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Self-Made Myth

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Bob The Great is a hero of legend, Shrouded in Myth and Famed In-Story throughout the land. But when Alice finally meets him, she finds out, a bit to her disappointment, that he's not really eight feet tall, stronger than a dragon and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He may be able to do some unusual and awesome things, but he's not at all what the stories made him out to be.

"Oh, well you see," Bob explains when she asks, "all those stories about me? Well, not all of them, but about half at least, I made them up. Figured as long as people were going to be telling tales of me anyway, they may as well be good ones, you know?"

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This is a character who actively works to intentionally create a mythical reputation for themselves. They can do it for various reasons, the most common being to make people think they're awesome, or to make people think they're scary and want to leave them alone.

Will probably involve a liberal dose of …But He Sounds Handsome. May be part of the Terror Hero's strategy. Compare Becoming the Boast, Miles Gloriosus, and Fake Ultimate Hero. Contrast The Dreaded.


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Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  
  • William of Moriarty the Patriot's entire plan revolves around building a reputation for The Lord of Crime and then killing him off.
  • Vash in the anime of Trigun occasionally cultivates an image of mystery and terror so that fewer people will attempt to take him down for the bounty, or cause trouble with him in general. When they meet face to face, he uses Obfuscating Stupidity.

     Comic Books  

  • Some portrayals depict Batman this way, particularly those that focus on him as "The Dark Knight:" actively using theatricality to build an intimidating legend around himself so that criminals will be afraid of him even before the confrontation begins.
  • John Constantine of Hellblazer fame is firmly shrouded in myth, a good deal of it self-created. His actual power is respectable but hardly awe-inspiring, his reputation is based on his beating demons far, far above his paygrade. And while he DID beat them... it was almost always purely by tricks, manipulation and outright lies.

     Film  

  • The Usual Suspects had Keyser Soze, a legendary criminal mastermind made up by Verbal Kint.
  • The title character of Oz the Great and Powerful is a trickster illusionist who makes himself out to be an all-powerful, immortal wizard, instead of a conman from Kansas.
  • In The Wizard of Oz, "the man behind the curtain" is far less impressive than his legend.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Downplayed by Jack Sparrow; he has done quite a few impressive feats even before the start of the movies, but it's heavily implied (especially in the first movie) he deliberately plays up a lot of the myths around himself, possibly even starting a few of them, to make them seem much more grandiose. Case in point is how he escaped the island Barbossa marooned him on; Gibbs spins a grand tale about how Jack endured two weeks of starvation and thirst before grabbing a pair of sea-turtles and making a raft out of them. The truth is he was only there for two days, surviving off a rum-runner cache he discovered before bartering passage from its owners when they came by to use it.

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     Literature  

  • Discworld: In Wintersmith, Tiffany Aching discovers that her mentor Miss Treason relies heavily on cultivating an air of witchy mystique in order to impress those in her steading. This includes buying props like fake skulls and a cobweb-making machine from a novelty company, or making up stories about herself, stories like that she keeps a demon in her basement or that her crude iron pocket watch is a clockwork replacement heart. She's disappointed to hear some of the older stories are dying out, like the bit about her cutting people's bellies open with her thumbnail on Hogswatchnight if they've been bad.
  • The Riftwar Cycle. Macros The Black cultivated the legend of the Black Sorcerer to protect his own privacy and solitude. (And after Pug takes up the mantle of the Black Sorcerer, he continues using Macros's methods to keep people who don't know the truth away.)
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle. Kvothe came to the University under unusual circumstances, being very young, very intelligent, and too poor to afford the usual tuition. He knew from the start that people were going to spread rumors about him based on that alone. So, being a trained actor and performer, he decided to take an active hand in creating the legend of Kvothe, so that when people talked about him, they'd at least be saying impressive stuff.
  • Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter is somewhat of a variation: all of his legendary accomplishments actually happened, and he definitely spread around the tales of how he did all those amazing things, but he wasn't actually the one who did any of them; he tends to take other people's accomplishments as his own, adding them to his "myths". When Harry and Ron find out after they're going to Basilisk's chamber, Lockhart attempts to do one thing that he really can do: a spell that brainwashes people, which he tend to use in this kind of situation. Unfortunately, he stole Ron's faulty Magic Wand to do it, resulting in the spell backfiring.
  • Paul Twister loves this trope, building ridiculous legends about himself in a style reminiscent of Kvothe, above.
  • In the Lythande stories, the titular character cultivates a mysterious and otherworldly reputation among common folk - figuring it can do only good for mages to be regarded with awe, even if only for parlor tricks like vanishing in the morning but leaving the room locked. Lythande also cultivates an image among other magical people and creatures as being swift to anger and prone to Disproportionate Retribution, because it comes in handy when intimidation is the best way to accomplish something and it forestalls any meddling; keeping everyone at arm's length is a happy side-effect. It works wonders; other mages and creatures like goblins view the name "Lythande" usually with variations on "awe" or "terror".

