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The Presents Were Never from Santa

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Dennis the Peasant: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
King Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis the Peasant: Well, you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
King Arthur: Shut UP!
Dennis the Peasant: I mean, if I went around saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

Bob thinks he has someone special helping him. A guardian angel, a fairy godmother, the president of the United States, a wise alien, God, something like that. This fake or imaginary benefactor (Faux Empowering Entity) gives Bob (Faux Empowered Person) something that makes him feel special and chosen. Consequentially, Bob may consider his actions justified based on having the benefactor's blessing (or acting as per her advice or direct order). Unfortunately for Bob, he is wrong. And the results are likely to be disastrous, as Bob builds his life on a lie and maybe drags others into the mess.

For this trope to be played straight, it has to be revealed (to the audience) that Bob's benefactor is not legitimate.

Compare and contrast Windmill Political: While a windmill is a threat that isn't a threat, this trope features a kind of help that ultimately isn't helpful. See also Scam Religion, for when Bob tries to get others to believe in his nonsense. The Magic Feather can be the token of Bob's specialness, a gift from his benefactor that symbolizes Bob's not-so-real powers. For the real thing, contrast Enigmatic Empowering Entity in general as well as specific characters such as Santa Claus or The Chooser of the One. Also see The Corrupter, where the character being tempted is unsure themselves of their benefactor, but is attracted to doing what it asks, nonetheless.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sgt. Frog: In one story Tamama pretends to be a god (angel in the Funimation English dub) after being caught by a boy playing soccer. While he did help the boy become more confident he gave some rather strange advice, especially in the manga and English dub, not to mention teaching the boy a soccer kick fueled by resentment.
  • Kyoko of Skip Beat!! still believes she got her purple worry stone from a fairy prince named Corn, which is very important to her. The pretty blond boy in question was ten at the time, and she was six; he presumably thought it was harmless to play along with such a ridiculously cute little girl. Now that Hizuri Kuon has grown up and become Tsuruga Ren, the ethical issues involved in his convoluted lies have become ridiculous. Incredibly, none of it has bitten yet.
    • Kyoko, in a mini version of this, has become Ren's gag Obi-Wan in costume as a rooster named Bou. His relationship with the rooster has evolved oddly and with no apparent introspection on his part throughout the series, although he seems to think it's a guy older than himself. Since his reaction when this comes out will be primarily embarrassment (and amazement at how oblivious she can be, given Bou's been giving him advice about seducing the teenage girl he loves without Kyoko ever suspecting it's her), it's much easier to look forward to than the collapse of Ren's web of lies. It should be hilarious.
  • In the world of Slayers, there are plenty of real, actual demons, many of whom are openly seeking humans with whom to make an infernal pact. So it's kind of impressive that the Goldfish Poop Gang Harmless Villain manages to be a fervent worshipper of a demon who doesn't exist.
  • Gil Graham from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's has provided Hayate with a home and allowance, even paying for hospital funds. Turns out that this is him trying to ease his guilt over the fact that she's going to be sacrificed as part of his plan to seal the Book of Darkness.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note briefly wonders why he was given a book that could kill anybody. When Ryuk, the being who slipped him the Death Note, tells him that 'I did it because I was bored. There's nothing special about you', he decides fate gave him the Death Note. This tells you something about his motivation.
    • Then again, Ryuk himself muses that he never expected what amounted to a prank to have such a massive impact on the world and that it was a one in a million chance that the person who found the book had both a grandiose ambition for it and the intellect to achieve it. Even the Hero Antagonist says that a normal person would never have done with it what Light did, even if they still chose to kill with it (though, to his mind, that just means Light is crazy) and in the one-chapter sequel the owner of another Death Note ends up being just a pale imitation of Light. So, perhaps, Light is on to something...
  • Done in spades to Nagato from Naruto. Blessed with the legendary Rinnegan eye power, he is first told by Jiraiya that his eyes are a sign that he is destined to do great things. Also, Jiraiya was given a prophecy that foretold that he would train a special kid who would change the world, and believing that the kid was Nagato he decided to train him. Sometime later Tobi outright tells Nagato that he is the reincarnation of the Sage of the Six Paths. But much later, after getting his ideals shattered, Nagato strays from the right path and becomes Pain, calling himself a god and justifying all his atrocities by his beliefs. Turns out that the reason Nagato even had the Rinnegan in the first place was that at some point Madara Uchiha had implanted his own eyes into him as part of a Thanatos Gambit so that Nagato could learn to use them to revive him when the time was right.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Father Cornello, leader of the cult of Leto, is a Faux Empowering Entity to the town of Reole/Liore.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Although Kyubey does legitimately grant powers and a wish to Magical Girls he contracts with, he otherwise misleads his charges about everything else a Magical Girl's life entails. For one, he is not a magical creature but an alien of the eldritch variety, and the reason why he creates Magical Girls is not at all to defeat the Witches, but to make more of them. More specifically he's solely interested in the energy released by the despair-induced Witch transformation, which his kind uses to stave off the entropy that leads to the heat death of the universe, and any collateral damage caused by a Witch is roughly irrelevant, near the end it is revealed he is mostly unconcerned about the Earth itself getting wiped out by a monstrously powerful Witch just as long as he can gather a massive amount of energy from it.
  • Mushi Shi has an episode featuring this. It tells the story of Gen, a troubled little boy. He's constantly angry due to his mother's unexplained sickness and the fact he hasn't ever seen her. He often fights other children to vent his frustrations. The only time he's ever seen smiling is when he is staring at what he has dubbed an angel. It constantly accompanies him wherever he goes. Meanwhile, Ginko discovers that Gen's mother inadvertently wove clothing using a threadlike Mushi and ended up catatonic as a result. Having discovered the problem, he goes to see her along with Gen and his father. Gen is overjoyed to finally see his mother (she had fallen ill shortly after he was born) and happily exclaims that she's the angel that's been watching over him. Ginko administers the cure and reunites her spirit with her body.

