Unreliable Narrator

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"You just show that your first-person narrator was actually in an insane asylum and then OH MY GOD, did it actually happen? Who can say? Here, I can say. It didn't happen because your narrator was just no good. Listen. Never lend an unreliable narrator money."

In most narratives, there's an element of trust that the person telling you the story is telling the truth, at least as far as they know it. This trope occurs when that convention is discarded. The narrator's facts contradict each other. If you ask them to go back a bit and retell it, the events come out a little differently. It can be like dealing with a used-car salesman—there's a real story in there somewhere, but you're left to piece it together through all the lies, half-truths, and mistruths.

Reasons for the unreliability vary. Sometimes the narrator is a guilty party and is trying to mislead the audience as well as the other characters. If the narrator is insane, it's Through the Eyes of Madness. If the narrator has honestly misunderstood what's going on due to naivety or inexperience, it's Innocent Inaccurate.

As an author, this is a difficult trick to pull off. It is a lot easier to tell a straight story than it is to deliberately mislead the audience, never mind that it violates the traditional assumption that Viewers are Morons.

One common technique is to use a Framing Device, so that the narrator is presented as a character in the frame story, to emphasize that he is not actually the author. Another, even trickier method, is the Literary Agent Hypothesis, where the narrator is supposedly relating things that happened in Real Life. Multiple unreliable narrators results in Rashomon Style. If it's a visual medium and the picture contradicts the narration, it's an Unreliable Voiceover. This can also be used as a trick in commercials, to evade claims of false advertising by having an unreliable character do the talking.

Unreliable Expositor is a variant with less than credible Exposition from specific characters, as opposed to narrators of the whole story. Contrast Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane where the evidence is reliable but insufficient, and Infallible Narrator, when the narration is far more accurate than the character giving it ought to be capable of.

This can also be a source of humour for the work, too.

Note that this is specifically for narrators within the work. When it's the author that's lying, that's Lying Creator. When the author simply can't make up his mind, that's Flip-Flop of God. Can usually be assumed to be the case at least part of the time when history is Written by the Winners.

Note: as this is often a particularly subversive Reveal, REALLY BIG spoilers ahead, especially in the Literature section.

