Chekhov's Volcano

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The volcano's exploding! Who would have guessed?

And to top it all off,
The volcano erupts!

Trouble In Tahiti, describing a tropical Cliché Storm

If ever a volcano appears on screen in a work of fiction its eruption is inevitable. The existence of a volcano is, in itself, a Chekhov's Gun. There's no sense in having it around unless it explodes, because otherwise the story is robbed of a clear dramatic conflict. (Unless you're just planning to have an awesome climax fight over the roiling magma which all dormant volcanoes are filled with.)

This is especially if a volcano is explicitly not supposed to erupt, thereby surprising practically everyone and driving them into a panic. The likelihood goes up to an absurd degree whenever someone actually asks whether or not the volcano will explode, and is weakly comforted by the other person saying Oh, it's not going to erupt. It's inactive. Do you have any idea how unlikely an eruption would be?

Obviously Truth in Television. Volcanoes (even dormant ones - there's a reason they're called dormant and not dead) are very dangerous things and can go off without warning, which is why most governments monitor active volcanoes within their territory.

Mount Fuji, a national symbol of Japan, is a notable exception, but then again, nobody ever makes a big deal about Mt. Fuji being a volcano, so it's not like it's ever a plot point. And let's just hope they never address the existence of a certain lake in Indonesia or a certain national park in Wyoming...

Not to be confused with Appease the Volcano God.

Examples of Chekhov's Volcano include:


  • Used gloriously in the climax of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 2. The final battle takes place near a volcano. Cars has achieved godhood and is completely impervious to anything Joseph throws at him. So what does Joseph do? Infuse said volcano with Hamon energy so it erupts and sends Cars flying into space, where he aimlessly drifts around as a frozen block of ice and eventually goes insane from loneliness.
  • Seen in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, where it proves that the planet, like everything else in the series, is Hot-Blooded. Several characters explicitly compare Kamina to a volcano.
    • Also used as a sort of Book Ends, in that during Kamina's final battle, simply combining Gurren and Lagann causes avolcano to explode, and during Team Super-Galaxy Dai-Gurren's final battle in the movies, they create a giant volcano several times bigger than the galaxy they're standing on out of sheer badassness , for the sole purpose of making it explode. And it looks awesome!
  • Code Geass is an exception to the "Mount Fuji never erupts" rule, as Lelouch deliberately sets it off near the end.
  • Mount Fuji figures rather prominently in the second arc of Kaze no Stigma, and the mission is to prevent a demon from making it erupt. But that would be boring. Cue the cataclysmic final confrontation in a lava-field!
  • In the Striker -world exist several stoneplates, that are parts of the mappa mundis, a macguffin, that show specific points of the world, where you can errupt Firesnakes thing. One of those places is of course, Mt. Fuji
  • Subverted in Magic Knight Rayearth, in which the volcano that Rayearth resides in, although active and spewing out a thick column of smoke, is never seen erupting violently.
  • Averted in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Though a volcano exists and it's the site of several duels, it never erupts.

Comic Books

  • Three-quarters subverted in Elf Quest. The volcano near Sorrow's End doesn't blow its top, it just rumbles very loudly. The rumbling triggers a stampede that the Wolfriders have to deal with. And then played straight in a much later storyline when the first major eruption in centuries coincides with an invasion.
  • The island of Pulau-Pulau Bompa in Flight 714.
  • Carl Barks manages to pull one in a story set in Volcanovia... a country where even most back yards have active volcanoes. Volcanovians are so used to eruptions they no longer even pay attention to them, and only fear the huge Old Ferocio will awaken. And by the end of the story...
  • Lampshaded in The Losers.

Jensen: Of course, it shoulda been obvious! I mean, what else, right...? Moment we set foot on an island with a volcano, of course it's gonna blow...!

  • Averted in The Smurfs story "The Astrosmurf" which takes place mostly within the rather roomy caldera of a volcano that Papa Smurf insists in extinct. There's one scene where a loud noise panics the Smurfs into thinking it is erupting, only to be embarrassed to discover it was just thunder.


