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Secret Tests of Character in literature.


  • There is a story where the final road test to get a driver's license takes place in an elaborate simulation. During the test, no matter how well the student drives, even if he makes no mistakes, something will go wrong and he will kill his family. If he passes the test in terms of skill, he's offered his license after exiting the simulation. Accepting the license bars him from driving forever. The problems with this should be fairly obvious.
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  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • In Space Cadet, the aspiring Space Patrol candidate is given a test where he must drop beans into a small bottle at his feet—with his eyes closed. He's disappointed that he only managed to get one bean, where others had many more. Afterwards, the examiner heavily implies that what they're actually testing is trustworthiness; only the cadets that kept their eyes closed pass. The hero's roommate thinks it's actually a secret test of intelligence, to weed out the cadets who don't figure out that getting a good score would be proof that you cheated; he trusts that there'll be other tests to weed out the dull-but-honest candidates. Possibly both interpretations are correct — cheating in such an obvious manner doesn't say much for one's ethics or intelligence.
    • In Starman Jones, the eponymous character is working on a spaceship in the cargo bay. Ships are run by guilds with very strict entrance rules, so Jones had to use fake paperwork to get on board. When he's being considered for a promotion, he's called to a superior's office. The man has read over his file, which is full of fake posts Jones had supposedly served on before. He asks Jones if it's an accurate accounting. Jones, deciding he's sunk anyway, admits that the whole thing is a pack of lies. The superior informs Jones that he knew that the whole time, and if Jones had tried to lie, he would have thrown him in the brig.
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  • In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, the boy seeking his treasure is confronted by a man on a white horse, the Alchemist. The Alchemist threatens him and asks him why he read the omens of the flight of the birds, and places the tip of his sword towards the boy's head. When the boy answers truthfully, the Alchemist removes the sword point from his head and says "I had to test your courage."
  • A mix of this and Humanity on Trial in Armada. The entire Alien Invasion is a test imposed by the galactic community on all young races on whether they're civilized enough to overcome their animal instincts and show qualities such as reason, compassion, faith, and self-sacrifice. It's implied that some races have failed the test in the past and were obliterated.
  • In A Boy Named Queen, the titular character's real name is Peter. He just addresses people by his nickname to gauge peoples' reactions so he can determine who the real decent people are.
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  • In Brewster's Millions, when Montgomery Brewster told his bride about the seven-million-dollar inheritance his uncle left him, she had initially believed he was testing her love when he proposed to her before telling about the inheritance but he explained he wasn't allowed to tell about it until he reached the age of 26.
  • In A Brother's Price, all the adult princesses except one have agreed on a husband for them all, and now have to convince the sister who doesn't want to marry anyone. For this purpose, they conspire to get the young man in the playroom with their toddler sisters, and have the reluctant sister walk by, so that she can witness how kind and patient he is with the kids. While she is impressed, she isn't convinced, as, to her, the secret test is not secret enough—he could be faking it in order to get to marry them.
  • In The Canterbury Tales:
    • "The Clerk's Tale" is the retelling of a test that a man puts his wife through, including claiming to have killed both of their children. The clerk himself lampshades this by pointing out it's a very bad Aesop.
    • "The Wife of Bath's Tale" has a wife gives her new husband a choice: she can be ugly but faithful to him, or she can become beautiful but be unfaithful. The knight can't decide and tells her she can choose. The wife considers this to be the correct answer and says that she will be beautiful and faithful.
  • Carrera's Legions: In A Desert Called Peace, in reaction to a surprise attack by the Sumeri army, Manuel Rocabertinote  runs away in fear from the unit he was supposed to lead. When the fight is over he's brought before Dux Parilla and Carrera. Parilla asks what to do with a Private from Rocaberti's century that had ran away in the attack. Assuming that the Private was the only other survivor, Rocaberti says to execute the Private, in order to conceal his own cowardice. Parilla was actually giving Rocaberti one last chance to admit he ran away. Having failed the test, Rocaberti himself was executed for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
  • John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos: In Titans of Chaos, Amelia is told that if she speaks the word, her people will destroy the world of Saturn, a.k.a. our universe. When she does not speak, they proclaim that despite being raised as a human and thinking as a human, she nevertheless came to the moral conclusion, thereby proving the world.
  • In A College of Magics, Faris' arrival at Greenlaw College is interrupted by the arrival of another potential student in what turns out to be a staged test of Faris' character. After she finds out, she asks if everybody gets tested, or if they were just dubious about her because of her background, but isn't given a straight answer.
