Follow TV Tropes


Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Go To

"A man often meets his destiny on the very road he took to avoid it."
French/Chinese/Tortoise proverb

Whenever anyone tries to avert a prophecy, for good or ill, the end result of their actions is to bring the prophecy about. The harder they struggle to prevent it, the more inescapable their destiny becomes. Fate, it seems, loves irony. Strangely, the other side of this, where the prophecy is fulfilled because someone wants to fulfill it, is rarely explored in fiction (Either-Or Prophecies notwithstanding).

When a hero tries to prevent the prophesied release of an ancient evil, their actions will help it escape because You Can't Fight Fate. When the Big Bad tries to slaughter all the members of a given people in order to kill the one among them who is prophesied to end them, they will only manage to create the hero that they fear, Because Destiny Says So.

One common mechanism for this is a Prophecy Twist. If no one understands the real meaning of the prophecy, any attempts to avert it will naturally be futile. A cynic will point out that by this measure, a prophecy must be vague. Otherwise, it would be easy to defeat, or else those it affects must carry an Idiot Ball and not take the direct approach that would have no room for failure.

To be this trope, a member of the cast must be actively trying to prevent it from happening. Then it happens, most often because of the attempt to prevent it. Generally, this happens through one of two courses: either a) the person the prophecy concerns will, in their pre-preemptive efforts to prevent their purported doom, end up creating the very circumstances by which the prophecy is fulfilled; or b) having taken their preventative measures, they will then unwittingly blunder right into the prophecy's hands. More complex prophecies may include both.

The archetypal Older Than Feudalism example is the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex. A prophecy says the king will be killed by his own son, so the king orders his infant son killed. (He has his feet nailed to a board and left to die of exposure in the wilderness, rather than, say, cutting him in half with a sword.) Oedipus is rescued, and brought up not knowing he's the prince. Twenty years later, he learns his fate: he will kill his father and marry his mother. Wanting to protect his adoptive family — who he believes are his natural parents — Oedipus leaves home. On the road, he meets his biological father (whom he doesn't recognize, naturally), gets into an argument, and kills him. Shortly thereafter he comes to the city his father ruled, and frees them from the Sphinx; as a reward, Oedipus is made king of the city and marries the widowed queen... his own mother.

Most of the real-world prophecies that come true are also self-fulfilling — simply stating that something will happen often ensures that it will happen someday, whether by accident or because someone read your prophecy and decided they'd make it happen.

An example sometimes given is that a prediction that a bank may go bankrupt may scare people into withdrawing their money from the bank all in a rush — but since the bank only keeps a fraction of their deposits actually on hand (the rest is invested out, e.g. bank loans), the run on the bank can drive the bank into insolvency, ironically just as predicted. In simpler terms, fear that a certain commodity (like gasoline) will run short may trigger people to stock up on it, leading to a shortage of that very commodity. Then there's plain old paranoia, which is a good way to make enemies.

Contrast Self-Defeating Prophecy. Compare Catch-22 Dilemma, Prophetic Fallacy, The Firefly Effect, Streisand Effect, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero (and/or Nice Job Fixing It, Villain, depending on who did it), and Nice Job Breaking It, Herod. Often an integral part of tragedy. May cause a Clingy MacGuffin or be caused by being Improperly Paranoid. For the Time Travel version, see You Already Changed the Past and Stable Time Loop. See also Situational Irony.