Examples of Unreliable Narrators include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Being the Animated Adaptation of the light novels, Kyon from the Haruhi Suzumiya anime certainly qualifies. At the end of each episode, in the original 2006 summer broadcast, Haruhi always indicates the number of the next episode by its chronological order, while Kyon corrects her every time with the episode number based on the broadcast order (and for the one episode where the numbers actually match up, he then corrects himself and apologizes). Both are replaced with Nagato delivering a deadpan tie-in to the next episode, in both the DVD release and expanded 2009 broadcast.
    • There is also his stupefying habit of mixing narration with dialogue in language and terms that no high-schooler uses; and tendency not to tell the readers what he has figured out previously until the reveal.
  • In Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex, the episode Poker Face entirely takes place in a small shack at the side of some large event, where Cold Sniper Saito and some other police officers play poker during their break. When the other players ask him how he got so good at bluffing, he tells them the story how he met the Major while he was a mercenary sniper who killed most of her patrol during a UN mission in Mexico. Since both the plot and the story within the story are all about bluffing, it's entirely unclear if anything was true at all.
  • Very well done in the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni manga-only arc Onisarashi-hen. In the final chapter, it's revealed that the point-of-view character is responsible for every murder in the story.
    • Also, Onikakushi-hen, although we only find out in later chapter. Rena and Mion were completely innocent, and Keiichi was hallucinating the Creepy Monotone, Hellish Pupils, and murder attempts.
    • Tatarigoroshi-hen plays with this, too. Keiichi kills Teppei Houjou in order to protect Satoko. But then his friends tell him he was at the festival at the time, and Satoko insists that her uncle abused her later that night. But wait! Teppei's missing and his body isn't where Keiichi buried it. Subverted by the fact that Keiichi did kill Teppei. Mion just had the body moved and everyone's giving Keiichi a cover story. As for Satoko? Well... Who says the POV character has to be the only crazy character?
    • The narrator in Umineko no Naku Koro ni (or the camera, in the anime) is pretty much the queen of this trope. Pretty much anything the main character doesn't see with his own eyes is highly suspect, at best. Halfway in, and it's still unclear if the series is a genuine mystery or merely a massive Mind Screw, since Beatrice is narrating most of the third-person sections and writing the TIPS. This may only apply to what's happening on the game board, since message bottles were found which depicted the events on the island of the first two episodes, but apparently didn't mention the metaworld segments.
    • At the end of EP 8, we learn that the whole series (except possibly the first two episodes) consists of stories that Battler wrote/collaborated on to help him regain his memories of that fateful weekend. Before that, however, Umineko was a Mind Screw of epic proportions, largely because it had dueling unreliable narrators.
  • Genma Saotome from Ranma ½. Any time he tells a story you just know that isn't how it really happened.
    • This goes double for Happosai.
    • And Cologne. And the principal. And Soun (ESPECIALLY Soun). Heck, point to just about any important adult in Ranma 1/2, and it'd be easier to list the things they claimed that weren't total BS.
  • Jack Rakan of Mahou Sensei Negima is kind of like this whenever he relates any sort of Backstory, tending to massively exaggerate his own importance. That said, what he says is usually accurate... he just leaves out enormous chunks of the story because they don't involve him.
  • In Love Hina, Kitsune starts explaining Naru's past, and says that Naru and Seta were in a teacher-student romance at the time. She then immediately states "If that had happened, it would have been interesting."
  • The narrator in the Japanese dub of Axis Powers Hetalia is extremely reliable. She gives all of the facts straight without cease. The English narrator, however, does not. While she still gives correct facts and has serious moments, most of the time, she is very snarky, sarcastic and witty.

Narrator: Polish horses never charged German tanks at the battle of- right, anime fans. Germany invaded Poland in '39- right, American fans. Poland is a country, in Europe!

