Prophecy Twist

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"Prophecy. Great. Because those always go so well."
Angel, Angel

Prophecies are funny things. They always come true (except when they don't), but they almost never mean what you thought they did.

It's even worse when you think you have them figured out.

Half the time they work much like a Literal Genie. A prophecy may seem to predict the death of a character, or of a set of characters, or The End of the World as We Know It, but then it turns out that there's some other reason for such-and-such to occur. (Like if a character "isn't coming back" from some sojourn to, say, The Future, they may survive, but then stay in the future.)

The other half are impossibly cryptic, often using incredibly flowery metaphors. "The sun will rise on Christmas Day" has an obvious literal interpretation, but the sun in question might actually be the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, an H-bomb, or the British tabloid. It might, through standard symbolism, mean gold, or something golden, love in general or a particular pair of lovers. It could refer to Japan, Uruguay or the Jesuits, all of whom use a sun in their flag. It could be any of a thousand things. And if it's spoken rather than written that opens up situations where the prophecy refers to the son rather than the sun.

Rise too has multiple meanings, and there are several possible dates for Christmas. If the prophecy is said to be a translation, there's additional room for obscurity. Perhaps rise should be raise - the same word in some languages. Perhaps the real meaning involves trilingual puns, or Hittite idioms. The technical term for the little "twist" in such a prophecy (or any riddle, contract, etc) is "quibble".

Ambiguous Syntax can be another technique: in "The duke yet lives who the king shall betray," will the king betray the duke, or the duke the king? And since most prohecies are spoken, there is always the possibility that it was simply misheard. Remember, when it comes to prophecy, homonyms are definitely not your friends. If the prophecy is old enough to have been recorded in a dead language, the original wording may also be forgotten, replaced by a less-clear translation.

In any case, the prophecies generally rely on a heaping dose of Double Meanings to give them their ambiguous nature.

Sometimes, of course, the most literal meaning is correct. Such an instance can still be a meta-Twist if the witnesses to the prophecy's proclamation suspect a twist.

Deciding what the prophecy actually meant, and whether it's literal or deeply cryptic, is then impossible until after it has happened, which is part of the mechanism of many Self Fulfilling Prophecies. It's because no one understood the real meaning that the attempts to avert it made it come true.

This is Older Than Feudalism; the "cryptic" prophecy was a staple of ancient Greek Mythology.

See also No Man of Woman Born. For when the "real meaning" relies on an extremely dubious interpretation (beyond what a reasonable person would consider valid) of the original prophecy, see From a Certain Point of View.

Since the mere fact that there is a twist to a prophecy is often a spoiler, feel free to turn back at this point.

Examples of Prophecy Twist include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Fuu, Umi and Hikaru of Magic Knight Rayearth must fulfill an ancient prophecy—but what they think they have to do and what they actually must do are two very, very different things.
  • The manga of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had Lucia raised as a civilian, in the human world no less, because it was foreseen that she would see great hardship as the sea kingdoms were destroyed. Of course, it happened anyway, and she turned out all right. The anime didn't even include the prophecy and gave her a normal princess life.
  • The entire main plot of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS is based around this, with the military unit the characters serve in being formed to prevent a seemingly apocalyptic prophecy. As it turns out, they interpreted the prophecy correct in some areas (the "Tower of Law being burned to the ground" referring to the TSAB Ground Forces HQ being attacked and wrecked), but got another part wrong: the "ship of Law that protects the stars" doesn't refer to the TSAB's fleet and space base, but rather to the Saint's Cradle, a massive warship from the ancient Kingdom of Belka. It's co-opted by the Big Bad near the end, and the last few episodes are the protagonists going all out to stop it...which they succeed in disabling, allowing the Cradle to be vaporized in orbit by the combined TSAB fleet sent to stop it.
  • Pokemon 2000 has this in the line of a prophecy: "And all the world will turn to ash. Ash Ketchum, that is...
  • Part 3 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure introduces us to Boingo, user of the Thoth Stand, which can predict the future. Of course, it's subject to this. In his first appearance, it predicts Jotaro will be blown up with a bomb disguised as an orange. His brother Oingo, disguised as Jotaro through his own Stand, gets stuck with the bomb. Later, he is forced to team up with Hol Horse, and has a prophecy that says "At 12:00, the bullets go through the head!", complete with a picture of Jotaro getting shot. Hol Horse follows the prophecy's prediction, but his watch is fast and he fires the bullets too early. Panicking, he grabs Thoth and holds it up in front of him... at which point the bullets pass through the picture's head and hit him.
  • RG Veda has a particularly tragic example: the prophecy that everyone thinks predicts the overthrow of Big Bad Taishakuten by the Six Stars actually predicts Ashura awakening to his true identity as the god of destruction, killing all of his companions, and annihilating the world. Taishakuten's acts of tyranny had actually been attempts to prevent this from coming to pass. It almost came true, too, except that Ashura couldn't bring himself to kill Yasha-oh, and turned his blade on himself instead.
  • In Chrono Crusade, Mary Magdalene is a seer that has had constant dreams of someone named Chrono would be the one to "take her life". When she meets the person from her dreams and tells him of the prophecy, both assume that it means he'll kill her—but it turns out the prophecy's wording is deceptive. In reality, Chrono literally takes away her lifespan to supply his powers through a demonic contract. It appears he kills her completely (and in the manga he believes that was the case), but her spirit lives on inside the watch that seals his powers, guiding him and Rosette.
  • In Rave Master, Musica sees a vision of Haru stabbing a helpless Ellie with his sword Ten Commandments. The event later plays itself out when Haru is seemingly forced to kill a self-destructing Ellie, but is revealed in the aftermath to have used an alternate form of the sword to merely phase the sword through her body and seal her unstable powers.
  • In the first chapter of Doraemon, the titular character proves he's from the future by predicting that main character Nobita will hang himself in 30 minutes and then be burned alive ten minutes later. Nobita scoffs, but then thirty minutes later, he slips while getting a shuttlecock off the roof and his shirt collar gets caught on a tree branch, making another character joke that he hung himself. Ten minutes later, he falls into a full bathtub and dries himself out in front of a space heater. The phrase "to burn alive" in Japanese is similar to "to warm in front of a fire."
  • One story in Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service involves an actuary with the ability to kill people by luring them into scenarios where he's calculated the odds are greatest they'll die in a freak accident. As he watches our heroes nearly get washed away by a flash flood, he boasts to himself he'd calculated there were good odds he'd be killed in a plane accident today, and had thus put off his planned escape flight. The villain meets his end a few pages later, when he's hit in the eye with a loose screw that fell off a passing airplane.
  • In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the prophecy states that the Earth will be saved by "one garbed in raiment of blue and descending upon a field of gold..." but it didn't say that they would be red clothes drenched in Ohmu blood so much that it dyed them blue, or that the "golden field" would be made of Ohmu tendrils. Or, for that matter, that The Chosen One would be a girl.
  • All the time in Mawaru Penguindrum. Ringo's diary has future events written down, which she claims to be destiny. For example, her diary proclaimed that her and the man she loves would have lunch at 12:30, and he would find it delicious. Therefore, she makes him lunch... but that gets eaten by birds, and so they had to have the food that had been prepared by a third party. Tabuki did indeed find it delicious. How accurate these prophecies are is further muddled in that Ringo directly tries to make the diary's events happen.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Dream Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes sometimes has problems with this; her visions of the future always come true, but she isn't always seeing what she thinks she is. (Invoked in her first appearance, in which "the Legion will die!" turned out to mean "some robot doubles will be destroyed.")
    • Her powers work "literally", in a visual sense. Previsualization, not true precognition. Usually.
  • In Thessaly: Witch For Hire, the Virgin of the Wall prophesies that "nothing and no-one" can kill a Tharmic Null. The solution turns out to be to remove all the souls making up the composite ghost Fetch, then use magic to keep him from just dissolving. Now that he's literally "nothing and no-one", his fighting the Tharmic Null results in both ceasing to exist.
  • In an EC Comics story "Dead Right!", a woman marries a rude, fat slob, because a fortune teller told her, that he will inherit a large amout of money, and die violently soon after. Eventually, she wins twenty-five thousand dollars, and decides to leave her husband. When he hears this, he kills her in a fit of rage. Thus, he inherits her money, and dies violently soon after, when he's executed for her murder.
  • In the Very Special Episode one-shot Shazam: The Power of Hope a disillusioned Captain Marvel is sent from the Wizard Shazam to help several terminally ill, or otherwise afflicted kids in the Fawcett City hospital, predicting he'd be able to bring hope to the kid that needs it the most. After helping out the most desperate of the bunch Captain Marvel realizes that the most needful kid, in a personal Twist Ending, was Billy Batson himself, his human identity, needing to find back his spark to act as a force for good.
  • A gypsy woman predicts that Hieronymus Jobs (from a story illustrated by Wilhelm Busch) "will speak, and many will hear him; he'll scare the thieves and console the ill". Which is why his parents pay for his studies to become a priest. At the end of the story, he'll become instead a nightwatch man.
  • The events in Zita the Spacegirl are kicked off when aliens kidnap Zita's friend because of a prophecy they believe indicates that he'll save their world from a giant meteor. Once we see the prophecy, it turns out to be a visual depiction showing a light emitting from his chest. The events of the picture do come to pass, but the light turns out to be coming from a freshly-repaired robot designed to destroy the meteor that's currently positioned behind him. It only looks like it's coming out of him from the perspective the picture shows and the perspective the aliens see it from.
  • As revealed in the Uncanny X-Men "Flash Back Month" issue, Bolivar Trask's paranoia about a mutant-created Dystopia was increased by his precognitive son, whose visions of a Bad Future seemed to jibe exactly with Trask's fears. Therefore, he built the Sentinels to protect the world from mutants. The future Larry Trask was seeing was actually the "Days of Future Past" setting, a dystopia run by the Sentinels.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Bulletproof Monk features a trio of prophecies that determine the one most worthy to protect a scroll that grants great power. The protagonist monk had already performed these prophecies at the movie's beginning. As the plot progresses, we see the male lead, Kar, perform modern-day versions of the prophecies. The real twist however, is that Kar's Love Interest, Jade, participated in the same events that fulfilled the prophecies for Kar. Thus, at story's end, both become the next guardians of the scroll.
    • Which wallbangingly depends on the fact that the word crane refers to both a bird and a piece of heavy machinery, even though the original prophecy was not made in English.
      • Somewhat justified in that the choice of successor ultimately seems up to the monk. He chose to read a lil leeway into them.
  • From the second Pokémon film: "The world will turn to ash"... which turns out to refer to protagonist Ash Ketchum. In the Japanese version, there is no such wording loophole, so Ash (Satoshi) just says "Screw Destiny."
    • This troper knows of at least one translation that has Misty say to Ash "That's it! Your name! It means "ashes" in English!"
      • At least in the Italian translation, upon Misty's realization Ash just meekly protests about how much he desires to have a less Meaningful Name.
      • That's in English as well. "Right now I kinda wish that my Mom named me Bob instead of Ash."
    • Happens again in the 13th film, Kodai has a vision early in the film of him getting the Time Ripple he's been searching for. Turns out he actually saw himself absorbing an illusion Time Ripple created by Zoroark.
  • The Star Wars prequels are based on one of these, as Anakin Skywalker is prophesied to bring balance to The Force, which the Jedi correctly interpret as destroying the Sith and bringing peace to the galaxy. However, it does not preclude him from falling to the Dark Side, slaughtering his fellow Jedi, and enslaving the galaxy first. And if you accept Expanded Universe material, given the sheer number of dark Force users that pop up, the Prophecy doesn't mention that it stays balanced.
    • In Revenge of the Sith: Anakin has a vision in which Padme dies in childbirth. He falls to the dark side in order to protect her, when Darth Sidious promises him the power to save people from death. His fall causes her to lose the will to live, and she gives birth to the twins and just gives up. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
      • The novelization twists the knife further with a throwaway comment by Padme earlier. When Anakin tells her she will die in childbirth, she points out that she is on Coruscant, with modern medicine, and will not die. If he hadn't turned evil, she would never have gone haring off to find him and ended up in labor on Polis Massa, a mining asteroid in a middle of nowhere.
    • Alternatively, it could be said that it was his betrayal of the Jedi that had "balanced the force". Prior to the betrayal, Jedi far outweighed the Sith; the betrayal evened things out a bit. The mistake of the Jedi was to think balance = good.
      • Word of God has refuted this, stating that the existence of any Sith is an imbalance. Though within the movie itself, Yoda did consider the idea that he might have misinterpreted what the prophecy meant about "balance".
  • In The Thief of Bagdad the prophecy predicts that a tyrant shall be overthrown by the lowest of the low, who appears on a cloud. Pretty much exactly what it says in the prophecy happens, so it's not as much of a twist as some of the other examples, but it's still an example of vague prophecy, since the fact that the prophecy never named the tyrant left the common people thinking it was Ahmad, not the usurping evil vizier Jaffar who is actually tyrannical as opposed to Ahmad's mere incompetence.
  • Lawrence of Arabia: Gasim gets lost in the desert. The Arab army refuses to go after him because "it is written", at which point Lawrence says "Nothing is written" and goes into the desert alone to rescue him. A few days later, Gasim kills a man from another tribe and Lawrence is forced to execute him to prevent a feud. So perhaps it was written after all.
  • In Kung Pow! Enter the Fist, this is lampshaded by the... Samurai Sky Lion... with the exchange:

It's one of those clues you don't get now, but later you'll be like,"Oh, THAT's what he meant by "Stars Above!""

    • And yes, when the French aliens who are actually the Evil Council and Betty's/Lord Pain's puppetmasters show up, he shows up to gloat.
  • A kind of inverted subversion is in the first Lord of the Rings movie: When Aragorn tells Frodo about the Story of Luthien, who gave up her immortality to live a mortal life with the man she loved, Frodo asks him how it turned out. To which Aragorn simply replies "She died."
    • But played straight with the Lord of the Nazgul: "not by the hand of man will he fall". Of course, he is killed by a woman, with help from a Hobbit.
  • Minority Report. There's two major ones there.
  • The Last Unicorn. Haggard's previous magician, Mabruk, tells Haggard "You have let your doom in by the front door, but it will not depart that way!" We assume that he's referring to Amalthea (and maybe that's all that he realizes). But Haggard's doom is actually caused by Lir, who was left on Haggard's doorstep as a baby. If Lir hadn't sacrificed his life, the unicorn would have just gone into the sea and would not have fought back against the Red Bull.
  • Depending on your interpretation of the last scene between Syrena and Philip, Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides may contain this: People say that a sailor who's kissed by a mermaid won't drown. They're right - the mermaids usually eat the sailors after kissing them. And dead men don't drown.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Summerland, Ethan Feld comes to believe that he's The Chosen One picked to save the universe from destruction because of a prophecy from an oracular clam saying "Feld is the wanted one, Feld has the stuff He needs". Later it turns out that "Feld" actually refers to Ethan's father. "Stuff" refers to an experimental chemical that he's developed, which "He" (Coyote, the Big Bad) plans to use to destroy the universe.
  • Subverted in The Prophecy of the Stones ,when everyone(including the girls) interprets the line of the prophecy "one will convince the other two to die" as "one will betray and kill the other two." When Jade learns that it's HER, she declares that she'd never do anything to hurt her friends. But it turns out that the prophecy was pretty darn direct when she discovers that the ONLY way to save the world is for the girls to die... and tells her friends that little fact.
  • In Douglas Adams' Life, The Universe and Everything, the third book in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Arthur Dent learns that he will at one point visit Stavromula Beta, a place no one in the galaxy seems to have heard of. He spends the rest of the series confident that he won't die because he hasn't been to said place until, in Mostly Harmless, he unwittingly stumbles into a night club on Earth owned by a Greek/German man named Stavro Mueller. The second nightclub owned by Stavro Mueller, or, more simply, Stavro Mueller Beta. Arthur is promptly vaporised, along with his daughter, most of his friends, the entire earth and every single version of it in every parallel universe, ever. Of course, it's also important that the person giving the "prophecy" has a very messed-up mouth, so Arthur misheard the name of the place.
  • In Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Woland tells a prophecy in the first chapter of the book. A few pages later, oil is indeed poured and a Berlioz, the main character of the prophecy, decapitated by a young woman. The story goes on without him. Berlioz slips in a puddle of oil and falls under a tram driven by young woman. Oh, and Woland is Satan.
  • In Grace Chetwin's Gom on Windy Mountain books, Gom Gobblechuck was told that he would "never love a mortal maid of Ulm." So of course he falls for an immortal girl from another world.
  • In Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, a prophecy states that six people will defeat the Dark, and then "five shall return, and one go alone". At the end of the series, after the final battle, Merriman goes "outside of time" rather than returning to the mundane world.
  • In Michael Crichton's Sphere, one of the characters notes that the spaceship from the future they're in lists the accident that brought it here as "unexplained". They believe that this means they won't be able to leave the ship and explain it; however, they survive and leave, but use the sphere's power to erase their memories of what happened.
  • In Peter David's Star Trek: New Frontier novel Martyr, the prophecy of a Savior that unites a planet does come true. Every note of it. The twist is, it isn't who anyone thought was the Savior.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's Celydonn series:
    • At the beginning of The Moon and the Thorn, a brief segment of backstory describes the effects of the wizard Glastyn's presence at major events - while he sometimes gave genuine prophecies, people tended to read too much into what he said (which once led to an unfortunate baby being given the name of the wizard's horse). One of his genuine prophecies led to Gwenlliant's mother giving her her name, which translates as "the White Flood" - the meaning of which was revealed later on in The Moon and the Thorn.
    • In The Moon in Hiding, it is prophesied that Gwenlliant will be married three times. She goes through a marriage ceremony in The Castle of the Silver Wheel when Tryffin rescues her from her would-be husband and marries her himself. Then in The Grail and the Ring, since they have been separated for a year under circumstances that legally dissolved their marriage, she and Tryffin remarry. It's pretty clear that when his term as Governor as Mochdreff is complete, Tryffin will arrange a proper royal wedding in his father's capital, thus completing the prophecy.
  • In Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, Agnes Nutter's prophecies are always accurate, but it's difficult for her descendants to figure out what they're referring to until the prophecies have already been fulfilled. She might have been wrong on some too, though it's difficult to tell with all the implied maneuvering going on.
    • This is explained in the story as her simply being unable to fully understand everything she saw, since she lived centuries in the past and looked out on the future through a fairly narrow perspective. Cars were bad enough, but nuclear plants and aliens were a bit outside her experience.
    • Although 'Do Notte Buy Betamacks' seems clear enough.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Tristran's mother can only be set free from her enslavement if the moon should lose her daughter in a week in which two Mondays come together, a seemingly impossible set of circumstances. In the end, she goes free when Yvaine, the eponymous star and daughter of the moon, falls in love with Tristran, and Victoria Forrester marries Robert Monday, bringing two Mondays together. And then Una reveals that she had planned it that way when she seduced Dunstan, Tristran's father, 18 years previously.
  • Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth books devote entire books to this premise. The main character is involved with so many prophecies (Are they right or wrong? Neither! What a twist!) that not even evolution can explain it.
  • In Brian Jacques' The Bellmaker, one of the Redwall books, a prophecy names the five people—well, Talking Animals—who will go on a quest, and states "Five shall ride the Roaringburn, but only four will e'er return." One character stays behind in the kingdom they were fighting to save.
  • Midway through The Dark Portal, the first volume in Robin Jarvis's Deptford Mice trilogy, Arthur Brown climbs into the attic to seek the advice of the bats. They deliver a series of cryptic prophecies to Arthur - and later, also to Arthur's friend Twit - that foretell the events of the entire rest of the trilogy, right up until the final page of the third volume. Of course, the prophecies are so cryptic that no one has a hope of putting them to use. One particularly twisty example speaks of "death stalking the summer fields in straw-clad form" and warns Arthur to "beware the ear that whispers". It isn't until volume two, The Crystal Prison, that we find out the prophecy refers not to an ear of corn, as we might think from context, but to an actual ear - specifically, the tattooed ear of the rat fortune-teller Madame Akkikuyu, used by Jupiter to communicate with her from beyond the grave.
    • One of the prequel books has someone prophesied to die surrounded by the sound of bells, making him very nervous of cities. He ends up dying in a field, while the wind rustled the bluebells growing around him.
  • In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time - one of the prophecies mentions Rand wearing a crown of swords. Readers generally took this to mean his reign would be a militaristic, brutal dictatorship, but by the end of the book it is revealed that the prophecy was literal - a country in which the traditional crown has small, ceremonial swords on it.
    • Nearly every prophecy (and there are quite a few) gets interpreted in several different ways before it comes to pass, meaning that it's always a twist for someone. Such as Elaida's prophecy that "The black tower will be rent in fire, and sisters shall walk inside its walls. The Dragon shall face the Amyrlin Seat, and he shall know her anger." Well, sisters have walked inside the black tower's walls - as prisoners. The "rent in fire" bit looks like it's going to be caused by infighting amongst the Ashaman, instead of Elaida's strike force. And fans have noticed that it isn't stated whether the Amyrlin referred to in the last part is Elaida or Egwene. In fact, Elaida has an excellent track record of misinterpreting her own prophecies. Every prophecy she makes is an example of this, really.
    • The most disastrous version was Elaida's prophecy that the royal house of Andor would be key to winning the Last Battle. This led her to serve as adviser to the ruler and keep the Daughter-Heir on the short leash. However, the woman who was heir to the throne when Elaida made that prophecy vanished without a trace, and only Rand and the reader knows what happened to her: she went to the Aiel Waste and, years later, gave birth to the Chosen One. Elaida and Elayne would both have had much easier lives if Elaida had known about that.
      • Wait, wait, it gets better. Why did the woman who was heir to the throne vanish? Because Gitara's prophecy told her to get out of Dodge.