  • Krakatoa: East of Java.
  • Dante's Peak.
  • Joe Versus the Volcano, natch. This is how Joe is saved from being sacrificed to it.
  • Subverted by Volcano: The movie is about a volcano suddenly emerging from the La Brea tar pits, so it doesn't get to loom threateningly in the background.
  • In the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, the SPECTRE base is in an extinct volcano. At the end the Self-Destruct Mechanism causes an eruption.
  • The Incredibles had a variation. The volcano on Syndrome's island never erupts, but the rocket that Syndrome launches from inside the dormant cone is certainly reminiscent of an eruption, and it menaces Dash and Violet in much the same way.
  • Mt. Fuji actually does erupt in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. Of course it is, "just a dream."
  • Averted in the film Lady Hamilton (1941), in which the smoking presence of Mount Vesuvius is used simply to establish the locale in Naples.
  • When Time Ran Out..., Irwin Allen's last Disaster Movie, is about this.
  • 2012, and guess where it eupted.
  • In Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the Chipmunks, David Seville, the Chipettes, and Ian Hawke are all accidentally marooned on a tropical island. Later on, Jeanette notices that the volcano on the island is about to erupt, and the climax of the film involved all of the them trying to get off the island before it does so.


  • Return of the King: Mount Doom after the Ring is destroyed. In fact, Mount Doom all the time.
  • The Secrets of Vesuvius: Mount Vesuvius's eruption, resulting in the destruction of Pompeii. Based on Real Life.
  • Dragonriders of Pern plays with this trope, in the (chronologically) first book, the site of Landing, the colonists first settlement on Pern, is on a plateau between three volcanic cones, two of which are thought to be extinct and one dormant, sure enough a few decades after arriving they start getting signs show up that the dormant volcano is getting ready to blow. Surprisingly they actually begin plans to evacuate Landing and move the majority of the population to the more geologically stable northern continent, unfortunately all the schedules for moving equipment supplies was based on the dormant volcano being the one to blow so stuff nearest to that was given priority, and that's what they were watching for signs how long was left. Cue the actual eruption coming from one of the supposedly extinct ones a lot closer to the town, and a mad scramble to get the last loads of supplies and people out of the way. Averted in all the other books in that every single Weyr on the northern continent is specifically stated to be inside a volcanic crater but not a single one of them ever proves to NOT really be extinct
  • Subverted in Journey to the Center of the Earth: the volcano our heroes descend in remains dormant, or the book would be rather short. The protagonists then get erupted out of another volcano, but since this one isn't introduced earlier (it only gets in the novel when it erupts) it's hardly an example of this trope.
  • Surprisingly averted in the Coldfire Trilogy, which takes place on a very seismically active world that has lots and lots of volcanoes. There's at least one visited in each book: 1) in Black Sun rising, they visit a pirate base located in a caldera, which doesn't erupt; 2) in When True Night Falls, the main villain builds his base on a volcanic plane, but actually uses magic to make sure that the volcano is always venting, thus keeping pressure from building up; and 3) in Crown of Shadows, the series climax is set on a plotfully important volcano, which also does not explode.
  • Invoked in Codex Alera. High Lord Kalare rigs a local volcano to erupt when he dies, but the First Lord deliberately forces said volcano to erupt prematurely. Later the First Lord sets off another volcano under the capital in a You Shall Not Pass moment.
  • In Icerigger, the Place-Where-The-Earth's-Blood-Burns conveniently waits to blow itself to pieces until the protagonists just happen to arrive there.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who has the eruption at Pompeii. This, of course, has the benefit of being an eruption that everyone should know is going to happen. Well, aside from the Pompeiians, anyway.
  • Lost subverts this trope in a strange way. The Island is of the volcanic nature and said volcano was very non-gently namedropped in Season 3, with hints of its future importance from producers. However, it has never been brought back again since and even though the Final Episode features a certain location resembling an active volcano crater, it definitely isn't one.
  • The novel Flip-Flopped features a vulcanologist whose dormant Hawaiian volcano flares up again.
  • The Secrets of Vesuvius (TV adaption): Mount Vesuvius's eruption, resulting in the destruction of Pompeii. Based on Real Life.
  • Supervolcano


  • Frank Ticheli's Vesuvius. An orchestrated piece about the title volcano. Does one not expect the song to suddenly get loud and vicious?
    • Said loud atmosphere is what actually makes it a difficult piece to perform, since amateur musicians choose incorrect places to "erupt."
  • Bob Dylan's "Black Diamond Bay", which spends several verses setting up a bunch of characters only to have a volcano erupt and kill everyone.