  • At the end of Destiny's Star by Elizabeth Vaughan, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Wild Magic prepares to teleport Ezren and his girlfriend Bethral home, and offers Ezren a chance to alter reality. Erzen, who had a hard life and has long been ashamed of being short and scrawny compared to Bethral the Action Girl, answers, "Change nothing. Bethral loves me as I am, and those events made me as I am now. Change nothing." The Wild Magic calls him wise and says he made the right choice, then returns them safely.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
    • In Lords and Ladies, an arrogant young witch challenges Granny Weatherwax to a contest in staring at the sun. When Nanny Ogg's grandson runs into the magic circle controlling their power and cries out, Granny looks away from the sun to help him, and Nanny declares that this is a test of witchcraft, not power, and a true witch would drop a silly contest to help a child. Afterward, it's revealed that Nanny waved a bag of sweets to lure Pewsey, knowing he wouldn't really be hurt. Subverted, in that this wasn't meant to be how the test worked, but you can't argue with public acclaim (and indeed, the original challenge was meant to discredit Granny Weatherwax).
    • Granny Weatherwax is a fan of these, as you'd expect from a Discworld witch that honestly believes everything is a test. Sometimes it 's simple (see below), sometimes it's a complex plan to see whether a witch was worth her training by getting a rival placed above her.
    • In Maskerade she asks several people what the first thing they would take out of a burning house is, to test their character. Nanny Ogg answers that she'd rescue her cat - to appear kindly, since he should easily escape himself. Salzella, who is being very polite, says "what would you like me to?" Walter Plinge, who is asked the question when he's suspected of being the villain, responds that he'd remove the fire.
    • There's a quick example in Wyrd Sisters. The witches need to hide a baby and so try to have Vitoller, leader of a traveling theater, adopt him. Vitoller and his wife have always wanted a baby, but muse that money is tight and they may not be able to afford it. Nevertheless, they decide they can stretch their budget if it means having a child, whereupon Granny produces a big bag of coins for them. When asked why she didn't mention the money beforehand, she responds "If I had to buy you, you wouldn't be worth the price."
    • Completely averted in Mort. Death takes a titular character as his apprentice and the first job he gives him is to clean the stables of his horse, Binky, which takes hours (he has that horse for a looong time and cleaning its stable is a demeaning job for Death). The whole time doing the job, Mort entertains the thought of the job being this. Maybe Death wants to see if he will argue against his treatment? Maybe he wants to teach him his place? Maybe he wants to get him used to repeatability of moves he will have to face when wielding Death's scythe? After Mort is finally done cleaning the stables, Death asks him why did he have to do it. Mort's answer: "Because you were up to your neck in horseshit." Death is very pleased by that answer, because it is completely true.
    • Averted once again in Thief of Time, where Lobsang becomes an apprentice to the History Monks' Head Sweeper, Lu Tze. He keeps thinking that all this sweeping is meant to be a test of some sort, but when he confronts Lu Tze about it, he says "The only thing I think I've learned is that people are generally messy and inconsiderate." Lu Tze replies "Not a bad lesson, all the same." It later turns out that he was actually setting up the opportunity to perform several secret tests of Lobsang's abilities, and had in fact gotten a good grasp on his character in their first conversation.
    • Played straight in Raising Steam. Dick Simnel takes his mother's advice, which is to "make out that you're simple and see 'ow they treat you. If they treats you properly, simple as you are, then it's likely you can trust them."
  • A Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel features the Real Life Shoot the Dog example outlined below; a young soldier seconded to UNIT from the Marines was forced to do this by her previous commanding officer to be allowed to join the regiment. She admits that she initially felt proud of herself for having the "character" to belong to the regiment after she did it, but cried herself to sleep later that night. It's used to provide a counterpoint to The Brigadier, a much more humane and honourable soldier, who condemns the test and her previous commanding officer as a bastard.
  • Don Quixote: Deconstructed in the Novel Within A Novel "The Ill-Advised Curiosity" where Anselmo asks his best friend Lotario to test the fidelity of his wife, Camila. In any other story before Don Quixote, Lucinda would have passed the test and everyone would have lived Happily Ever After. In the novel, Lucinda and Lotario became lovers ensuring the tragic deaths of the three.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Summer Knight, the Gatekeeper urges Dresden to give up because the task is far too large for him; the Council would never send a single wizard to do it. When he refuses to give up, the Gatekeeper promises him his vote. And says had he walked away, the Gatekeeper would have killed on the spot, since it would be the same effect as voting against him — the Gatekeeper was the tiebreaking vote as to whether or not Dresden would be stripped of his title as a wizard, which would have caused him to be given to the Red Court — to be killed (or worse, turned) — as a peace offering.
    • In Changes, it is revealed Father Odin has had his eye on Harry for a while. This powerful and knowledgeable being has weighed Harry's choices in his own set of values and found Harry worthy of his liking. For this reason, when Harry is in need of crucial information Odin charges the young man nothing.
