No Man of Woman Born

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Eowyn reveals herself to the Witch-King.

"...when it is prophesied that no man can defeat me, I will keep in mind the increasing number of non-traditional gender roles."

The Witch-King: Thou fool! No living man can kill me.
Eowyn: But no living man am I. You look upon a woman!

A character receives a prophecy or curse of the form "X cannot happen until Y," where Y is seemingly impossible. X is frequently (but not always) the character's death or defeat.

Of course, Y ends up happening somehow, usually through some trick of wording or a loophole, with X promptly following.

Over-reliance on this phrase by the baddie usually leads to a delicious Oh Crap moment. It often involves a Eureka Moment, followed by the newly minted Magnificent Bastard drawing his sword and Cutting the Knot. Macbeth met his end at the hands (sword?) of a man born via C-section, for example. (In Shakespeare's time, a person born by c-section was not considered to have been "born" in the same sense as most people, and was therefore not born of a woman.)

A subtrope of Prophecy Twist and Double Meaning; compare Prophetic Fallacy. For some other instances of impossible conditions being met, see Impossible Task and Engagement Challenge. For when condition Y isn't really fulfilled but a half-assed excuse is used to justify X happening anyway, see From a Certain Point of View.

Examples of No Man of Woman Born include:

Comic Books

  • Mr. Negative, a Spider-Man/Punisher villain introduced in the "One More Day" storyline is regularly quoted saying "Mr. Negative was never born, so he is ever living!" He loves saying things like that. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Negative wasn't born, he was made. The human smuggler who took on the identity of Martin Li is the one who was born, but that's besides the point.
  • In one issue of Dagar The Invincible, in a story very much inspired by Macbeth, the warrior takes on a warlord called Magg-Deth whose medallion is proof against sorcery, but whose guilty conscience over murdering Ban-Dro, his rival, to take his throne plagues him with visions of the rival's visage and a sword that will slay him one day. Three beautiful witches that Dagar becomes involved with visit Magg-Deth with a prophecy about how only an entire nation can slay him, and only after that nation has entered the Dark Fortress that the warlord calls his home. But as Dagar reveals during the final showdown with him, he is the sole survivor of the nation of Tulgonia, which makes him an entire nation. Needless to say, Magg-Deth dies by Dagar's blade soon after.
  • In one of the episodes Thrud the Barbarian meets a beast that "cannot be defeated by the hand of a mortal man" and promptly kills it with a kick.
  • In Thessaly: Witch for Hire, Thessaly is told that "no one and nothing" can defeat the monster coming after her... so she sends Fetch, a ghostly being who is quite literally no one and nothing.
  • In the comic book version of Batman the Brave And The Bold, Batman teams up with Kid Eternity, who has the power to summon great heroes of the past, to battle General Immortus. However, when Immortus reveals the Spear of Destiny prevents anyone born of woman from defeating him, Eternity can't think who to summon - "Even Hercules and Gilgamesh had mothers!" Batman suggests summoning the World War Two hero G.I. Robot.
  • Used by a Villain in Les Légendaires as part of his Evil Plan: the God of Evil Anathos attempts to come back by reincarnating into one of the protagonists, but, as specified by the prophecy, only the one wearing his personnal mark can be his host. After finding out their Elven teammate Shimy is the one wearing the mark, Danael has her relocated out of range while he retains Anathos, and orders the others to kill her should Anathos arrive. Turns out Anathos had planned this all along, and also put his mark on an item Shimy offered to Danael. Since Danael wears the item, and as thus technically wears the mark, Anathos is able to possess him instead and come back despite the heroes' efforts.
    • Ironically, the Legendaries later end up defeating him through the same trope: during their final fight, Anathos states they can't defeat him because only a God can kill another God, thus him committing suicide would be the only option (as at this point no other God is around). He ends up being stabbed by Jadina with Danael's sword, which was forged with Danael's blood and as such count as part of his body.

Fan Works

  • In the Daria fanfic The Thirteenth Man Mack develops godlike powers and is forced to fight another godlike being. When informed that his opponent cannot be defeated by any weapon made on Earth, Mack beats him to death with rocks from the moon.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Peggy Sue fic I Am What I Am handles the Judge (see below) with "Unity", a battle-ax of light that creates itself out of a pair of enchanted tomahawks.
  • Celebrity Deathmatch fic, Final Stand of Death, Marilyn Manson, the undisputed champion, knows he could only be mortally wounded by a foreign-born female Capricorn who was also born in January among his fallen victims of said deathmatch. In other words, Melanie C is the only one who can do the deed given she's a British National born in January under the sign of Capricorn, who became one of Manson's fallen victims at Deathbowl '98 thanks to Manson's chainsaw. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Debbie Matenopoulos, and even Gene Simmons all know this before even Melanie C finds out herself.