    • There's another Prophecy Twist in the making- well, many, given how many plot points are unresolved, but one important one in particular: Rand believes he must die in order to save the world, but the prophecy in question only actually says that he has to bleed on a certain mountain to do the trick. Going by Exact Words, a thumbtack would do it, assuming he can get to the very dangerous place in question first. Whether he'll survive the last battle or fall prey to his own expectations is yet to be seen.
      • Rand even notes that he could fulfill this prophecy to Moraine early after receiving his wound from Ishmael. He says something along the lines of "Well, I am bleeding all the time. Prophecy says I need to bleed on the mountain. Lets go!" Moraine calls him out for being an idiot for being so literal, but who knows?
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on a world with Foretellers, people who have 'tames hunch to run in harness' as part of a mystical tradition. Their answers are very expensive and often worded vaguely. One lord asked on what day he would die and was answered 'On [the nineteenth]' without a month or year specified. His lover then asked how long the lord would live and received the answer 'Longer than [the lover.]' Very tragic world, Gethen.
    • It's worse than that. The king goes slightly mad and takes to hiding in his room every nineteenth day of every month. His lover, wanting to help him, goes to the Foretellers and asks how long the king will live. When he conveys the above answer to him, the king goes into a rage and bashes his lover's head in. When he realizes what he's done, the king loses it completely, and sometime thereafter hangs himself, on the nineteenth day of one month.
  • In Meredith Ann Pierce's Firebringer Trilogy, all prophecies about the Firebringer come true in ways the unicorns never expect. "Born out of a wyvern's belly"? After being poisoned by a wyvern, he's carried into the middle of a magical lake in the skin of a dead wyvern and, when healed, rises "weak as a newborn colt". "Sparking hooves"? His hooves hardened by fire, he's able to strike sparks by trampling across hard stone. "Sired by the summer stars"? His father's name is Calydor, which translates as "Summer Stars". These are only a few examples.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld books:
    • Near the start of Guards! Guards! a character briefly mentions (and dismisses) a prophecy that "Yea, the king will come bringing Law and Justice, and know nothing but the Truth, and Protect and Serve the People with his Sword". Although hardly anyone notices, the prophecy is fulfilled exactly. Note that the prophecy doesn't actually say he'll take the throne.
    • In Hogfather, Susan is rushing to save the Hogfather because Death informs her if she doesn't, the sun will not rise in the morning. At the end of the book he mentions that if she had failed, the sun would not rise, but instead "a mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world". In other words, humanity would lose its...well, humanity...and that little tendency we all have to make the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary unbelievably important.
      • To clear it up even further, Death explains his interpretation as belief in Santa Claus the Hogfather is practice for belief in mercy, justice, and compassion. Death challenges Susan to "grind up all the universe and show [him] one speck of those things". Obviously, you won't find any, but that doesn't make them any less vital.
    • In Thief of Time, Death tells Susan try to prevent The End of the World as We Know It at the hands of the Auditors, but says he can't help himself. His only role in the end of the world according to the prophecies is that he and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse must ride out. Once they do ride out however, Death points out the prophecies don't specify they have to ride out against the world. So they attack the Auditors instead.
    • In Jingo, Nobby asks a fortune-teller about his romantic prospects, and she predicts he'll soon find himself sharing the intimate company of several attractive women. This technically comes true, as he winds up disguised as a woman in a Klatchian city and engaging in "girl talk" with some local ladies. This gets Lampshaded; he was offered "the tenpenny future, that's what you see. Or there's the ten dollar future, that's what you get", and went for the 10p version.
  • In Emily Rodda's Rowan books, the wise woman Sheba's prophecies always come true... just not in the way one would expect.
    • In the first book, the "bravest heart" is the fearful Rowan, who has none of the crippling fears the other strong, brave members of the expedition do.
    • In the second book, the "secret enemy" that "hides in darkness" "beneath soft looks" is a pretty shrub which turns out to be the young form of a flesh-eating tree.
    • In the fourth book, "five leave, but five do not return". Eight return.
    • In the fifth book, "four must make their sacrifice". Zeel sacrifices her kite, Shaaran sacrifices the silks, Norris is prepared to sacrifice himself and Rowan is prepared to sacrifice his friendship with the others.
  • J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore explains that the part of the prophecy that states that "the Dark Lord shall mark him as his equal" means that it has to be Harry, because Voldemort heard of the prophecy and went to kill Harry, rather than Neville Longbottom, leaving Harry's scar as his "mark".
    • Furthermore, although one could hardly say Voldemort considers Harry (or anyone else, for that matter) his equal, since it is revealed in Deathly Hallows that Voldemort's action on that night turned Harry into a Horcrux, you can say that Harry is Voldemort's "equal" because Harry contains just as much of Voldemort's soul as Voldemort's own body does. But the meaning Dumbledore gives it is that Harry and Voldemort are both half-bloods and Voldemort chose to go after Harry instead of pure-blooded Neville.
  • The classic children's book The Monster at the End of This Book features the Sesame Street muppet Grover pleading with the reader to stop turning pages so he will never need to see the monster the title of the book refers to. In a twist children of all ages can appreciate, that monster turns out to be Grover himself.
  • In the Suzumiya Haruhi novels, Kyon is told by a Future-Mikuru what he will do in the next days. Most of the things are rather ridiculous, such as a prank call on Haruhi. When the moment arises, it all makes sense though.
  • In the Tad Williams series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Simon Mooncalf and his companions, following an ancient prophecy, struggle to find three legendary swords to help them fight the evil, usurping king. Unfortunately it turns out that the prophecy was written by the bad guys and uniting the swords will give King Ineluki unlimited power....
  • In Timothy Zahn's Expanded Universe novel, The Last Command, C'baoth, the insane Jedi has a vision of Mara Jade bowing before him. She eventually does kneel before him - to avoid his attacks, while stabbing him to death.
    • Also in The Last Command, Mara constantly hears The Emperor's voice telling her YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER, and she ends up killing Luuke, his clone.
    • In Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, young Padawan Whie Malreaux often has psychic dreams of the future, always confusing and without context. Thanks to one of those, he knows that he'll be killed by a Jedi, and at a young age, and it will surprise him. He assumes this means that he'll fall to the Dark Side and be hunted down. Really, Anakin Skywalker kills him in Revenge of the Sith.
  • Done rather infuriatingly in David Zindell's Ea Cycle. There was a prophecy that if the hero killed Big Bad the hero would die. It was also prophecied that the Big Bad died the world of Ea would end. And this was resolved how: The hero is immediately resurrected from Disney Death. The other prophecy is solved by the good guys renaming the planet after their victory.
    • As a semi-charitable way of interpreting what happened, the good guys might be wrong, and the stage is set for a sequel. So that the Big Bad is really Not Quite Dead and the feeble attempts at Prophecy Twist are only the good guys' mistaken attempts at figuring out how their happy ending was possible, so as to end the series on a high note.
    • Ea Cycle also has a prophecy that was misinterpreted due to it having been translated from an ancient language that had no definite articles but had genderless pronouns for people.
  • Used a few times in Warriors. Fire alone with save our clan - The "fire" is Firepaw/heart /star, which, while obvious to the readers, wasn't understood by the main character until he was told by Bluestar before her death. Four will become two, lion and tiger will meet in battle, and blood will rule the forest - The four is referring to the four Clans, the lion and tiger are Lion Clan and Tiger Clan, and blood is Blood Clan. Blood will spill blood, and the lake will run red - The first blood is in terms of family, meaning Brambleclaw and Hawkfrost.
    • The twistiest one was probably the prophecy from the first half of the second series: it concerned "Fire and Tiger coming together", somehow related to "Danger to the forest." Firestar and the others interpret that this refers to Firestar's daughter Squirrelpaw and Tigerstar's son Brambleclaw, and that they will cause great danger to the forest. Only after their meddling drives the two cats away together, do they realize that the prophecy most likely meant that the two would save the forest from this danger. Oops.
    • Actually, there has yet to be a prophecy (at least, one given fully in words) that does not have some twist unforeseen to the recipients. There are a few prophecies that have yet to be carried out, however.
  • The prophecies in the Percy Jackson books generally turn out this way. Example: Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, is given a prophecy that mentions "the child of Athena's final stand", but it's about not her at all; it's about Daedalus, another child of Athena.
    • In the first book, we hear a four line prophecy. Every line is true. Every line is a Prophecy Twist. Line four is the worst: "And you shall fail to save what matters most, in the end." Who wants a prophecy that says that? But it turns out to be true: he fails to save his own mother because instead he gives her the ability to save herself.
    • The entire driving force of the first series is the "big" prophecy; we're told throughout that it means that the first child of Zeus, Hades or Posideon to reach the age of 16 will make the choice to either destroy or save all of civilisation. In the final book, we hear the whole prophecy;