  • In Green Lantern the False Guardians who empowered G'nort and others to intentionally discredit the Green Lantern Corps fill this role.
    • Arguably, "The Guardians of the Universe" have a hint of this as well, acting as an Empowering Entity to the Corps but with their qualifications sometimes called into question. Unlike most, it's not out of manipulation, misunderstanding, or madness, but arrogance; consider for a moment that they gave themselves their title. While they mean well, they generally refuse to show any hint of humility or emotion. They also tend to cover up things they feel Man Was Not Meant to Know (Parallax, the massacre of sector 666, Agent Orange, the Blackest Night prophecy, the White Entity), and those coverups have an equal tendency to come back and bite them in the rear.
  • In Chick Tracts, false gods and other devils often fill the Faux Empowering Entity role, offering people what the victims already have or what the devils can't provide. Especially God-as-worshiped-by-Catholics-and-Muslims get portrayed this way a lot. However, humans are fully capable of being Faux Empowered People without any help from demons. There's an Author Tract where a kid goes Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and becomes a serial killer from finding out Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny aren't real.
  • In Fables, Cinderella is quite disillusioned with the Fairy Godmother, who set her up with that jerk "Prince Charming" despite already knowing about his track record of failed marriages.
  • In Cinderellas Sister, the "fairy godmother" is all about hurting young women's self-esteem so that they will desire more expensive clothes, cosmetic surgery, etc. And she's not a real person either, merely an advertisement mascot.
  • In the Nighthawk mini-series in the Marvel Universe, Nighthawk is in a coma and has a vision of an angel that facilitates his healing and bestows on him a "second sight", which enables him to see criminal acts before they are committed. In return, he must punish the would-be criminals. Once healed, Richmond becomes Nighthawk once again and fights crime until forced into a confrontation with Daredevil, whom he kills. The "angel" then reveals itself to be the demon lord Mephisto, who transports Nighthawk and Daredevil's corpse to Hell, intending to claim Daredevil's soul.
  • An issue of Madman had a powerful being claim to be God and empower an IRA agent who sought redemption. This was all a ruse to create an avatar to kill the title character. Once the agent realized Madman was innocent and that he was trying to kill an innocent man he killed himself.