Role Playing Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons adventure "In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords." The city of Suderham lies in the caldera of an extinct volcano. Guess what happens by the end of the module? The entire campaign of "The Shackled City Adventure Path" is based on the bad guys trying to cause a dormant volcano that has a city built into it's crater to erupt in order to fuel their demonic artifact. Possibly averted in that the characters have the ability to stop it (though are not required to for the completion of the campaign).
  • In the Dungeon #74 module "Preemptive Strike", the heroes lead - what else? - a preemptive strike against a clan of fire giants who run a supply line out of a volcano. Said volcano will not erupt (at least not in the immediate future) unless the players do something to force it to on purpose, which is actually the best way for them to triumph.
  • In Return to The Temple of Elemental Evil, most of the action occurs at the Temple of All Consumption, built within a volcano. The cult is planning to use a pack of magin (impish elemental beings) to make it erupt as part of the grand-finale to their Evil Plan, but that shouldn't occur unless the players really screw up.

Video Games

  • The Curse of Monkey Island features a lactose-intolerant volcano. Worshiped by vegetarian cannibals.
  • In Paper Mario, Mt. Lavalava erupts.
    • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars features a volcano that does not erupt, although one NPC does comment it looks like there's a lot of activity around it. The level doesn't count as much of a Lethal Lava Land either. Neither of these points, however, detracts from the dragon boss fight.
  • Golden Sun. Mt. Aleph. I think that about covers it.
  • The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, to fulfill the requirements of a completely different trope. The only one that actually erupts is in Oracle of Ages. Ocarina's Death Mountain does erupt just enough to rain flaming boulders on you whenever you get near the summit. It also lets out a shockwave when Volvagia is defeated, but the only effect is to clear the skies, knock that guy on the Kakariko rooftop flat on his back and get ash trapped in a nearby Goron's eyes. Another one erupts in Oracle of Seasons when Link deliberately uses bombs to set it off.
  • The second Dark Sun game, Wake of the Ravager, had a volcano level; if you took too long to complete it, the volcano would blow and you'd get a Nonstandard Game Over. Unfortunately for those playing on modern computers, the game clock seems to run on processor speed, so unless you know how to adjust the proper settings, it is impossible to complete the level and, by extension, the game, before the volcano blows.
  • The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind. The game takes place near a huge volcano, but it does not erupt; it only belches clouds of ash.
    • Red Mountain already erupted some time ago; the result is the Vvardenfell district of Morrowind.
    • Between the game and the book it does erupt. Vvardenfell was rendered uninhabitable.
    • Red Mountain/Dagoth Ur was belching smoke in The Elder Scrolls I Arena as well. It didn't erupt there either, though just as in Morrowind you had to visit the vulcano towards the end-game.
  • Inevitable in Dwarf Fortress: If there's lava somewhere on the map, it will eventually be pumped onto the surface by the player. There's a bug where if a volcano is spawned overlapping a bottomless pit on a local map, the result is an instantaneous eruption, forest fire, and death.
    • Not quite inevitable nor an eruption anymore; since there are no bottomless pits and volcanoes don't naturally erupt, any lava/magma flooding is engineered by the player, due to shortsighted or deliberate design. Knowing that magma is present in every map leaves abusing it as the only dwarfy thing to do, volcanoes simply open up options much sooner.
  • Averted in the finale of Resident Evil 5.
  • In Pokémon Ruby/Emerald, one group is actively trying to cause the volcano to erupt, while you and the other group have to prevent it. (In Sapphire, the other group is trying to cool it down so it can turn into a lake instead; this is treated as an equivalent act of evil despite the obvious but unstated difference that blowing it up will kill people while cooling it down will not).