  • Disney's The Princess and the Frog abuses this trope. Prince Naveen, turned into a frog, can only be freed of his curse when he kisses a legitimate princess. He kisses commoner Tiana, which turns her into a frog as well. Later, they discover that kissing Tiana's friend Lottie, the temporary princess of the Mardi Gras parade, could also lift the curse, but they are too late. They decide to get married as frogs, which leads to Tiana becoming a princess by marriage.. which ends up turning both back into humans.
  • In Ladyhawke, a curse can be lifted only if the characters confront the bad guy when "a day without a night; a night without a day" comes. This is conveniently solved by a solar eclipse.
  • Bulletproof Monk features a trio of prophecies which determine the one most worthy to protect a scroll that grants great power. These prophecies, performed off-screen by the nameless monk protagonist at the movie's beginning, are defeating an army of enemies while a flock of cranes circled overhead, fighting for love in the palace of jade, and saving his brothers whom he did not know. Later in the film, the monk watches while the other protagonist, Kar, performs modern day versions of these prophecies. Fighting a street gang under a circle of mechanical cranes. Fighting his Love Interest, Jade, in her mansion. Finally, he saves several of the monks' brothers from the Big Bad. The real kicker, however, is that Jade also performed all three, as shown during the flashback when Monk was explaining it. She lured away Funktastic and his crew after Kar beat his ass (then dropped his weapon). She equated love and respect while defending her lifestyle in her own house. And she was the one who rescued the monks, while Kar was fighting the Big Bad with Monk. Thus both of them become the scroll's next guardians.
  • In Excalibur, "no weapon forged by man" can hurt Mordred. He's killed by Excalibur.
    • Mother Nature would like to add that a large icicle, rock, tree branch or angry boar passes the test, so this prophecy is less difficult to get around than one would think (however, all of these aren't exactly an advantage when fighting a good swordsman). Additionally, there's also poison, slings, non-metal arrows, garrote wires, fire, fisticuffs, starvation...
      • Not to mention simple clubs and staves. Wood isn't forged, its grown (and cut, and polished).
  • Not fully impossible, but close. In a German film Haunted Mill, said mill is haunted by evil ghosts who can only be destroyed by "snow in the summer". The heroes spend half of the film figuring how to lure the ghosts onto a REALLY HIGH mountain, only to discover that a fire extinguisher also works.
  • In Rock & Rule, the villainous Mok's computer predicts that the demon can only be turned back by "the magic of one voice, one heart, one soul," but then adds there is "no one" who can stop his plan. Mok doesn't count on Omar and Angel singing together as one voice, one heart and one soul.
  • Drive Angry has:

Jonah King: No man of this Earth can kill me!
Milton: I'm not of this earth!

  • The 2008 Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories, which revolves around Sandler's character telling seemingly-prophetic stories, has a couple examples. One story he tells involves Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing out of nowhere, which is later fulfilled by a Lincoln penny dropping off of a bridge he's standing under. Another, which involves him being set on fire, comes true when he is "fired" from his job.


  • The sorcerer Nevyn, from the Deverry novels, did some selfish things which resulted in his fiancee killing herself. When he learns that she will be reincarnated, he rashly swears "never to rest" until he has made restitution. It takes him 450 years to fulfill his promise, during which time she is reincarnated seven times.
    • Nevyn's name literally translates to "no one" and this is played on several times. Including once when a guard tells Nevyn his lord will see no one. "Well then tell him No One is here to see him!"
    • In Daggerspell, there is a prophecy concerning the villainous lord Corbyn. "He shall not die in battle except by the sword, and no man's hand can slay him." He is eventually slain by a seventeen-year-old girl.
      • After it was discovered that the leader of the warband coming after Corbyn was (unknowingly) a half-elf, the sorcerer Nevyn pointed out that he would have qualified as well - but he'd never have succeeded unless he knew that he qualified. (It's implied that there is a psychological component to the protection).
    • The real key is that his father took away his original name, and said he would be "No one" which in turn shows up in more than a few prophecies and omens - significant, because he was actually a prince of the realm and a son of the king, although he was a younger son which makes this a bitter play on his position as a useless son (neither heir to the throne nor the back-up to the heir to the throne) even before he became a literal no-one.
  • Given the overwhelming influence of Shakespeare on Moby Dick, it's no surprise that one of Ahab's crew members makes a similar prophecy concerning Ahab's death.
    • There's several in Moby-Dick, all by Fedallah, but the one that stick out most poignantly is "I go before thee, my captain." No, Ahab, that doesn't mean you're invincible while Fedallah's alive, it just means he'll die before you.
  • The Macbeth example is purposely referenced, complete with a similar prophecy, in E. L. Konigsberg's book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.
  • In Stardust by Neil Gaiman, a character is imprisoned "until the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together." She is freed when Robert Monday marries Victoria Forrester (making her Victoria Monday), and Yvaine, who is a star and therefore the daughter of the moon, admits that she's fallen in love.
    • To clarify: Yvaine, being in love, gives herself entirely to Tristran; from then on, she belongs to him and no one else.
  • Due to an accident of Time Travel, Arthur Dent in Mostly Harmless knows that he can't die until after he's visited Stavromula Beta (which he takes to be a planet, but can't ever find any description of). It turns out to be the second, or "beta", nightclub owned by Stavro Mueller, which he only realizes after he's already there. The Downer Ending to end all Downer Endings follows seconds later. Kill'Em All doesn't cover it by a long shot.
    • Except in the Radio Drama, where he gets better. And, naturally, in the sequel penned by Eoin Colfer from Adams' notes.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the Witch-king of Angmar is the subject of a prophecy made by the Elf-lord Glorfindel, who foretold that he would not fall by the hand of man; naturally, he was slain by Eowyn, a woman who entered the battle in disguise, with the aid of Merry, a hobbit. This was intentionally based on Macbeth, whose prophecy Tolkien thought was cheating; the Ents (actual walking trees) came from the same idea.
    • Note also how nicely Tolkien covers his bases here: Eowyn is a member of the race called Men, but is female, while Merry is a man of his own race but is a Hobbit, not a Man. And killing the Witch-king takes both of them.
    • The trick to this prophecy is that what it was saying was misunderstood. The prophecy wasn't talking about what can't kill the Witch-king, but what wasn't going to. It's neatly hidden in the phrasing: "not by the hand of man will he fall", that is, "no man will kill him".
  • Tolkien has a similar prophecy theme in The Silmarillion. One involves the death of Huan, the Hound of Valinor, which will happen only when he fights the greatest wolf ever to live. So at one point Sauron the shape-shifter (yes, that Sauron) decides to try to play the prophecy by turning into the greatest wolf in the world... and it doesn't work, because the greatest wolf ever to live won't be around for another three pages or so.
  • In The Light Bearer, a novel about the Roman Empire's conquest of Germania, an evil Germanic warrior is told "you shall not die by the sword." He is killed in the Coliseum by the female protagonist, who strangles him with her own hair.
  • One of the Star Trek: New Frontier books does a variation on the old "No man can defeat you" one: "No man or woman" can defeat the Big Bad, but one member of the Excalibur crew is a hermaphrodite.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, the Genre Savvy Godmother Elena and her army of Champions know at least three ways to get around a "No Man Shall Enter" clause—send a woman, send a fairy, or have someone change his name to "Noman." Notable in that the spellcaster meant to say "No One Shall Enter", but The Tradition altered the words as he said them, to leave a loophole.
  • From Discworld:

Legend said that any mortal man who read more than a few lines of the original copy of the Necrotelicomnicon would die insane. This was certainly true. Legend also said that the book contained illustrations that would make a strong man's brain dribble out of his ears. This was probably true too. Legend went on to say that merely opening the Necrotelicomnicon would cause a man's flesh to crawl off his hand and up his arm. No one actually knew if this was true, but it sounded horrible enough to be true and no one was about to try any experiments. Legend had a lot to say about the Necrotelicomnicon, in fact, but absolutely nothing to say about orang-utans, who could tear the book into little bits and chew it for all legend cared. The worst that had ever happened to the Librarian after looking at it was a mild migraine and a touch of eczema.

    • Upon his oath, Sergeant Jack Jackrum of Monstrous Regiment is not a dishonest man. Or any kind of man at all.
  • In The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, the titular curse can be broken only by someone who would lay down his life three times for the royal family. When Cazaril breaks the curse, there turn out to be two distinct twists involved. More obviously, he doesn't have to die as the result of laying down his life, just to expect that he will. More subtly, it's sufficient if the person he lays down his life for eventually becomes a member of the royal family: the first time he lays down his life, it's for the princess's future husband, before they even meet. And most interestingly, it's not just a prophecy for prophecy's sake: it's necessary. As Cazaril realizes, this has to happen "for the practice," so that when the important events occur, he's not freaking out about dying.
  • In the final book of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, a prophecy states that the Big Bad will be vanquished only when such things as "rivers burn with frozen fire", "night turn to noon", and "mute stone and voiceless rock to speak" occur. Some characters set a natural dam on fire to melt a frozen waterfall, another uses magic to light up an entire valley in the middle of the night, and they are clued to the location of the lost Empathic Weapon needed to do the deed by the sounds of the wind blowing through hollowed-out rocks.
  • In Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen, one character threatens to slay another "not by day or night, neither with the staff nor with the bow, neither with the palm of the hand nor with the fist, neither with the wet nor with the dry." This is said to be a repeat of an old prophecy in which the god Indra slew the demon Namuci "in the morning twilight, by sprinkling over him the foam of the sea." The repeat comes true when its target is asphyxiated by the foam of a fire extinguisher at sunset.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle there's an entire poem (that a couple of the characters take to be a regular spell but Howl realizes is a curse) of things that must happen before the Witch of the Waste can locate him. They all eventually come true, frequently by Sophie accidentally making things happen in unexpected ways. The poem is Song, by John Donne. Though it's a good thing Howl stops the third verse from being read.
  • The Big Bad of K.A. Applegate's Everworld series, Senna, never heard the prophecy that claimed that "no man's sword or arrow" would kill her, but it still worked out when she was killed by her half sister with an upgraded Swiss Army Knife.
  • This is quite literally the plot of Moonsword by Diana Hignutt. A druidic prophecy states that "no man and no born woman" can wield the Applied Phlebotinum which will kill a demon, so the druids turn The Messiah into a woman much to his chagrin. Les Yay ensues.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Azazel stories, one person is supposed to die one year after accepting some important position. His friend calls the eponymous demon, and the latter makes it so nothing on Earth can harm him. After the person sees it, he accepts the position. One year passes and he gets a meteorite through his heart.
  • In Kate Eliott's Crown of Stars series, Sanglant cannot be killed by 'any creature, male or female'. He ends up getting run over and killed by an out of control wagon being driven by a hermaphrodite. He got better.
  • Inverted in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, in which a trap of this nature is used to lure the heroes into becoming the villain's MacGuffin Delivery Service by means of a prophecy purporting to offer the means to defeat the Storm King. Near the end, a Eureka Moment reveals the truth: the prophecy is actually written for the Storm King, telling him how to return to power. Cue a massive, collective Oh Crap on the part of the heroes and a delicious You Are Too Late moment from the villains.
  • In the Wheel of Time series, there are two seemingly contradictory prophecies surrounding The Stone of Tear, a massive fortress that has never been breached. The first says the Stone will never fall until the People of the Dragon come to it, while the second says the it will never fall until the Dragon Reborn wields Callandor, a "sword that is not a sword" which is housed within the Heart of the Stone. So why would the Dragon ever be allowed inside the Stone if it is destined to fall after his people come, but how can the Dragon gets his hands on Callandor without the fortress it's inside falling to people under his command? By sneaking in. The Aiel, known historically as the People of the Dragon even though almost no one remembers that, raid it on the same night. Both prophecies are fulfilled at the same time: Rand takes Callandor, proving that he is the true Dragon Reborn, and the Aiel are able to capture the Stone, revealing them to be the People of the Dragon.
  • In the Diablo Expanded Universe novel Demonsbane, the Big Bad has a glyph on itself that makes it invincible to all living creatures. The twist, then, is that the hero of the novel turns out to have been Dead All Along.
  • Simon R. Green has used this trope at least twice, in Winner Take All and Shadows Fall. Both times it's invoked with the same loophole, in that an entity foretold to be unstoppable by any foe, living or dead, gets its ass handed to it by an undead hero.
  • The mages who sealed the portal that contains Takhisis in the Dragonlance world mandated the a white (good) robed magic user, and black (evil) robed magic user and a kender had to work together for it to open, assuming good can't work with evil, evil with good, and nobody works well with kender.
  • A story within a story, set in Megan Whalen Turner's Kingof Attolia tells of a deal a man made with the moon to allow the area to become prosperous, and in return, he'd cover the hills with silver. She agrees on the condition he never lies by moonlight. The silver is olive trees, which have silvery leaves, which then feed the starving people in the area, directly and indirectly. The man becomes famous for his honesty. When he is about to tell a lie in the moon's light, a friend bashes him on the head. The king accepts that the trees will die, but the moon says he told no lie.
  • In the Net of Dreams has a villain who is protected from "stone and steel, iron and incantation", and "any poison administered by the hand of man". He is killed when a female dancer ejects a poisoned ruby from her umbilicus into his wine glass. She specifically uses this method so that even if the 'man' part of the protection applies to all humans, she did not use her hand to deliver the poison.
  • The Roger Zelazny story The Bells of Shoredan features a prophecy to the effect that "eyes will never see the weapon" that will kill a particular character. He is killed by an assassin with an invisible sword.
  • Amusingly played with Mary Gentle's Grunts!:

Orc Sergeant-Major: (after trying and failing to sort out a disorganized group of stragglers by TO&E) Right, let's keep this simple! Live orcs stand on the left! Dead orcs piled on the right!
(the dead ones are piled up on the right, and then move left -- leaving several squads of orcs standing in the original spot)
Orc: Undead orcs, sergeant-major! Animated after last night's battle by a necromancer of unknown provenance, sergeant-major!
Sergeant-Major: (Face Palm) Live orcs on the left. Dead ones on the right. (sighs) Undead ones in the center.

Live Action TV

  • Revelations: When a mystically empowered villain boasts that he "shall not age a day, miss a target or receive a wound until a dozen angels sheer their wings into the sea and it weeps tears of gold back up to heaven," Damien sneers and throws him into a vat of wet concrete. "Guess you better hope that happens, then," is all Damien bothers to say about the prophecy as the immortal magician is trapped inside.
    • Interesting, particularly, in that this is a typical way of causing a Prophecy Twist, but unexpected once another "escape clause" has been mentioned.
  • In season 3 of Angel, a prophecy states that Darla's baby will not be born. The prophecy comes true when she stakes herself to dust, leaving the baby behind. The trope namer is even mentioned in the following episode -- "Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverts this one. Of the Judge, it's said that "No Weapon Forged Can Defeat Him". But that was descriptive, not prescriptive, and predates hundreds of years of weapons development.

The Judge: You're a fool. No weapon forged can stop me.
Buffy: That was then.
Buffy shoulders an anti-tank rocket.
Buffy: This is now.
The Judge: [confused] What's that do?

  • A very Macbeth like example in The Sarah Jane Adventures at the climax of the "Secrets of the Stars" story. The villain is using ancient astrological magic to mind-control everyone in the world one star-sign of birth at a time. Pity that Luke is an artificial human being who was never "born" in the usual way.
  • In the Merlin mini-series, Vortigern consults a soothsayer to find out why his castle keeps falling. The Soothsayer (taking false information from Mab) tells him to mix the blood of a man with no mortal father into his mortar and the castle will stand. Merlin, who was the only candidate found, knows that there's a spring under the castle, so he's basically building on water.
  • One Blood Ties episode featured Pandora's Box, which no living person can resist opening. Since Henry, as a vampire, isn't a living person, the box doesn't affect him.
  • Discussed in one episode of Bones, when Bones and Booth discuss whether they could catch each other if one of them committed a murder. Booth boasts "I always get my man," and Bones replies smugly, "I am a woman."


  • The Riddle Song is composed of four of these:
    • A cherry that has no stone: A cherry blossom.
    • A chicken that has no bone: An unborn, or "pipping", chicken.
    • A ring that has no end: The ring is rolling.
    • A baby that is not crying: The baby is asleep. (Easily the weakest of the four)
  • There's a song where a woman sings she will not marry until streams run uphill, and a few other conditions. Of course, she then falls in love, and finds her conditions are met.