    • A couple more show up in Cold Days:
      • When Harry tries to summon Mother Winter, she yanks him into her domain instead and starts preparing to cut him up for dinner. He figures out how to break her power over him, which was her objective all along. Of course, if he hadn't passed her test, she probably would have eaten him. Winter doesn't have patience for weakness.
      • The other, more long term one has to do with how Harry handles the Mantle of the Winter Knight. When he stares down Mab and threatens to have Demonreach imprison her, she approves:
        Mab: Finally, a Winter Knight who is worth the trouble.
      • Mab also had her eyes on Molly for her part in Harry's death, keeping the truth to herself, and the implicit trust Harry had to have in the young woman. It led her to have the Leanansidhe push Molly into a position to be of more practical use for Mab should the need arise. Of course it does.
    • In Skin Game it can be inferred God has had a watchful eye on Waldo Butters and this human's development from a simple coroner who got the wrong case and refused to fudge the truth to a man whose faith in right over coming wrong, the goodness in the universe, and sometimes one man can make a difference would give him the faith required to reconstitute a shattered and de-powered Fidelacchius not as a physical blade but a laser blade.note 
  • Earth and...: Gradin arranges the emergency landing requirement of Jarra's pilot's license by faking a real engine failure when she's flying, and pretending he can't take over again so she has to land the plane. In fact he can take back control and there's no danger, but Jarra doesn't know that, and neither do the authorities on the ground... or Jarra's terrified classmates, for that matter.
  • Openly used by the battle school in Ender's Game, in the darkest manner possible. Unlike other examples, the Battle School doesn't test Ender's heroism, courage, or virtues, but his cold intellect, savagery, and ability to deal with the horrors of warfare in preparation for the battle with the Formics.
    • Ender is initially told he failed to meet the standards of the battle school and washed out of the program. This was to see how he coped with failure and how he acted when he thought nobody was watching. Ender wound up fighting a bully and beating him savagely. The Battle School is unconcerned with what Ender did and more his reason for doing it: If he didn't beat the bully savagely and decisively, the boy and others would keep coming back to bully him more. The Battle School, hearing this argument, accepts him.
    • One of the games Ender plays in Battle School is a video game called the "Giant's Drink," which none of the kids can beat. A giant offers the player a choice between two glasses, one of which is poison, and the second will take the player to Fairy Land. The kids all move on when they realize the game is rigged; both of the glasses kill you. Ender stubbornly keeps playing until, after a very frustrating day, he knocks over the glasses and murders the giant in cold blood. The test was to see how long a student would keep playing such an obviously rigged game before doing the rational thing and quitting.
    • The Battle School openly gives Ender disadvantages in his games, and intentionally puts as much pressure as they can on him. This is, again, to prepare him for the unfair and harsh realities of war. When Ender starts breaking unofficial rules to win at the games, that turns out to be what the school wants; to ensure mankind's survival, Ender can't be afraid of committing war crimes.
    • In maybe the cruelest and most extreme example of this Trope, the Battle School is well aware that Ender is despised and bullied by the other students and makes no attempt to stop it. Ender is meant to learn that in the war, no parent or teacher will come to rescue him, which they stick to even when it becomes obvious some of the boys might want to harm or even kill Ender. Eventually, the bullies corner him in the shower with Bonzo planning to beat him badly enough that the school will be forced to send him home. Ender, knowing the school won't protect him and citing the "lesson" he got from dealing with the bully before he was admitted, not only fights back, but beats Bonzo to death with his bare hands. This is enough to convince the Battle School he's ready to fight the Formics.
  • In the first novel of The Executioner, Mack Bolan is infiltrating a mob prostitution ring. One of the mob bosses takes him in to a brothel lobby and tells him to wait for further instructions, then leaves. Within a few minutes, an attractive woman approaches Mack and offers him sex. After Mack refuses, the mob boss returns and tells him he's passed the test and is now allowed to enjoy himself with the woman.
  • Somewhat utilized in Fearless when Loki kidnaps Sam Moon to see what Gaia will do in order to save him In this case, however, the criteria for her having passed the test is to prove that she will do bad things rather than that she will not.
  • In The Ferryman Institute, it is revealed that Charles preventing Alice's suicide was one of these devised by the Ferryman Council. While the Council wanted to keep Charles on their payroll, Cartwright/Virgil argued that all they were doing was torturing a good man by treating him like a tool. Charles was given a choice — save Alice's life or "be a ferryman" and let things take their course. Charles chose to save her life, meaning that he had passed their test and proven Cartwright's point, Charles' reward being either to join the Council or retire to the afterlife.
  • In one of the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman in disguise is asked to swear on a sword to join a native regiment. He knows that the sword had onion rubbed on it so a dishonest recruit would only pretend to touch it. So he passes the test despite his character.