    • Well, cooling it would ruin the livelihoods of the people in the nearby town, who rely on the volcano's geothermal energy for things like heating their apparently famous hot springs, and might affect tourism. Not as evil as setting the volcano off, but not particularly nice, either.
    • Team Aqua are aquatic Pokemon-biased ecoterrorists. The main problem with them cooling the volcano down would be the destruction of the habitat of all the Fire-type Pokemon that live in and around it.
  • Averted in Mother 3. The volcano never erupts... until the very end of the game, but then again, the WORLD is erupting.
  • The Stable Time Loop in Icewind Dale II in Dragon's Eye.
  • In Romancing SaGa 2 there is one if you let it blow, you can get Shadow magic but lose the Salamander class character
  • Dragon Quest III is the first Dragon Quest to feature a volcano. Naturally, you make it erupt for the purposes of getting a magic MacGuffin. The quest to make it erupt takes fully a quarter of the game. Said volcano also plays a key role in the backstory—and the Attract Mode cutscene.
  • Dragon Quest VII plays with this: the very first thing you see upon arriving is the volcano erupting! ...In a vision, anyway, which you then have to prevent.
  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: The volcano erupts at the end of the Lava Dome stage. That's right, while you're inside it. And the lava flow cools quickly to make a new path you can walk along. Convection, Schmonvection.
  • Mt. Zublo in Breath of Fire 3 erupts, blocking passage around it and an entire section of the game is dedicated to getting around it. Even having to inevitably go through it.
  • Averted and possibly justified with Mt. Zaleho in Tales of the Abyss. Auldrant's crust has been raised some several kilometers above the planet's mantle for the past two thousand years or so, reducing Mt. Zaleho's activity. While its volcanic activity increases significantly after the land is lowered, it still doesn't seem to pose any significant danger to Daath.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, a volcano plays an important part in the Nemesis Quest, containing a puzzle that requires using constantly-shifting chunks of rock floating in magma as stepping stones in order to reach the final showdown with your nemesis, with the volcano erupting if you win. Lampshaded as it becomes clear that the underground tunnels you chase your nemesis through are leading into the volcano: "On reflection, this was inevitable, really. I mean, you can't just have a Final Boss Battle near a volcano. It would be like having a car chase in which the fruit cart doesn't get knocked over. Or fighting crime in a giant robot and never using Rocket Punch."
  • Averted in Dinosaurs and Cadillacs. Throughout the game the volcano is smoking away in the background, and though the characters keep thinking it's going to blow, it's actually the smoke from the factory concealed within.
  • The last three missions of Guild wars prophecies involve reaching a volcano that, yes, erupts after the end of the last mission.
  • In World of Warcraft's Cataclysm Expansion, in the Goblin starting zone, there is a volcano- and inside it is a giant turtle called the "Volcanoth". You have to kill that turtle with a bunch of missiles- the death of the Volcanoth and the explosion from the missiles... triggers this trope.
  • King's Quest VII has an interesting variation. The volcano is active, but some Steampunk-type machinery in use by the trolls keep it from blowing. However, Malicia would like to use it to get revenge on Etheria, the Fairy Kingdom, even if everything else is turned to slag in the process. It's up to Valanice and Rosella to prevent this.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3 - the heroes shipwreck on a remote volcano island that's slated to go off at any moment (the screen even shakes from time to time with pre-eruption tremors), but of course it doesn't go off until you've accomplished all that you're supposed to and you have a way off the island. (Hooray for conveniently passing by turtles!)
  • Bug!! has one in Arachnia's background. Bug pushes Queen Cadavra into it when he beats her, causing it to erupt.
  • Averted in Creature of Kapu Cave, in which the danger Nancy encounters around a volcano isn't from it erupting.

