly supernatural happenings on the Moon.
  • In The Divine Comedy, one saint on Venus attributes the creation of Florence to the Devil.
  • The Dresden Files: Ebenezar McCoy, Harry's mentor and grandfather and one of the most powerful wizards in the world, has claimed responsibility for not only Tunguska but also the New Madrid earthquake of 1812 and Krakatoa.
  • Erast Fandorin:
    • In The Turkish Gambit, the taking of Nikopol instead of Pleven and the resulting prolonging of the Russo-Turkish War are all the workings of brilliant Turkish schemer Anwar Effendi.
    • In The Coronation, the Khodynka tragedy where thousands were crushed in the crowds is provoked by one of Dr. Lind's goons to ensure Dr. Lind escapes in the mess.
  • A Net of Dawn and Bones has several catastrophes as being the result of a sorcerer managing to complete a Demongate. The Great Fire of London and the 1692 Jamaican Earthquake were both the result of Demongates opening while being opposed. The 1257 Mount Rinjani explosion was the last Demongate to open unopposed, and while it was later sealed by Heroic Sacrifice it still released enough curses to cause the catastrophes that occurred in the next few centuries, including the Black Death.
  • The Pendragon Adventure: In The Never War, the Hindenburg disaster was the result of a mobster igniting it with a firework to destroy his rival's fortune, which was secretly on board.
  • The Camp Half-Blood Series:
    • In the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians novel, it's revealed that World War II was basically a case of the children of Zeus and Poseidon (part of the Allies) fighting against the children of Hades (part of the Axis). This was actually the reason that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades agreed not to have any more children, as they were too powerful. Zeus and Poseidon violated their agreement, however.
    • The Heroes of Olympus reveals that the American Revolutionary War and American Civil War were caused by Roman and Greek Demigods fighting for supremacy. During the former, the Romans sided with the British, and the Greeks sided with the Americans. During the latter, most Romans sided with the South, and most Greeks sided with the Union, but not all in either case, in line with that war being "brother against brother".
  • Serpent (part of the Kurt Austin Adventures) opens with the sinking of the Andrea Doria. In this version, the sinking was deliberate on the part of the Stockholm's helmsman. It isn't explained why until later.
    • Zero Dawn reveals that a secret government experiment of an unstable energy source caused the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
  • Animorphs: Towards the end of the Cretaceous, two alien species were warring with each other for control of Earth: the antlike Nesk and crablike Mercora. The Animorphs side with the Mercora and drive the Nesk off-planet, but as a parting gesture the Nesk redirect a passing comet onto the Earth. The Animorphs had stolen a nuke with which to return to their own time, but willingly give it up to the Mercora to destroy the comet. Or that was the plan: Tobias, who knew full well what the comet meant, had Ax disarm the nuke in order to ensure the complete eradication of the Mercora, the slow death of the dinosaurs, and the subsequent rise of mammals and later humans. The Mercora's only legacy would be that they introduced broccoli to Earth.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Kid Stuff": The elf from Avalon says the country is in the Atlantic Ocean, hidden using psychic powers. When the RMS Titanic crashed into the island, it took the focus of the whole population to make the island look like an iceberg.
  • Leviathan: In the third novel, Goliath, Nikolas Tesla's Death Ray contraption (a massive Lightning Gun) apparently caused the Tunguska event in this universe. Later subverted, the Tunguska event was caused by a meteorite, just as it was in real life; Tesla either lied and said that his weapon caused it or mistakenly believed it did.
  • Harry Potter: Some of these examples are from the website Pottermore.
    • Apparently, the eruption of Vesuvius was caused by a Roman warlock named Zaccaria Innocenti when he launched a dance spell.
    • An ancestor of Malfoy (whose name is also Lucius Malfoy, adressed as "Lucius Malfoy I" by in-universe historians) apparently attempted to marry Queen Elizabeth I, of all people. But she rejected him, and since he's Not Good with Rejection, he put a jinx on her, resulting in her well-known reluctant behaviour towards marriage. However, many historians believed it's just an exaggeration of the story, not mention that Malfoy family is well-known for their fanaticism towards blood purity and thus it's unlikely that he actually considered to marry her at all. This story was also denied by subsequent generations of the Malfoy family, but there has never been solid evidence for either side.
  • In Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars, the titular Eugenics Wars are portrayed as a Secret History full of proxy conflicts rather than a full-on open war, which go on to include events from Smiling Buddha to the Yugoslav Wars and Watts Riots.
  • In Crooked, several events are portrayed as consequences of American leaders having occult dealings: The Roanoke colony was destroyed by demons, the spanish flu was a consequence of Woodrow Wilson's releasing an Eldritch Abomination to help win the war, and the moon landing was faked after the real inhabitants of the moon attacked the astronauts.
  • On the other hand, The Last American Vampire claims the Roanoke colony was wiped out by a vampire among them. Protagonist Henry Sturges is one of three survivors, counting the vampire in question, who turned Henry.
  • In Dracula Unbound by Brian W. Aldiss, the dinosaurs are wiped out (as collateral damage) by a nuclear bomb set off by a time traveler in order to destroy the vampires, which are actually a parasitic species predating humans.
  • The Three Musketeers attributes the historical murder of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham by John Felton to him being seduced by Milady de Winter while assigned to guard her by her ex-brother-in-law Lord de Winter. Historically, Felton had his own grievances with Buckingham; Alexandre Dumas suggests Milady accusing Buckingham of drugging, raping, and branding her as a convict is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Alternity campaign setting Dark*Matter core rules. When a Grey spaceship on Earth was close to being discovered by humans, its commander followed standard procedure and re-directed a comet to impact and destroy the landing site. He made a mistake, and the result was The Tunguska Event.
  • In Call of Cthulhu, The Tunguska Event was caused by Azathoth (one of the Cthulhu Mythos deities) being summoned to Earth.
  • After a while, you begin to suspect every single event of any import in human history in the Old World of Darkness had at least some supernatural involvement.