  • Althaea, from Greek myth, was told by the Fates that her newborn son Meleager wouldn't live any longer than it took the log in her hearth to burn up. She smothered the log, preserving his life. Decades later, when Meleager murdered someone, she threw it in the fire. Meleager died once it was consumed.
  • In the fourth branch of the Mabinogion, this is literally Lleu Llaw Gyffes' entire life, more or less. His mother, Arianrhod, curses him so that he can't be named or receive arms, until she does it, and that he can't have a wife of any race that walks the earth. At this point, his uncle Gwydion tricks her into naming and arming him, and creates a wife out of flowers for him. His death can occur only while he is neither inside nor outside a house, neither on foot nor on a horse, neither clothed nor naked, neither by day nor by night and with no weapon lawfully made. He ends up being impaled in a failed attempt on his life by his wife's lover Gronw Pebl while standing clothed in a net, with one foot in a bath and another on a goat, in a thatched, wall-less bathhouse at dusk. The spear used was forged every Sunday for a year - hence 'unlawfully made'. He eventually gets his revenge on Gronw by impaling him on the same spear - right through a boulder Gronw was using as a shield.
  • Agamemnon couldn't be killed in his house or out of it, naked or clothed, feasting or fasting. He was killed in his bath house, covered with a net, while eating an apple. The name for such a condition is "liminality", being between two different or contradictory states.
  • In Hinduism, the Asura Hiranyakashipu, who was granted a boon by Brahma that made him unkillable by human, deva, or animal, during night and day, by anything animate or inanimate, on earth or space, inside or outside. He was slain by Vishnu's avatar Narasimha, a demigod with a lion's head (the avatar's name means "Man-lion"), at twilight (neither night nor day) by being disemboweled with Narasimha's claws (neither animate nor inaminate) and having his guts spilled into Narasimha's lap (neither earth nor space) on the threshold of a courtyard (neither indoors nor out). Vishnu also surprised the Asura by hiding in a pillar and bursting out of it. That was not part of the prophecy; Vishnu is just that Badass.
    • Also, in Ramayana, the rakshasa king Ravana asked Brahma for invulnerability to gods, spirits and animals—but not humans, because he wasn't afraid of them. He was subsequently killed by Rama, a human Avatar of Vishnu.
    • Perhaps the oldest version of "It is fated that no man can kill me so I got killed by a woman" (older than the The Lord of the Rings version) is the Hindu myth of Mahishasura and Durga. Mahishasura received a boon from Brahma that stated that he could not be defeated by any man or god, including Brahma himself. After defeating the great trinity (Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu), it would seem that no one could defeat him until, of course, the three of them sent their "divine feminine force" to Shiva's wife, Parvati, transforming her into the Badass Action Mom and Hot Amazon (it is stated that she is very beautiful) Durga. Needless to say, being a woman and being so Badass, she easily defeats Mahishasura.
      • Also involving her is the Hindu myth of the battle with the asura Raktabija, who received a boon that any blood spilled by him would become another copy of himself. After defeating the trinity (again), he fought Durga. When she was unable to kill him, her rage spawned her into becoming Kali, the even more Badass version of herself. After drinking all of Raktabija's blood, therefore spilling none, she went into a crazy frenzy, and began a dance so powerful it threatened to split the earth itself apart. She calmed down only when she accidentally stepped on her husband, Shiva, and wounded him. Realizing what she had done to her love, Kali bit her tongue in shame and quelled her fury.
  • A Polish legend tells of a nobleman called Twardowski, who made a deal with the devil to gain magical skills. In exchange, the devil had agreed for Twardowski to give over his soul when he visits Rome. Of course, for many years afterwards, Twardowski didn't even get close to Rome. His career ended, though, when he visited a certain inn: the devil then popped up and pointed out that the inn was called... guess what.
    • A followup legend has Twardowski tricking the devil into three last demands. The last one is for the devil to live with Twardowski's wife after he's taken to Hell for a year. The devil high-tails it.
      • Ain't no legend! It's a poem.
    • In another version, his initial wish was to visit the Moon, but forgot it due to all the other great places the devil took him. However, when the devil was about to take his soul, he reminded him of the original wish, and since the Moon is a heavenly body, denied of demonic creatures, the devil was forced to break the bargain. The man still ended up on the Moon, somehow, and apparently became immortal in the process.
    • Alternately, as he's being dragged down to Hell, Twardowski remembers a song about the Virgin Mary his mother used to sing to him. He sings the song and the Devil has to let go due to the holiness of the song. God then puts Twardowski on the moon because even though he used this deal with the Devil to do good things for people, he still sold his soul and can't get into Heaven.
  • In Norse Mythology, Baldr and his mother Frigg had dreams of his death which they took as prophetic. Frigg, in a display of motherly concern, extracted promises from just about everything on earth that they would not harm him (Baldr was pretty popular). However, she neglected to ask mistletoe, either considering it too young or too nonthreatening to pose a threat. Then all the gods thought it would be terribly clever to have fun throwing things at Baldr that would normally kill him but now wouldn't. Loki, being a complete bastard, made a spear out of mistletoe, gave it to Baldr's blind brother and had him kill Baldr with it.
    • Then all the gods went to the underworld, and asked Hel, goddess of the Underworld, to let him come back to life. She said that she would do it only if they could get literally every living thing on the planet to say that they wanted him back. So they go around and eventually get everyone except for one person to agree. They go to this person, who is actually Loki in disguise, and ask him. And Loki tells them to fuck off. He was pretty much the biggest dick in all of mythology, so much so that Ragnarök is basically caused by him being such a bastard that it breaks the world.
    • Note, however, that the Lokasenna implies that Loki was such a tremendous dick to everyone because they all treated him like crap. Other legends tend to support this - Loki was half giant, and the other gods always looked down on him and abused him for that reason, leading him to choose the side of the Giants come Ragnarok.
  • There's a story about the siege of Troy in which it was prophesied that the first Greek to land on Troy's beach would be killed. Odysseus solves that problem by tossing out a shield and jumping on that instead, tricking other men to jump behind him.
    • In a different version of that story, there isn't a twist; instead Protesilaus jumps out anyway because he knows he'll have immortal fame for the deed.
  • Older Than Dirt: In Egyptian mythology, The Sun God Ra decrees that Geb and Nut (God of the Earth and Goddess of the Sky) will be unable to conceive children on any day of the year, for fear that their children will be powerful enough to usurp his place as the king of Egypt. Thoth, God of Wisdom, later tricked him into gambling away a small amount of his sunlight every day, until by the end of the year, Thoth had saved up enough light to add five days to the calendar. Nut bore Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nepthys on four of these five days. Isis would go on to learn Ra's true name, gaining great power over him.
  • The giants Otos and Ephialtes could not be killed by anyone else. Indeed, Zeus' thunderbolt bounced off them. They tried to storm Olympus and take it over. After Apollo figured it out, he had Artemis turn into a deer and run between them. The brothers threw their spears, missed, and killed each other.
  • It was prophecied that the son of the goddess Thetis would be greater than his father, so Zeus, remembering what happened to his father, and his grandfather, realized it was a bad idea for him to mate with her. In what must have been an epic show of self control from Mr. Can't-Keep-It-In-His-Chiton, he decided to get her hitched with the mortal Peleus. The result was the nigh-invincible, but still mortal Achilles.
  • In Celtic Mythology, Cú Chulainn is immune to a curse that renders all fighting men of Ulster crippled for nine days and nights when needed most, owing to the fact that he is not an Ulsterman, and is technically still a boy, anyway. Thus, when Medb invades, he remains as Ulster's defender.