A Half-Blood of the eldest gods,
Shall reach sixteen against all odds
And see the world in endless sleep
The hero's soul, cursed blade shall reap
A single choice shall end his days
Olympus to preserve or raze

  • Mary Stewart's Arthurian books have Merlin's prophesies often turning out this way, most notably the one about Merlin's own "end" (it was much less cruel than anticipated, and did not actually mean his death), and the one about Mordred being Arthur's doom. The inevitable tragedy isn't really Mordred's fault at all; it's largely the result of some terrible misunderstandings and unfortunate accidents. Moreover, this is Lampshaded by Nimue (in The Wicked Day), when she tells a reluctant Mordred several ways in which this could happen without his actually doing anything.
  • In one of the Dragaera books, Vlad does to a fortune teller who prophesies that "his left hand will rebel against his right". Some time afterward the Left Hand of the Jhereg (evil magic users) try to take over the Right Hand (basically The Mafia) and threaten Vlad's family and friends. However, as was noted by readers, Vlad also ends up losing a finger on one of his hands (presumably the left) thanks to a Torture Technician, and the prophesy could also be read as predicting this.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Cersei Lannister has spent her life haunted by a prophecy that her younger brother will cause her downfall. So she takes steps to destroy the power base of Tyrion, who's younger than her by some years. Meanwhile, Jaime, her twin who is younger than her by a few seconds, has recently started learning some unsettling truths about her, thanks to Tyrion. Oops.
    • There is a lot of Wild Mass Guessing about this prophecy in the fandom. For instance, the prophecy also says that she'll be supplanted by a younger and more beautiful queen. So, when the lovely and charming Margaery Tyrell gets engaged to her son, Cersei keeps trying to find ways to render the engagement void and get her humiliated, and also marries Sansa to Tyrion, which stops her from getting anywhere near the Iron Throne. Mind you, she doesn't know that Littlefinger has recently taken Sansa under his wing and may be planning to install her as Queen in the North... or that Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons and heir to the disposed king, is currently waging war on another continent and has her sights set on the Iron Throne... or that an obscure loophole might allow Dornish rebels to use Princess Myrcella to overthrow her younger brother King Tommen.
    • Regarding all prophecies in this series, consider this quote from Gorghan of Old Ghis, via Archmaester Marwyn:

Marwyn: Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is...and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.

    • A new preview chapter shows Melisandre's prophecy to wake the dragons "Two kings to wake the dragon. The father first and then the son, so both die kings." So Melisandre and Stannis want to find a pair of kings and sacrifice them. Unfortunately for them, the dragons are already awake. There were two three sets of kings who could potentially have filled the conditions—first, Aerys the Mad and his son Viserys, who was technically the true king of Westeros, second, Khal Ogo and his son Fogo, "who was khal when [Drogo] slew him", who gave Drogo the wound that killed him, and third, Khal Drogo and his unborn son, rendered braindead and stillborn respectively by the magic of Mirri Maz Dur. The latter seems likely, since it was Khal Drogo's funeral pyre that eventually woke them.
      • Of course, then there's the fact that Viserys (and his ancestors before him) used "waking the dragon" as a metaphor for bringing the wrath of the Targaryens on the waker. In the end, Melisandre might accomplish nothing more than pissing off Daenerys, no matter who she sacrifices.
  • Used in several ways in the Mistborn Trilogy. Not only is the ancient prophecy far away from being unambiguos, it also got screwed with by the Eldritch Abomination so it will acomplish the exact opposite of what it was meant to do - getting rid of the Eldritch Abomination.
  • In the Deathstalker series, Owen Deathstalker is given a prophecy in the first book stating that he will die, far from friends and allies, alone and helpless. They'll even take his boots. This prophecy hangs over his head throughout the series until, during the final book, he dies in just such a manner. However, the twist is that he had already died by the time the prophecy was given! Traveling back in time in order to defeat the Recreated, he ended up exhausted and unable to defend himself and was promptly murdered by half-insane drug addicts.
    • And when he was dead, they even stole his boots.
  • In Un Lun Dun, the Book of Prophecy says that "Nothing and the UnGun" can defeat the Smog. Having already been wrong before, the Book assumes that this is a misprint or mistake. Deeba realizes differently at the end, when she realizes that firing the UnGun when there was nothing loaded in it causes it to suck things in.
  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the duke is told his niece will be saved, and married, by a prince whose name does and does not begin with "X". In due course, he learns of a prince whose assumed name begins with X and whose name does not.
  • In Eldest, Angela, the somewhat odd seer, and Eragon have this exchange:

Eragon: "What do you think of Nasuada's plans?"
Angela: "Mmm...she's doomed! You're doomed! They're all doomed! Notice I didn't specify what kind of doom, so no matter what happens, I predicted it. How very wise of me."

  • Jane Yolen's Great Alta Saga. It is propesized that Jenna will prove she is the Anna by killing the Ox, the Hound, the Bear, and the Cat, four famous enemy warriors. The Cat she kills turns out to be a close friend of hers, who was called Cat for short.
  • The Last Unicorn. Haggard's previous magician, Mabruk, tells Haggard "You have let your doom in by the front door, but it will not depart that way!" We assume that he's referring to Amalthea (and maybe that's all that he realizes). But Haggard's doom is actually caused by Lir, who was left on Haggard's doorstep as a baby. If Lir hadn't sacrificed his life, the unicorn would have just gone into the sea and would not have fought back against the Red Bull.
  • Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner-Series. In the third book Alec receives a prophecy about him fathering a child of no woman. The poor guy frets to never have children now - just to get a quite adorable creepy child created out of his bodily fluids one book later.. Not to mention the squicky, nasty prophecy in the first two books.
  • In Lawrence Watt-Evans' The Lords of Dûs series it was propheised that the Fifteenth Age would bring the end of Time. As it turns out, Time in this sense was a name; the god of time Dagha and the fourteen gods he created would all end with the Fifteenth Age. Dagha expected this would destroy the world as well; thanks to Garth, it was not.
  • Simon R. Green's Shadows Fall is set in a community of fictional characters, awaiting their turn to pass through the Forever Door to whatever afterlife lies beyond. A much-feared prophecy states that James Hart will one day put an end to the town. He does, by opening the Door permanently so that everyone, the reborn dead included, can move through it freely in both directions. Thus, the town is no longer needed.
  • Happens all the time in The Underland Chronicles. Then it is subverted in the fifth book, when Ripred points out that the prophecies could be loosely interpreted to cover a variety of situations, and that people are often adapting what happens in reality to fit the prophecy so that it is fulfilled (their society is strongly based around the prophecies their founder wrote). He then gets really Genre Savvy by deliberately giving himself a wound that will fulfill yet another prophecy.
  • In Who Fears Death, it is revealed that a Nuru Seer has prophesied that a tall Nuru male sorcerer will come and change the Great Book to make life better for both Nuru and Okeke. It is revealed, however, that he changed the prophecy because he refused to believe what it actually said: that the prophesied messiah would be an Ewu sorceress.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Babylon 5 episode "War Without End" puts rather a significant twist on the Prophecies of Valen; Jeffrey Sinclair travels back in time 1000 years, transforms himself into a Minbari, and becomes Valen. He goes on to write the prophecies that, 1000 years later, would inspire Jeffrey Sinclair to travel back in time...
    • Another Babylon 5 example is Londo's precognitive dream that he and G'Kar will kill each other. When it happens, G'Kar is a good friend, and is strangling Londo--who cannot kill himself--on Londo's own request, to free him from the control of a Drakh Keeper, and Londo is being forced by the Keeper to strangle him too.
      • This links into Empress Morella's prophecy about how both Londo and Vir will become emperors. When she says that one will become emperor after the other dies, both Vir and Londo assume that she's talking about a Klingon Promotion. As noted, Londo arranged his death, leaving Vir free to lead the Centauri back to prosperity.
      • The made-for-TV movie 'In The Beginning additionally reveals that Londo arranged his own death to save Sheridan and Delenn from being executed. G'Kar is there as a friend making a huge favor instead of as a bitter rival.
    • And a vision of the station's explosive destruction turns out to be a simple demolition after B5 is decommissioned and abandoned.
      • Though it has been stated that it would have been the Shadows destroying the station if Sinclair had stayed on B5 rather than going back in time.
    • Kosh predicts that if Sheridan goes to Zha'ha'dum he will die. Sheridan seems to fulfill the prediction when he makes a kamikaze run in a White Star. He does indeed die. He gets better.
  • Almost every episode of That's So Raven hinges on the main character's future visions, though the path to those visions is rarely what she or anyone else thinks.
  • The climax of Season One of Buffy the Vampire Slayer revolves on the prophecy that the Master shall kill the slayer. This happens when he drowns Buff in a pool of water. Nothing in the prophecy prevents her friend Xander from administering CPR to the clinically dead slayer and reviving her, where she proceeds to toast the old vamp.
    • The prophecy is fulfilled in a more conventional manner in the season 3 episode "The Wish," where we see an alternative universe where Buffy didn't go to Sunnydale for high school. Buffy comes to Sunnydale on a short visit to assist Giles and hears about the master; she goes to fight him, and he kills her. The implication seems to be that Buffy's destiny hinges on her friends.
    • There's another instance in Buffy season 5. Buffy is trying to find out what the real meaning of being a Slayer is, and repeatedly hears the words "Death is your gift." She thinks this means that the Slayer is nothing but a killer, bringing only death, but it actually means that she will give her life to save the world.
    • In "Surprise" Buffy dreams Angel's death at the hands of Drusilla. It turns out Drusilla will set in chain a sequence of events that will result in Buffy sleeping with Angel, removing the 'curse' of his soul and causing him to revert to the evil Angelus.
  • Angel goes on to pull a few of these, such as Wesley turning against Angel upon learning of a prophecy indicating that Angel is going to drink the infant's blood (the beginning of said prophecy about the child noted there would be "no birth, only death", which assured some of the baddies it was nothing to worry about, until Darla kills herself to save her child, leaving only a dusty infant, and no birth having taken place). Turns out that he's actually being dosed with the stuff as part of a Plan. And, of course, the Shanshu Prophecy, which tells Angel that he will die as a result of saving the world. Angel is understandably upset by this, until it turns out that a better translation might be "die some years later of entirely natural causes as he will now be a regular mortal human."
    • The real kicker on the prophecy with Angel's son was that Wesley (and everyone else who studied it) was working on a rewriten version. Turns out the lines in question were about Connor growing up to kill a particularly nasty demon. Said demon spent ages getting the prophecy altered in all its copies in order to try and prevent his own demise in order to get pretty much this exact outcome. Too bad, in his case, You Can't Fight Fate and he ends up getting killed anyways by Connor later.