    Films — Animation 
    Films — Live Action 
  • In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash is getting increasingly erratic orders from the government agent who made him a Knight in Shining Armor against the evil communist conspiracy. The quest giver is a delusion, caused by John's schizophrenia.
  • In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an angel gives the titular character blessings and tactical updates in her war against the devil. While psychiatry (in the movie as well as in Real Life) is convinced that Emily was insane and that it was wrong of her priest to advise her to stop taking her medication, the movie makes it ambiguous whether the battle was all a matter of insanity (making the angel a Faux Empowering Entity who helped Emily destroy herself) or a real battle between spiritual forces (making the angel an Enigmatic Empowering Entity who helped Emily defeat the devil and move on to a better place). Even if she was insane, the movie indicates that maybe her faith was more important anyway. Emily herself was positioned to play this role for people looking for some confirmation of spirituality in the modern world; the movie suggests that if her faith had this positive effect on the world, maybe that was more important and the sacrifice she made would still mean something even if she was crazy.
  • In Fiddler on the Roof, a prophetic dream makes Golde accept that her daughter will marry a poor tailor instead of a rich butcher. Good for the daughter, and also for the husband (who lied about the supernatural vision to dodge the wrath of his wife) - but clearly against Golde's true wishes.
  • This becomes the plot of Galaxy Quest when the Thermians, a TV-stealing alien species with no concept of dishonesty or even fiction, recruit the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV series under the assumption that the show is a historical document detailing real heroic exploits and that the cast can stop a Galactic Conqueror from finishing the Thermians off. This is an interesting example of a story from the Faux Empowering Entity's perspective. In this case, the heroes—the washed-up, bickering cast of Galaxy Quest, the Show Within a Show—find themselves roped into the role of Faux Empowering Entity without fully understanding what they're agreeing to.
  • In Kung Fu Hustle, a street bum sells Sing an overpriced kung fu manual in a flashback, which sees our protagonist down the road of misery and failure. The bum appears at the end of the film after Sing has defeated the Axe Gang and the Beast, trying to sell an array of kung fu manuals to another unsuspecting kid. Possibly subverted since the manual did contain a legendary martial arts technique.
  • Discussed in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The peasant Dennis didn't vote for King Arthur, so why should he accept King Arthur's rule? Because some strange woman lying in a pond distributed a sword? Or is it truly because Arthur will have him silenced if he doesn't pretend to go along with that logic? Come see the violence inherent in the system! ("Help, help, I'm being repressed!")
  • In The Ledge, Gavin argues that Shana's inner strengths and weaknesses come from herself, not from God or the Devil.
  • Grown Ups: Roxanne realizes how caught up in her work she's gotten when she absentmindedly reveals to Becky, who just lost her first tooth, that she's the one who puts the money under the kids' pillows and the tooth fairy isn't real.

