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Jack Sparrow: It's the Pearl.
Prisoner: The Black Pearl! I've heard stories. She's been preying on ships and settlements for near ten years. Never leaves any survivors.
Jack Sparrow: No survivors? Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?

This happens whenever a character relates a story or an urban legend they've heard about some monster or location which never leaves anyone alive. Ten to one, it'll directly affect them later.

This of course raises the question of where the legend came from, if nobody has ever lived to talk about it? Perhaps the author was undead. (Or the monster. Or both.) Or perhaps the author wasn't one of the monster's targets, but observed what happened to its targets — for example, using the example in the page quote, the author may have observed the Black Pearl from a safe distance, seen it pulling into a harbour, then found everyone there dead after the ship left. Or perhaps the stories were spread by the crew of the Pearl itself. It may also be possible to piece events together after the fact based on circumstances, much like how an investigator can link multiple victims to the same Serial Killer based on a Calling Card or a running theme, but figuring out the monster's habits still leaves its identity up in the air. Apocalyptic Log and Almost Dead Guy are more potential explanations. Sometimes, none of these are true and the story is pure BS.

Compare Did You Die? and Posthumous Narration. Contrast Spare a Messenger. No relation to Death of the Author.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Lampshaded when Yue talked about the Deep Library after they fell into it during the Library Island Arc.
    Yue: Of course, no one who has seen the Library has lived and returned to tell the tale...
    Ku Fei: ... Then how does Yue know about it, aru?
  • It appears in an episode of Pokémon when James, not wanting to reveal his true childhood, tells the cast a flashback story about how, as a child, he ran away from home with his Growlithe, Growlie, only to freeze to death in the snow while his pet howled mournfully at the moon. While most of the characters are moved to tears, Misty, playing the Only Sane Man, responds that he obviously didn't die since he's telling the story, at which point James quickly falls back on Easy Amnesia ("I'm all mixed up!") as his answer.
  • Claymore: Ophelia claims that she doesn't have a nickname like the rest of the Claymores because she doesn't leave any survivors when she fights.
  • Naruto: Lampshaded during the Fourth Shinobi War arc. The resurrected Pain / Nagato uses his ultimate Gravity Master move, which turns the surrounding area into a floating planetoid and crushes anyone in the vicinity.
    Naruto: He got me with this jutsu once! It's really bad, really bad! If you get caught in it, it's over!
    Itachi: Hey, Naruto...If it's a sure death, how come you're still alive?
  • Touhou Suzunaan ~ Forbidden Scrollery:
    • Played with. There's a rumor about a story called "The Bull's Head" that's so scary that anyone who hears it will die. This is happening in conjunction with stories becoming true. More so than usual, anyway. The rumor was started by a youkai to make people scared (which strengthens the youkai) without actually hurting anyone due to the logical impossibility of anyone actually knowing and telling the story.
    • The Child of Miare, who can remember her past lives and is compiling the Gensokyo chronicle. Which means it's possible for her to be killed by a youkai and then write about the encounter after she reincarnates.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • A Different Weasel Makes A Difference: The Scrapbook Story describes Euron Greyjoy and his newly hatched dragon’s erratic behavior on the eve of the Battle of Highgarden even though Euron's army is slaughtered to the last man during the battle. Word of God clarifies that several of Euron's soldiers desert before the battle, and the story comes from them.
  • Parodied in Tealove's Steamy Adventure:
    [Pinkie Pie said,] "Don't you know that the Eight Sea is patrolled by the Dread Pirate Pipsqueak? He never leaves anypony alive!"
    Tealove had not in fact heard this. She was a bit skeptical. "Really? If he never leaves anypony alive, how do you know?"
    "Because he told me! Duh!"