Sahjahn: Oh, well. I don't like to brag but... read any good prophecies lately?

      • Actually, it's even worse. The rewritten, fake prophecy? It comes true as well. Not only did Wolfram & Hart trick Angel into drinking his baby son's blood but the Series 4 finale does see Angel kill his son. Angel actually kills his son's identity to give him a fake one of a normal boy who has had a normal upbringing with a normal family. It saves Connor's sanity and gives him the peace and family he had yearned for, but only by destroying his true identity. As a result, even fake prophecies can be inescapable in the Angelverse.
  • Almost all of Isaac's paintings in Heroes. Almost everything he paints comes to pass, exactly as depicted, but any meaning you read into it is your own look out: He paints Hiro fighting a dinosaur (Hiro is startled in a museum and draws his sword on a statue), Nathan in the Oval Office (it's Sylar, using illusion powers), Claire's murder by Sylar (Sylar kills the wrong cheerleader -- the painting in which she's dead was finished by Peter, who drew it badly enough that you can't recognize the face), and Peter's death afterwards (He dies, but regenerates when Claire runs up to him and he mimics her power).
    • Sylar only posed as Nathan in the averted Explosion Future in the episode "Five Years Gone". However, given that the Volume Four storyline is similar to that of the aforementioned episode and that Sylar has recently acquired shape-shifting abilities, the Sylar-as-Nathan scenario may come to pass anyway.
    • A somewhat mean-spirited prophecy twist occurs in the finale of season 3 with Angela's dream vision that Matt Parkman would save Nathan. Nathan is already dead when they arrive, and Angela and Bennet must then convince Parkman to mind-wipe Sylar and replace his memories with Nathan's, creating some sort of bizarre pseudo-Nathan.
    • It should be noted however, that the prophecies can be outright denied. Such as the explosion that never actually devastated New York, among others.
      • They didn't happen yet. Nothing says they won't.
  • The Beast's prophecy in Doctor Who, that Rose will 'die in battle'. There is a battle, but she is instead ported to an Alternate Universe, and gets declared officially dead in the real world.
    • Then two seasons later, the implication in "Turn Left" that Donna will die... but in a Temporal Paradox, so it unravels itself.
    • And then a certain Mad Oracle predicts an "everlasting death for the most faithful companion." Donna gets Victory-Guided Amnesia. Which, to RTD, is equivalent to death. Yeah.
      • This could also be interpreted as the "oracle" speaking about himself (made part of a Stable Time Loop which crosses itself several times) or about Jack, or all three. Prophecies are fun like that.
    • The prophecy in "Planet of the Dead" stating that "he will knock four times", leading to the Doctor's "death". In "The End of Time", everything related to the Master's drum beat is a Red Herring; when the Master is defeated, the Doctor is relieved that he has survived the entire ordeal... then he stops upon hearing Wilfred trapped in a chamber and about to die, knocking four times on the door. Cue Heroic Sacrifice and subsequently, regeneration. The twist is how unmetaphorical this particular prophecy is.
    • The episode "The Wedding of River Song" is all about how a prophesy/fixed point in time regarding The Doctor's death MUST come true, or time itself will shatter. Turns out the fixed point wasn't The Doctor dying, it was getting shot, so he just needed to find a way to survive getting fatally shot other than regeneration.
  • The Deep Space Nine episode "Destiny" is all about a Prophecy Twist. A disastrous Bajoran prophecy seems to be coming true—and it does, but the characters' interpretation was completely wrong, and there's no disaster.
    • There's also the prophecy in Deep Space Nine's "The Reckoning", which gives us this exchange:

Dax: During the reckoning, the Bajorans will either suffer horribly or... eat fruit.
Sisko: ... Eat fruit?
Dax: Given the tone of the rest of the inscriptions, I would bet on the horrible suffering.

  • This happens several times in an episode of Stargate Atlantis. The Atlantis team comes across a seer who can show people visions of the future. While the visions do come to pass, the characters often make the wrong assumptions on the consequences or events leading up to these visions. The biggest one would be Carter's vision of Atlantis being destroyed by an enemy ship... except it's later revealed that it's just a city that looks like Atlantis that is destroyed.
  • In Blakes Seven, ORAC the supercomputer is asked to predict the future. He shows them a picture of their ship blowing up in space. Naturally, they seek to avoid this future, but ORAC assures them that they cannot. They decide to keep away from any region of space where the star patterns would match those shown in the prediction, but then the ship is dragged to that location by its original builders. Of course, they have other ships identical to the crew's, so it's one of them that blows up. ORAC arranges the destruction of the other ship to make his prophecy come true.
  • An early episode of Xena: Warrior Princess covers this trope. A king reluctantly ordered the deaths of all newborn baby boys, fearing a prophecy that a boy born during that period would replace him as king. Xena eventually convinced the king to raise the kid prophesied to replace him as his son, so that when he does replace him, it will be as his heir, not as his conqueror.
  • Short-lived gem Wonderfalls used this trope constantly: Jaye's animal muses spoke entirely in these.
  • One episode of The Nanny (after Fran and Maxwell get married) set up the episode's plot with a fortune-teller telling Fran her prediction that Maxwell Sheffield would end up in bed with a leggy blue-eyed blonde in Beverly Hills. Maxwell then announces that he's going on a business trip to Beverly Hills with C.C. Babcock (a blue-eyed blonde woman). Fran worries that he's going to cheat on her with C.C., so she and Niles follow them to Beverly Hills. In the end, Niles (a blue-eyed blonde man) walks into the wrong room at the end of the day and lies down next to Maxwell in bed by accident.
  • The miniseries adaptation of The Pillars of the Earth has a neat twist in the curse against Bishop Waleran: "You will one day climb very high, only to fall." It's naturally assumed that this means he'll achieve a great deal of power only to lose it, which does indeed happen. But it's also literally true: when his crimes are exposed he's chased to the top of a cathedral, where he commits suicide.
  • Somewhat of a minor case, but still. On Top Gear, during the Race Across London, when Hammond pulled away on his bicycle, Clarkson remarked that it would be the last time he was in front. He wasn't wrong, it was. Pity said lead lasted the entire race.
  • In an episode of Are You Being Served?" Mr. Humpries reveals that he can read palms. A reading for a customer comes true, so the others want him to read their palms. For Mrs. Slocombe, Humphries sees a tall distinguished man lying at her feet. In Captain Peacock’s hand he sees opportunities, climbing ladders and a new hat. Peacock thinks this means he's going to be promoted to Mr. Rumboldt's position. Instead, at the end of the episode, he's helping the ladies clean up their department by placing a box of hats on a shelf. He climbs a ladder in the storeroom to put them away. Mr. Lucas opens the door, making Peacock fall right at Mrs. Slocombe's feet, with one of the hats from the box on his head. AND he doesn't get the promotion.


Music and Sound Effects[edit | hide]

  • There is a song called "Plastic Jesus", which ends with a - yes, you guessed it - plastic Jesus figurine lodged in a woman's womb after a car crash, WTF? Someday he'll be born again indeed.


