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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.

Contrast with From Cataclysm to Myth 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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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dr. STONE is a Post Apocalyptic story that takes largely several thousand years after the "modern" world" and has people both revived from modern times and characters descended from a small group of survivors, who have no memory or knowledge of the "modern" world at all. But on occasion, Senku finds treasure stores his father, one of the survivors, went through great lengths to preserve for him.

    Fan Works 
  • 1983: Doomsday Stories: Played with. 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."
  • Antipodes: The times before the Cataclysm are only dimly remembered by the ponies of the present, who know of them mostly as a distant age of advanced technology and hospitable conditions, before the Princesses vanished and the world nearly ended, which passed away into legend long ago.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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."
  • 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.

  • In The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, the so-called "Dawn Ages" encompass all of human history prior to the coming of the Invaders a billion years before the story is set. Alvin muses that this must result in truly primitive pre-spaceflight times being lumped together with the Galactic Empire that preceded the current version of Diaspar. Because records of this time are mostly lost (or deliberately erased), nobody knows how long the Dawn Ages actually lasted.
  • The 1953 scifi Liberation of Earth by William Tenn opens with the narrator telling his others to "suck air" while they listen to the tale of their "primitive" ancestors who were "liberated" by two warring alien races until a handful of human survivors were left clinging to the surface of a burnt-out remnant of an atmosphere-depleted Earth.
  • 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.
  • By the Waters of Babylon: John likes hearing of The Old Days, when the "gods" lived. He and his father can read old books that tell a bit about the time past, and they collect metal at "Dead Places" (houses left from in that time), which no one else in their tribe is allowed to do.
  • The Windup Girl. Anderson views an old picture of a Thai farmer showing a fat tourist his array of fruit and vegetables, and is furious over their total ignorance of their good fortune. In his world where most food crops have died out from plagues, pests or competition from genetically-engineered strains, such a stockpile of diverse calories would represent enormous wealth. In a related story by Paolo Bacigalupi, a character has a sign advertising a global business placed on his wall like art. In the Post-Peak Oil world he lives in, it's impossible to maintain a business on that scale.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in a recurring That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch about a game show set after "the Event", an ambiguous apocalypse.
  • Star Trek: Discovery: The crew of the Discovery arrive 930 years in the future only to discover that The Burn, a mysterious catastrophe that ignited all the dilithium in the known universe, has crippled the once powerful Federation.
    • Throughout much of the season, Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew referred to as being from Before the Burn
    • The 23rd century, from which Discovery traveled, is referred to as the Golden Age of the Federation
    • In one episode of season 4, Dr. Kovich admits to Lt. Tilly that part of the reason the Discovery crew was initially held at arm's length is because they come from Before the Burn, a time when anything was possible. The confidence and optimism that the Discovery crew has was initially painful for the current Starfleet officers to see because it reminded them of what they'd loss and all they'd never had.
  • 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.

    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.
  • GURPS After the End requires a special skill (Anthropology) to answer questions about the pre-apocalypse. Special characters known as "Learned" are experts in pre-apoc knowledge, which gives them an edge in identifying and dealing with the hazards of "today" (post-apoc).
  • 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.
  • Paranoia: Most information on the Old Reckoning is restricted to Blue clearance and above. Below that, you might be permitted to know that the 35th President of the United States was someone named Kennedy, but not what "President" actually meant, or where the "United States" were located. (Most information on Outdoors is also restricted.)
  • 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 From Cataclysm to Myth is almost never brought up.
    • From Cataclysm to Myth is part of the game, and gets referenced from time to time (such as the pre-cataclysm military organization NEMA that fought to save people during the cataclysm being remembered as "the Neemans", a group of heroic Demigods), but it is generally presented as things that the uneducated common people know, while the populace of the major nations have a less mythical understanding as a result of actively recovering knowledge. Since player characters tend to be from the later group, and those nations and organizations play a large role in the over arcing plot lines, such myths have become less focused on over its publication.

    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 Wizard101 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).
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad: Much of the previous games was spent trying to restore the rule of the countries before the aliens took over the world. But after 20 years of simultaneously living in a totalitarian nightmare and a technological paradise, coupled with new neighbors, everyone realized that the Old World wasn't coming back. Some ADVENT fanatics, however, are obsessed with hating the Old World and decry pre-alien human society as insane.

    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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
    You mean "dictionaries"?

    Real Life 
  • This phrase was used tongue in cheek by some to refer to what life was like before COVID spread like wildfire in March of 2020 and shut down the world, typically to refer to things that used to be allowed (such as shopping, partying, not wearing masks, etc). The tongue in cheek part comes from the fact that COVID was somewhat disruptive to society for a few years but not anywhere near world-ending.