    Films — Animated 
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Teased, but ultimately subverted. Lena tells the gang that the pirate Morgan Moonscar died on the titular island two hundred years ago. Later, the gang find pieces of his pirate ship, implying that his ship didn't make it off the island when he died (which is surrounded by man-eating alligators) and raising the question of how people know for sure that he died there. It eventually turns out that Moonscar and his entire crew did in fact die on the island, and that Lena knows this because she's one of the people who killed them.
  • Charming: When Phillipe and Lenore first meet the cannibals, Lenore says they're so dangerous nobody met them and lived to tell the tale, prompting Phillipe to ask how she knows about them. She admits it doesn't make sense.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's explicitly said that those who hear the sacred words of the Knights Who Say "Ni" seldom live to tell the tale, implying that enough survive for the word to get out.
  • Lampshaded in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, with regard to the Black Pearl. As it turns out, though the Black Pearl and its crew are indeed dangerous, they leave plenty of survivors in their wake.
  • Schindler's List has an example similar to the one above, with one character arguing the Nazis can't really be killing everyone. The context, though, makes this tragic irony rather than comedic irony.
  • The Princess Bride:
    • It is stated that the Dread Pirate Roberts "never [leaves] captives alive." One wonders why anyone would ever surrender to him. In the book it's made clear this only applies if they fight, if they just hand over the valuables they can go. This was the whole point of building the reputation in the first place; a technique used sometimes by Real Life pirates, notably Blackbeard.
    • Nobody has ever survived the Fire Swamp, though they somehow all know its dangers, including the Again made clear in the book, where lots of people had survived going in, they just hadn't successfully crossed it.
  • The Goonies specifically had someone mention this with the legend of One-Eyed Willy. The main character gives a handwave and says he asked his dad the same thing; probably one person got away.
  • AVP: Alien vs. Predator has the pyramid filled with hieroglyphs which include the details on how the ancient civilization ended. One wonders who was around to add those details, since all of the humans were dead and the Predators apparently abandoned it for thousands of years.
  • Lampshaded in Kick-Ass, where Kick-Ass/David tells the people in the audience who figured he wouldn't die at one point because he's still narrating to stop being a bunch of smartasses and lists several films with Posthumous Narration (this isn't one of them, though).
  • Lampshaded in D.E.B.S., where the four DEBS members are preparing to spy on Lucy Diamond. Apparently nobody has ever fought her and lived to talk about it. It turns out the various law enforcement agents sent to capture her died of various natural causes, including frostbite and ebola, as they tracked her to various secret hideouts around the world without taking adequate precautions against the natural dangers of the environments.
  • The Man Who Would be King: The two Anti Heroes are venturing into the unknown, following the records of a mapping expedition some years earlier. They come across a member of that mapping expedition, who says that he was stranded from civilization by a landslide that killed all of the others. This raises the question of how that map that got Daniel and Peachy that far made it back to civilization in the first place. Presumably either someone else did survive but was stranded on the other side of the landslide, or they'd sent back a courier with what they'd mapped already prior to the disaster.