  • The Flight Engineer: In The Privateer, General Scaragoglu assigns Commander Raeder and his group of ersatz pirates to train for their infiltration under a professional spook. After the spook injures one of Raeder's men as an object lesson in when they should and should not take off their spacesuit helmets after breaching an airlock, Raeder hits the roof and threatens to resign his commission. Turned out Scaragoglu wanted to see how much Raeder cared for his subordinates, and the commander passed with flying colors.
  • The Fountainhead: Invoked and then rejected. Wynand offers to let Roark build him the house of his dreams, but only if the latter agrees to become the former's personal architect. Roark would have no input into the plans and would have to execute whatever design Wynand has in mind. After Roark tells him no, Wynand backs down, but explicitly says the offer was not a Secret Test Of Character. He badly wanted Roark to give in, because Wynand enjoys making talented, idealistic people betray their principles. Roark points out, however, that he trusted Wynand's morals from the beginning, and was, in effect, testing his character.
  • Fridthjof's Saga: King Hring is strolling in a forest alone with his retainer Thjof (who is actually Fridthjof and in love with Hring's wife), when he suddenly wants to take a nap and appears to fall fast asleep and "snores loudly". Though the situation presents a seemingly ideal opportunity for Fridthjof to rid himself of his romantic rival, Fridthjof draws his sword only to throw it far away. A little later Hring gets up and reveals that he has long recognized Fridthjof and that he has only pretended to be asleep to test Fridthjof's character. As Fridthjof has done the upright thing, Hring rewards him by appointing him his successor.
  • Discussed in The Girl from the Miracles District. When Iben takes Nikita fishing, he watches her carefully and after a while, she starts wondering if it's a secret test of her character and whether or not she passed.
  • John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene: In The Phoenix Exultant, when Phaethon points out to Ironjoy that he could eliminate the effects of his punishment on his mind, Ironjoy demands to know if it's some kind of test. Despite his loathing of what he had done (induced by the punishment), he is this person and wants to be no one else.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire there is a twist in a challenge where there was no secret test, but Harry turns it into one anyway. The challenge was a race to rescue hostages at the bottom of a lake with one hostage per contestant. Harry stays behind to make sure all four hostages gets rescued rather than trying to win, even rescuing an extra one personally. The judges, while it wasn't what they were looking for (and while the hostages weren't actually in danger), gave him points for "moral fibre".
    • The first one has a straighter example, but again it wasn't exactly a test, but rather a security feature. The Philospher's Stone is obtained by looking into the Mirror of Erised, which shows a person their greatest desire. If you want to use the stone, you'll just see yourself using it. Harry only wants to get it so that he can protect it, which causes it to magically appear in his pocket. Doesn't work out so well when the villain then attempts to kill him for it.
  • Described in the Frederick Forsyth novel Icon:
    (General-of-Police Valentin) Petrovsky then ran a series of covert will-they-take-a-bribe tests on some of the senior investigators. Those who told the bribe offerers to get lost received promotions and big pay hikes.
  • The Idiot features a possible example, because it's left unclear how much (if any) of the proceedings were actually planned by the tester. Nastasya Fillipovna, having heard that Gavrila Ardalionovich would “crawl to Vassilievsky Island for three rubles”, takes a package of ten thousand rubles and throws it in a fire. She tells Gavrila that he can have the money if he'll pull it out of the fire with his bare hands. Gavrila refuses and then faints, so Nastasya grabs the fire tongs, pulls the money out herself, and gives it to Gavrila anyway.
    Nastasya: So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money. [...] I grant him full possession of it as a reward for... well, for whatever!
  • D. C. Poyer and David Andreissen's short story "If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute". A man is chosen to represent Earth in a marathon race with a representative of an alien species. Before the race he's given cocaine by one of the human organizers and told to take it during the race (which is legal under the race's rules). He eventually decides not to and helps the alien when he gets in trouble during the race. He ends up losing, but the alien tells him that he won a greater victory in the aliens' eyes by showing sportsmanship and honor.
  • A minor example from Eldest, the second book in The Inheritance Cycle. Eragon begins his first lesson with his mentor by sitting across from him, doing nothing. After a stretch of silence that's long enough for the sun to have noticeably changed position, his instructor says he's glad to see that Eragon has already learned how to be patient.
  • In Mickey Zucker Reichert's The Last of the Renshai books, Ra-khir has to pass two of these during his examination for knighthood. First he concedes defeat in a duel, pointing out that he'd been struck a 'killing' blow that his opponent had apparently missed. His testers confirm that this was the right thing to do, as acting honourably is more important than winning. Then, just before he is about to pass the examination, a messenger rushes in and tells him that his estranged mother is threatening to kill herself if he doesn't go to her immediately. Leaving means that he will fail the exam (which lasts for two days nonstop), but he doesn't hesitate to go. The messenger then explains that it was all part of the test, and he is now a knight.