    open/close all folders 

    Audio Play 
  • In The Broken Cyborg: A Biopunk Fairytale, New Albion's mayor gets a message that the city is about to go through a great upheaval on the scale of the one that previously led to New Albion becoming a police state and the ensuing civil war. There's a community of transhumanists living in a shantytown in the city's central park which she fears will be the catalyst, so she orders the military to exterminate them all. Some of the survivors including Jane, the titular cyborg, escape through a gate into the fairy realm where they learn how to alter their bodies in even more extreme ways. With this knowledge, Jane leads an army of mutants and The Fair Folk to reclaim the park and declare it a sovereign territory.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Fish and the Ring, Vasilii the Unlucky, "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate, and many other fairy tales, a man who finds his child is destined to marry a poor child tries to kill them several times, and the wedding always come to pass due to their attempts to prevent it.
  • In Sun, Moon, and Talia, an older variant of Sleeping Beauty, wise men prophesy that Talia will be harmed by flax. Her father, therefore, bans it from the castle — which means Talia doesn't know what it is and finds it intriguing.
  • In Madame d'Aulnoy's Princess Rosette, the fairies (reluctantly) predict that the princess will cause grave danger, or even death, to her older brothers. So her parents lock her in a tower. When they die, her brothers immediately free her. She learns that people eat peacocks and, in her innocence, resolves to marry the King of the Peacocks. Her loving brothers try to bring this about and end up in grave danger (though they do survive).
  • In The Brothers Grimm's The Bright Sun Brings It to Light, a tailor's apprentice in need of money robs and murders a poor Jew who prophesies with his last breath that the apprentice won't get away with it because "the bright sun will bring [the crime] to light." Years pass and the apprentice eventually finds work, marries his boss' daughter and starts a family. One day, he notices the sun shining on his coffee and the reflection making circles on the walls and mutters "yes, it would like very much to bring it to light, and cannot!" His wife asks him what he means by this and pesters him until he admits his crime to her. She confides the secret to someone else and it soon becomes public knowledge. "And thus, after all, the bright sun did bring it to light."
  • Downplayed in The Grateful Beasts. Ferko's brothers, looking for something to slander him with, claim he will carry off the princess. He does marry the princess, because of the consequences of that.
  • Russian Mythology and Tales: In a Russian fairy tale, a ruler is foretold that his favorite horse will cause his death. He orders the horse taken away and killed. A year later, he goes to the place where the horse was killed, taunts its bare bones and kicks the skull. An angry snake crawls out of the skull and bites him in the leg, killing him. The story was turned into the poem Old Oleg by Alexander Pushkin. In his version, the prince does not have the horse killed but decides not to ride it anymore and leaves it on a distant pasture to graze. Many years later, he comes to the place and finds that the horse has died of old age in the meantime. Then he makes the mistake of approaching the skeleton...
  • A story is told in England about a 14th-century nobleman named Robert de Shurland. Upon getting a prediction that he will die because of his horse, he killed it on the spot. A year later, he passed nearby and kicked the skull. A piece of bone pierced his foot, causing blood poisoning.

    Folk Tales 
  • A fable from the Middle East tells of a wealthy man of Baghdad, whose servant begs for his master's fastest horse to flee the city to Samarra. The servant tells his master that he saw Death in the marketplace that morning and that she had made a threatening gesture at him. The master acquiesces, then hunts Death down for an explanation as to why she'd threatened his servant. Death replies that she was not threatening, only surprised to see the servant there...because she had an appointment with him that night in Samarra.
    • Retold by W. Somerset Maugham in "The Appointment in Samarra".
    • And by Italian singer Roberto Vecchioni in "Samarcanda"
    • Also used as a Title Drop in the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's Appointment with Death.
    • Given a lovely recitation by Boris Karloff in Targets.
    • That story is played with in Discworld when Death runs into Rincewind and tells him they have an appointment in another city and asks Rincewind to please hurry and go there, even offering to lend him his horse. Rincewind refuses. It was the same city Rincewind was planning to run to in the first place, making it a sort of accidentally self-defeating prophecy.
    • The Jewish version of this story has King Solomon meeting the angel of death, who looks sad. Upon being asked why he is sad, the angel replies that he is supposed to take the lives of two of Solomon's advisers but can't. Solomon, worried for his advisers, sends them off to the city of Luz, famous for the fact that all who live within have immortality so long as they remain in that city. The following day Solomon sees the angel of death again, who is happy this time. Why was he sad yesterday, and why is he now happy? Because he was supposed to take the lives of those advisers just before the entrance to the city of Luz, and couldn't do so so long as they weren't there yet...
  • There was a small town. One day, an old lady said something bad was going to happen that day. Word gets out, and then every person is so paranoid that the townspeople burn it down and run.
  • The ancient Greek fable of Oedipus Rex (later made into a play by Sophocles), which ended in Oedipus gouging out his own eyes and his wife/mother hanging herself.

  • Old Master Q have this Played for Laughs; one strip have Master Q consulting a fortune teller who tells him, "he'll have a bad day ahead." Master Q replies with, "What a load of bullshit..." causing the fortune teller to poke Master Q in the nose in anger. Master Q responds with a punch on the other guy's face... cue a last panel where the police drags Master Q to prison for starting a fight in public.