  • In Animorphs #47, part of the story is told as diary entries from Jake's ancestor Isaiah Fitzhenry, who fought (and died) in the American Civil War. His last entry includes him narrating his own death, as if he was writing in the diary while bleeding out on a battlefield.
  • Inverted twiceover in the Discworld series:
    • The Fifth Elephant: Carrot assures Gaspode that there have been no reports of wolves attacking humans unprovoked, and Gaspode reasons that this might be because no unprovoking human who did get attacked has ever returned to tell the tale.
    • The Last Hero: Cohen and his Silver Horde realize they have been set up when the bard they dragged along asks who wrote the scrolls guiding them up the mountain of the gods if nobody has survived the journey.
  • Similarly inverted in The Paths of the Perambulator, when Jon-Tom narrowly avoids being killed by an explosive pinecone. When he protests that there are no such things on his (our) world, Mudge half convinces him that there could be, if anyone who encounters one dies and is written off as the victim of a mundane hiking accident.
  • Edgar Allan Poe was usually good about avoiding the Undead Author. He even did it with The Pit and the Pendulum, though he had to resort to a Deus ex Machina. He literally did it with A Predicament, a Stylistic Suck-laden Self-Parody where the narrator mangles a fair number of literary references, gets herself decapitated and survives to lament her situation.
  • Ambrose Bierce's The Stranger plays the trope straight, with deep emphasis on undead. A troop of Union soldiers on an exploration quest through Arizona is approached by a mysterious man who narrates the story of four previous explorers, Ramon Gallegos, William Shaw, George W. Kent, and Berry Davis, who committed suicide while besieged by Apaches in a cave rather than dying of thirst. When a listener scorns and curses him for abandoning his comrades in their death, the stranger does only tell again they were four of them who died, and disappears. With uncanny calm, the troop's Captain acknowledges that years before there had been found and buried the bodies of four men, mutilated by the Indians, and the storyteller had been just whom he said he was, Berry Davis, who even if shot again "couldn't have made him any deader".
  • In The Wheel of Time, perpetually-reincarnated heroine Birgitte tells Mat the story of how one of her past incarnations fought her way into the Tower of Ghenjei, home of the Snakes and Foxes, to make them cure her wounded lover. Mat asks how she got out, and she tells him that she didn't; she and her lover both got killed and that incarnation ended there. Nevertheless, she's surprised he's never heard the story before and Thom recalls a distorted version of it later, which is par for the course for the way legends and myths work in the series.
  • Many of H. P. Lovecraft's stories, considering his preference for first person and high protagonist mortality rate. Though "The Call of Cthulhu" at least justified the account of the encounter with Great Cthulhu in that some of the sailors who delayed him managed to live long enough to write it down.
  • In Sara Shepard's series The Lying Game, (now with a somewhat similar TV adaptation), Sutton is literally this, having been murdered at the outset of the first book.
  • The Ugly Barnacle. If everyone died, then how did Patrick Star survive to tell the story? And how did his friend SpongeBob survive to hear it?
  • In a comedic Stephen Leacock short story, the last words are "I fell ill. I died. I buried myself. Would that others who write sea stories would do as much."
  • "True Story" by Shel Silverstein describes a list of misfortunes that befell the narrator, who kept escaping only to get into worse and worse danger until an eagle drops him in a boiling lake a thousand miles wide... "And you'll never guess what I did then— I DIED!"
  • The War Gods has a crude fortress known as Cherhan's Despair, which was built by a Hradani chieftain to prevent Sothoii invasions from coming down the ravine it blocks. The saga of the first battle fought there is of dubious historical accuracy, as the reason why it is known as Cherhan's Despair is because Cherhan and his men were slaughtered to the last man while defending it, and the bards made something up after the fact.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Silence in the Library" uses a "mundane hiking accident" variant for maximum Paranoia Fuel. The Vashta Nerada exist on every planet; the reason we never hear about them is because they exist in dark and isolated places, and, well, you know how people go missing in the woods...
      The Doctor: Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark, but they're wrong, because it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada.
    • "Asylum of the Daleks": One of the survivors tells the story of surviving the crash, but realizes he didn't survive the crash. He explains that he died "and the cold preserved my body". Then things get worse...
    • Happens again in "The Time of the Doctor", where Tasha Lem berates the Doctor, telling him "I died screaming your name!" only to then realize that oh yeah, she died...
  • In one episode of Gilligan's Island had a gag where Gilligan had a book about poisonous plants. Much to his confusion, however, the author was referred to as 'Late'.
  • Apart from the obvious, literal example of many characters (who do indeed occasionally narrate) being vampires, The Vampire Diaries features a somewhat surprising example as Elena reads one of the diaries of her ancestor Jonathan, as he actually states how he saw who killed him. It's explained by the existence of the Gilbert Protection Rings, of which Jonathan was the first wearer, which revive anyone killed by the supernatural.

