How the Mighty Have Fallen

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I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets I used to own
Coldplay, Viva La Vida
This is the guy who used to be able to turn soild stone into lava just by thinking hard at it. The 60s' most powerfull superhuman! And all he's fit for now is soaking up whisky like blotting paper and burning the toast!

This person once had it all. They were wealthy and powerful, sycophants hung on their every word, and it seemed like the world was their oyster. Then they fell, hard. Now their empire has crumbled, their money is gone, and they are scorned by the people who once admired them; there's nothing left for them to do but long for the Glory Days.

Other characters may shake their heads in pity and comment, "How the mighty have fallen."

Someone powerful and prideful who suffers a Humiliation Conga or Break the Haughty can have this fate waiting for them at the end. However, it can just easily happen offscreen, or to someone who wasn't excessively prideful.

Depending on how sympathetic the character is, this can be played for comedy, tragedy, or karmic justice. It may even prove to be a Happy Ending; he avoids Lonely at the Top for true friendship and true love.

The Fallen Princess copes with it; the Princess in Rags pretends it hasn't happened. Look on My Works Ye Mighty and Despair is when it happens to a civilization, or Vestigial Empire when it happens to a nation state.

Examples of How the Mighty Have Fallen include:

Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Viral at beginning of season 2, Simon at the end.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Yoki, particularly in the manga and Brotherhood. He goes from leader of a prosperous mining town to Scar's sniveling lackey.
  • Slayers: NEXT has Martina, a princess whose kingdom is blown up by Lina, and who takes to following the heroine around seeking revenge.
  • Death Note's ending leaves Light broken both physically and mentally, with all his sycophants either dead or not having a clue who he is. The anime scene with him running sobbing from the warehouse to be killed by a heart attack a few minutes later is the nice version of his death, and within a few years, the world's gone back to normal. In the original manga, he's killed while writhing in agony and whining that he doesn't want to die.
  • Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, the fourth season manga of the Nanoha franchise gives this treatement to Signum in spades.
  • The life of Fallen Prince Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass. Even his Zero persona goes through this.
  • In Black Butler, Sebastian says this of Ash/Angela in the first Season Finale. In this case, he's referring to three things exactly: first, the Irony that someone who adored Purity is now drawing power from human corruption, second that is a literal Fallen Angel, and third, that s/he is about to go DOWN.
  • Your Mileage May Vary, but... several of the countries from "Axis Powers Hetalia" can be seen as such. The Roman Empire himself, for starters, is said to have had everything, but then vanished one day (although, as a young Italy remarks, he had many scars and was in pain beforehand, probably for a long time). Prussia used to be a great fighter, and now, he isn't a nation anymore. During the Revolution, America remarks how England "used to be so big". Kind-of played with in the case of France, when he isn't invited to one of the Allies' meetings and tries to remember some of his "finest hours", all of them ruthlessly destroyed/parodized (in the cases of Joan of Arc and Napoleon, because of England, and in two cases he just jumped into the fight when the enemy was already weak).

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Common Grounds, the once-prominent superhero Blackwatch is now a slovenly homeless man after serving a long prison term for accidentally killing newbie hero Snowflame in one of those superhero fights.
  • In Lucifer, when Perdissa thinks she's killed Lucifer, she indulges in a bit of Evil Gloating by quoting Isaiah 14:12 - "Oh how art thou fallen from grace oh Lucifer, son of the morning."

Film[edit | hide]

  • Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He went from being a leader in the Eugenics Wars and ruler of India, to being stranded on a dead world, leading to his desire for revenge on Kirk.

"On Earth, two hundred years ago, I was a prince with power over millions..."

  • At the end of Cats Don't Dance, child actress Darla Dimple loses her career and becomes a janitor.
    • A similar demotion awaits the Mayor of Frank at the end of Osmosis Jones.
  • Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, who goes from scary sorceress of the palace in the movie to itty bitty kitten in the sequels.
  • Truth in Television example from The Last Emperor, in which an aging Puyi returns to the Forbidden City as an ex-convict tourist, to view the throne from which he'd once reigned.
  • Shadow of the Vampire. Schreck reads the book Dracula in order to study for his role 'playing' a vampire, and is saddened by the scene where Dracula leaves a meal for Jonathon Harker. Schreck then remembers when he used to have servants to do such tasks for him, which reminds him of when he had a wife, family, estates etc, whereas now he's just a scavenger living in a ruined castle.
  • The Third Man. Baron Kurtz now works as a blackmarketeer in post-war Vienna.
  • You Can't Take It with You. Russian Grand Duchess Olga Katrina works as a waitress at Child's restaurant. Her uncle the Grand Duke is an elevator operator.
  • Megatron in the Transformers Film Series, by the third film, he's been left greviously wounded by Prime at the end of the previous film, hiding out in Africa. In the end, he's getting beaten around by the real Big Bad and has to be reminded that he'll be nothing if he let's Sentinel Prime win. He tries to take control, only to be easily slaughter.
  • Once scene in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon shows the burial of one of the older enlisted men of the regiment. He is revealed to be a former Confederate general.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Trope Namer is The Bible; the phrase occurs in 2 Samuel 1:19, 1:25, and 1:27.
  • See also Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, star of Morning, son of the Dawn! How art thou cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low!"
  • The same sentiment was also expressed in The Aeneid: "quantum mutatus ab illo / Hectore"
  • Paradise Lost goes for both of them because John Milton loves his erudition: "If thou be'est he but oh how fallen / How changed..."
  • Snow Crash: Chuck Wrightson. Once the president of Kenai and Kodiak, now a homeless drunk.
  • A recurring theme in the Nightside books; John Taylor notes that even gods can end up living on the streets. Herne the Hunter is one of the biggest examples.
  • Ozymandias in Percy Shelley's famous poem:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