Web Comics

Jyrras: "Oh, of course! Nothing quite says "intelligent" like having 70 billion dollars worth of equipment next to an unstable volcano!"

  • In Erfworld, the city of Gobwin Knob is situated inside the caldera of a dead volcano, the walls of which provide natural defense... At the end of the first book, Parson has Maggie link Sizemore and Wanda together so they can deliberately "uncroak" the dead volcano for an incredibly Pyrrhic Victory.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Fortuneteller" has Aang and Sokka discover a volcano is ready to explode while hiking up there for other reasons. Apparently the townspeople used to monitor it, but stopped doing so once a fortune teller moved in and they figured she'd just tell them if the volcano erupted.
    • To Sokka's great annoyance, her fortune was still technically correct because she only predicted that the town would not be destroyed - she didn't say whether or not the volcano would actually erupt.
    • Another example is explicitly averted - the Fire Nation capital is built on top of a a volcano. However, it never explodes, probably because there's enough firebenders around to "appease" the volcano, or something.
  • Tarzan Recycled: the Series.
  • The plot of Garfield in Paradise involved one.
  • The volcano in The Land Before Time II erupts, naturally.
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the main characters and their group of explorers fall through a cave into a dormant volcano. When they assume that it could blow at any minute, the geology expert of the bunch says that it shouldn't be possible without a titanic explosive force. However, at the end of the movie it turns out the an exploding hot air balloon will do just fine and the whole thing goes up anyway.
  • Subverted in Jackie Chan Adventures, where the Monkey King makes a Hawaiian volcano erupt... with lava made out of gelatin.
  • At the beginning of Transformers Generation 1, the Transformers crash into a volcano and go into stasis, where they remain until an eruption reactivates the ship four million years later.
  • Downplayed in an episode of Inspector Gadget where a Mad Oracle (literally, as he's a MAD agent pretending to be a prophet) claims the tropical volcano is going to erupt. In truth, the volcano is in no danger of erupting on its own, but Dr. Claw's Evil Plan involves using explosives to force it to do so.
  • Comically subverted in The Road to El Dorado. The volcano starts to erupt when it suddenly stops rumbling and burps out a single puff of smoke. That Tulio just happened to shout "Stop!" at that precise instant is what convinces the natives that he and Miguel were gods.
  • Subverted in the Superfriends episode, "Volcano." Here, the volcano never erupts considering that the alien ship that crashes into its magma pool and the superheroes trying to rescue it have enough to deal with as it is.
  • X-Men: Evolution had one. It erupts twice.
  • Gummi Bears: The "My Gummi Lies Over the Ocean" episode. In this case, Augustus is counting on it to erupt eventually, and has spent years carving the mountainside into a dragon's head shape. When the volcano erupts, the statue will breathe fire, a conclusion of his greatest work of art ever. Unfortunately, it seems it may well erupt a little too soon...
  • The volcano at Hawaii in the finale of Total Drama World Tour.
  • The very third episode of South Park is called Volcano and naturally is about a Volcano eruption near the town. In more than 200 episodes since that Volcano was never mentioned again.
  • Averted in Beast Wars. The volcano under the Predacon base never erupts, despite the ever molten lava. Also the volcano the Maximals move into doesn't erupt either, because they know it doesn't erupt until 1984.
  • In the Pinky and The Brain episode "Brainania," the Brain attempts to establish his own country on a volcanic island. Smart move.
  • The episode of The Simpsons where Homer actually becomes a missionary on a tropical island as an attempt for him to escape an angry mob of PBS staff ends with Homer and "Lisa Jr." accidentally causing a volcano to erupt by ringing a church bell too loudly.
  • One episode of Young Justice had a villain named Red Volcano attempting to destroy Earth by setting off one of these. And guess where.

Real Life

  • Pompeii, of course.
  • Mount Rainier is feared to be this. Largest Volcano in the lower 48, one of the broadest in the world in terms of glaciers and craigs and area. Tacoma and Seattle, with about 3.5 million people, lie nearly entirely on old mudflows from the volcano that are less than 200 years old.
  • The volcanoes of the Hawaiian islands erupt (well, ooze) frequently, meaning the islands are slowly growing bigger (and volcanoes that are now underwater may someday reach the surface, as more lava builds up higher).
  • The geysers, hot springs, and "paint pots" of Yellowstone National Park are all caused by geologic activity from a massive caldera that spans the whole region. Pray it never, ever explodes.
    • The Yellowstone hot spot is located in Wyoming. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory is based out of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, some 250-plus miles to the south.
  • According to the documentary The Last Day of the Dinosaurs, the asteroid that caused the mass extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous period possibly caused this trope to go Up to Eleven. Allegedly, the seismic catastrophes created by the impact may well have caused long-extinct volcanos to erupt again.
  • The leading contender for the cause of the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction (also known as The Great Dying and an event that puts the Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction to shame) is the eruption of the Siberian Flood Basalts, the largest volcanic event known to have occurred on Earth.
  • The Toba catastophe theory, which not only reduced humanity to a few thousand individuals (fortunately, that wasn't enough back then), but may also have been the true cause of the last ice age, or at least hastened its arrival, which it was coincidentally followed by. In fact all supervolcanic eruptions can lead to an ice age.
  • Inverted with permafrost. Due to its involvement in climate change, it is not really permanent at all, and it contains a huge amount of carbon dioxide and methane (both greenhouse gases) frozen within it, assuming if the above was true.