  • In the Death Note anime, Mikami himself, rather than an omniscient narrator, narrates his flashbacks. He thus has an unfavorable view of his mother's advice to stop fighting against the bullies, whereas the manga's narrator noted that she was motivated by genuine concern for his welfare that was largely lost on him.
  • According to Word of God nearly every installment in the Macross franchise is in fact an in-universe dramatization of the events depicted made several years after the fact. While the Broad Strokes of what happened is usually correct certain elements are tweaked somewhat due to Rule of Cool, Rule of Drama, or just the contemporary poltical climate.
  • In early episodes of The Slayers, Lina's narration of the previous episode's events tended to paint herself in the best light possible, to the point of, say...practically ignoring destroying almost a whole village.
    • Lina is no more reliable as the narrator of the Slayers novels.
  • Ii-chan of Zaregoto forgets important details, frequently. He even neglects to tell the readers how he disguised the second murder in The Kubishime Romanticist as a suicide.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In addition to all the below examples, it should be noted that Comics are the easiest medium to accomplish this in, since you can have the narration saying one thing above the panel and the panel show what's really happening, whereas in Film, Western Animation, and Live TV you might have the narrator's speech conflict with the scene, nessessiting a more "flashback" style to show this. It is very common to have a narrator say one thing and the below panel completely contradict it.
  • It should be obvious at the beginning of Earth X that Uatu the Watcher is an unreliable narrator: he's an alien from a culture that has very different values from humanity's. It should be further obvious when Uatu does things like object to World War II on the grounds that "humanity was not yet ready for a master race". But most readers were used to Uatu's style of narration and problematic "neutral" moral stance from What If?, so Uatu manages to carry on the illusion that he's a friend of humanity for several more issues.
  • Rorschach in Watchmen is a good example of this, especially when he talks about himself.
    • The artwork actually uses an unreliable framing device (one of many the work contains) to show "Rorschach" in the first person and Walter Kovacs in the 3rd person (walking around in the background of the same chapter), leading to The Reveal. This both misdirects the audience as to who Rorschach is behind the mask, and contributes to the sense of Rorschach's disconnection from "the man in the mirror", so to speak.
  • Ed Brubaker's Books of Doom miniseries tells the origin story of classic Marvel Comics supervillain Doctor Doom, seemingly narrated by Doom himself. However, at the story's end, it is revealed that the narrator is actually one of the Doom's Doombots, telling the story that Doom has programmed into it, leaving to question how much of it was true.
  • The Strontium Dog revival used this as a Retcon: the authors claimed that the classic series was folklore, and the new series was closer to the 'truth'.
  • Word of God states that Delios of 300 is an Unreliable Narrator; all of the supposed inconsistencies with actual history are actually bare-faced lies, with Delios stretching the truth about who did what and how many there were. This naturally justifies the comic's explicit use of Rule of Cool and Refuge in Audacity.
    • By extension, the same applies to the film adaptation. But just try telling this to your average fan. I dare you.
  • Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's six year-old imagination has the tendency to run away with him, resulting in spectacular fantasy sequences featuring characters like Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and Tracer Bullet. Then, of course, there's Hobbes himself, Calvin's stuffed tiger to whom he attaches a personality. Hobbes is even drawn differently when other characters are in the panel, to reflect how they see him as just a toy.
    • Word of God is deliberately mum on whether or not Hobbes is just a stuffed toy, or really somehow alive.
      • And then there's the storyline where Hobbes ties Calvin to a chair and Calvin's dad find him and can't for his life figure out how the heck Calvin has managed this...
  • Recent issues of The Boys have been about the backgrounds of other members of the titular group beyond Wee Hughie. Mother's Milk was relatively straight forward. Frenchie's was... not. This is partially justified by Frenchie being craaaaaaaazy.
  • The Killing Joke. Not only would this go hand-in-hand with the Multiple Choice Past that The Joker explicitly says he has but may also explain the story's ending.
  • The Scott Pilgrim series. It's revealed in the final book of the series, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour that Scott's memories of his past experiences with his ex-girlfriends were altered by Gideon Graves, meaning some of the events shown in the previous books may/may not be entirely false
  • Done in Steelgrip Starkey And The All-Purpose Power Tool via thought balloons and dialog from Flynn "Flyin'" Ryan . Although he's secretly the tool's inventor and the mastermind behind Mr. Pilgrim, his thoughts often read like he's unaware of the big picture. Done particularly egregiously when he and a cohort are making plans, and he still refers to Mr. Pilgrim in the third person.
  • In Twisted Toyfare Theatre, the perpetually drunk Iron Man told Spiderman about how Bucky died (again).

Iron Man: I shtood my ground, but it wash too late! The Shweathogs got him...
Captain America (comics): "Sweathogs"? I thought Pez Dispensers were chasing you!
Iron Man: Thash the weird part...