  • In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wizard is ultimately proven to be a fraud, giving out Magic Feathers as if they were real gifts. As with most Magic Feathers, though, they do encourage characters to realize the potential that was inside them the whole time. In the later novels, the Wizard learns real magic that nonetheless never has as big an effect on characters or the story as those three symbolic gifts he gave in the first book.
  • Pip from Great Expectations believes his sudden endowment to be from Miss Havisham to groom him into a proper husband for her ward, Estella. He's quite shocked to find otherwise. Played With because he knows for a fact that he does have an anonymous benefactor, it's just his guess is incorrect; it's actually the convict he helped at the beginning of the book.
  • In the Nightside series, the Removal Man believes his power was granted to him by God, and that he is using it to do God's work. He is Driven to Suicide when John Taylor reveals who has been backing his power and for what reason.
  • Don Quixote: Don Quixote meets a rascally innkeeper who he thinks is a Castellan (a castle warden) and asks him for Knighting. Ironically, in real life, to be knighted as a joke would have disabled Don Quixote to become a real Knight by the rules of the Siete Partidas of Alphonso X.
  • Halo: The Forerunner Saga: The Forerunners believe their "Mantle of Responsibility" for the Milky Way was given to them by the Precursors. As it turns out, the Precursors view them as unworthy of it. Not only that, but the surviving Precursors are actively trying to destroy the Forerunners, having transformed themselves into the Flood to do so.
  • In "The Emperor's New Clothes'', Hans Christian Andersen gave us the con artists who sold the emperor the purported magnificent clothes that only smart people can see.

    Live Action TV 
  • An episode of Jonathan Creek featured a man who believed he'd made a deal with the devil for prosperity, and had fairly good reasons for believing so as well. But in the belief he was invincible he took greater and greater risks. In fact, the real source was the Secret Service, seeking to protect his secret Royal Bastard wife.
  • Played for maximum tragedy & angst in the Star Trek: Voyager episode " Course: Oblivion". The crew put their trust in a shape-shifting alien who they believe to be the Starfleet Captain Kathryn Janeway until they discover that they are also shape-shifting aliens that have been removed from their homeworld, forgetting that they were copies of the original crew. This creature does believe itself to be Janeway, and it's trying to keep her crew safe and get them home, just like the real Janeway would. Too bad for the crew that she's not a real Starfleet officer, and has a flawed understanding of what is "safe" and what is "home".
  • In the Supernatural episode "Bad Day at Black Rock" a hunter pursuing Sam Winchester comes to believe that God himself is on his side after he finds Sam through a series of remarkable coincidences. In reality, Sam has just been suffering really bad luck after losing a cursed Rabbit's Foot.
  • In Angel, Spike is set up as a possible replacement for Angel. After all, the Shanshu Prophecy doesn't tell us which vampire-with-a-soul it's talking about. Angel got his soul as a curse, whereas Spike fought to get his back. He sets himself up as a small private investigator helping the hopeless on behalf of the Powers That Be, as represented by their psychic emissary, Doyle. Yes, this is exactly the first-season plot. Except that "Doyle" is Lindsay, the evil Wolfram, and Hart runaway, out to get revenge on Angel by undermining his faith in his destiny and using his chief rival Spike as an unwitting errand boy.
  • Defiance: The mayor gave her sister (the headmistress of the city's brothel) a coin when they were kids, saying that their mother sacrificed herself to save them and gave them an heirloom coin as a dying wish. It turns out that their mother was just another scavenger who was too afraid to protect her children and ran like hell. Said coin is not from Saint Smitty Warben Jaegar Man Jensen because there is no Saint Smitty Warben... yeah.
  • The Neolutionist movement on Orphan Black promises transhuman advancements like extended life, based on the achievements of one P.T. Westmoreland, who has supposedly survived from Victorian times until the present day. Except he hasn't — the man claiming to be Westmoreland today is a fraud who adopted a dead man's identity and founded Neolution in the selfish hopes of extending his own life like he claims to have already done.

  • Religion Rant Songs are fond of this one:
    • In Clawfinger's song "God is Dead," an unspecified audience is accused of killing each other on behalf of a deity they dreamed up in their nightmares, the legitimacy of their holy wars against each other reduced to self-absorbed lunacy. Mistaking one's fantasies for the voice of God might explain how some people who believe in the same God also believe that he wants them to kill each other in his name.
    • In Blutengels song "No God"... "There's a god in your life, / But he is not what you need. / He can't hear you when you call. / He can't help you when you cry. / [...] / Wake up and face reality, realize there is no god. / Wake up open your eyes, / No paradise on the other side!"

