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The Beforetimes

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"I've seen pictures of flowers
And I'd love to have smelled one...
Tell me again, I need to know
The forest had trees, the meadows were green
The oceans were blue
And birds really flew
Can you swear it was true..."
— Tom Paxton, "Whose garden was this?"

These are the times before the end. They were happier times. These were the times before everything started to go downhill. The streets were paved with gold, and everyone was happy. At least, that's what the survivors think it was like.


The Beforetimes is what the survivors of some world-changing event refer to the time period before that event. In the case of a Nuclear Holocaust The Beforetimes is basically our world, usually our world as it was at the time the story was written. Of course, other events, especially any which result in a decrease of the quality of life, can count as the event separating the characters from The Beforetimes.

Plots in After the End settings have a tendency to involve things from The Beforetimes. If the disaster was recent, Beforetimes objects might still be in fairly numerous supply, with things such as working guns and vehicles manufactured in the past being valuable, but not extremely rare, finds. If the disaster was less recent, discovery of these things tends to be much rarer, and require a bit of Ragnarök Proofing so that the protagonists can still make use of them.


If society has recovered enough for there to be historians, The Beforetimes is likely to be the official label for the era leading up to the disaster, possibly named after the most important development of that time period, i.e. whatever it was that started society over again.

While usually a Sci-Fi trope, the Beforetimes can be spoken of in any kind of fantasy After the End scenario. Perhaps the magic-equivalent of atomic warfare wiped society out, and instead of Lost Technology, the scavengers are looking for old magical artifacts and trying to learn how to weave the threads of reality once again. Alternatively, for whatever reason the gods just left or disappeared and this has had a disastrous effect on those who were left behind.

Contast with And Man Grew Proud in that The Beforetimes were recent enough to not have fallen into myth. The public's knowledge of what life was like back then is reasonably accurate, although oftentimes it's portrayed as even better than it was, as people living now can't imagine how you could possibly have troubles when you had all the food you could eat.


Compare Time of Myths, which may overlap with this trope, especially for fantasy settings. The Beforetimes is often where the Precursors lived, and sometimes, those precursors may even have been mankind itself. Frequently the source of equipment for an Archaeological Arms Race.


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  • The times before the Cataclysm in Antipodes.
  • Played with in the 1983: Doomsday Stories. While the events of Doomsday and life before it are well-known at least in the surviving Nations, there are shades of this trope coming into play as more and more of the pre-Doomsday generation dies out and references emerge of the "Old World."
  • In With Strings Attached it's clear that something happened in the past; there are ruins all around Baravada, and Grunnel refers to the current era as the Rusting. He wistfully recalls the good ol' days about 25 years ago, when there were still Tayhil and monsters to kill. He also mentions that Brox is attempting to discover a way to bring the monsters back for the skahs to kill. However, he doesn't name this "idyllic" period anything. Moreover, it comes out in various conversations that the really big stuff happened over 500 years ago, so it appears there were two Beforetimes, at least on Baravada.

  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is the specific Trope Namer, although many other series provide similar names. A group of children born shortly before or after societal collapse commit their history to memory, beginning with the words "I'm looking behind us now, across the count of time, down the long haul, into history back."
  • In Peace on Earth (and its sequel/remake, Good Will to Men) an adult animal tells the kid animals about the before time, a time of men, who all killed each other off.
  • Reign of Fire plays with this trope. It's not so much the world before the end, it's the fiction of that world that's a barely remembered myth: one of the characters performs Star Wars as a fireside story.
  • Soylent Green has Sol telling about how things were better in the past, the air was breathable, food was plentiful and the world wasn't as overpopulated. Thorn just thinks he's just grousing until he's able to see a film of the world as it was circa 1970, and is shocked to discover Sol was right.


