Turtle Island

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Mythical creatures of mystery: Fish, whales, or turtles (there's a definite preference for turtles over any other animal) big enough to be mistaken for islands or even continents have shown up in Myth and Legend for thousands of years. They are often portrayed as being so large and ancient that soil and plantlife have grown on its back, sometimes ancient species containing something so rare that the hero (or villain) must marvel at it or try to obtain it. Often the hero gets only a brief opportunity to marvel at its existence, before it decides to set out and dive deep underwater, leaving the protagonist high and dry (or wet and drowning if he doesn't manage to get off in time). How the fauna and flora on its back can survive and grow when it frequently dives underwater is rarely addressed.

A subtrope of That's No Moon.

If Earth is one of these, there's a good chance it's Turtles All the Way Down.

Examples of turtle islands include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Naruto, Naruto and Killer Bee hide and train on an island turtle (which has long since been guarded by the Cloud Village), which is a very good place to hide because they can get it to move if they need to. And apparently it's not a summon, unlike the usual giant beasts seen. Gai's personal summon is shocked by the size of one of the turtles who promptly informs him it's only a hatchling.
  • El Doradimon from Digimon Savers is one of these.
    • Digimon Tamers has Ebonwumon (aka Xuanwumon). He's got two heads that speak independently. And is a god. And is freakin' awesome.
    • Digimon Xros Wars gives us KingWhamon, who carries the Island Zone on his head.
  • One of the One Piece movies is set on one.
    • There's also a goldfish large enough it's poop is mistaken for islands.
    • One also appears at the start of the series twelfth opening.
  • An three part episode of Detective Conan takes place in a turtle shaped island around Okinawa.
  • Genbu is a Spirit King who occasionally tromps around a nearby continent and is covered in ogres. He's also a Grumpy Old Man.

Comic Books

  • The Authority: Infinite City, the place where all the Jenny incarnations that have passed are placed, is a city on the back of a giant turtle.
  • In the Lanfeust comic book series, the Magohamoth isn't exactly a turtle, and it's intelligent and speaks to people telepathically, but it fits this trope otherwise. The protagonists follow its trail to an island off the coast of a river delta, and after some bizarre hallucinations we get a Distant Reaction Shot, and the entire island is what they were looking for. Below the waterline it looks sort of like a manatee. With a volcano on its back.

Film - Animated

  • In Aladdin and the King of Thieves, the MacGuffin is on one of these, called "The Vanishing Isle".

Film - Live-Action

  • Happens in the first of the 1990s Gamera movies.
  • In the 1984 fantasy classic, The Neverending Story, there is a giant turtle Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness.


  • Taken to extremes in Discworld: the Great A'tuin the star turtle carries four less-giant elephants on its back, who in turn carry the Discworld itself on their backs, and swims through space. A Turtle Planet, if you like.
    • There's also a parody in Jingo: Leonard dismisses sailors' tales about giant turtles being mistaken for islands as obvious myths, on the grounds that "you don't get giant turtles that small".
  • In JRR Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, there is a hobbit rhyme about "Fastitocalon," a giant turtle mistaken for an island. Tolkien got the name from an Anglo-Saxon verse bestiary; it was a distortion of the Greek "aspidochelone"="Shield-Turtle."
  • A humongous sea snail in one of the later Doctor Dolittle books.
  • Larry Niven made a reference to this in The Ringworld Engineers, where Louis Wu discounted tales of such creatures, knowing the same stories had been told speciously by Earth sailors. Of course, the Great Ocean on Ringworld is many thousands of times bigger than the puny little puddles on Earth, so it's not wholly unexpected when it's confirmed such "islandfish" really do exist there.
  • The Neverending Story: the wise Morla who lives in the Swamps of Sadness.
  • Hungry Kid Island by Shel Silverstein, about an island that's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: the scalp of a giant hungry child.

Oh, I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island,
Way out in the shimmerin' sea.
There's probably hungry kids out there
Who'll share my lunch with me.
But why call it Hungry Kid Island?
There's no kids around that I see,
So I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island
To solve this mystery.

  • There's a Turtle Island in the first book of David Drake's The Lord of the Isles series. True to Drake's own brand of "realistic" fantasy, the only life present is sea plants.
  • Near the end of Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War Candy Quakenbush washes up on the shores of an island and happily dozes. The island is not actually a turtle, but another kind of creature entirely, with a tree and other foliage growing straight out of its back. Interestingly, Candy first realizes she must be on a creature instead of an island because real islands in the Abarat are frozen at a single hour of the day, and she notices that the light has changed since she washed ashore.
  • The trope is referenced in Star Trek: Titan: Over a Torrent Sea, when the characters observe floating "islands" in the ocean of planet Droplet. Torvig asks a Chelon crewman (as the name suggests, Chelon are turtle-men) if they're relatives of his.
  • Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox has Kraken, which are described as an "acorn barnacle, albeit a barnacle which could easily house an Olympic Stadium or two". They are often mistaken for islands. They become a plot point and a Chekhov's Gun.


  • The Italian singer, Ligabue, had a Fish Island on the cover of his album Arrivederci, Mostro!