    Puppet Shows 
  • Madame Trashheap started as a Faux Empowering Entity in the early episodes of Fraggle Rock, doling out simple adages that the Fraggles interpreted as wisdom and giving away useless items claiming they were magical but were really magic feathers. Early on, she began to develop true oracular powers, often bordering on the omniscient, and could even do real magic (like the time she made all the radishes disappear).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Scarred Lands: One of the lesser Chaotic Evil gods is fake. The Chaotic Evil over god killed but then pretended to make him a God so that his followers would pray to the over god who slew him while believing that it is him they serve. Why? For the Evulz, of course. And all the poor minions get for their faithful service is the horrors of Hell. Note that this isn't a Scam Religion: It is a real Religion of Evil that worships an evil God - it's just that they have been deceived regarding which evil God hears their prayers!

  • In The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom tutors Christine in singing while telling her he is the Angel of Music, sent by her deceased father to guide her. Even after she sees who he is, it takes her a while to break free of his influence.
  • Hamlet leaves it ambiguous whether the ghost is Hamlet's dead father, a demon manipulating Hamlet into violence, or just a figment of Hamlet's imagination.

    Video Games 
  • In the Halo games, the Covenant, who think they are doing the will of the Forerunners, are trying to activate the ringworlds because they believe that will elevate them to a new plane of existence just like their "gods" did. What they don't realize is that the Forerunners used the rings to kill themselves instead and take the Flood with them.
  • Uncle Rupee in Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland.
  • Lady Yunalesca in Final Fantasy X filled a role similar to this. For a thousand years she assisted summoners with the pen-ultimate step of their pilgrimage to obtain the Final Summon by turning one of their guardians into it. Turns out, this is all a vicious, endless cycle of death destruction (and she knew it) and that her authority comes from her dad being the Big Bad that controls and recreates the monstrous Sin these summoners sought to destroy once and for all. Fortunately, the heroes reject her offer to "help" them, destroy her to end the cycle of pointless sacrifice, and Take a Third Option instead.
  • In the Neverwinter Nights expansion Hordes of the Underdark, the player character can redeem Aribeth de Tylmarande and restore her paladin powers. In the final battle, Mephistopheles taunts her that her powers never came from her god Tyr - he gave them to her just so he could play with her and make her inevitable defeat that much more cruel. As a Lawful Evil devil with vast powers and sovereignty over the 8th circle of Baator, we can be reasonably certain he's telling the truth. Which would make Mephistopheles Hoist by His Own Petard.
  • In The Binding of Isaac, Isaac's Mom believes she was ordered by God to abuse her son by confiscating all his things (including his clothes) and locking him away, culminating in attempting to murder him with a knife. However, God's hand comes down on Isaac's side in the first ending, implying that Isaac's Mom was simply delusional the entire time.
    • The game's remake, The Binding Of Isaac:Rebirth, is less clear about this. One end has Isaac turn into a demon, another has Mom finding his remains in the chest, and an in-between level cut-scene has Isaac fantasize about the Voice of God represented as The Lost. One has to remember that it was never implied that Mom was insane, just very religious; whether or not it is God, someone else, or just in her and/or Isaac's head is unclear.
  • Zig-zagged in Metal Gear Solid 2. Fortune believes that she has been 'cursed' with luck, allowing her to deflect any sort of attack away from her, but it is the result of electromagnetic fields generated by a device controlled by Ocelot. He later disables it so she can be killed, but as she lays dying, she somehow manages to deflect several missiles away from Raiden, Snake, and Solidus.
  • Played with in Dragon Age: Inquisition. For a large portion of the game, the Inquisitor and those who follow him/her are led to believe that s/he was chosen by Andraste (the setting's resident Crystal Dragon Jesus, the bride of the main religion's god) to serve as Her Herald and save the world from the forces of evil. Then it's revealed that the woman who saved the protagonist, whom people thought was Andraste, was somebody else. Ultimately, however, it's not explicitly stated whether Andraste was involved or not; it's sort of up to the Inquisitor to decide whether the presents were from Santa.
  • The Plague Doctor in Lobotomy Corporation. It initially seems completely benign, its only ability being to "bless" employees, healing them and increasing their stats. But once it has "blessed" 12 employees this way, it transforms into an Angelic Abomination, breaches containment, turns the ones it has "blessed" into monstrosities, and they all begin ravaging the facility. It's questionable whether it's an actual angel with Blue-and-Orange Morality or something even worse, given that its collar sports a familiar number...