  • In the German novel Liegen lernen, a history professor looking for a new assistant asks several applicants to define history. Some of them try and fail ("history means... written down events..." - "That's historiography!"), while the protagonist sits there and says nothing. When the professor demands a definition from him, he feigns ignorance, stating that even the greatest minds haven't agreed on what history actually means. Which is exactly the answer the prof wanted. (And the protagonist had help from a woman who wanted him to get the job.)
  • In The Screaming Staircase from Lockwood & Co., when Lucy comes in to be interviewed for Lockwood & Co., the first test she's given is that she's presented with an ordinary object and asked what she can sense from it. After several minutes, she is forced to admit that she can sense nothing and is told that it's just George's toothbrushing cup. At first she tries to leave, thinking she's being made fun of. However, Lockwood explains that many of the previous applicants had made up all sorts of cock-and-bull stories such that if you believed what they said, it was the most haunted cup in Britain.
  • A rare example of one for someone who is not a main character occurs in The Lord of the Rings. While recuperating from the journey through Moria while in Lothlórien, Frodo freely offers the One Ring to Galadriel. For a moment, Galadriel is sorely tempted, musing how Frodo would put a Dark Queen in power over a Dark Lord. However in the end she refuses the Ring, and in doing so accepting that destroying it means the power of the Three will fail, and with it everything the Elves had built with them, dooming all she had attempted to preserve to eventually fade. Galadriel immediately notes that she passes the test: She was one of the last of the Noldor who led the rebellion against the Valar and departed for Middle-earth, in her case desiring power of her own. After the War of Wrath ended the First Age she was barred from sailing into the West. Her refusal of the One Ring earned her the right to return to Valinor.
    Galadriel: I pass the test. I shall diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.
  • Subverted in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. Harriet Vane was convinced to go against her principles of no sex before marriage to have a relationship with a man who said that marriage was against his principles (why his principles were more important than hers, despite the fact that she bore all the costs and he had all the advantages, was not made clear). When he did offer to marry her, saying that the sex before marriage was a test of her devotion, she immediately dumped him for making her betray her principles and treating marriage as 'a bad conduct prize'.
    • This happened to Sayers in Real Life as well. Small wonder that she killed off the Expy of the guy that did it to her in the above novel.
  • The Machineries of Empire: In a flashback in "Extracurricular Activities", Jedao's Spy School class is locked in a room with a hidden flash-bang grenade and told that one student is a plant who knows where it is. Jedao immediately guesses that there is no plant and that the true purpose of the exercise is to reveal which of them will turn on the others. He also finds the grenade.
  • The MARZENA Series: Working for Private Intelligence Company, a few of these would be expected. Marian is a big lover of loyalty tests. She loves asking strange questions just to see how people will react (e.g. Have you ever gone to Michigan?). At some points she goes as far as asking Lauren to kill Doctor Sam. And then we also have Livia who at some point sends Zoé to kill Lauren to test how she handles a "real" stressful situation.
  • In a short Christmas tale The Masquerade by V. Dmitriev the protagonist Lidin, a rich young man, falls in love at first sight with a strange girl at a Christmas party, and, after finding out whose daughter she is, proposes marriage immediately. Her father agrees, and then the young man meets his school friend whom he hadn't seen for years and who is much poorer. To his shock, the friend reveals that he also loves the girl who prefers him too but had to accept Lidin because he's rich. Lidin, though brokenhearted, writes to the girl's father that he withdraws his suit and writes a paper giving his friend land and tenants. The next moment, the happy girl bursts into the room, revealing that Lidin's friend is her half-brother and that it was all staged to test Lidin's virtue.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Merchant Princes": When he goes to the Republic of Korell, Hober Mallow finds himself involved in a problem when his crew lets a Scientism priest in the ship before a mob can try lo lynch him, a problem Mallow solves by kicking the priest off the ship and into the mob. Thirty minutes later, Mallow receives an invitation to meet with Commdor Asper Argo, Korell's ruler. Mallow reveals at the trial for his "murder" of said priest that the priest had been a Korellian secret police agent, trained to behave like a priest to act as bait that would provoke Foundation into breaking Korellian law - which is implied, but not stated, to be the reason why the ships Mallow had been sent to look for were destroyed.
  • In Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, the king gives both Manyara and Nyasha one, in order to see which daughter is worthy to be his wife.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
    • Kids are told to bring one, only one, Number Two pencil to take the big test, or automatically fail. Outside the test building is a girl begging for help because she dropped her pencil down a sewer grate. Several kids pass the test of character in creative ways, including a girl who reaches into her Bag of Holding for assorted items that enable her to fish the pencil out of the grate, and the protagonist, who breaks his pencil and gives the girl half. As an additional test, the girl then claims to have a cheat sheet, which she offers to share.