    Video Games 
  • In the Assassin's Creed series, nearly every major event in human history, from wars to assassinations to the rise of capitalism, was engineered or affected by the Secret War between Templars and Assassins.
    • Assassin's Creed II: The Pazzi Conspiracy isn't just a (failed) conspiracy of the namesake family to bring down the Medici, it's also a Templar plot to purge the Auditore family, which is a prominent house of Assassins (the Pazzi are Templars in the game).
    • Assassin's Creed III: The Boston Massacre is portrayed as a Templar plot to destabilize the colonies and fan the flames of war.
    • In Assassin's Creed Rogue, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was triggered by a Precursor artifact.
  • Control has a lot of fun with its in-universe documents by the Federal Bureau of Control alluding to bizarre, unexplained real-world phenomena as being related to "Altered World Events" that created Artifacts of Doom.
    • The "Havana AWE" is based on the Havana Syndrome outbreak between 2016-17, where American and Canadian embassy staff inexplicably developed symptoms such as hearing loss, memory loss, nausea, and even brain damage. FBC agents recovered a mysteriously vibrating cowboy boot that was determined to be the cause of the outbreak, with them also planting the baseless rumor that it was some kind of sonic attack (perpetuated in real life by then-US president Donald Trump following the incident) as a means of covering up the discovery.
    • The Kyiv AWE is based on a series of incidents from 2011 in Kyiv, Ukraine, where loud screeching noises could be inexplicably heard all across the city, which in the AWE was also said to have caused additional afflictions like aphasia and sleep paralysis. The FBC weren't able to determine a definite source from it, and their conclusion was that the area was experiencing "planar friction".
    • The Arctic Queen Refrigerator item was recovered from the wreckage of the Grand Central Hotel in New York City, which collapsed in 1973. In real life, it came down because of improper maintenance of its load-bearing walls, but the game also implies that the fridge (which is demonstrated to have a tendency of making things violently unstable) was involved as a catalyst.
  • According to Empire Earth II, the Cold War really ended when the U.S. stole the stealth bomber the Soviets had developed and used it against them.
  • Eternal Darkness attributes the death of Charlemagne to a plot by the Ancients to end a period of enlightenment brought about by the emperor unifying Europe under his banner.
  • In Touhou, the failure of the Apollo 13 mission is caused by Lunarians who don't want Earthlings on the moon.
  • Vampyr (2018): The 1666 Great Fire of London was caused when vampire knight Sir William Marshall fought against a witch responsible for The Black Death in the city the year before (in reality, she was a Disaster, another of the Red Queen's minions. The battle lasted for hours to a stalemate, so Marshall was forced to trap her under St. Paul's Cathedral and set it on fire to make sure she was dead.
  • Goro Majima of the Yakuza series inspired the tax hikes that led to Japan's bubble economy bursting in the late 80s after rescuing a politician from a mugging and getting a little too into a conversation on taxes during Yakuza 0.
  • In the Watch_Dogs series, the 2003 blackout that took place in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario was due to a rogue hacker instead of a software bug found in the computers of FirstEnergy Corporation. This gave Blume Corp. the opportunity to provide ctOS with a safeguard against future incidents, while causing another: the 2007 crash is the result of Blume meddling with an already tense trading market.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, the real life Marco Polo Bridge Incident is mentioned as occurring because the missing soldier was a draftee from Hinamizawa. Since this would mean Hinamizawa Syndrome indirectly started the Second Sino-Japanese War, it's a motivation for the government to cover the disease up.

