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Sarcastic Confessions in literature.


  • In The Alchemist, when guards ask the eponymous Alchemist what the egg and bottle of liquid in his possession are, he replies that they're actually the fabled Philosopher's Stone and Elixir of Life, and they share a good laugh. He later explains to the young protagonist that he could tell them the truth because only wise men can recognize truth in front of them.
  • In Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville, protagonist Rod has a near-pathological barrier against lying. So when the eponymous aliens eat his homework, and he holds the torn sheets up to class, all he can think to do is offer a Title Drop. Grakker, the aliens' captain, is furious with him for revealing their existence, but diplomat Madame Pong compliments him on "the creative use of truth."
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  • In Douglas Hulick's first novel, Among Thieves, Kell ends up with a priceless and extremely powerful book of magic, and after much deliberation decides to do something completely unthinkable and sell it to the Emperor. He's then caught by Shadow (who he had promised under duress to deliver the book to). Shadow figures Kell was planning to sell it to someone, and asks who. Kell answers truthfully, and as expected, his answer is treated as a hilarious joke.
  • In Artemis Fowl, the fairies can't enter a human dwelling unless they've been invited. In a scene in the third book, Artemis sarcastically asks Corrupt Corporate Executive Jon Spiro if he thinks Artemis is going to get the C Cube back with the help of his fairy friends. Spiro laughs and tells Artemis that he can bring all the fairy friends he wants, giving Holly and the rest access to the building. Juliet later gets Holly into another building by calling for information about tours, using a childlike voice and asking if her "invisible friend" can come along.
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  • In the Ascendance Trilogy, Sage/Jaron is the king (pun intended) of this trope. Although he will out and out lie if needed, he prefers to present the truth in a slanted, sarcastic, or unbelievable way.
  • Occurs in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov is surprised by a policeman in a café. Raskolnikov makes a point to lead the policeman on as much as possible that Raskolnikov would make a great criminal, going so far as telling the policeman nearly exactly how he had managed to escape from blame so far. Once the policeman seemed to be catching on, Raskolnikov admits that he did murder the pawnbroker. Then he laughs in the policeman's face shortly after, causing the confession to sound like a mean spirited joke and the policeman is forced to dismiss his suspicions. For extra measure, Raskolnikov then sarcastically rubs more evidence that he did actually do it in the policeman's face as he hastily leaves the café. This is more than implied to have happened out of Raskolnikov's burgeoning guilt, however, so Raskolnikov was most likely hoping the policeman would stay suspicious and apprehend him at a later time.
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  • Barbara Michaels' The Dancing Floor has a scene in which a member of a coven points out to the heroine that, since the authorities don't believe in witchcraft, a witch who killed someone by magic could brag about it and be perfectly safe as long as there was no way that witch could've done the killing without magic...
  • Bit of an inversion in Dangerous Liaisons: Valmont was having an affair with a woman whose bedroom was placed between her husband's and her lover's rooms. When she tried to go back to her room the door was locked. Valmont convinced her to scream loudly, then he broke down the door, letting her run into bed while pretending to the husband and lover that she had been screaming for some minutes before they heard her pretending that she woke up and thought there was an intruder. She was able to truthfully claim that she had never been so terrified.
  • Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone tells the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth being that she was raised by chimeraes that can grant her wishes using teeth, no one believes her and assumes she's joking, just as she planned.
    • Having used magic to make her hair grow naturally blue, naturally people question it. She finds that the best response is to say "It grows out of my head like this" and pretend she's being coy.
  • Happens a few times in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.
    • In Hogfather, the parents who employ Susan as their governess see her leaving the basement with a fire poker, and ask why. Susan answers that their daughter Twyla thought she heard a monster in the basement. They assume that she had gone down to pretend to beat it up for the children's sake, adding that bending the poker was a nice touch. Susan wasn't pretending.