  • The Kate Bush song "Babooshka" is about a woman, bitter and paranoid that her husband is cheating on her, initiating a Two-Person Love Triangle with him to test his fidelity. He ends up succumbing to the charms of the mysterious Babooshka... but only because 'she' reminds him of his wife before she 'freezed on him'; if she hadn't succumbed to paranoia about her husband's fidelity and turned on him, he wouldn't have become unfaithful in the first place.
  • The Black Sabbath song "Iron Man" is about a man who travels in time to the future, sees the world being destroyed by a man of steel, then while returning to his original time, turns to steel because of a magnetic field. He becomes immobilized and is ignored by the people when he tries to warn them. This causes him to become bitter and angry until he finally has his revenge on mankind. In other words, he becomes the very thing he was trying to save the world from.
  • The theme of "Oh No!" by Marina Diamandis:
    I know exactly what I want and what I want to be
    I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine
    I'm now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy
    Oh, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh!
  • Evillious Chronicles: In the song Project "Ma", Queen Maria Moonlit prophetized the end of Levianta (her country) and the whole world by <The Dark Legacy, "Sin">. Levianta's answer was to create Project [Ma] to purify the sins. The first project's failure caused Eve Moonlit's mental instability and the second project created Hänsel and Gretel, the twins she would later kill for, unleashing the "Sin" onto the world.
  • In the music video for the They Might Be Giants song "Bastard Wants to Hit Me", the "crazy bastard" is so mad about getting snubbed by the narrator that by the end of the video, he does want to hit him (and does so).
  • In Joe Diffe's "Third Rock from the Sun" a man in Smokey's Bar sees a beautiful woman walks into the bar and calls up his wife to tell her he is working late (so he can make time with the lady in question). The wife calls up her sister and asks her to come over to comfort her, which gives her boyfriend time to go out and get a beer from a nearby store. He leaves the keys in his car, allowing some teenagers to take a joyride in his car. The teenagers end up in the path of a semi truck, which crashes into them, goes across a bank parking lot and hits a nearby clocktower. The clocktower falls over and takes out a powerline, making the entire town go dark. A waitress calls the police in panic, claiming aliens are landing, and the police call the mayor, waking him up because they can't find the sheriff. The mayor tells the police to use their heads - if he isn't in his car, he's probably hiding from his wife down at Smokey's Bar. So he is going to have to work late after all.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At Ring of Honor's Undeniable 2007, Kevin Steen rejected Adam Pearce's offer to join Hang Men 3 at the expense of El Generico, arguing that only he was allowed to have fun smacking Generico around. At the 2009 Final Battle, guess what Steen did to Generico?

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the primarch Horus gets infected with a demonic plague that causes him to fall into a coma and get visions of the future from the Chaos Gods. In the visions, he sees the Imperium turn into a repressive totalitarian dystopia where the Emperor is worshiped as a god and his name is not mentioned anywhere. This, combined with his anger about the Emperor returning to Earth and leaving him and the other Primarchs fighting to expand the Imperium, causes him to turn to Chaos and start a civil war that nearly destroys the Imperium. As a result of the war (known as the Horus Heresy), 10,000 years later the mortally wounded Emperor, now confined in the life-supporting Golden Throne, is venerated as a god in a repressive totalitarian dystopia, and the names of Horus and other traitorous Primarchs have been removed from Imperial records.
  • A Black Crusade campaign can start one of these, depending on how the GM follows the plot thread the antagonist of the introductory adventure, False Prophets, starts.
  • In the first edition of Aberrant, a secret subdivision of Project Proteus fears that the superhuman novas will eventually either enslave baseline humanity on purpose or simply render them extinct in some fashion. To counter this, they slip sterilizing agents into the drugs that all novas recruited by Project Proteus are fed in order to help them control their powers, and assassinate any novas that either learn about this, seem to powerful, or have powers that could counteract their sterilization project. Naturally, when this inevitably comes out, it provokes so much outrage and fear amongst the novas that it triggers a full-fledged supers vs. baseline race war.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, "thin-blooded" vampires who are sufficiently removed from the power source behind vampirism are frequently hunted and killed by vampire elders. These elders fear that the thin-blooded are a portent of doom whose presence heralds the end-times return of the Antediluvians, the slumbering Abusive Precursors of their kind. The official sourcebooks for narrating the actual end times reveal that nothing gets the attention of the Antediluvians like large numbers of their descendents getting killed, no matter how distant those descendents may be.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: A Dragon article about bartering with dragons warns about having them invest in your business, however much of a sure thing it is. They hate having a part of their hoard out of their sight, and will hover around to keep an eye on it and make sure you aren't cheating them. Once they've scared away all your customers and you've gone bankrupt, that just proves they were right to be suspicious about the deal the whole time.