Newspaper Comics

Hagar: I'm the rough and tough Hagar the Horrible, and I don't take any grief from any man!
Helga: How about taking out the garbage for your wife?

Professional Wrestling

  • In WWE, there is a sure fire to get your ass kicked: Go to the ring, and at any point in your speech say the words "no living man can beat me"


  • Played with and mixed with False Reassurance on Adventures in Odyssey: A trickster dressed as an Indian medicine man comes to Whit's End and prophesies to Connie, Eugene, and Lucy that Whit will die when four things happen that sound impossible:
    • "flying horses made of rock" (Connie's soft rock album by the group Pegasus)
    • "from a pit that can swallow a man, comes a pit that a man can swallow" (Whit's End receives a large delivery of cherries, which contain pits that a man can swallow and grow from a tree in a pit big enough for a man to fall into)
    • "water traveling up" (a new satellite dish, made by Aqueous Technologies, is hoisted onto the roof)
    • "forest comes to building" (Nathan Forest, a radio station manager, comes to Whit's End)

Tabletop Games

  • In one Tabletop RPG, it was foretold that "No hostile man would ever invade the empire's borders." What the PCs did not realize that there was an Amazon tribe that used women as warriors.
  • Similarly in Warhammer 40,000 the church was forbidden "Men under arms" which lead to them adopting the Sisters of Battle as their official military arm.


  • Trope Namer: In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the witches tell Macbeth he can only be defeated when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill, and also that none of woman born can harm him (hence the name of the trope). He ends up being defeated by an army that chops down the wood and carries it with them to conceal their numbers, and killed by Macduff, who was born by Caesarean (which meant that, in Elizabethan times, he would not have been considered to have been "born" in the same sense as most men.) Apocryphally, a young Tolkien decided that this was cheating. In the modern-day adaptation, different things are used.
    • In the recent BBC adaptation, the quote is "pigs will fly"; Macbeth is stabbed after the police land on the building in a helicopter.
    • Oddly, the original quote is hardly translatable into French. So the French version actually says "no man of woman born". Tolkien shows you how many possibilities you have then.
  • Staying with Shakespeare, a minor plot point in 2 Henry IV is a prophecy saying King Henry "should not die but in Jerusalem", which he takes to mean he will die on Crusade. He falls ill before he gets the chance, and dies peacefully in his bed ... in the Jerusalem Chamber at his palace.
  • Once Upon a Mattress: The musical comedy is set in a land ruled by Queen Aggravain and her husband King Sextimus the Silent—King Sextimus being cursed to remain mute until "the mouse devours the hawk". Attempts are made at forcing the conditions in a literal fashion, but the curse is only reversed when the meek and mousy Prince Dauntless the Drab finally stands up to his vicious and overbearing mother Aggravain.
  • In Pushkin's Scenes from a time of Knights, the main hero, after an unsuccessful rebellion against evil knights is condemned to imprisonment "until the wall of this castle will go in the air and blow away." Then his friend, a monk, invents gunpowder...
  • In Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, the Baronets of Ruddigore have been cursed since time immemorial to commit a crime every day, or else die in frightful agony. The latest Baronet Logic Bombs the curse simply by being aware of it but ignoring it—since wilfully defying the curse amounts to attempting suicide, which is a crime...