  • Vincent Santini, the narrator from Brooklyn Dreams, tells us in the first page he can't remember much from his past, so he'll tell us the best he can. The whole story is him telling us about his life the way he wants to remember it. He even says "I'll weave you some lies about my life, and who knows they might be true."
  • This is one of the rules governing the stories in Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard. June states that the stories can be neither "complete truths", nor "complete falsehoods." Exactly how much of any given story is true or false is left as an exercise to the reader, and they vary from the relatively plausible (a story of brief and unlikely companionship between mouse and bat), to the truly outlandish. (A mouse king who rode into battle upon a weasel, a Guardmouse who saved a town from a flash flood and drought by swallowing the flood waters than spitting them back out to serve as a reservoir.)
    • Amusingly, one of the most plausible stories—a play on "Androcles and the Lion" in which an African mouse manages to befriend a lion that's impressed with its bravery and resourcefulness (pulling the thorn out of the lion's paw is in there, but is outright established to be a secondary factor at best) -- is discarded out of hand because the North American mice of the series have never seen or heard of lions or hyenas before, as well as the fact that it's told by a known lunatic who claims to have heard it from a beetle, which aren't talking animals in Mouse Guard.
  • Iron Man villain the Mandarin. A recent Annual had him telling his life story to a film maker, with the captions showing his way of the events, and the panels showing the complete opposite.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • Elspeth of Luminosity narrates the second book, and whenever under Allirea's power sees her as "not important". This leads to glossing over some important dialogue, with a little Unspoken Plan Guarantee.
  • The museum curator from The Courier Who Had Cheated Death averts this trope. On one hand, every detail from the story he told was true. On the other hand, he was the murderous psychopath from the story, and the 'display dummy' he mentions offhandedly is implied to be another of his victims.
  • Hunting the Unicorn makes liberal use of this—though there isn't any intentional misleading, there are two instances that make use of this for huge impact: "The Hunters" reveals that Blaine isn't a virgin, and it's elaborated very painfully in the following chapter. "The Butterfly" is where David tells a counselor that Blaine has a stalker and has no idea of it.
  • In the Pokémon fanfic Revenge of the Narrator, the replacement Narrator tells the reader halfway through that everything the original Narrator had said was a lie.


Film[edit | hide]

  • This trope is a good way to explain away the historical inaccuracies in 300.
  • Titanic: Old Rose, if we assume all the 1912 scenes are visual representations of the story she's telling to her granddaughter and the research vessel crew. If they are meant to be this, Old Rose describes scenes and conversations for which she wasn't even present, including scenes known to be historically inaccurate ("Molly" Brown's argument with a crewman in her lifeboat, Smith and Ismay in any way discussing racing for the record, an idea that had been discarded before Titanic even launched) and all the scenes with the lifeboats and Cal's leaving the ship, and which she couldn't possibly know about since it's implied she never spoke with anyone in those scenes who survived again. Since the film as a rule averts Did Not Do the Research this could be an example of Rose making up details or coloring events (or padding the movie.) That, or she's lying about not contacting anyone (and since the real Maggie Brown was in fact a charity patron of actors in New York, it's entirely possible Rose ran into her again.)
  • The Kid Stays In the Picture. Robert Evans acknowledges that the documentary is colored by his point of view of the events in the film, with a title card stating:

"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently."