Religion and Mythology[edit | hide]

  • The New and Old Testaments are full of Prophecy Twists. As an example, the Messiah was prophesied to be a Nazarene, which was a Jew who had taken a certain special type of vow, as well as the title for people from the town of Nazareth. Saint John the Baptist was the former sort of Nazarene, while his cousin Jesus Christ was the latter.
    • On the other hand, Jesus several times prophesies that he will be killed, and will rise on the third day—and yet, both his death and his resurrection seem to take his disciples completely by surprise. Presumably they were looking for a Prophecy Twist that wasn't there. After all, the Messiah can't die, so there's got to be a hidden meaning...
    • Isaiah's prophecy of Jesus' birth also has a Double Meaning. Certainly, he did mention a virgin having a child, but at the time he was talking to the King about a young woman in their time who was about to be married, and certain events that would take place between her having a child by her husband and that child's coming of age; she certainly wasn't going to be a virgin by the time the kid was born! As with much else concerning Jesus, his Virgin Birth was a retread with a bit of a twist on old prophecies that had—in a way—been fulfilled already.
  • The prophet Jonah told the people of Nineveh that in forty days, their city would be "overturned." The people of Nineveh then repented so thoroughly, God decided not to destroy them. The twist: the Hebrew word for "overturn" also means "transform."
  • Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex). While exiling himself so he didn't kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus killed some dude (late we find out, he was the King of Thebes) on the road who set his servants on him, then proceeded to save the city of Thebes from a monster and married the newly-widowed Queen of Thebes. Too bad Oedipus didn't find out he was adopted until after he had four kids with his biological mother, even though his birth parents left him on a mountain to die. Oops.
  • Greek myth: According to some stories, the soothsayer Calchas was told by another fortune teller that he would die, and set the exact day. When the day came and Calchas was still alive, he was overcome with laughter and died.
  • Herodotus recounts the story of Croesus, King of Lydia (in modern Turkey), who expended a considerable portion of his vast wealth to get the Oracle at Delphi's opinion on whether he should attack the Persian Empire. The Oracle responded that "If Croesus attacks the Persians, a great empire will fall," or something to that effect ("...he will destroy a great army!"). Croesus attacks the Persians, and it turns out that the empire the Oracle was talking about was his. Cyrus, however, is a nice conqueror and decides to make Croesus an advisor.
    • That example was the second question he asked on the subject. After the first "Can I beat the Medeans?", the oracle responded "Unless they make a mule their king." He asked for qualification and got the more famously twisted answer. The Mededan succession, meanwhile, passed to the half-Medean, half-Persian Cyrus.
  • When the Nibelungs followed an invitation of Atli, they were warned before embarking a ferry that only the ferryman would return to this side of the river. To prove the prophecy wrong, Hagen of Tronje killed the ferryman after most of the way over the river. Guess which side the corpse gets washed up...
    • In the Nibelungenlied some mermaids tell Hagen that only the chaplain accompanying the Nibelungs will return home, so when he ferries them over, he throws the chaplain into the Danube in an attempt to drown him. But the chaplain safely made it back to the northern shore and returned to Worms.
  • Legend says that Aischylos heard from an oracle that he would be struck down by a house. To escape his fate, he went to the plains. An eagle carrying a turtle was looking for a rock to crack the turtle's 'house' open. Apparently, bald heads are mistook for rocks easily from above...

Radio[edit | hide]

  • In The BBC Radio 4 Stanley Baxter's Playhouse episode "The King's Kilt", Sir Walter Scott is subjected to an ancient Highland curse: that he will spend eternity sitting on a stone chair, in a room without any walls, and the birds of the air will do their business on his head. Flash forward to the present day and the Scott Monument.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Macbeth: The Three Weird Sisters promise him that No Man of Woman Born can kill him, and that his reign will last until "great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him." (Unlikely at best, as the two are about 12 miles apart on a straight line, or just over 18 miles apart following the roads. With a couple of river crossing in between them as well.) In the final battle between Macbeth and Malcolm's armies, Malcolm has his men camouflage themselves by breaking off branches form the trees of Birnam Wood and put them in their hats before they march on Dunsinane hill. Just before the final duel, there's this exchange between MacBeth and MacDuff:

MacBeth: Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born.
MacDuff: Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served,
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb,
Untimely ripp'd.
Poor Macbeth believed it and thought himself safe.

    • The 2006 film with a Setting Update to a modern day gangster story has the Birnham Wood part fulfilled by Malcolm's forces using a lumber truck to break down the front gate of Macbeth's house.
    • A less well know Shakespeare example occurs in Richard the third. Richard created a false prophecy to set his brother Clarence and the king against each other. The prophecy stated that "G" would murder the king and his heir. the king decided this must be Clarence, who's first name was George. Richard, who ultimately brought about the death of every other potential heir to the throne, was in fact called Richard Gloucester.
  • Elements of the upbeat song "The Wizard and I" in Wicked follow this - Elphaba (the future Wicked Witch of the West) envisions her future popularity, in which "when people see me they will scream" and there'll be "a celebration throughout Oz that's all to do with me". Thinking about it apparently makes her "so happy I could melt". So... Yeah.
    • Fiyero has his moments of this as well, once in the song 'Dancing Through Life' when he says "Life's more painless/for the brainless" as well as in 'As Long As You're Mine' when he says "Maybe I'm brainless" He eventually becomes the Scarecrow
    • Even the Wizard joins in on the fun, when he says in the song 'Sentimental Man' that he is "a sentimenal man/who always longed to be a father" at the end of the play, it turns out that the Wizard is Elphaba's father.
  • In Once Upon a Mattress, the King is cursed to remain mute "until the mouse devours the hawk." The literal attempt to fulfill this condition obviously fails: by Dauntless's account, "the mouse got scared and ran away and the hawk bit Daddy." The prophecy is ultimately fulfilled when Dauntless stops being a Momma's Boy and yells at his mother to shut up.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In the for-now last installment of the Legacy of Kain game series, "Defiance", we learn that both the Ancients and the Hylden have prophecies about each race's individual messianic warrior destroying the other race's own champion. However, what they - and everybody since - didn't realize was that both warriors are one and the same person. The champion of the Ancients is supposed to save Nosgoth and restore the Vampire race to glory, while the Hylden champion is supposed to ruin Nosgoth and free the Hylden from their prison. By using the heart of darkness to revive Janos, Raziel provides the Hylden with the vessel they need for their General to possess Janos, allowing him to enact a plan that eventually leads to a time of great ruin for Nosgoth and frees the Hylden. But then, by allowing Kain to kill him and purifying his corruption, Raziel gives Kain the power to restore the pillars lead Nosgoth into a golden age.
    • Also, it is prophesied that Raziel will kill Kain eventually. And he does. They didn't know that as the Scion of Balance, Kain can't die and he just comes back to life later.
    • Raziel is prophesied to wield the Soul Reaver, except that his destiny predicts he'll be drawn into the sword and become its soul-devouring spectral half. So he can't go near the sword because it'll kill him, but due to a time paradox integral to that destiny, he wields the spectral version of the sword independent of the material version. As the dialogue goes:

Janos: Raziel...you are destined to wield the Reaver!
Raziel: * manifests the sword* And so I do...though not quite as you had envisioned.