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • Mythologies from around the world came up with the idea of Earth as the body of a large creature, sometimes called a World Turtle, often swimming in a cosmic ocean that predates the Earth, with the sky as another ocean above the firmament of stars.
  • The mythologies of several Native American and First Nations cultures tell of a giant tortoise that rose out of the sea when animals needed land to live on. In fact, the Iroquois Creation Myth has the entire planet as just one really big turtle in an infinite sea. Some current-day Native Americans and First Nations peoples prefer to use "Turtle Island" instead of "North America", making them the Trope Namer; you'll hear the name used on the CBC Radio show Reclaimed.
  • One of the most famous early examples would be the island in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, which he discovered was on the back of a whale. Before they realize what it is, the crew find many rare fruits and plants on the surface. Due to the fact that he's possibly the unluckiest man of his time, his entire crew manages to escape (the only time they ever, however), and he gets left behind when the whale submerges and is lost at sea for years.
  • Supposedly the origin for the island of Bohol in the Philippines (you can find it as a little spec at the heart of the archipelago) is that a woman fell from the sky, so a turtle turned itself into an island that she could live on. It Makes Sense in Context, sort of.
  • The Legend Of Saint Brendan had a similar monster called Jasconius.
  • The Leviathan (or, sometimes, the Kraken) is occasionally portrayed as such. One of the original myths of the Kraken was that it was simply a giant monster that would sleep at the surface for so long that plants would grow on it and ship crews would mistake it for an island. Anyone unfortunate enough to light a fire while ashore would wake the Kraken, which would then submerge and pull the ship down with it.
  • Russian folk tales have the Wondrous Whale Fish for this role.
  • Indian (Subcontinent Indian, not Native American Indian) Mythology has it that the world is carried on the backs of four elephants which in turn are carried on the back of a turtle named Kurma or Akupara. This was likely the inspiration for Great A'Tuin and Torterra.
  • Aztec Mythology told that the land was created from the corpse of Cipactli, a gigantic crocodile. The gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, who normally hate each others' guts, teamed up to kill the monster. Cipactli stayed at the bottom of the sea, so Tezcatlipoca lowered his foot to lure it to the surface. After getting it bit clean off, the two gods turned into snakes and strangled Cipactli, thus forming the North American continent.
  • Singapore has a particularly localised myth to explain the origins of its own turtle-shaped island, Kusu Island, which houses several temples and is visited more by devotees than tourists.
  • Myth has it that Indonesia was a giant solidified crocodile, as told in an episode of the Crocodile Hunter.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Pliny the Elder in his Natural History describes a giant fish called pristis, which is so big that sailors have taken it for an island and landed on its back.

Card Games

Tabletop RPG

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Al-Qadim setting. The Zaratan, a huge turtle (200–350 feet across) with rock outcroppings on its shell and flippers that looked like small reefs. When asleep on the surface, it could be mistaken for a floating island.
      • 200–350 feet is...about the length of a football field. Or smaller. Of course, that's huge for a turtle, but pretty small for an island.
    • 1E Oriental Adventures setting adventure OA5 Mad Monkey Vs. Dragon Claw. An uninhabited island is actually a huge dragon turtle (100 yards across) sleeping on the ocean's surface.
    • Spelljammer has kindori riders - that is, people living in villages on the backs of Space Whale traveling in herds.
  • Space Master supplement Aliens & Artifacts. Living Islands, which can grow up to 2 kilometers in diameter. They can dive under the surface, leaving whatever was on top of them behind.

Video Games

  • At least one of the Golden Axe games has a village on the back of a giant turtle, and it actually swims across the sea as you make your way through the level.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has a giant friendly turtle of an island who takes Link to a dungeon in the middle of a maelstrom. He shows up in the Super Smash Bros. Melee level based on the area, too.
  • In Pokémon, the "Turtwig" evolutionary family (Torterra especially) is based on the world-on-a-turtle mythology.
  • There is one of these in Endless Ocean 2.
  • The Groundshaker boss in Kingdom Hearts II is a huge quadrupedal Heartless which requires a small Colossus Climb to do anything more than chase after it, and it also has a small forest on its back.
  • In an early sequence in Skies of Arcadia, Vyse and Aika briefly mistake the enormous arcwhale Rhaknam for an island. To be fair, it was pretty foggy at the time.
  • Secret of Mana features an island (which you never have to visit) that is allegedly a turtle's back. It certainly looks like it from an overhead view, but nothing ever comes of this fact. (Possibly related is the turtle that the heroes of the distant prequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, use.)
  • Rune Factory: Frontier has the aptly-named Whale Island. It gets bonus points for being in the sky.
  • In the final levels of Katamari Damacy, when rolling up the entire world your Katamari will grow large enough to start snatching up entire islands and landforms by the dozen. Some of the islands will actually try to run away from you—not just because Katamari Damacy is really weird, it's also because those 'islands' are actually "Giant Sea Turtles".
  • In King's Bounty: The Legend, a scientist (the would-be king of the humans who gave up his throne For Science!, no less) hypothesizes that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. He also remarks on how ludicrous an opposing hypothesis that says the world is a giant sphere orbiting a sun in a large void. He's right.
  • Sonic Heroes has a stage called Ocean Palace, which has an area full of giant turtles the teams (other than Team Rose) have to go between via cannons and springs.

"That turtle is swimming with a block on its back!"

  • The fourth World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria introduces a massive Turtle Island named Shen-zin Su, the Wandering Isle, as the starting zone for the pandaren.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

Real Life

  • The Turtle Island cosmology mentioned above in Mythology has become the basis for a famous often-cited "argument" or thought experiment in cosmology and metaphysics known as "Turtles All The Way Down":

Man #1: If Earth is the back of a giant turtle, then what's holding up the turtle?
Man #2: Don't be a fool. It's Turtles All the Way Down!