  • The movie Sucker Punch embodies this trope, since almost all of the movie takes place just as the protagonist is having a lobotomy. Made all the more weird because we're not quite sure who the narrator is.
  • Detour. It's implied that the main character Al Roberts is coloring events to make himself look sympathetic, and to make Vera seem more like a vicious Femme Fatale.
  • American Psycho. Patrick Bateman even lampshades: "Here is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there's no real me, only an entity, something illusory."
  • Mad Detective. Bun claims that he can visualize people's inner personalities but it's never clear whether it's an example of his madness or a legit supernatural power.
  • Snake Eyes features several flashbacks narrated by several characters in an attempt to reconstruct a crime, and every flashback replays through a continuous, first-person point of view shot. One such flashback is completely untrue, as it is narrated by the (unbeknownst) criminal.
  • Implied in Bunny and the Bull. Stephen, the main character, is retelling the story of a road trip from his perspective- vital pieces of information are left out or glossed over, not to mention the fact that he sees hallucinations in his house but doesn't realise they are not real until the end of the movie, so by consequence, neither does the audience
  • The Usual Suspects. Agent Kujan spends the course of the movie listening to Verbal tell his story, then rejects portions of it as lies. The problem, of course, is that he rejects the WRONG portions.
  • The premise of Rashomon is that the story is told from four different points of view, all of which disagree, and all of which are unreliable, due to each character having a reputation to protect.
    • The ending at least gives us the truth about what happened to the dagger, but with a very different motive than what the viewer might have assumed.
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reveals in the end that the man who has been telling the story is in fact an inmate of an insane asylum, and the entire movie never happened; he just made it up based on the people around him.
  • Fight Club has the unnamed narrator who turns out to have a Split Personality disorder and is also Tyler Durden.
  • Nearly every joke in Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human relies on the alien narrator misinterpreting human behavior.
  • In Blade of Vengeance, the narrator is the female love interest. Her narratives are usually really weird. At the end of the movie, she's seen smoking opium, which explaining a lot.
  • An early example of this occurred in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, which opens with a flashback narrated by one of the characters who is lying to another character to obtain their help.
  • The plot of Hero consists of the same story being retold three times with major differences: Nameless' BS story he told so that he could get an audience with the Emperor and have a shot at assassinating him, the Emperor finally calling Nameless on his BS and telling what he thinks really happened, and Nameless finally admitting what REALLY happened just before he tries to kill the Emperor.
  • In the Korean horror/suspense film A Tale of Two Sisters, this trope only becomes apparent at the end. It starts out fairly normal, with two sisters returning home to their father and stepmother. It starts to get confusing, with the unexplained appearance of some wraith-like girl under the sink, various objects and people disappearing and reappearing without explanation, and all sorts of contradictory information. Eventually the stepmother murders one of the girls, only it's revealed immediately after that it never happened. It turns out one of the girls was pretending to be both herself, her stepmother, and her sister. The sister who was supposedly murdered had died a long time ago in an accident, and the stepmother was simply the nurse taking care of the two when said accident happened, which the girl blames for her sister's death. Are you confused yet?
  • Tracey Berkowitz of The Tracey Fragments. Maybe.
  • Big Fish has an unusual take on the Unreliable Narrator, in that the flashback stories are assumed to be pure fiction for most of the movie and the twist is that the father may actually be more reliable than was thought. The appearance of the twins, Giant and Ringmaster at the father's funeral clearly leaves the son reeling as he reassesses his father's stories for where exactly they diverged from the truth. The reality is only slightly skewed from his stories, ie. the Siamese twins are actually just regular twins, the giant is a 7'6" man, and so on.
    • Also a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, as the son realizes his father never exaggerated his own role in the stories, and only lied to make others more impressive.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters: After the opening movie theater parody, the story supposedly begins millions of years ago, in 1492, at 3pm, in Egypt. Then a modern airplane flies by. It turns out this is a story Master Shake is telling Meatwad, and to make it worse, Meatwad is in the story. In fact, pretty much every character in this film is an Unreliable Narrator.
  • The Fall plays some fun games with this trope. It is a film of two levels, stories within stories - a girl in a hospital listens to stories told by a bedridden man, and we see her visualisations of the stories he tells. Trouble is, they don't share identical internal dictionaries. One great example is that he talks about an indian and his squaw, but the girl, who was friends with a Sikh, imagines a bearded subcontinental man in a turban. The Fall also features a classic example of In-Universe Creator Breakdown.