  • Tales of the Abyss's Big Bad exploited the crap out of his local prophecy that the world would see a Chosen One by cloning him. Since the prophecy is strong enough that the odd deviation here or there won't throw it off-track, he intended to let the clone die when the original was supposed to, so that he could keep the true Chosen One around for his stronger hyperresonnance. However, what said Big Bad didn't realise was that the prophecy was also a secret message begging humanity to avoid destruction by rejecting and overturning it; which the protagonists are implied to use to their advantage to win the day.
  • Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame: "He Who Would Steal the Flame Must Die!"
    • The graphic novel based on the series has another. A prophecy says that a man born on a certain day will destroy the city, so every boy born in the city on that day is rounded up & killed, except for one, who goes on to lead the families of those that died in a revolt. At first this seems like a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy... untill a bunch of Mongolians show up at the city gates. Turns out the guy from the prophecy wasn't from the city at all; he was Genghis Khan.
  • In Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner, one of the Drive-Thru Whale's lines is the rather ominous-sounding "When the End Times come, we will all dance the Conga of the Apocalypse". This might be interpreted as a very oblique clue for the endgame, where getting everybody out of Strong Bad's house involves getting them to dance in a conga line. In fact, much (but definitely not all) of what the Whale says can be interpreted as a clue in the various episodes of SBCG4AP:
    • In Strong Badia the Free, the Whale instructs you to "Get your lighter from the anvil, please." If Strong Bad allies with The Cheat (who has been compared to an anvil in some of the cartoons), the Cheat will give Strong Bad a lighter he can use to solve some puzzles later in the game.
    • In Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective, one of the Whale's lines is "On a sunny day, don't forget to bling out your power tools." In the endgame, Dangeresque fights a robotic duplicate of Dangeresque Too on a space station orbiting the Sun, and has to defeat him by putting a "diamond-tipped diamond" on an industrial drill and tilting the space station so the drill rolls into the robot.
  • This is Lampshaded and, in a way, Deconstructed by the prophetic dragon Hindel in Odin Sphere. He explains that he no longer speaks with humans because they constantly misinterpret his words to mean something completely different. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with the doomsday prophecy, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
    • Even the doomsday prophecy has a twist. The prophecy states that only two people will survive Armageddon, but this does not include Pookas, allowing two more people to survive.
  • From the end of Mega Man X 3: "To save mankind, Mega Man X must destroy Zero." A straight example in Mega Man X 5: Zero and X indeed fight, but X wasn't able to destroy Zero (although he did die, by Sigma's hands), because they were the best of friends. The same prophecy was then averted much later, in the Mega Man Zero series. According to Inafune, X is originally the Big Bad of the first game, a Knight Templar exterminating Reploids for the sake of humanity, and Zero The Hero trying to save the remaining Reploids because they were wrongly accused of being "Mavericks". It was only because of Executive Meddling on the X series, that the true, "twisted" events of the prophecy never came to pass, replacing X with a clone.
  • The opening narration of Guild Wars Nightfall states, "Night falls. The Time of the Five Gods is at an end." And sure enough, by the end of the campaign, you've destroyed the banished god Abaddon and set up Kormir to take his place alongside the Five True Gods, beginning the Time of the Six Gods.
  • King's Bounty: The Legend has a variant. Researchers have almost activated the Artifact of Doom, and discovered that it will only serve an owner who claims it by force out of rage, and who then wets it with his blood. The head researcher tells about this to the King's courier at length: the courier can't stand the blather but grabs the artifact, fumbles it, and in trying to catch it drops it corner-first on his hand. The jury is out on whether this is blatantly stupid or marvellous.
  • Weaponlord: The Big Bad learns that a "Weaponlord" will rise up and kill him. Rather than run, he decides to meet destiny head-on and organizes a tournament, figuring the Weaponlord would be whoever wins, and he can then face him in single combat. In his ending, he is elated that the prophecy was proven false... until he learns it wasn't meant for him, but rather his predecessor, an even worse monster he had killed to take over. In other words, the prophecy came true before the game even began.
  • In the Fan Remake of King's Quest II, the Big Bad levels a curse on Graham before departing. At each turn of the curse/prophesy, it gets twisted. His family in jeopardy? Yes, but Alexander-Gwydion manages to escape and thwart the dragon plaguing Daventry. While celebrating this happy news, the second part of the curse kicks in, causing Graham's "heart to slow." Rosella intervenes by getting the magic fruit from Tamir and saving her father. The last part of the curse? Well, Alexander ends up ruling the faraway Land of the Green Isles. Rosella may or may not move to Etheria with Edgar...and even if she does, there's Connor MacLir
  • May or may not have been intentional, but in the first Jak and Daxter, Samos states that the answer to the whole Precursor riddle rested on the shoulders of a young boy. This could obviously refer to Jak's important role in the events of the games, but it may also refer to the fact that Daxter, now a Precursor, stands on Jak's shoulder for the majority of the adventures.
    • And another case in the first game, the precursor oracle statues state that the dark light (which is taken to mean Dark eco) has twisted the fate of one of them, and the pure light (Light Eco?) would put it right again. By the end of the first game, it seemed to refer to Daxter, who had been changed by dark eco, and could be changed back by light eco. Then at the start of the second game, Jak is corrupted by dark eco. In the third game, this is restored by the precursors giving him light eco powers. The prophecy in the first game, which was more of a meaningful background detail than part of the plot, took on a completely different meaning in retrospect.
  • In Ultima VI a gargoyle prophecy states that the only way to prevent of the destruction of their people is by "sacrifice of the False Prophet". The gargoyles believe this means they must sacrifice the False Prophet (and boy, do they try!), but in the end the situation is resolved by the False Prophet sacrificing something else entirely. One of the more philosophical gargoyles even points out that the prophecy might mean one of three things: the False Prophet is sacrificed, the False Prophet performs a sacrifice on another person, or the False Prophet sacrifices a valuable possession.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Played with in Order of the Stick, with the singularly confusing prophecy "When the goat turns red strikes true." At first Roy thinks it's usual prophetic nonsense, but when Nale turns on the group he figures it out, telling Haley to shoot Nale, making a Million To One Shot. As he explains later, the prophecy should be "When the goat turns, red strikes true", "goat" referring to Nale (who has a goatee), and "red" to the redheaded Haley.
    • The Oracle gives Belkar a prophecy that Belkar will cause the death of at least one of the people on his hit list, which includes the Oracle. Belkar ends up giving a magical item to one such person, causing that person to use it to bite off more than they could chew and get killed. When Belkar and the Oracle meet and the oracle tries to pass this off as fulfillment, Belkar stabs the Oracle. "Worth a shot."
    • Another one is set up in the background with Durkon, who will cause bad things to happen when he next returns home, so he was sent away never to return. It was later pointed out that by sending Durkon away, his superiors have made it possible for the prophecy to come true. If they had just kept him at home and never let him leave, he could never "return."
      • Durkon twisted another prophecy by sobbing joyously when he asked "how will [he] be finally returning to [his] beloved dwarven homelands" and was answered "posthumously." Apparently, no matter what he does in life, the greatest thing for a dwarf is to be buried at home. There's still room for A Twist, since that pesky "finally" means the prophecy doesn't say anything about the returns before then... and even if there are none, the original prophecy never specified that Durkon would be returning alive. Fortunately, it never specified whom the bad things are going to happen to, either.
    • It hasn't happened yet, but Belkar is supposed to take his last breath within an in-comic year of the prophecy. The forums abound with ways around it. "Undead don't breathe, right?"
      • The other half of the fandom consistently points out that, while the Oracle's prophecies don't necessarily play out in the the most obvious way, none of them so far have been fulfilled on technicalities either. And the Oracle made several other references to Belkar's impending death, like telling him to savor his next birthday cake (implicitly, because it would be his last) and not to bother funding his IRA (implying that he wouldn't be around long enough to retire).
    • Yet another one is that the oracle says Vaarsuvius will gain "complete and total ultimate arcane power" "by saying the right four words to the right being at the right time for all the wrong reasons." The Deal with the Devil was not unexpected, nor was the backfiring. More interestingly the deal was only for a tenuous grasp of the power, so that V didn't even get to keep it. At the time V's family is being threatened and V's much-obsessed magic has failed to save them, so when V's about to take the deal out of self-sacrifice, the tempters lie about there being another way to make V take it out of pride. It's really quite impressive. "I... I must succeed" was a cop-out, but the results were one of the better-depicted genocides in recent entertainment. We shall see if they are correct.
  • Possible example: In Goblins, many goblin children are named based on a fortune teller's vision of their future. One of these, Saves-A-Fox, deliberately killed the fox she was supposed to save. However, as noted by forumgoers, the aforementioned fox was never in any apparent danger, and her name isn't Rescues-A-Fox -- but she HAS been saving that fox's tail as a memento all these years...
    • Dies later revealed the fox she killed was suffering from an incurable disease as good as a Fate Worse Than Death, and she actually saved it by killing it.
    • Dies Horribly has indeed died horribly by being slaughtered by demons for his soul. However, he somehow had two souls- one more than was agreed upon by the characters- and was released after his "mistress" was banished.
    • However, this is hilariously subverted in the form of "Piss off I hava headache", and his unseen clan-mate "Stop the ceremony I swallowed a bug" - both named because their teller sucks at naming.
  • Subverted with extreme literalism in Exterminatus Now.

"Dammit, the one time my horoscope was right. 'Beware of Old English sheepdogs carrying Kaiser Lawgiver Model V .38in revolvers.'"

  • Non-prophecy example (but an answer from an oracle) in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: "The life of Destania has ended at the hands of Daniel Ti'Fiona." The real meaning is very much figurative. She married his soon-to-be father, completely changing as a person after he was born - as she puts it herself, her old life ended when they met; she even changed her name, though her married name has yet to be revealed.
    • Dan lampshades this and wonders why oracles/prophecies are always so twisted. Apparently the Oracles' Union charter states that they have to be intentionally vague and they can't give a straight answer.
  • Oh-so-ripe-yet-unexplained prophecy abounds in Last Res0rt:

The Otherworlders will head the call
to claim stars and destroy them all;
They shall return when all shall see
a Dead Inside where none should be.

    • Veled even lampshades this trope as soon as she says it, admitting that there may be a few errors in its translation, but it's not like she'll pass up a chance to make Jigsaw piss herself.
  • In Jayden and Crusader the character Crusader is reading ahead the script of the page, and everything comes to pass just as foretold
  • Gaia Online's Halloween 2008 event-comic revolved around Ms. Fortune's predicting a new threat to Gaia, and that "one group shall survive, or all shall perish!" The fantastic races of Gaia began fighting amongst themselves to be the one group to survive—with the exception of Dhampyr Ian, who pointed out that the fantastic races already existed, so the prediction couldn't mean them. The next month, Gaia Online's MMORPG zOMG! entered Open Beta; the new threat Ms. Fortune predicted was the Animated (or possibly the Predator Prarie Pups or the Hive World denizens), against which Gaians of all races had to unite as a single group.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Greek Ninja, the prophecy from Delphi clearly states that the Legacy of Hiroyuki is necessary for the victory of mankind in the war with an unknown power aiming to destroy them. The Legacy of Hiroyuki is Hashimoto Daichi, the son of Hiroyuki. Everyone thinks that his role is to defeat the threat, being the strong warior he is, however all he was needed for was to be the person that motivated Sasha to kill Creon, the one behind the whole destroy-the-world plan, in order to save him.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: The poem about the Entity reads as thus (albeit in all caps):

"Beneath the seas, beside the flame
Off the coast where the lost beast came
To bring the world misery and shame
A piece of the world is missing"

"The path you should have never crossed
The beast exacts a heavy cost
The number of the beast is lost
You will know it by its hissing"

"The bones from hell you cannot tame
Devour your life and all your fame
That is the price to play its game
And all while you're reminiscing" .