Video Games

  • In Odin Sphere, a prophecy tells the player which enemy each of the characters should face in the final Boss Rush to get the good ending, each element being one of these and detailing which character to use to thwart each disaster. In the order they are carried out...
    • "A fiery six-eyed beast speeds the guiding hand of salvation. The one who removes the torment is mine own son." The beast was once Gallon, who used Darkova to become a tainted form only to be struck down by his son, Edmund. The new incarnation is Ingway, and for him to be calmed and released from his own hunger for human flesh, his rival for Velvet - Cornelius - must put him to rest. While those who know of Oswald's heritage might put him against the new Darkova, Ingway will have no taste for Pooka flesh.
    • "The Lord of the Netherworld emerges in a triumphant march of death. One that threatens the darkness is the shadow of the lost master." With Queen Odette slain, the Halja thirst for command and see it fit to unshackle Gallon. The old beast emerges to savage the land once more. The Halja will be sure to claim any before them as a last act of revenge... but lack the nerve to defy Odette, whose last vestiges of power inhabit Oswald's Belderiver. Oswald fulfills two prophecies at once, as Gallon is also Darkova.
    • "The looming blaze cometh, burning down the forests. The flood of fire that man cannot withstand is halted by the world tree and vanishes." King Onyx, his home in Volkanon extinguished by Armageddon's ravages, travels to Ringford to buy his people more time and sets the fairy's home ablaze. Do not feel ashamed at being trumped by this one - even Onyx believes no world tree exists. However, those who were observant noticed that Elfaria and Melvin had True Names - Fimbulvetr and Nidhogg, respectively. With that knowledge, it is prudent that Mercedes has one as well - Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Pit the two against each other, and they will strike each other dead.
    • "Though blades and arrows are unleashed, the flooding fire cannot be stopped. It can only be chained." This refers to the chain Psypher, Graveryl, and its wielder, Velvet. She managed to use Titrel to shut down the Cauldron and avert Armageddon; clearly, it is best if she finishes the job.
    • "The Lord of Snakes consumes all left behind. Born in chaos and fire, sleep in mother's arms, life disappears from the land, all comes to an end." There are three women in the party, but two are already indisposed with other tragedies. The mother in this case refers to Eve, the mother of humanity - and since Velvet is cursed and Mercedes slain, it falls on Gwendolyn to repeat her victory against the Lord of Snakes - Leventhan.
  • Yves the Tale-Chaser in Planescape: Torment can tell a story of a man who received a terrifying blessing from his hag mother: anyone who struck him would die instantly. For a long time he reveled in his invincibility, picking fights and goading people into attacking him, until the Mercykillers captured him (with nets) and sentenced him to death. Of course he scoffed at that, because there was no one who would try to execute him. They lowered him into a pit where he couldn't fight anyone and gave him a cup of poison, but he refused to take it, and laughed that they couldn't kill him that easily. Then he realized they weren't feeding him anymore...
  • One of the books in The Elder Scrolls Morrowind tells the story of a Dark Elven noble named Andas, of whom it was prophesied that "his blood shall never be spilled", and that he cannot be killed by magic, illness, or poison. Indeed, the prophecy seems to come true, leading people to call Andas "The Hope Of The Redoran," in accordance with the wording of the prophecy. When he grows up, he lords this over his friends and peers as a sign of his superiority in combat, and it gives him the arrogance to challenge his cousin Athyn to a duel for an important political position. It ends with Athyn beating Andas to death with a quarterstaff, after Athyn's combat instructor gave him the idea. (Up until then, Athyn had been despairing.)
  • In the text game of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur must have both tea and no tea, and present them at the same time to a door for it to open. The computer mocks him constantly about the impossibility of the situation. The way you do this is by going into your own mind and removing your common sense, at which point you can simply type "get no tea" and the puzzle is solved.
  • At the beginning of the Microprose adventure game Dragonsphere the protagonist receives an amulet that can only be invoked by a man already dead. The presenter even points out that this makes it pretty useless and that it's just meant as an Symbol of "Wish you luck!".
    • When the King's treacherous brother confronts the Hero for the finale, he helpfully taunts: "You don't even know how to hold a sword. You are already dead!"
  • In an event leading up to the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft, the Darkspear trolls and their allies try to liberate the Echo Isles from the control of the witch doctor Zalazane. When he's finally run to ground, Zalazane boasts that the magical barrier around him can't be breached by any living thing. Cue the laughter of Baron Samedi Bwonsamdi, a powerful spirit of the dead...[1]
  • In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Cesare Borgia tries pulling this... so Ezio drops him off a wall.

Web Comics

Baltimore: Well heroes, I'm impressed that you've made it this far. But all for naught! For you see, no mortal man --
Kiki and Darklight, female mages : Ahem!
Baltimore: -- or woman... can strike me down!

Western Animation

  • Most of the spells used in Gargoyles have escape clauses like this. However, the first example in the series is actually a subversion: the spell that traps the gargoyles in stone stasis will not end "until the castle rises above the clouds," which seems primed for a No Man of Woman Born twist resolution. Instead, David Xanatos buys the whole thing, dismantles it, ships it to New York, and reassembles it at the top of a skyscraper tall enough to literally raise the castle above the clouds, in a sort of Magic A Is Magic A version of Screw the Rules, I Have Money.
    • Nor is this the only time that he uses the application of modern technology and a lot of money to create a literal solution to a figurative problem. In "City of Stone" he enlists the gargoyles to help him lace the sky above Manhattan with flammable gas and set it on fire in order to break Demona's spell of petrification, which can only end "when the sky burns."
    • Meanwhile, "The Price" presents a straight use of the trope when Xanatos obtains a magic cauldron with the power to make the person who bathes in it live "as long as the mountain stones." Which is true, for a certain value of "live". However, Xanatos and company were Genre Savvy enough to suspect a twist. They wanted to test it on Hudson, but he escapes, so Owen tests it with his arm. It emerges from the cauldron solid stone.
    • Due to magical meddling, neither Macbeth (a human) nor Demona (a gargoyle) can die unless they perform a Mutual Kill on each other. While the correlation is never made explicit, this means that Macbeth cannot be killed by "one of woman born" because gargoyles hatch from eggs. Weisman has stated that this was the original reason for the pair's immortality, but was scrapped for some reason (if memory serves, it was one of those "one more things that needs to be explained").
  • In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Seer No Evil", the Rangers get a set of predictions from a gypsy moth named Cassandra. Chip's was the most elaborate, and the most ominous: "Before the next sun rises, Chip will follow a bear with two tails who will dance with a tiger. He will fall from a circle of light, and only a flying horse can save him. Finally, he will walk under an elephant, and the trunk will fall, and... *slashes throat* then, all is darkness!" As the Rangers investigate their next case, all the predictions start coming true, one by one. And just when Chip thinks he's avoided his fate by walking under an elephant, a steamer trunk lands on him. Luckily, he's saved by a Prophecy Twist when he slips through a hole in the floor and so ends up underneath it, where it is very dark. The throat slashing gesture was made by a bad guy.
  • In one episode of Biker Mice From Mars, a reality-shifting experiment resulted in a Macbeth spoof:

"Where is the one not born from a woman?"
"My mother was a mouse!"