  • In Devilish Romance, there's a demon who buys young musicians' souls and makes them world-class talents, but in exchange, their lives end at the age of 27.
  • The "Eternity Stones" of Heroine Chic that Geordie and Zoe use to transform into the superhero alter egos are part of a set of Power Crystals that can generate devastating power when used in concert. According to the narration, The last time the Eternity Stones were used together, it created the Ice Age — a global disaster that lasted over nine thousand years and forced man to wear animal skins at unfashionable lengths.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In Big Hero 6: The Series, The Great Catastrophe is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It was caused by Lenore Shimamoto, who was creating a new power source that accidentally became a star.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • As Jorgen Von Strangle recalls every disaster that Cosmo was responsible of, he mentions the destruction of Pompey, the sinking of Atlantis and transforming the once "high-tech gleaming utopia" of Xanadu into a Polluted Wasteland that Cosmo quickly christened "Pittsburgh".
    • The episode "Hassle in the Castle" concerns Timmy exploring Cosmo and Wanda’s castle in his fishbowl and bringing to life portraits of their past godkids to ask how they got into the Hall of Fame. Except he accidentally pulled kids from the Hall of Infamy, the worst of which, Maryann, is mentioned by Wanda to have abused their magic to take out Archduke Ferdinand and plunge the world into its first World War (leading to Epileptic Trees about how Da Rules’ Thou Shalt Not Kill policy was involved).
  • In Rick and Morty, the COVID-19 Pandemic was apparently caused by magic fortune cookies, whose fortunes therein are all destined by universe/fate-altering entropy to come true once the consumer eats the cookie. The enslaved old man being forced to make the cookies, in an attempt to get someone to investigate the factory where he's imprisoned and free him, made some of the fortunes say "Investigate this cookie factory or a virus will take over the world." Considering he's still stuck there by the time of the episode...
  • And similarly, in South Park, COVID-19 was caused by Randy Marsh drunkenly having sex with a pangolin.


Video Example(s):


You Meddled in Human Affairs

Michael and Janet, two afterlife beings, took a trip down to Earth and this somehow resulted in a bunch of weird scenarios occurring. All of the things listed were current, real world events from when the episode aired.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / RealEventFictionalCause

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