    • In The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Malicia (the mayor's daughter) is an avid "storyteller" with a flair for the dramatic, insisting that every ordinary aspect of life in general has some sort of fairytale-themed supernatural basis. Of course, by this point nobody in town ever believes anything she says, so when the adults of the town finally stop carrying the Idiot Ball and go looking for the bad guys (for the wrong reason, of course) and question her and Keith, it leads to this little gem:
      Malicia rolled her eyes. "All right, yes," she said. "They got here and a talking cat helped us to feed them poison, and now they're locked in the cellar." The men looked at her. "Yeah, right," said the leader, turning away. "Well, if you do see them, tell them were looking for them, okay?" Malicia shut the door. "It's terrible, not being believed," she said.
    • In Going Postal, Moist Von Lipwig often states the truth of what he is as a criminal, and what he does, but in such a way that everyone takes it as him being heroic... and the only one who believes him (and who didn't know beforehand) not only forgives him for what he did that hurt her personally, but also enjoys watching him when he's in the midst of his latest scheme. Oh, and is his fiancée.
      • In Making Money, when this same phenomenon suddenly becomes tremendously inconvenient, he laments that he must have some dual superpower, to allow little old ladies to see right through him, but like what they see.
  • Barbara Hambly's Dog Wizard: When a wizard from another world is exiled to San Francisco and joins a dojo to keep up his sword fighting skills, he explains that his technique may be a bit unique as he is a wizard in exile from another world.
  • In Dragon Bones, when the valet wonders where Ward's new clothes come from, Ward replies "Oh, probably the house ghost. Why don't you ask him?". It turns out the clothes are really from Oreg, who is not quite a ghost, but close enough. This is especially effective because Ward has been Obfuscating Stupidity for a long time, so even people who think he's sincere don't believe him to be right.
  • The Dresden Files: In Death Masks, Harry Dresden appears on a talk show discussing magic (mostly whether or not it's real) alongside, among others, a Brazilian professor named Paolo Ortega, who maintains that "wizards" like Harry are just charlatans that use optical tricks and technology to sell their illusions, and quips to the audience that, with the proper preparation, he could appear to the audience to be a real live vampire. The audience laughs at the amusing joke. Guess what Ortega actually is?
  • In The Lost Queen, the sequel to The Faerie Path, Tania and Edric have just arrived back in the mortal world and their clothing is attracting some strange looks on the street. Edric cheerfully calls out to a passerby, "Hello there! We've just come from the Immortal Realm of Faerie. She's a princess." The woman just compliments them on their costumes.
  • Alden Nowlan's poem "Fair Warning", where the author is detailing his imprisonment of his brother, explains why the poem exists:
    I could confess to
    murder and as long as
    I did it in a verse
    there's not a court
    that would convict me
  • Subverted in G. K. Chesterton's short story "The Worst Crime in the World", in which Father Brown accompanies a lawyer to visit the father of Captain Musgrave. The priest's niece is considering marriage with the captain, while the lawyer's firm is considering lending him money, so they're interested in his character (and whether his father is on good enough terms with him to leave him money). The father says that while he will leave his son the estate, he will never speak to him again, because his son committed "the worst crime in the world". In fact, the captain had murdered his father just before they arrived, and was passing himself off as his father during the conversation.
  • Dominique uses this twice in The Fountainhead to keep her relationship with Roark a secret when her admirer-then-husband Peter Keating asks her who else she's slept with. The first time, she tells him it was a worker in the granite quarry, and he laughs it off. The second time, she simply says, "Howard Roark," and he sulkily answers, "Fine—you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
  • Gentleman Bastard: In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Lamora, in the middle of his current Bavarian Fire Drill, first convinces one of the mark's employees to let him pass, then (once he has the mark's attention), yells at said employee for it, claiming, "I could've been a thief!" His goal: thievery.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore tells Snape, "unless you are suggesting that Harry and Hermione are able to be in two places at once, I'm afraid I don't see any point in troubling them further." This one is less about Snape not believing it, and more about him needing an excuse to pretend that he believes that Harry and Hermione couldn't have done it; after all, he would already know that Hermione had access to a time-turner, which would allow her (and Harry) to be in two places at once.
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, after Harry is entered into the Triwizard Tournament as a fourth contestant, Barty Crouch Jr., under the guise of Mad-Eye Moody explains exactly hownote  and whynote  someone could've pulled it off.
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has Snape sarcastically asking Bellatrix (who's questioning Snape's motives and is Voldemort's biggest fan) if she thinks Snape somehow managed to protect his mind from Voldemort, the most skilled mind-reader in history, during the many times Snape gave Voldemort inside information on Hogwarts while his mind was being Legilimensed. Cue Deathly Hallows, where it turns out Snape did just that. (The part about his oft-demonstrated contempt for Harry was entirely genuine, though.)
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • In Stranger in a Strange Land, when Jill smuggles the Man from Mars out of the hospital in a large trunk, a passing cop asks her what the trunk contains. She replies, truthfully, "A body"... he considers it a joke and lets her pass.
    • Similarly, in Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long remarks that one of two ways to tell a lie artistically is to tell the truth in such a manner that no-one actually believes you. (The other way is to not tell all of the truth.)
  • Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar: In Arrow's Fall, the heroine Talia is imprisoned by the bad guys. When they learn the Valdemarans have found out their plans, they interrogate Talia as to how she informed them, and, aware that she will not be able to hold out under Cold-Blooded Torture indefinitely, she intentionally starts off by telling them a truth she knows they will not believe: "My horse warned them." The narrative further mentions that this is specifically a part of her training as a Herald; she and her fellow trainees are previously warned that, subjected to enough torture, they will eventually break down and give up whatever information they're being tortured for, so the best precaution is to throw out so many lies, half-truths, and Sarcastic Confessions that no-one will believe the truth when they hear it. "Best" in the sense that the information (that may be obsolete in a few months) is kept safe. Perhaps not so good from the point of view of the torture victim, if they have hidden the truth so well they will not have any left to tell the torturer and therefore the torture will not stop.
  • InCryptid: Verity does this twice.
    • In Discount Armageddon, after Dominic reacts with horror to Verity talking about The Masquerade in a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan, Verity promptly gets up on a table and describes the substance of their conversation to onlookers. Not surprisingly, said onlookers make fun of the revelation.
    • Revisited in Chaos Choreography, where Verity explains that if you start talking about creatures that everybody knows to be fantasy, those around you assume you are talking about an episode of a TV show and tune out. She explains this to a chupacabra ballroom dancer.
  • In Ellery Queen's Inspector Queen's Own Case: November Song, when the adopted baby is smothered, his mother breaks down in hysterics, blaming herself; her husband ends up sending her to a very discreet private hospital to try to recover. In fact, she had learned that the baby was her husband's illegitimate son, and had snapped and killed the boy.
  • Subverted in Into the Thinking Kingdom, where Simna when captured mentions something about his captors. When they ask how he knows he sarcastically says "A little bird told me" which is just a saying. His captors freak out, as it turns out they actually have birds that are basically thought reading parrots, and they start to think that Simna is actually an extremely perceptive and dangerous person.
  • In The Lost Fleet, Rione convinces Geary that she and Desjani are not fighting over him by... accusing him of being arrogant enough to assume that they're fighting over him. It works, and Geary remains ignorant until Rione decides to tell him.]
  • In The Machineries of Empire, Jedao tries to fool the rebels into lowering their shields by having Cheris send a message claiming he wants to join them and hates the Hexarchate as much as they do. She agrees that it's a cunning lie. Well, let's just say only part of it is.
  • Played with in Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. Anarchist terrorists disguise their intentions by loudly proclaiming themselves as anarchists, thus encouraging onlookers to dismiss them as merely harmless boors. Backfires on one character, who accidently invokes the trope whilst trying to convince the protagonist he is the real deal. Subverted later when it turns out the anarchists were actually police spies all along.
  • Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson: At the end of Moon Called, when asked about a large bruise, Jesse explains that her father had killed the one who gave it to her and it's laughed off, the questioner unaware that her father is the alpha of the local werewolf pack and really did kill the guy. Later, Mercy is asked about her broken arm.
    I remembered Jesse's method of telling the whole truth, and said, "I got knocked into a bunch of wooden crates by a werewolf while I was trying to rescue a young girl from the clutches of an evil witch and a drug lord."