  • Shakespeare's Macbeth revolves around this trope.
    • When the Witches greet Macbeth as the King of Scotland in the first act, it prompts him and his wife to plot to steal the throne from the rightful King after the Witches' earlier prophesy (that Macbeth would become the Thane of Cawdor) unexpectedly comes true.
    • When the Witches prophesy that Macbeth's friend Banquo will give birth to a line of kings, he tries to have Banquo and his son Fleance murdered so that it won't come true. He only succeeds with the first part, with Banquo ordering Fleance to avenge him with his last words. It should be noted that in Shakespeare's time, it was believed that the House of Stuart - the line which the Scottish kings belonged to - was believed to be the descendants of Fleance.
    • When the Witches warn Macbeth to "Beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife," it prompts him to send his assassins to massacre Macduff's castle. Macduff isn't home, but the assassins do succeed in murdering his wife and Macduff all the reason he needs to storm Dunsinane with his allies and personally kill Macbeth in single combat.
  • Shakespeare's Henry IV also has this, in its own way. King Henry's refusal to ransom Mortimer under the fear that he might lead a rebellion eventually causes Hotspur to lead a rebellion of his own.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 
  • Used in Red vs. Blue where Church attempts to stop a whole lot of bad things that happened in Blood Gulch, only to cause most of them.
  • Done 'spectacularly' in Opifex's The Storm Dragons series, a fan fiction series based on the Inheritance Cycle world. Most Elves and Dragons know a legend about a black dragon born during a storm that will cause a great deal of evil for the world. Both races attempt to kill the black dragon Ravana, but not only does he prove himself extremely hard to kill, but their attempts to do so drive him over the edge of insanity when he realizes every living thing is his enemy, turning him into exactly the kind of vengeful and murderous creature that the prophecy spoke about.
  • On TV Tropes, anything added to the Flame Bait page will... well, become flamebait, because then people will argue about whether it belongs there, scold other people for adding it to tropes, and so on.
  • In The Gift of Mercy, an alien race from the other side of the galaxy discovers humanity after picking up radio signals from Earth, and starts studying us, concluding that we're all a bunch of barbaric savages obsessed with violence and killing, but fortunately much too stupid to ever be a threat to them. Then we develop space travel and they start getting a bit worried. Then we start deliberately sending radio transmissions out into space trying to make first contact, and they collectively shit their pants in terror. "They knew we were out here, and they were coming for us." They scramble to build a WMD to wipe us out, the titular "Gift of Mercy", and launch it directly at Earth. They aren't exactly happy about doing this, but see it as a necessary evil to save themselves. Crossing the galaxy takes a really long time even at lightspeed, and in that time we evolve so much that we all become Transhuman pacifists who make some of the most beautiful art the galaxy has ever seen. Alas, there is no way to stop the Gift of Mercy from reaching its target, Earth and most of our solar system is obliterated, and the aliens are left wracked with guilt over committing a genocide that turned out to not have been necessary after all. Then, a Hope Spot: it turns out that millions of humans still survived on other colonized planets that were far enough away from Earth to have avoided destruction. The aliens breathe a collective sigh of relief that they didn't actually wipe us all out after all... and then they get a message from us: "We know you are out there, and we are coming for you."
  • In The Backwater Gospel, the coming of The Undertaker always signifies that someone will die. In the end it's the townsfolk's fear of him and desire to survive at all costs that turns the town on itself, causing the people to viciously massacre each other and bring upon the deaths The Undertaker's coming augured.
  • Todd in the Shadows concluded that Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" was created as a Take That! to a Hatedom that didn't exist until the song was released.
  • There's a Man in the Woods details a teacher that cares for his students, and a greedy brat named Sid who was spreading rumors about a Serial Killer hiding in the woods. Eventually, the rumor underwent Gossip Evolution (including things such as Batman ears and a woman's severed thigh) and spread to the parents, who get the teacher fired. The result that the teacher, with his life ruined by the fiasco and being bitter and angry about it, decided to go back to the school, now ruined by the paranoia the rumor caused. The final shot is him in the same woods, glaring at Sid and reaching into his coat pocket threateningly...
  • Whateley Universe: Whateley Academy student Semiramis Vesmarran's Code Name, Sahar, is Arabic for 'the evil eye'; her main ability is the power to psychically impress a self-fulfilling prophecy of Doom on a target's mind, causing them to act as if they are cursed and draw disaster upon themselves accordingly.
  • In The Ruins of an American Party System, the Troika ruling the Soviet Union come to fear that the increasingly popular Grand Marshal Tukhachevsky will stage a Military Coup and overthrow them, to the point that they excommunicate him from the Party and try to have him relieved of command... which pisses off Tukhachevsky (who'd actually had no treasonous thoughts whatsoever) and his men to the point that they do stage a coup.
  • In the 500th Episode of Atop the Fourth Wall, Linkara tried to prevent the Bad Future caused by Brother Eye by calling the person who created it, Welshy, and apologizing for never finishing their crossover review. At first, it seems to work as the evil future Welshy disappears, but Linkara forgot to hang up the phone, causing Welshy to realize the alterior motive of Linkara's apology. He swears to get revenge for Linkara's actions, almost certainly resulting in the future Linkara was trying to prevent.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Self Fulfilling Prophecies


TWA Chosen One prophecy

The implications of this type of prophecy are explored.

How well does it match the trope?

4.73 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / SelfFulfillingProphecy

Media sources: