Infallible Narrator

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"I think I'll try extra hard to remember today's events and conversations, in case I someday want to recall them verbatim."
Gordon Frohman, Concerned[1]
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"It was October 17th at 1:54 pm and fourteen birds were flying by the window..."
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama[1]
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A Framing Device is set up in which the hero recounts his adventures in vivid detail. Very vivid detail. So vivid, in fact, that once the story is over and Fridge Logic has set in the question arises: why is the character, who spends his time fighting Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots in Space an equal in writing ability to the (presumably) professional author?

Obviously more common in literature due to the need to describe everything, but a variant can appear in television when details that would be insignificant or assumed knowledge are commented on by characters from the framing device, implying that the speaker really was describing everything the viewer sees on screen.

Essentially the opposite of Stylistic Suck. See also Literary Agent Hypothesis.

Examples of Infallible Narrator include:

Anime and Manga

  • Suzumiya Haruhi: Kyon all the freaking way.
    • It's kind of believable with Kyon (although he basically recounts events as they happen, without Purple Prose or complicated analogies or anything).

Comic Books

  • Delios in 300, though it's stated he was assigned to tell the story because of the entire army he had the best gift of gab.
    • Then again, we don't know if what he's telling is the "real version".
    • Or how the hell he knows what happened after he left Leonidas and company. Kinda fits in with the above.
  • The Red Skull remembered the details and experience of his own birth, as well as the personalities of both his parents despite his mother dying in childbirth and his father commiting suicide the next day. He lampshaded and justified both by claiming a "remarkable memory". One could, of course, take it to mean that his entire life story was embellished, especially given that he was telling the tale to his Arch Enemy Captain America (comics).

Fanfiction

  • While fanfic authors are not always "good", they hardly change the level ofwriting when having a character describe something. So, even characters will describe the Mary Sue in Purple Prose. Good.

Literature

  • Heart of Darkness is told by Marlow, a ferry boat captain with the descriptive powers of Joseph Conrad.
  • All the characters, including great philosophers and children, speak with similar intelligence, style and vocabulary in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.
    • But in To The Lighthouse it's not the voices of the characters themselves, it's Virginia Woolf being an omniscient narrator and telling us what they're thinking. Their thought processes are complicated, but they probably couldn't articulate them as sophisticatedly as Woolf does. When they actually speak out loud it's usually mundane things like "do you think the weather is okay to sail in today?"
  • The Scarlet Letter is somewhat disturbing, since the small child of Hester (only about seven years old by the end of the book) speaks as eloquently (and with the same level of vocabulary) as the adults, who all happen to share the linguistic grace of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
    • That's intentional; the kid's supposed to be creepy.
  • Averted by PG Wodehouse. As an omniscient narrator, he wrote in his own unique and awesome style, but when writing in the capacity of Bertie Wooster, he had a whole different set of quirks. Bertie would often use an odd word and then question if it was indeed the word he wanted—or forget the word entirely (save its first letter), explain what he meant by anecdote, and then suddenly remember the word a paragraph later.
  • Moby Dick: Ishmael may be better at writing than at whaling.
    • Probably intentional: he's a writer and occasional "marchant" seaman, only entitled to the Pequod's 777th lay.
  • Averted, often quite painfully, by just about anything written by William Faulkner.
  • In the medieval Scrapbook Story Catherine, Called Birdy, the narrator/diarist seems far too eloquent for a girl living in The Dung Ages who supposedly just learned to read and write (although her style seems to become more "literary" over time, even drifting into Purple Prose once or twice near the end).
    • Cushman does however give a nod to the Unreliable Narrator when Catherine talks about how her uncle, who's been on Crusade, tells them about the wonderful animals he's seen: unicorns, and griffons, and so on—but when he gets to describing elephants, "a splendid big beast with a tail at both ends", she thinks he's making it up.
    • Possible Fridge Brilliance: at the beginning of the book, her monk brother gives her a book on the lives of saints, which she reads throughout the story. Her shift toward Purple Prose could have come from all that reading.
  • Nero Wolfe keeps Archie Goodwin on his permanent staff precisely because Archie can be one of these.
  • Bobby Pendragon, of The Pendragon Adventure. Made especially glaring because writing the story down was one of the major plot points, and we're supposed to believe that in most cases he had hand-written a well planned out eloquent narrative in a single night.
    • Not always. He basically writes, eats, and sleeps whenever he has any spare time. The novels take place over several years, with bursts of shit happening in-between downtime that we don't really get to see.
  • In many of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, the famous detective would spend (usually) the first half of the tale interviewing the client, who would effortlessly provide step-by-step, word-for-word descriptions of the events that brought them to seek Holmes out. This can sometimes reach a few weeks back.
    • Not so odd—the sort of thing that leads you to hire a famous detective tends to stick in the memory, and they could have been mentally rehearsing it beforehand.
    • The same happens in a lot of similar mystery stories by any number of authors, but is averted in one Isaac Asimov Black Widowers story -- in "The Next Day", the solution is obscured because the guest didn't have this sort of memory and paraphrased what people said rather than using Exact Words. It was played straight in most of the other Black Widowers tales, though.
  • This sort of thing's common in H. G. Wells' books, as the narrators of The War of the Worlds and especially First Men in the Moon recount every single line of conversation in a dramatic narrative even though they're supposed to be telling the story years later. It reaches the breaking point, though, in The Food of the Gods. The unnamed narrator is clearly meant to be a person, as he describes attending one of the characters' lectures in college, and offers his own speculations about certain mysteries in the story. But then we have the same narrator somehow vividly describing the dreams of the characters, when the characters themselves didn't even remember them upon awakening. As the story goes on, the narrator becomes more and more infallible, until it's impossible to reconcile his knowledge of events with any human perspective.
  • In Harry Potter, characters can remember practically anything with the aid of a pensieve, such as what someone in the same room as them twenty years ago was writing while they weren't even looking.
  • The Gulliver at the beginning of Gulliver's Travels is rather different to the Gulliver at the end, telling the story.
  • The Name of the Wind features a protagonist who has since birth been trained to be a professional storyteller, so the author raises the stakes by having him orate the entire novel in real-time to a scribe, talking for an entire day with very few breaks, presumably ad-libbing the entire thing. There are a couple points when he stops to collect his thoughts, and one where Bast takes issue with his story (he describes his love interest as flawless, and Bast corrects that her nose was a bit crooked. He also takes the opportunity to point out that Kvothe tends to describe every woman he meets as beautiful, something those reading may have noticed by that point).
  • Greener Than You Think unintentionally draws attention to this when the narrator writes an in-story news article. In accordance with his ego and his tendency to overplay things, he rapidly reaches the heights of Purple Prose, then makes accusations of jealousy against those who criticize his writing. The narration itself, however, is in a plain, unadorned style.
  • Lampshaded in The Princess Diaries. The narrator remarks on the difficulty of taking a diary to formal occasions (when it won't fit in a purse), and her rampant writing in her diaries is noticed by her friends and family, and the last book recounts, in part, her attempts to get her first novel published.
  • Hyperion has an interesting way of handling this. About half of the book is comprised of multiple backstories told from each person's perspective, and so the tone of each one is different. Some of them are told in the third person, justified as being how The Consul (the primary protagonist) remembers them telling it, without stuttering or pauses. Other times, the story will be told through a series of journal entries. One character, Martin Silenus, is a poet, and so his portion is told from the first-person and is written differently than the others.
  • This often happens when characters are recalling something that happened offscreen in stories; it's disturbing how they sound like professional storytellers when they definitely aren't. For example, Warren does this in The Fablehaven novel Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, Luke does it in City of Bones...
  • Justified in C.S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy. Aravis recounts her entire backstory like this, and Bree explains that Calormenes are taught story-telling in school.
    • She isn't entirely infallible, either; by the standards of her culture, she colours her narrative with painful amounts of Purple Prose, even when recounting what another character, who is present, said - causing the said character to comment that she didn't say it in nearly as fancy words.
  • The Ciaphas Cain novels have most of the memoirs Cain himself as a straight example, especially given how good his memory must be to remember all the fine details from sorties that happened over a century ago. The chapters taken from the memoirs of Jenith Sulla, meanwhile, are intentional aversions. The fact that Cain's 'memoirs' are being critically commented on and (left slightly incomplete to be) augmented by a fictional editor goes some way towards making them seem more real, but it doesn't change the fact that the parts that are wholly his own narration are the way that they are.
  • Interestingly averted in "The Call of Cthulhu", where the narrator is not the one who experienced the events himself but rather a compiler of them. Of the journal and eyewitness account that forms the final and most important narrative he writes that he "cannot attempt to transcribe it verbatim in all its cloudiness and redundance" and instead paraphrases it. This gives the description of the final encounter with the ultimate horror a curious mix of immediacy and distance, but certainly justifies the level of detail given and the way it's written.
  • The novel Child Of The Northern Spring follows the story of King Arthur from Guinevere's perspective. Gwen turns out to be amazingly accurate in her narration - so much so that she (somehow) manages to recount events even though she claims to have forgotten about them.
  • Wuthering Heights provides a double example: Nelly Dean is able to perfectly recall all the events of the book - over more than 20 years, to boot - and recount them to Lockwood (Handwaved as due to her good memory). Lockwood himself is able to later write her whole tale, including other characters' individual recantations to Nelly, down in his diary from memory.
  • Played with in the Gotrek and Felix series. The opening of each chapter is a page from felix's own publishing of their journeys (felix having joined up to write Gotrek's story and co-incidentally taking several hundred levels of Badass to become on the worlds greatest heroes along the way), before it then switches into the main part of the chapter, where it's narrated at real time.

Live Action TV

  • How I Met Your Mother may be an example of this. Ted has a very clear recollection of several years of his life. Although it is sometimes averted or played with as he does have moments he doesn't remember and stuff. There's still some Fridge Logic as to the degree of detail he seems to use to describe his sex life to his own kids...
    • He also fudges some details to stay in line with broadcast TV his own parental standards. "Sandwiches", anyone?
      • "Bagpiping" anyone?
      • "KISS HIM! KISS HIM!" "Kids, Barney wasn't saying "kiss""
  • Ron Howard's narration on Arrested Development is a hallmark of the series. It is always spot-on accurate, insightful and quick to point out the callous lies told by the entire Bluth family on a daily basis.

Western Animation

  • An episode of The Simpsons sees Homer recounting the story of Maggie's birth. Suffice to say he's very graphic about the conception.
    • At one point in that episode the audience sees Homer's head explode during the re-telling. This in then revealed to be Bart interfering. Homer then needs to be reminded that he "had a head" as he re-takes the reins of the story.
  • On Futurama, the professor accomplishes this through use of a memory ray pistol.
  1. He has a Memo-Ray which lets him remember EVERY detail, making his story infallible, unlike how Farnsworth normally is.