    "Ha-ha," he said in the exact same tone as I'd given his joke. "Must have been something stupid if you won't tell the truth."
    • Also played for comedy at the very end, where Mercy gives the exact same excuse in the exact same tone to Stefan.
      Stefan: Sounds interesting. I'll meet you at your garage.
      Mercy: [narrating] See. Some people believe me.
  • In Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage (the first Miss Marple novel), two characters give implausible confessions shortly after the murder, apparently in mutual attempts to shield each other. In fact, they are telling the truth but are not believed.
  • In the Nero Wolfe short story "The Cop Killer", Inspector Cramer barges into Wolfe's brownstone and demands information on a couple of suspected murderers who were seen coming to consult with Wolfe. Wolfe and Archie casually admit that yes, the two did come there, and in fact are still there nice and cozy in the kitchens. Thing is, they actually are there, but since Cramer's so used to being screwed around by Wolfe's various machinations and Archie's pranks he assumes they're just messing with him for their own purposes and storms off again.
  • Night Watch: At the start of The Day Watch Alisa gets a lift to work, and tells the driver she's a witch who wants to turn people to darkness. He thinks she's joking and plays along. She later uses the same trick on a group of little girls she ends up looking after.
  • In Night World, Quinn talks to some girls at a death-themed club he frequents that he might be from another world, or that maybe he isn't human. When Rashel says that she came to the club to find darkness while flirting with him, he laughs, "And you found it!" Lampshaded:
    That's right, Rashel thought. Make fun of them by telling them a truth they won't believe.
  • Played with in Isaac Asimov's short story "Pate de Foie Gras", (a spoof scientific article ostensibly written by a Department of Agriculture employee) about a goose which through some unknown atomic transmutation process really does lay golden eggs. Since the golden eggs don't produce more geese, there's only the one, so they can't afford to dissect it for study. Stumped, they turn to the public for an answer, openly publishing the story in a science fiction magazine in the knowledge that it won't be believed but will still get a pile of thought-out responses from its audience.
  • Stanisław Lem's Peace on the Earth contains "history" of weapon design in the beginning of the third millennium. It was published separately with preface claiming that the text is secret document in future, and the author found no better way to hide the document than to publish it as Sci-Fi.
  • In the world of Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings, "the Wit", a magic allowing for communication with animals, is considered by many to be a vile sort of magic, justly punishable by death. In one scene in Fool's Errand, Fitz uses it to help him track a missing prince, his companion doesn't believe his lies as to how he managed it, and before thinking, he admits (sarcastically) that he could have used the Wit. Laurel didn't believe that, either.
  • Resident Magnificent Bastard Dirk Provin from Jennifer Fallon's The Second Sons trilogy does this more than once. Every time brilliantly and no one believes him. Most significantly, his friend straight up ask him what he was doing on one very suspicious afternoon: he tells her that he just sent a message for their mortal enemies to meet them at their destination so he can defect to them and rise to a position of power within a shadowy evil religious organisation that is dominating their country. She laughs it off and gets mad at him once she realises he was telling the truth. Of course it was what he left out that made her want to actively kill him out of sheer frustration: that he single handedly put in place a scheme to bring down the entire governmental and religious regime and completely uproot a corrupt and deadly power system that an entire war and the death of thousands of people couldn't stop. Suffice to say the resistance movement is mightily pissed off that the only person he told this particular plan to was a mad mathematician with an opium addiction.
  • In a column included in the HarperCollins paperback edition of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket says that the best way to keep a secret is to tell it to everyone, but pretend you are lying.
  • From The Shadow of the Lion:
    Policeman: [I'm looking for] a boy. Rumor has it he lives somewhere in this area of the city. Dark curly hair.
    Father Lopez: There are thousands of boys in Venice with dark curly hair. Doubtless I have this one hidden under a blanket in my cubicle.
    Policeman: [I'd] just wondered if you'd seen him, Father Lopez.
    Father Lopez: I did. When I see him again, I will tell him you're looking for him.
  • The Shaman Laughs, by James D. Doss. The perpetrator confesses directly to the police under the guise of helping them with their investigation.