Linkara cannot figure out what it means until The Entity posing as 90s Kid says "Heavy". Heavy. As in, Heaviest Pokemon. Missingno. The poem suddenly fits like a glove. The "beneath the seas, beside the flame" refers to the spot on volcanic Cinnabar Island where Missingno is found. The lost beast in the first verse is Mewtwo (who came ashore in the area), not Missingno. The twist that makes it fit: The last line of the first verse is properly rendered as "A piece of the world, is Missing." (Meaning that Missing is a part of the world). The "path you never should have crossed" is the path one must cross to find Missingno as well as referring the fact that you need to use cheat codes to do it. Missingno costs you your save file and a lot of other things. It's number is indeed lost, hence the name "Missing Number". As well, it's made of incomplete number codes. It has a distinct hissing sound as its noise. The "bones from hell you cannot tame" are the images of fossil Pokemon Missingno sometimes appears as. You cannot tame fossil Pokemon normally. It devours all your life and fame by dint of the glitch that makes it appear corrupting the save file you have devoted so much time to and corrupting your Hall of Fame data. That's the price you pay for catching it. On top of everything else, the style of this twist is an homage to the "The Earth shall turn to Ash" twist from the second Pokemon movie.

  • The Lord of Dark in Eliezer Yudkowsky's The Sword of Good argues that the pivotal Choice between Good and Bad in the Prophecy of Destiny is this - it is not so much a choice between a good alternative and a bad alternative as a matter of deciding which is which.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the Johnny Bravo episode titled "The Hunk at the End of this Cartoon", the title turns out to refer to, not a hunk muscling in on Bravo's territory (not that he has any), but a hunk of cheese.
  • The "character not coming back but that's because he's staying where he is" came from an episode of Justice League Unlimited where Supergirl travels to the future of the 31st century Legion of Super-Heroes. All their records indicate she won't come back, and sure enough she looks dead enough at one point, but returns in the very next scene... but then decides to stay in the future, as she had fallen for Legionnaire Brainiac 5. (Of course, this episode had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Cartoon Network was introducing a new Legion series the very next fall.)
  • In "Mardi Gras", Mamma Lui from Jem and The Holograms had this for the Holograms and the Misfits. Her prophecy was the following: A pirate coming for Shana and that the pirate will protect her. It turns out to be a hologram from Jerrica Benton's computer, Synergy.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender Cool Old Guy Iroh realises that this applies to his old prophetic dream of one day taking the Earth Kingdom capital Ba Sing Se. As a young man, he had believed that he was thus destined to take it as a conqueror for the Fire Nation, but in the Grand Finale reveals that he now realises he was instead supposed to liberate it from the Fire Nation.
  • Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Seer No Evil" contains one of these. Near the beginning of the episode, a fortuneteller bug by the name of Cassandra predicts several events that (with some creative interpretation) all happen throughout the episode, but it's her last prediction - the one related to Chip - that gets the twist. At the end of her predictions, she points to Chip and tells him that "the trunk shall fall...then thppppth *throat-cutting gesture* ...then all is darkness." In the final third of the episode, a somewhat-paranoid Chip is left alone outside a carnival funhouse with a giant elephant statue that's swaying back and forth above the entrance, while the other Rangers enter the funhouse to track a thief (with everyone thinking that the statue will fall down and crush Chip). Chip, in arguably the biggest test of his sense of duty, eventually rushes underneath the statue to the funhouse entrance, and is relieved when he sees that the prediction didn't come true. But just a few moments later, he runs into the funhouse, and is seemingly crushed by a falling chest (or, if you prefer, trunk) containing the thief's loot. The thief's helper monkey sees this and makes a throat-cutting gesture (as well as letting out a raspberry, or thppppth) as the thief leaves the funhouse, and the Rangers believe Chip is dead...except he's actually trapped underneath the trunk in a hole in the floor (which, obviously, would make things pretty dark for Chip).
  • In Kim Possible, King Wallace II of a small country contacts the heroes about threats on his son's life. It turns out that the men responsible have a prophecy that the kingdom's monarchy will end with Wallace III, and they're doing their part to make the prophect come true. At the end of the episode, Kim captures the villains and the prince is still alive; however, having been exposed to democracy throughout the episode, he announces that, while he won't interfere with his father's kinghood, after his father's death, he'll convert the kingdom into a democracy and run for president. Ron is quick to point out how this meshes with the prophecy.
  • An episode of The Penguins of Madagascar uses this; Rico gets a fortune cookie which reads that he will meet 'a foul end'. The group tries for the majority of the episode to find ways to prevent such a curse (or convince Rico that it's silly superstition), until the very end, when a duck crash-lands on him. Fowl end, you see. Private is highly amused.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Similarly, Cicero gives this example of a prophecy twist: The Greek general Pyrrhus (of the Pyrrhic War and the phrase Pyrrhic victory fame) was told, "you the Romans will conquer" by the Oracle at Delphi. The Romans, of course, triumphed in the end. But this may belong more in the literature section, for Cicero points out that the vagueness relies on a trick of Latin grammar, whereas the Pythia undoubtedly spoke Greek.
    • Nevertheless, it is still plausible, since the same construction (indirect statement with its subject in the accusative, is verb as an infinitive, and that verb's object also in the accusative) could be used in Greek, and, while Greek word order is more formalized than Latin, it is still mutable enough to allow the ambiguity. Regardless, it's a brilliant technique to cover your tail when the language permits.
    • It is also said that occasionally people came and asked "what is the gender of the child my wife will bear". The most common answer can be translated as "son not a daughter".
    • Another variant has a soldier ask if he'll return from the war alive. The response, again depending on the grammatical ambiguity, could be interpreted as "You will die and will not return" or "You will not die and will return".
  • According to Plato, Socrates, and Chaerephon, the Oracle at Delphi, when asked whether anyone was wiser than Socrates, responded with a simple "No." Socrates then spent the rest of his life trying to figure out the twist.
  • In about 279 BCE, the Celtic army was approaching Oracle at Delphi, and the Greeks knew they couldn't hold out against them. Fearing the temple would be sacked, they asked the priestesses what could save the temple. The oracles considered the matter and replied that the temple would be saved by the "white virgins". The Celts advanced, the Greeks retreated, and the Celts sacked the temple, stealing much of its wealth. Then the weather changed and the Celts decided fighting in the snow wasn't fun, so they went home. The Oracles returned to what was left of their temple and declared it had been saved by the snowflakes, just as they predicted. Some members of the Greek army were less than certain about this.
  • During Xerxes' invasion of Greece, the Athenians supposedly asked the Oracle of Delphi about their chances and were basically told they were hosed ... but that "a wooden wall" might yet save them. A group of Athenians refused to evacuate their city, and holed up on the Acropolis behind improvised wooden barricades, where they were killed by Xerxes' army. Then, the wooden-hulled Athenian navy kicked Persian keel at the Battle of Salamis, forcing Xerxes to withdraw. Military historians have been referring to age of sail warships as "wooden walls" ever since.
    • Harry Turtledove's short story "Counting Potsherds" has a eunuch chronicler visit the ruins of Athens years after the successful Persian invasion. He finds that the Athenians had taken the prophecy quite literally, as the diehards did above, and their wooden wall rather understandably failed to keep out Xerxes' huge army.
  • According to Suetonius, when Nero consulted the Oracle of Delphi, he was told that he must look out for the seventy-third year. He thought he would die at that age, and was relieved, since he was just around thirty. He was eventually dethroned and Driven to Suicide by Galba, who was seventy-three at the time. (Or so the story goes - according to modern historians, Galba was born 3 BC, and dethroned Nero in 68 AD).
    • Which is weird because Galba would have been either 69 or 70 depending on when in the year he was born and when in the year he dethroned Nero...seeing as how there was no year 0 he would have turned 73 in 71 CE.
  • The sons of the last Roman king once went to the Oracle of Delphi (initially, to ask another question their father was concerned about, but we don't know the answer) to find out which one of them would become the next ruler of Rome. The answer was "the one who next kisses his mother". Now their cousin Lucius Iunius Brutus (a distant ancestor of the guy who killed Julius Caesar) who accompanied them interpreted "mother" to mean the Earth, so he pretended to trip and kissed the ground.
  • And while we're at Caesar and mother Earth: He once had the extremely squicky dream that he raped his own mother. He was very disturbed about this, until one seer interpreted that dream this way: The Earth is the mother of all humans, figuratively speaking, so this dream means that Caesar would become ruler of the Earth. Julius definitely liked this interpretation.
  • Constantine approached Rome in the fall of 312, aiming to unseat his imperial rival Maxentius. Meanwhile, Maxentius wondered whether he should stay at Rome and try to endure a siege or ride out with his army to meet Constantine. Entrenching was a safer option, but Maxentius was becoming unpopular in Rome, due in part to Constantine's wild success as he swept through Italy. Nervous about his position, he consulted the keepers of the Sibylline Books, who told him that this very day, "the enemy of the Romans" would die in battle. Emboldened, Maxentius rode out to meet Constantine and was defeated with his army, and killed, at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Poor Max never considered that he himself might have been the enemy they were talking about.
  • A legend has it that an astrologer predicted to the Czech king Wenceslas IV that he would die before the tower of the St. Vitus Cathedral. Fearing the prophecy, the king ordered the tower to be demolished; however, he died of stroke before the work could be completed. So the prediction came true: the king died, not standing before the tower, but rather before the tower did.
  • A prophecy told Henry IV would die in Jerusalem. The king assumed this would mean he died on a crusade. He instead died in the house of the abbot of Westminster - in the Jerusalem Chamber. Shakespeare later references this event.
  • Benjamin Franklin predicted in his 1736 alamanac that the sea would rise and put New York and Boston under water and that American ships would be put out to sea by a power America was not at war with. A year later, he announced that his prophecy had come true - evaporated sea water rained on the cities and America was not at war with the wind.
  • Towards the end of Julius Caesar's life, there was a popular prophesy that Parthia could only be conquered by a king. This was likely spread either to support Caesar's bid to be crowned King of Rome, or by his enemies to stoke fears that he would seek kingship. Regardless, Caesar died before the Parthian campaign, and Rome never did conquer it. When Parthia finally was conquered, however, it was done so by a king. It just turned out to be the king of Persia when they'd assumed Rome would be the one to conquer Parthia.