    Web Original 
  • The first episode of the web animation Doraleus And Associates deals with a strange (emphasis on "strange") pond lady (actually called "Lady of the Lake") who guarded the Zephyr Blade in waiting for The Chosen One to wield. She handed out increasingly random things like a tiny dagger, a biscuit, and a branch, and asked Doraleus to use it them to fight an incredibly deadly beast hidden in the darkness until Doraleus got fed up and left. Later on, it turns out that while she's insane, the branch was the Zephyr Blade!

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick features an Angel "of pure Law and Good" which clears the heroes' names, making them innocent of a very serious crime in the eyes of an order of Paladins. However, the trial is just a Sham Ceremony, and the "angel" is just a manipulative ghost disguised as an angel.
    • Considering the group committed the crime obliviously, and that the Paladins themselves had actively suppressed and hidden any information which might have let anyone outside their order even know it was a dangerous thing to do, the group probably would have been just fine with a real Angel (and it would have saved everyone some hassle/murder down the line when the fact the trial was rigged comes to light). Also, said ghost is Lawful Good, if not exactly pure.
    • Indeed, Haley is immediately suspicious of this verdict because the logic of the closing statements pointed towards "Guilty, sentenced to community service." Unfortunately for the rest of the Order, she is afflicted with aphasia at the time and thus cannot explain this without resorting to charades.
  • This xkcd comic.
  • In The Sanity Circus, the identity of Nimbus' mysterious benefactor who's stopped him from getting caught all this time is eventually revealed. It's Sammy Talbot, a fear-eating Eldritch Abomination.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Daria has Quinn convinced that she has a guardian angel guiding every minor decision she makes, giving her a Crisis of Faith when she embarrasses herself at a party. Daria convinces her that at the very least, she shouldn't rely on her theoretical protector for everything, just important stuff.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Blue Spirit initially appears to be a powerful, mysterious entity coming to rescue Aang from Zhao's clutches. Turns out it's Zuko trying to capture Aang and get the glory for himself.
    • The subsequent episode plays with this more ambiguously, regarding a local Fortune Teller whose prophecies come true but are self fulfilling in nature.
  • On The Angry Beavers, the recurring character "The Lady of the Lanes" (real name: Laverta Lutz) is a Gonk woman with a terrible cough and a Beehive Hairdo styled into a bowling pin shape. She helps Daggett a lot, although it's said that most of the time, it works because Daggett believes in her and himself.
    • In another episode, Daggett is fooled into thinking he has found the elusive Big Byoo-tox and asks him to train him in the art of being sneaky, so he can get a toy that Norbert won't let him have. "Big Byoo-tox" turns out to be a big, hairy, naked Canadian guy. The real Big Byoo-tox is out in space, holding the Earth up with his butt.
  • The Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends Christmas Episode "A Lost Claus" has 8-year-old Mac having his belief in Santa shattered when a few hundred Santas show up at the home. He believes that if children imagined all these Santas then maybe he isn't real. Madame Foster has a heart-to-heart with Mac about it, stating that's a rite of passage for kids when they stop believing in Santa ("The truth will eventually come out," she explains). The night before Christmas, Mac sends out a prayer to Santa (who is never himself shown apart from the ones the kids imagined) asking for a sign he's real. He doesn't want the usual swag kids to ask for, he asks for something incredibly mundane: underwear.

Alternative Title(s): Faux Empowering Entity, Faux Empowered Person, Strange Pond Woman