    • Also, one of the tests is a variation of one of the examples in the real-life section. The instructions state clearly to read through all the questions on the test and only after doing so, choose all the correct answers. The students are befuddled and in some cases driven to tears by the insanely complicated questions that delve deep into areas of esoteric knowledge. Only, Reynie, the main protagonist, actually thinks to follow the instructions and in so doing discovers that the answers to the first twenty questions of the 40 question test are hidden in questions 21-40 and vice versa. Meanwhile, Sticky, with his encyclopedic knowledge, is anything but befuddled, and is able to answer the questions perfectly, but runs out of time to answer the last few. He passes by stunning the test examiners that he actually knew the answers, even though the children had been told they would fail if they didn't answer all correctly.
    • Additionally, after completing the first test, Reynie wants to call his tutor, Miss Perumal, as instructed, to let her know everything is okay, but is told there is no phone. After a series of additional deceptions regarding this in which Reynie stands firm, he is informed that Miss Perumal has already been contacted by the instructor, and given a message that could only be from her. It's later revealed that these deceptions were actually a test of his character, to see if he would stand firm, though by the time this was revealed, he had already figured that out on his own anyway.
  • Hilariously subverted in The Name of the Wind. Kvothe pesters Elodin to teach him Naming magic until Elodin finally tells him to jump off a building. Kvothe assumes that it is a test, and that Elodin will use Naming to stop his fall. Instead, he hits the ground and breaks some bones, and Elodin tells him that he is too reckless to learn something as volatile as Naming.
    Elodin: Congratulations. That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Ever.
  • In Nina Of The Dark, during her quest to obtain Lightskin and Brightsong, Nina enters a treasure chamber and is told to "take whatever she wishes". The correct choice is to ignore all the treasure and simply open the door to the next room where the armor and weapon are stored. Foreshadowed by the fact she'd seen several skeletons holding an extremely valuable item outside the entrance to the treasure chamber. the automated defense system killed them when they failed the test.
  • In The Pale King, applying for the IRS involves listening to a lengthy, mind-numbingly boring presentation. The recruitment office is closely monitored to see how would-be applicants react to the dull, tedious nature of the work.
  • In the Leo Tolstoy fable "The Raven and his Young", a raven carries each of his children across the ocean from an island to the mainland. Midway, he asks each son whether he will feed and carry his father when he's too old to fly. The first two sons say they will and the father drops them in the ocean. The third one says he won't because he'll have his own children to feed and carry. The father says this is the right answer and takes the last son to the mainland.
  • Subverted in The Rise of Kyoshi. The narration comments that Kyoshi was kind of hoping that Lao Ge pushing her to assassinate Governor Te (who turns out to be fourteen) was actually a test and that she was supposed to refuse. His reaction makes it clear that no, he really meant it and is furious that she both refused and stopped him from doing it.
  • In the Alistair MacLean novel The Satan Bug, the Private Detective hero Pierre Cavell is approached by a shifty character who claims to be "Henry Martin" from the Council for World Peace. He tries to pay Cavell a rather large amount of money to smuggle a vaccine he claims was stolen from the Mordon Microbiological Research Establishment. After the deal is concluded, Cavell pulls a gun on the man, revealing that he suspects the "vaccine" is actually a virus, and furthermore that he knows Henry Martin, who looks nothing like him, and that he intends on turning him over to the police along with the pilfered virus. Enter Superintendent Hardanger and Major-General Cliveden to reveal the whole deal was a test to see whether Cavell could be bought, the fake Martin is a police inspector, and the "virus" is a fake, too.
  • Schooled in Magic: Emily is appalled by the poor treatment older students' Shadows receive at Mountaintop, but when she complains to Aurelius, he then reveals that it's this — only the ones who treat their Shadows well can ever advance in authority. She's still unhappy that the Shadows have to suffer for it though.
  • In Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat novels, a story circulates about Vlad the Impaler. Vlad invited two monks who had been traveling through Vlad's principality of Wallachia to dinner. Vlad habitually punished the lightest crime with impalement. He asked the monks what his reputation really was among the people. One monk replied with what he thought Vlad wanted to hear, that the people saw him as a firm but just prince. The other replied with the truth, that the people thought Vlad was a sadistic tyrant. Vlad then ordered one of the monks impaled, but the story does not say which one. This is presented as a test of the listener's character: Libertarians or persons generally suspicious of authority assume Vlad must have executed the truth-teller, authoritarians or persons who tend to have faith in authorities assume he must have executed the liar. What Wilson never mentions is that the story is in fact an inversion of reality. Vlad actually did have a very good reputation among the common people, who appreciated that his ferocity came down hardest on the predatory nobles.