  • In Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, the Greek Gods are holed up in a dilapidated house in contemporary London, much diminished in power because no-one believes in them anymore, what with "the upstart carpenter" and all.
  • An incidence of this being the Happy Ending occurs in Juliet E McKenna's Aldabreshin Compass with warlord Kheda having lost two separate kingdoms, but is now free to be with the woman he loves and travel as he wishes instead of tied to throne.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon used to be a powerful magician, until he lost his Ring of Power. Then he had to flee for his life, and ended up being Made a Slave.
  • Somewhat unbelievably, in The Lord of the Rings, Saruman goes from being a demigod and head of the wizard's order to boss of a small group of Orcs bullying hobbits in the Shire. Pretty well every adaption wisely ignore this bit of the book.
  • Kallor in The Malazan Book of the Fallen once ruled a kingdom that spanned two continents, but was such a monster that his mages were willing to destroy an entire continent in the hopes of killing him. He survived the devastation and was cursed to live forever and fail at whatever task he took upon himself.
  • The Wrath of God, a novel by Jack Higgins (this trope seems to involve lots of wrath!) Janos, a grossly overweight ex-soldier in the Hungarian imperial guard, now working as an Arms Dealer in 1920's Mexico, curses the glandular problem that caused his fall from grace.
  • Antichrist villain Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind book series went from being a terrifying Evil Overlord who ruled the world with an iron fist and Satan indwelt to a pathetic and humiliated rotting shell of a human being who has to suffer for eternity in the Lake of Fire.
  • According to the Legend of Belisarius, the Eastern Roman general Belisarius ended up as a blind beggar on the streets of Rome.
  • In the fourth The Wheel of Time book the recently-overthrown former Amyrlin exploits this trope in order to get past a guard and flee the city:

Yesterday, I was perhaps the most powerful ruler in the entire world, able to summon kings and queens and have them answer; today, I must hope I can find a farm where I will be allowed to sleep in the barn. Whatever crimes you think I have committed, isn't this punishment enough?

  • The Machine Gunners: Having received a crushing defeat from schoolyard rival Chas McGill, Boddser Brown finds his followers have deserted him, people are no longer afraid of him and openly mock his turban-like bandages and his position of power and popularity at school is gone.
  • In Wilbur Smith's The Eye of the Tiger, a crime boss is said to have quoted the Biblical lines (one of his Mooks mistook it for Shakespeare) when he saw that the protagonist was no longer Properly Paranoid. "It made him sad," another Mook says, "but not so sad that he cried."

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Said by Guinan of the recently depowered Q in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Deja Q". And then she stabs his hand with a fork.
  • In Angel Illyria used to be worshiped by millions and held dominion over multiple dimensions. Due to her reincarnation in a mortal body, as of the series' end, she's capable of being defeated by a minion of creatures she previously barely noticed. And the closest thing she has to a worshiper drinks a lot and called her a smurf.
  • Conan O'Brien Lampshaded this trope in his opening skit to the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards, mocking NBC in the Broadway-style musical number "Trouble At NBC:

Music[edit | hide]

  • "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay tells the story of a man who overthrew a corrupt king and took his place. He had money, power, and an admiring kingdom, but he soon became corrupt just like the first king. Upon realizing how far he had fallen, he became disillusioned with his position of power and allowed himself to be removed from the throne and [assumedly] spent the rest of his days looking back on his reign and lamenting his fate.
  • The Depression-era number "Brother Can You Spare A Dime", famously performed by Bing Crosby.
  • Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone":

Once upon a time you dressed so fine,
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you.
...
Now you don’t talk so loud,
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

  • The Laura Marling song "Failure" starts like this:

He used to be the life and soul of everyone around.
You'd never catch him looking up and never see him down but oh, la laa.
He couldn't raise a smile oh, not for a while, and he's a failure now.

  • "Fortune Plango Vulnera" from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana".

"Fortune rota volvitur;
descendo minoratus;
alter in altum tollitur;
nimis exaltatus
rex sedet in vertice
caveat ruinam!
nam sub axe legimus
Hecubam reginam.
(English translation: "The wheel of Fortune turns/I go down, demeaned/another is carried to the top;/far too high/the king sits at the summit/let him fear ruin/for under the axis is written/Queen Hecuba.")

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Magic: The Gathering, planeswalkers were massively depowered following "the Mending" of the Time Spiral block. Most of the post-Mending planeswalkers don't even know what they've lost; but Nicol Bolas, the oldest remaining planeswalker, remembers the power and longs to regain it.

Nicol Bolas: We were gods, once.

Theater[edit | hide]

  • One of the most prevalent themes in Greek tragedy; it'd be easier to list the exceptions, which are very few indeed.
  • Oedipus the King is an especially good version of this. Over the course of the play, he goes from King of Thebes to a blind beggar who everyone knows killed his father and slept with his mother.

"Men of Thebes, look upon Oedipus
the king who solved the famous riddle
and towered up, most powerful of men.
No mortal eye but looked on him with envy,
yet in the end ruin swept over him."

  • The song "King of the World" from the musical Songs for A New World is about this—the singer used to be very powerful and is now in prison. (Beyond this, the details are open to interpretation.)
  • In the musical of The Producers, Max Bialystock reminisces about once being "the king of all Broadway" rather than, as now, a producer of serial flops. (But then the chorus responds with "We'll believe you - thousands wouldn't.")
  • Maybe a bit of a stretch, but the song about Grizabella ("Grizabella the Glamour Cat") from "Cats" gives this vibe. Former celebrity, now a common, old stray.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • A common theme in the Human and Dwarf Noble origin stories in Dragon Age, both of which begin with the player character as a scion of a very powerful family (either that of the in-universe equivalent of a duke or that of the King of Orzammar). Both end with the player on the run and forced to join the Grey Wardens to escape. Of course, you do rise to prominence again at the end, but that is to be expected.
  • The line is used in Eternal Darkness as Pious kills Mantorok in the second chapter. Considering he just punched out that story's equivalent of Cthulhu and consigned it to a slow and inevitable death, it is probably fitting.
  • From Portal 2:
    • The middle chapters take the player on an exploration of the old Aperture Science Innovators test facilities, far beneath the more modern chambers that you start the game in. You get to see what Aperture was like when its eccentric founder, Cave Johnson, was in his heyday, full of money and enthusiasm and with "astronauts, Olympians, and war heroes" jumping at the chance to test his products. Then you get to see it as a company struggling to survive and hiring bums off the street due to Congressional inquiries over the "missing astronauts". Lastly, you get to hear Cave's final recordings as a bitter, bankrupt old man dying of mercury poisoning and trying desperately to preserve some kind of legacy. Aperture may have recovered and gone on without him, but he's gone, his memories buried along with the empire he built.
    • POTATOS. Though she gets back up again.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer's long lost half-brother Herb, who was the wealthy head of a major auto corporation until he found out he was a Simpson.
    • Mr. Burns lost his fortune and the Power Plant and Lisa helped him get it back, much to her regret.
  • Valmont from Jackie Chan Adventures goes from a major villain in the first two seasons to a homeless petty criminal in the third.
  • Inverted in The Swan Princess with Jean-Bob, a frog who only thinks that he is a prince when in actuality, he is not.
  • Lampshaded and subverted by Vilgax in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. Ben mocks his old foe's fall, but Vilgax has every intention of regaining everything he lost and more. Vilgax also has a powerful cult of human followers to help him do just that.
  • This happened to Mandarin in the second season of the Iron Man 90's animated series. After losing the Ten Rings of Power in the first season finale, Mandarin was reduced to working as a laborer, whipped daily by a cruel overseer. Then he notices the overseer's ring...and after regaining his power, he falls even harder in the series finale. Half of his rings are destroyed, his memories are gone, and he loses the other five rings when lowly mountain bandits chop off his hand.
  • Invoked by Slithe in ThunderCats (2011)

"How quickly things change for the cats. From top predator, to endangered species... in a single day!"

Other[edit | hide]

  • Happens all the time in real life in the workplace, where a non-supervisory employee says, "I used to be in management and [whatever I don't like] was not how I/we did [X]."
  • Subverted in this joke: Three refugees from <insert country here> talk about the old times. First one: "Here I live in a one-room apartment, but in the old country, I had a house with twelve rooms." Second one: "Here I am an ordinary secretary, but in the old country, I was a CEO." Third one (with a Mister Muffykins on his lap): "I'll admit, I'm a poor devil now as well as then. But in the old country, my dog was a St. Bernard."
  • People during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw Ancient Rome as this.