  • The singer of The Lonely Island's "Like A Boss" is asked to describe an average day. Apparently an average day consists of chopping his own balls off, crashing into the Sun and dying.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: Some biblical traditions hold that Moses wrote the entire Torah or Pentateuch... which means he narrated his own death in Deuteronomy 34. Said traditions claim that either this part was written by Joshua, or Moses in a divine trance.
  • Classical Mythology: Medusa's face or stare would permanently petrify anyone who looked at her. Despite this she is often physically described in great detail in the legends. Possibly justified, since looking at her reflection in a mirror wasn't lethal and someone could have seen only their reflection.
  • Basilisk and Cockatrice: Basilisks not only had a lethal reflection who killed anyone who looked at it, but also breathed poison gas as a backup weapon, but its aspect is described in detail (although there is a lot of variation in the basilisk's appearance, ranging from a tiny eight-legged winged lizard with a chicken's head to a giant serpent with a feathered plume).
  • Scottish folklore says that anyone who hears the flowers of the Bluebell ringing will die immediately. It is unknown who lived to tell about it.
  • Mandrakes supposedly let out a death cry when they are unrooted. Some variants state it's not quite the sound — the mandrake is bloodthirsty, and you can balance death's books by tying a dog nearby.

    Video Games 
  • In Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, Marth decides to proceed on a quest deemed suicidal, noting that these rumors couldn't be entirely true because of this.
  • Brought up in Persona 3, when the heroes hear a ghost story about a deadly curse that befalls anyone who stays too late after school. They immediately realize that, if everyone it's ever happened to dies, as the story claims, then nobody would've ever found out about it. While there's a grain of truth to the idea that the school can become dangerous at night, the details of the story turn out to be an urban myth.
  • In Fallout 2, Harold the sort-of ghoul tells several stories about himself that end with 'Everybody died'. One of your chat options is 'How did you survive?' He always answers "Didn't! Got killed!"
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, most of the events of the game are framed by Guybrush telling the story to Elaine, and at one point it appears that Guybrush has died, upon which Elaine remarks that he couldn't have died since he's right there relating it to her.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry Keiichi points out Oiishi's use of this trope when he tells a story about how the old demons of Hinamizawa demanded a mother feed herself to one of them in exchange for curing her son and when she ran away the demons (with the other villagers' help) caught and ate them both. Oiishi counters that a lot of old stories are like that.
  • Addressed in Interactive Fiction game Spider and Web. Most of the game is framed by the captured spy PC telling the story to an interrogator. If the PC gets themselves killed, the interrogator will interrupt: "And then you died?", forcing the PC to backtrack.
  • In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, whenever the narrating Prince dies and the player decides to continue, he will say "That's not what happened" or a similar phrase.
    • The narrator of the third game in the series is Kaileena, except she is dead, killed by the Vizier early in the game. However, since she exists out of time, she's not completely dead.

    Web Comics 
  • Miss. Addison Constance Loveworth from IronGate is a proper 19th century lady who just loves answering her fans' questions, she just happens to be a vampire.
  • Black Mage points it out early in 8-Bit Theater — if the Armor of Invincibility is said to be hidden in The Cave Of No Return, how can it be the Cave Of No Return? Somebody must've gotten out of there to spread the word that the Armor of Invincibility is there...
  • In PepsiaPhobia, Phobia tells Gastro a story of an adventure that ends with her death, including a "Some say that on certain nights you can still hear my voice..." stinger.
  • Miya in A Loonatic's Tale tells Dr. Qubert the tragic story of her, a young orphan girl, in issue 4: Talking To Myself. After an unkind and high-class vampire (probably one of the Cruors) hits her with a rock and tells her to get a job, her cat dies, then, exhausted and starving, she lays down on the ground, utters her final words ("God bless us, everyone"), and dies. Forever.
    Qubert: Oh no! You poor thing! *beat**beat* Wait.
  • In Slice of Life, when Clipper tells a scary story in which his dad gets eaten by a sea monster, Pumpkin points out "Your dad didn't get eaten alive. He's right over there."
  • How I Killed Your Master turns this into a Badass Boast.
    Master Fei: "It's been ten years since anyone spoke of my fights because no one has walked away from them in that time."
  • From Nodwick, Arthrax warns his of Count Repugsive's haunted castle, describing its Forboding- and Malevolent Architecture and stating that no one has ever returned. When asked how he can know what the castle looks like, Arthrax presents Count Repugsive's press releases.