  • In the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire, Theon Greyjoy, newly returned to his homeland the Iron Islands, meets the local shipwright's beautiful, flirtatious young wife who he gladly seduces and decides to bring home as a paramour. When they arrive, however, she reveals that she is in fact his sister, Asha Greyjoy. When he furiously asks her why she hid her identity and let him seduce her, she says it was to see what sort of person he was and to gauge how much a threat he'd be to her. If he'd bothered to mingle with his own people, he'd have known that local shipwright was unmarried and the name she'd given was the shipwright's beloved ship. She therefore concludes that he's no threat, since it was clear he had no interest in or the ability to gain their people's support.
  • In Catherynne M. Valente's Space Opera, the Humanity on Trial plot is, essentially, intergalactic Eurovision, with the twist that the semifinals are a sort of low-key Battle Royale. Any band can attempt to take out any other band, although it is considered good manners to not actually cause any fatalities. Humanity needs to prove its sentience by not placing last. During the semifinals, Earth's contestants are offered a way to rig the competition and a way to escape the competition, at the cost of handing over India and letting Earth burn, respectively. They refuse, and find out these were not real bribes but another layer of the semifinals only for candidate species. Acceptance would have meant automatic failure. (The cat, after being mistaken for a backup singer, fails, because she cheerily agrees to hand over India for votes.)
  • Star Surgeon by Alan Norse also has the Humanity on Trial version. Earth wants to join the Galactic Confederation, but every species must have a needed skill to qualify. Fortunately while alien races are more advanced technologically, we're the only ones with advanced life sciences, so Earth has become a Planet of Hats specializing in medical care. The protagonist is an alien who wants to become a doctor, but faces prejudice and attempts to fail him by those afraid that if Earth loses this monopoly on medical care, they'll never be accepted into the Confederation. He succeeds, which is just as well as he later discovers he was meant as a test case to see if Humanity could accept other species as equals—the other criteria for membership in the Confederation.
  • An unintentional one from the Star Trek novel The Vulcan Academy Murders. A flashback shows Spock's test of manhood, a trek through the Vulcan wilderness during which he was not allowed to speak to or accept help from anyone. During the trek, however, Spock saw that one of the other young men taking the test had fallen and injured himself and would probably die without help. Spock stopped to help, even though doing so meant he would fail his own test. The Vulcan elders ruled that, while it hadn't been an intentional part of the test, Spock's judgment that saving a life was more important than passing a test meant he was ready for manhood, while all of the students who walked by the injured man and didn't help had failed.
  • In Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart, the Oriki try a few on Spock, though he quickly sees what they're doing. One test involves them offering meat, the Oriki being anxious to see if he sticks to his vegetarian ideals or takes the meat so as not to "offend" them. Spock politely remains true to himself, despite potentially insulting the Oriki, and thus passes their test.
  • The Peter David-written Star Trek Academy: Worf's First Adventure book has cadet Worf and foster brother Simon (later renamed in the series Nikolai) among cadets on a satellite when a disaster strikes. Worf is thrown when Simon, usually so adept in training, falters and unsure what to do so he takes command. It turns out the whole thing was a simulation for the cadets with Simon freaking out and nearly attacking their commander. While he's not expelled (apparently, this reaction is common), Simon is forced to realize he's not cut out for regular Starfleet life and becomes a cultural observer.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: In Tarkin, Count Dooku visited then planetary governor Tarkin in the lead up to the Clone Wars, trying to recruit him into the Separatist fold. Each time, Tarkin resisted, maintaining loyalty to Chancellor Palpatine, never knowing that Palpatine himself had directed Dooku to make the offers to test his loyalty.
  • Star Wars Legends: A dark example in the X-Wing Series. Warlord Zsinj has two underlings brought in front of him, and at the end of the interrogation both are handed weapons with one shot in them and asked to 'take care of things' themselves. One starts to beg for mercy before the other one shoots him, then asks if someone is going to get around to killing her. She also tells Zsinj later that she would bet every credit she had squirreled away that if she'd pointed the weapon at Zsinj, it wouldn't have gone off. He pardons her (having already determined that she was blameless in the incident in question) and gives her a new assignment as a reward for being right.
  • The Stormlight Archive: In Oathbringer, prospective members of the Skybreaker order are given a test to kill or capture the criminals from a fortuitous jailbreak, and doing so will still pass the test. However they're very impressed when Szeth realizes the best answer is to execute the corrupt warden who pocketed the money that was meant to go to securing the prison and feeding the prisoners. His commanding officer says that his was the first execution order they'd secured, so probably if no one had realized they would have explained this and executed him to demonstrate the lesson.
    • Earlier in Words of Radiance, Zahel is asked to train Bridge Four. The first thing he does is order them to run a certain number of laps around the camp before he gets bored. Kaladin immediately lines everyone up to run, but Zahel stops him. He doesn't care how good his students are when they start; what's important is that they do as they're told, no matter how menial the chore. Too many noble brats fail this test.