    Live Action TV 
  • Arrow. In the pilot episode Oliver Queen takes down three armed kidnappers, then claims a mysterious man in a green hood rescued him, creating the legend of "The Hood" (later "The Arrow") before he's even started his vigilante activities.
  • In the Highlander tv series, there exists a secret society known as the Watchers who are not only aware of Immortals, but have been secretly chronicling the activities and lives of Immortals for centuries, possibly millennia. Sometime in the past Methos, the legendary Oldest Immortal who is at least five thousand years old, (and we say at least because before that Methos's memory starts to get blurry, so even he now has no idea how much older he might be than that) learned about the Watchers and joined the organization, at which point he became the leading scholar on the legend of Methos, which not even the Watchers believe is true. Once in this position, Methos made sure to play around with the information told about him, partially so he could tell what parts of his story he wanted while leaving out other bits, partially so that he could make sure nobody would believe the legends and thus he could continue living in peace, and partially to make sure that anybody who did believe the legends despite his best efforts could never find him, as there were too many false leads and contradictory information to get any clear idea on what Methos looked like or how to track him down.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • While Lee Falk's The Phantom doesn't actually create stories about himself, he's quite happy to repeat the stories made up by others to his enemies in order to scare them into either doing what he wants or making mistakes he can take advantage of.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Warhammer has Sigmar, a man who created his own empire (known as the Empire of Man) and became a god of his own right through the sheer combat prowess and strength he displayed over the many years he's lived. To consider him the single most influential individual in the game's setting would be something of an understatement.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The God-Emperor of Mankind, who deliberately set himself up to be feared as a powerful and mighty warrior and the strongest man who ever lived, and most of this can be considered true. However, his position has gone through a bit of Flanderization, being blown into being a full-out god for his empire, despite his insistence on not being a god specifically because he thought this was the only way the Chaos Gods were able to survive.
    • Commissar Ciaphas Cain. He normally averts this trope by being far more humble than his "Hero of the Imperium" status would suggest. However, he is known for posing for propaganda posters that greatly amplify his myth. He poses with a bolt pistol in these pictures instead of his actual sidearm, a laspistol, because it's showier and more intimidating. Cain suspects other Commissars use bolt pistols for similar reasons.
    • On learning that the orks believed him to carry a Deadly Gaze that could kill with a glance, Commissar Yarrick immediately contacted the Mechanicus with regard to getting himself an Electronic Eye that shoots lasers, because why waste a perfectly good rumor. Note that he'd already lost an arm to an ork nob, killing the ork and ripping its own bionic power claw off to replace his limb, so they were probably relieved he wanted something made by humans this time.

     Western Animation  

  • There was an episode of Recess where Mikey Blumberg makes up a rumour about himself to make himself sound scary, because he was tired of being seen as a pushover.

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