    Web Original 
  • This is a problem with some creepypastas. For example, take Jeff the Killer - who uploaded the story? The fact the story exists on the Internet at all is taken by some that Jeff's brother is not particularly dead.
  • The creepypasta Mr. Bones' Wild Ride is another example. In it, the narrator comes across a real-life version of a Rollercoaster Tycoon ride that apparently lasts for years and cannot be exited. It ends with him/her strapped into one of the cars as the ride starts. So... when did they have the chance to write and post about the event?
  • The fourth entry in this Overheard in DC involves a woman reading the book that 127 Hours was based on and not wanting spoilers about if the author lived or died. (The book is Aaron Ralston's own first-person memoir of his experience.)
  • Jokingly referenced in the video "Every Teen Movie Ending" from CollegeHumor, wherein the narrator describes the eventual fates of every character in the video and then closes with this line:
    These were my best friends. I really miss them. It's too bad I drowned in a pool when I was eight.
  • Parodied to a very literal extent in the Creepypasta section of "Welcome to...", with a healthy heaping of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You (from dying of laughter):
    "...but then she turned on the game and the screen was a picture of US, and but we were DEAD, and the scariest part of the story is that WE was YOU, and YOU BECAME SKELETON and WROTE this!"

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius has Jimmy pointing out the Fridge Logic of an urban legend about a theme park, questioning how Nick could know one of the kids' final words if none of them were ever heard from again.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Batgirl becomes a version of this in "Over the Edge"; after being doused with the Scarecrow's toxin in a fight, she falls into a deep slumber, and in her dreams, believes her own death occurs in the battle, and is forced to watch as her greatest fear plays out before her eyes, a war between Batman and her father as a result of it, all because she had kept her heroic identity secret from him until that point.
  • Dilbert: Parodied when they discuss a story of a co-worker killing an entire field hockey team and not leaving any survivors. Someone points out that it's a very detailed account for an incident that's not supposed to have any witnesses. It turns out that killer herself posted the story on her website.
  • The Shrek special Scared Shrekless features the cast trying to outdo each other at ghost stories. The Gingerbread Man's story ends with him surrounded by a legion of zombie yandere cookies (yeah). "And then they ATE ME!" Shrek and co. pose the obvious question and he cracks.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington": When reading a wilderness survival story, Homer is extremely surprised to find that the narrator did not, in fact, die.
      Homer: [reading] Then I heard the sound that all Arctic explorers dread... the pitiless bark of the sea lion! [gasp] He'll be killed!
      Marge: Homer, he obviously got out alive if he wrote the article.
      Homer: Don't be so... [flips ahead] Oh, you're right.
    • "King of the Hill": Grandpa recollects falling off the Murderhorn — "You'll die out there — just like I did. I fell 8,000 feet onto a pile of jagged rocks. 'Course folks were tougher in those days. I was jitterbuggin' that very night!"
    • "The President Wore Pearls": Groundskeeper Willie tells a story about a miner's strike he was involved in which ended with a cave-in, and concludes his narrative "Nobody made it out alive — not even Willie."

    Real Life 
  • Wild Bill Hicock was known for this. He would spin a tall tale that would result in him facing insurmountable odds. When asked about what happened, he would end it with, "Well son. I died!"
  • To teach children about fire safety, firefighters will often show a video of a house fire set under controlled conditions, which will inevitably have a voiceover line marking the point where no one who doesn’t escape could survive. Inevitably one child will bring this trope up, only for the firefighters to reassure them that the camera was unmanned, and nobody actually had to sacrifice their life to record the footage.