    • Subverted in Skar's backstory. Skar wanted to join the elite Blackcaps, and they told him that they'd let him join if he could acquire their equipment. Since Skar was a poor laborer who couldn't afford to buy armor, he thought they were testing his determination, and stole the equipment from the quartermaster. Unimpressed, they sold him into slavery.
  • Survivor Dogs: In the third book, Alpha orders the Fierce Dog pups on a journey through the forest to test their loyalty to the Wild Pack.
  • There Was No Secret Evil Fighting Organization has an unintentional example. Sago, who has never tried transferring his esper superpower before, offers Kaburagi the opportunity to be the first recipient of the gift. Because Kaburagi has dreamed of having magic her whole life, she eagerly accepts. Sago begins the transferral- and then collapses on the floor screaming. He has realized just how painful ripping off one's own telekimuscle is. Then he attempts the process again, but Kaburagi stops him. She tells him that she cares about his wellbeing more than getting power for herself. Touched by her compassion, Sago pushes through the pain- making her the second esper in the world.
  • Not that secret in Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell, as Cadance clearly explains the amulet's ability to magnify both the noble and not so noble elements of its wearer's character. Twilight misses it completely of coursenote .
    • In another Friendship is Magic book, Princess Celestia announces that she will be coming to Ponyville soon, so all of the Mane Six prepare elaborate gifts and treats for her. On the day of the visit in question, a pony who looks suspiciously like Celestia wearing a brown cloak with a hood appears and visits each of them, asking for some of what they have for the princess. Though they're slightly reluctant, they all end up sharing with the mystery pony...which, of course, turns out to be the real test. Celestia wanted to see if her subjects would show friendship to everypony, not just royalty.
  • "Valedictorian" by N. K. Jemisin is set in a "pure" human enclave left after AIs took over the planet. The AIs take children from every graduating class: the bottom ten percent, to serve as Wetware Bodies, and the top student, to see when the humans will stop throwing away their best and brightest for the sake of safe, complacent mediocrity.
    Lemuel: When they start to fight for you, we'll know they're ready to be let out. To catch up to the rest of the human race.
  • Violet Eyes is a retelling of "The Princess and the Pea" wherein nearly all of the "princess" tests are kept secret (although the prince tells his beloved what they are so she can fake them, as she wasn't raised as a princess) however, in this version, the King and Queen aren't as dumb/superficial as in the fairy tale, and each of the tests has a hidden, secret test, so that even when the girls are told of the test, they still have no idea what the real test is. For example, one test is to test how "sensitive" the princesses are, and the girls believe it is based on the pain they feel at losing a single hair. In reality, the test is how they react to the death of a servant.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. Jim McCarthy works out that Foreman asking if peaceful coexistence is possible with the alien invaders is actually an attitude test by the Uncle Ira Group. When McCarthy calls Foreman on this, the latter points out that Jim realizing it's a secret test of character would invalidate the entire test. They decide to recruit McCarthy anyway.
  • In the Warcraft novel Lord of the Clans, two of these on Thrall. The first being to test whether Thrall was both humble enough to not demand to be treated by his brethren like their superior by birthright, and proud enough not to be treated like a slave. The second was to test Thrall and show Orgrim Doomhammer whether or not the young shaman had the will and fortitude to free their orc brethren from the interment camps.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In C.S. Goto's Dawn of War trilogy, Sturnn tells Gabriel that his Imperial Guard forces killed Ultramarines; Gabriel asks why and deduces (after he learns that they were disguised Alpha Legion) that Sturnn told him to find out whether he would just attack or ask questions.
    • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novels:
      • In The Killing Ground, Uriel and Pasanius's third ordeal is to fight Leodegarius, and they are defeated — Pasanius unconscious, and Uriel unable to rise. Uriel tells him to Get It Over With. Whereupon Leodegarius tells him that the ordeal is to lose, because the only way they could have defeated him was the use of warp-based powers. Failure proves they are untainted.
      • Ultramarines seem to like this a lot. In one comic, a group of recruits have a race across the rocky mountain range barefoot, the two that came in last pass because they helped each other finish the race. Space Marines are supposed to work together as brothers.
  • Subverted in a Whateley Universe story: Dr. Bellows appears to be offering Lapin two minor character tests to see how well she's coping with her severe impulse control disorder, when he's actually verifying the effectiveness of the medications she takes to control it.
  • One of these is used on Aviendha in The Wheel of Time series. She thinks she is almost ready to take the test to become a Wise One, but her trainers assign her more and more degrading punishments (well, degrading to an Aiel) for some offense she doesn't even know she committed. When she asks what she's done, they reply that the fact that she doesn't know is even more shameful and increase her punishment. When she finally gets fed up and angrily tells them that she's done nothing to deserve such treatment, she passes the test; they were waiting for her to stand up for herself and trust her own judgment.
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