  • Summer Of The Apocalypse by James Van Pelt uses this. People born before the flu plague are said to be from the 'before time'.
  • Folk in Edgar Pangborn's post-holocaust stories tend to talk about the old times as if they were incredibly ancient rather than a few short decades or centuries ago.
  • Andre Norton's No Night Without Stars. The story takes place in a Post Apocalyptic Earth. The period before the Dark Times that ended the world is called the Before Days.
  • Becomes prevalent in the later volumes of the Emberverse series, particularly as pre-Change adults get older and start to pass away. It's significant in that unlike most usual examples of this trope, because of apparent changes in the laws of physics most Changelings have absolutely no frame of reference for the stories of their elders. In the most recent book one character is noted as saying that "some things are legendary, like trolls and rockets." By the time of the next planned trilogy (to take place a generation after the current books) most people who were adults pre-Change will probably be dead, and this trope will come into full effect.
  • Riddley Walker is set two or three millennia after a nuclear apocalypse. Since most technology has been lost, the stories about life before the "1 Big 1" are rather garbled.
  • Sharon Cameron's Rook is set hundreds of years after a technological apocalypse caused by solar radiation. The time before the apocalypse is referred to as Before or the Time Before.
  • City of Bones by Martha Wells: The apocalypse that created the Waste was so thorough that surviving relics and scholarly resources aren't from Ancient civilization, but from the "Survivors", the remnant of humanity that lived during and immediately after the formation of the Waste. Scholars have some ideas about pre-Waste society, but they're mostly guesswork.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Those living in the Firefly 'verse speak of Earth That Was (and is in fact the Trope Namer), humanity having long since left Earth in pursuit of more sustainable planets.
  • Referenced by name in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Miri", in regards to the times before The Virus killed all of the adults.
  • Played for Laughs in a recurring That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch about a game show set after "the Event", an ambiguous apocalypse.
  • Parodied in the Community episode "Geothermal Escapism", where Garrett has become the storyteller discussing "the now-now times." It's worth noting that before "the now-now times" was only a few hours prior, and that the disaster that ended them was a game of the Floor is Lava.

    Multiple Media 
  • The Bahrag queens and their Elite Mooks, the Bohrok-Kal in BIONICLE often spoke of "returning this land to the Before-Time". It's usually believed that they were referring to the time before the Matoran tribes came to the island of Mata Nui.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Gamma World:
    • In 1st and 2nd Edition, the period before the apocalypse that destroyed civilization was known as the Shadow Years.
    • In 3rd Edition the time before the end was called the Age of Glory.
  • Exalted: The First Age. It got so dystopian, despite the bright shiny everything, that the Sidereals were forced to end it. The very few people who experience it firsthand remember it as an age of decadence. You can find First Age remnants everywhere, even in remote places.
  • Rifts: The Time of Man, AKA the Golden Age of Humanity. Pretty much modern day Earth up until 2098, when The Great Cataclysm/Coming of the Rifts occurred. It is generally considered to have been an idyllic paradise,note  though surprisingly And Man Grew Proud is almost never brought up.

    Video Games 
  • In the Fallout series, civilization was mostly destroyed by worldwide nuclear bombings. Objects or sites dating back to before the bombs dropped are referred to as "pre-war" or "old-world."
  • Played straight in Metro 2033, where pre-war military-grade bullets are the main currency of all humans that were "fortunate" enough to survive the nuclear holocaust.
  • In Wizard 101 the Ravenwood trees and the one of the three oldest beings in the spiral, the great tree Bartleby, at one point talk about the first world that was destroyed by the war of the titans. Now the remains of the first world form the shattered world of the spiral.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn takes place over 900 years after human civilization collapsed in the mid-late 21st century. A large part of the story is the heroine trying to uncover what happened to "the Old Ones" and why humanity regressed to a primitive state (and where those giant robot animals came from).

    Web Comics 
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent: The world as it was before The Plague broke out is referred to as the Old World, in contrast to the Known World, which only consists of the five Nordic countries and is what is left of humanity as far as the protagonists are concerned.

    Western Animation 
  • The times before the Mushroom War in Adventure Time.
  • Referenced by name in the South Park episode "Wacky Molestation Adventure", although apparently it only took their society ten days to devolve from no-adults-but-otherwise-normal into a small-town Lord of the Flies variant, they still referred to the mists of time before the adults all went to jail as "The Beforetimes, in the Long Long Ago," as a specific reference to the Trope Namer listed above.
  • The post-apocalyptic Deathstalkers in the Rick and Morty episode "Rickmancing the Stone" mention "the Before-fore Time". Summer mocks them for it (and several of their other phrases), asking if the "Boomy-Booms" blew up all their "Wordy-Word Books".

    Real Life 
  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic, many have taken to jokingly referring to life before mandatory self-isolation and social distancing by this trope.


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