  • In the animated version of The Mummy, Alex and his presumably male companion were faced with a challenge: A bridge that had many giant axes attached to pendulums swinging across them. An inscription near the bridge declared that "No man could pass alive." Naturally, Alex's companion turned out to be female.
  • In Disney's Ariel, a curse of a werefish can be healed by "living silver." It turns out that silverfishes qualify.
  • An episode of Batman the Animated Series features Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn fleeing in a car and boasting that "no man can take us prisoner!" Unfortunately for them, at that moment officer Renee Montoya appears and arrests them both.
  • On Codename: Kids Next Door, Heinrich's kidnapper Black John Licorice declares, "No man has ever out-sugared Black John Licorice!" Stickybeard smirks, "Now, who said anything about a man?" before revealing his challenger as Numbuh 5. It proves true anyways though; she doesn't out-sugar him, she just keeps the contest going long enough for the sun to rise and activate their curse.
  • On The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Straw Feminist bank robber Femme Fatale robs the Townsville Bank of all its Susan B. Anthony coins. As she leaves, she boasts there is "not a man alive who can stop [her]." This cues the Powerpuff Girls arrival, and she clearly realizes she's in trouble.
    • There's a variant in another episode: HIM put the girls up to various challenges, including forcing them to "make everyone in Townsville cry", hoping they would do something bad enough it made them literally cry. They end up making it rain, which made it look like the citizens were crying.
  • The Phineas and Ferb episode "The Doof Side of the Moon" revolves around a building that the boys built in the backyard; at one point, a minor character assures Candace that "There's no force on Earth" that could move the building. What ends up moving the building? The moon.

Other Media

  • There is a Russian story about some lad who is stuck in a foreign land until his new boots (received at entrance) are gone, but they cannot be worn out, burned, or thrown away. The lad gets rid of them by feeding them to the host.
    • I wonder why he didn't just cut them up.
      • Or sell them -- he is, after all, only prevented from giving them away.
  • French folklore is full of tales about canny peasants outwitting Satan at his own game, essentially through the use of this trope.
    • For example, one story tells of a peasant who, in the middle of the worst famine the country's ever seen, asked the Devil to make his lands rich and fertile for one year. The Devil agrees, on the condition that he gets everything that's above the ground, but the peasant plants carrots. Furious, the Devil comes back and says he'll make the land fertile for one more year, on the condition that he gets everything grown below the ground. Of course, this time the peasant plants corn. Fed up, the devil agrees to a final deal: he'll make things grow miraculously, but at the end of the year he gets everything above the ground AND everything under it. So the peasant plants trees, and hunts in the forest...
      • The animals he's hunting are above the ground.
        • The animals aren't anywhere on the day that the Devil comes to collect the year's rent, because they're already cooked and eaten. And he can take all the trees he wants, they've already served their purpose.
    • In Quebec, a similar tale involves a bet between the Archangel Michael and Satan, where the farmers of Quebec and their crops are the object of the bet.
    • Another example has the devil appearing in a town and challenging the inhabitants to bring him a clock he cannot fix. No matter the state of the clocks they bring, the devil is able to fix them, even making missing parts appear out of thin air. Finally, one person brings him a clock that works perfectly, which means there is nothing for the devil to fix.
      • He could have broken it before fixing it.
      • But the clock was already brought to him before he could broke it.
    • Another one: The Devil builds for a town a indestructible bridge in one night onto a river that destroyed all previous ones, in exchange for the soul of the first one to walk on it. Naturally, the mayor makes his dog pass first, since, As You Know, dogs have no soul.
  • Devil's Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale, England. Legend holds that the Devil appeared to an old woman, promising to build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. When the bridge was finished the woman threw bread over the bridge and her dog chased after it, thereby outwitting the Devil.
    • There are several similar legends all over the place, for instance also about the building of the chapel palatine (now cathedral) of Aachen. Here they chased a she-wolf inside when it was finished.
    • And in Quebec just about any bridge or church has at least even odds of invoking a similar legend - either an animal cross first, or the Devil specify in the contract "First soul to enter the completed church" and the priest decide that he can make-do with a church that's missing just the one stone.
  • There's a widespread fairy tale ("Clever Greta" is one title) in which a ruler is determined to throw a man into prison for some reason. However, he will let the man off if his famously clever daughter can show up "neither clothed nor naked, neither walking nor riding, not on the road but not off it, and bearing a gift that is not a gift." The exact terms vary. The answer to this version is: wrapped in a fishing net, one leg thrown over the back of a goat that is walking in a huge rut, with a fly in a basket that flies away as soon as the lid is taken off. Some versions add that the ruler is so impressed that he marries her. She uses her wits to help someone challenge one of his verdicts, so he kicks her out in a rage, saying that she can take whatever she likes most from his palace, but it's over. She hosts a farewell dinner in her chambers, then leaves in the carriage with a fat roll of carpet. The ruler wakes up the next morning, hung over, in her father's farmhouse. Well, he said she could take what was most precious! Charmed, he forgives her and takes her back.
  • The ancient Aztecs had a prophecy stating that their greatest capital would be built at a place where an eagle was sitting on a cactus and holding a snake in its mouth - possible things, but looking for it would be like a needle in a haystack. Eventually, they finally found it, and it became the site of Tenochtitlan. The Mexican flag has a picture of this on it. One tiny snag though - it happened on a rock in the middle of a lake. So they built the city on the lake.
  • There is a legend that Seleucus I Nicator was warned by the oracle to avoid Argos. He avoided all cities with that name. However, he failed to avoid every single altar with that name...
  • The Roman Emperor Dommitian believed a prophecy that said he would die at noon on a certain day. On that day, he locked himself in his room with a servant and allowed no one to enter. He asked the servant several times what time it was (Roman hours depended on sunrise and sunset, so it could be difficult to tell), but the servant lied and said it was past the hour he was fated to die. Relieved, Domitian allowed other people in the room. One of them was the assassin who killed him, almost precisely at noon.
  1. Oddly, due to either an Obvious Rule Patch or a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, neither Death Knights nor the Forsaken can breach the barrier, despite being undead and thus not living things.