  • At the end of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Lestrade comes and gives Holmes a description of one of the men seen fleeing Milverton's residence the night he was murdered. Holmes laughs at the vagueness of the description and declines to take the case. "Why, that might even be a description of Watson..." Holmes and Watson had broken into Milverton's house to destroy his blackmail material, during which they witnessed his murder by a noblewoman of high standing. They then fled, with Watson nearly getting caught by a servant (hence the description).
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Magnificent Bastard Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish tells Ned Stark that he shouldn't trust him. Stark takes it as a general advice to be more cynical in King's Landing. In fact, Baelish proves to be quite untrustworthy.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Rogue Planet, Anakin tells a guard that he's talking to the planet himself, who is getting ready to blast the invaders out of the sky.
  • Double subverted in The Sword of Truth. A nondescript man shows up at the Wizard's Keep and declares, "I am an assassin, sent by Emperor Jagang, to kill Richard Rahl. Could you direct me to him please?" As would probably happen in real life, the guards aren't sure whether to believe him or not, but they do assume that this guy is trouble somehow and treat him as a threat. The double subversion occurs when it turns out that his aim was to be taken inside the Keep as a prisoner, at which point he reveals that he is a wizard and starts kicking people's asses in an endeavour to do exactly what he said he would do. They beat him, but with difficulty.
  • Referenced in the Temps story "Totally Trashed": When Leonora is arguing with her boyfriend about the amount of cat litter in his flat, she sarcastically asks if he thinks it clings to her throughout the day, only detaching when she visits him, or that she takes it round in bags and scatters it when he's not looking to feel more at home. She briefly considers suggesting in a similar tone that maybe she's got a paranormal ability to generate the stuff out of thin air (which she does), but decides that would be pushing her luck.
  • In The Time Traveler's Wife, Clare pulls this when Alicia tells her she could swear she once saw a naked 40-year-old Henry in her house.
    Alicia: Maybe it was, you know, astral projection or something.
    Clare: Time travel.
    Alicia: Oh, yeah, right. God, how bizarre.
  • In Simon Hawke's Time Wars book The Zenda Vendetta, one of the main characters is impersonating the protagonist of The Prisoner of Zenda, who is supposed to be impersonating the kidnapped king of Ruritania. The king's fiancée comments that he's been acting strange and jokingly asks what he's done with the real king. The impostor replies, with perfect honesty, that the king has been locked up in Zenda Castle as part of a plot by his half-brother, and she tells him not to joke about something like that.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan Vorpatril is sent to bodyguard a young woman, but she and her sister mistake him for a hired killer. The next morning, Ivan's commanding officer notices his discomfort.
    Ivan's CO: Heavy drinking last night, Vorpatril?
    Ivan: No, sir, not a drop. I was kidnapped by two beautiful women and held prisoner in their flat all night. They didn't let me get a wink of sleep.
    Ivan's CO: Save your sex fantasies for your friends, Ivan.
  • Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker features a mercenary who is constantly telling one of the heroes that mercenaries (and sarcastically including himself in that statement) shouldn't be trusted, as they will inevitably betray you. It's a running joke for most of the novel. Too bad said mercenary's plans regarding said hero actually do involve betrayal.
  • Another Agatha Christie example: In Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, the heroine, with the help of a doctor, decides to fake a car wreck in order to gain entrance to what she believes is the murderer's house. The results in the following exchange:
    Passerby: I say, has there been an accident?
    Doctor: No, the lady ran her car into the wall on purpose.
  • Young Wizards: In Deep Wizardry, Nita reacts to a question from her little sister about where she and Kit have been all day with, "Turning into whales." Subverted in that said little sister connects the dots with some other weirdness that's been going on, and her suspicions are not allayed in the slightest.
  • San does this in Zen and the Art of Faking It.
    Old Lady: You again! What are you doing this time?
    San: [poking around in a sandbox] I'm looking for a place to hide my coat, gloves, and sneakers because everyone at my school thinks I'm a Zen master. Is that okay?
    Old Lady: Sure. Just try not to hide them behind my invisible flying saucer, alright?


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