  • Memento. Lenny may be trying to report accurately, but his grasp on the real past is, to put it mildly, highly questionable.
  • Played straight, for laughs, and for drama in Forrest Gump. The naive Forrest incorrectly describes events he witnesses through his life. Notable examples: He believes that Charlie was someone the Army was looking for, opposed to the code name for the Vietcong, and Apple computers as a fruit company even though he made a fortune by investing in them.
  • Joker in The Dark Knight provides differing accounts for how exactly he got his scars, leaving you wishing he'd have more chances to terrorize victims with more colorful variations.
  • The film Secret Window, Secret Garden, (based on Stephen King's novella, which is narrated in third person) the narrator is stalked by a psychopath who accuses him of plagiarizing his book, and who attempts to frame him for several heinous crimes. In the climax, it is revealed that the narrator has been driven to madness over his guilt for plagiarizing a classmate in college, and is unconsciously committing the acts for which he thinks he's being framed. The stalker does not exist outside his own mind (although the novella hedges a bit on this point).
  • Monster a Go-Go! has the ultimate Unreliable Narrator. Whaddaya mean there was no monster, beauzeau?
  • Bubba Ho-Tep. The stories Elvis and JFK share about themselves and how they ended up in a Texas nursing home are VERY speculative and unreliable.
  • Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), in Little Big Man, is quite likely one of these.
    • In the original novel by Thomas Berger, the historian who transcribes Crabb's narrative expresses the opinion that most of his supposed exploits are pure malarkey. There are hints, however, that the historian may himself be something of an unreliable narrator.
  • While it didn't have an unreliable narrator itself, the 2007 Beowulf implied that the original poem was a false account of the events as told by Beowulf himself.
  • The events of The New Guy seem to strain the limits of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. At various points throughout the movie (eg: immediately after the scene with Danielle trying on swimsuits), however, the audience is reminded that we're seeing the story through the eyes of an arguably-insane convict.
  • David Leigh (David Beard) in The Last Broadcast.
  • In High Tension (originally Haute Tension), a French psychological thriller, Marie, a resourceful young woman is trying to save her best friend, Alexia, from an insane serial killer who murdered Alexia's family before kidnapping her. The twist: Marie is the serial killer. The Killer is an alternate personality that Marie created in order to live out a disturbing fantasy: Alexia will fall in love with her savior and stay with Marie FOREVER.
  • Matthew McConaughey in Frailty.
  • The main story of Road Trip is told through the eyes of Barry, a campus tour guide who's not playing with a full deck. As such, the story has some highly improbable elements.
    • Lampshaded when he is telling the part involving the girls' locker room.
  • In Swimming Pool the novelist protagonist spends most of the movie dealing with her publisher's daughter's bad habits including murder but, at the end, we learn that the publisher's daughter is a completely different girl, leaving us wondering who the girl was, and if she existed at all.
  • I Love You Phillip Morris: Steven, the voice over, is always hiding information and lying about information in the voice over.
  • In the musical film, Grease, Danny and Sandy sing about how they met each other during the summer holidays to their friends, unaware that they are both going to the same school. Sandy sings about how Danny was such a sweet guy and describes their romantic evening, whereas Danny shows off about making out with Sandy and saying that she was "good, if you know what I mean."
  • In Election, the narrator describes how a character ruined his friend's life and then states that he doesn't blame the character and that his friend had to bear the responsibility for his own actions. Nevertheless we see that he strongly dislikes the character and this informs the behaviour that sets the whole plot in motion.
  • In Maybe Baby, Lucy writes in her dairy "I remained very cool". Cut to the scene, where she's babbling away about a sequel and making a complete idiot of herself.
  • Clue uses this to make the various Multiple Endings equally plausible, as the butler doing the majority of the exposition is variously an FBI agent conducting a sting and/or Mr. Boddy himself.
  • Played for laughs in Rango. The owls at the beginning say that the main character is going to die. At the end, he survives the movie and then the owls claim they were telling the truth, he will die...eventually.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Joel. A great portion of the film is told through Joel's memories of events he experienced with Clementine, but the unreliability of those memories is shown on at least two occasions. When Joel first arrives home the night of the erasure, his neighbor chats with him about Valentine's Day. This is then the first substantial memory about Clementine that gets erased. But while this event took place just a short while (maybe an hour at most) before the erasure, it is shown that Joel is already incorrectly remembering what his neighbor said to him. Other less obvious hints abound (e.g. Joel remembering childhood events while being adult in appearance). Taking the imperfection of human memory alongside whether Joel considered a given memory as enjoyable or upsetting, the audience ought to wonder if what they're viewing is what actually happened, or if Joel's memories are distorted, exaggerated, or embellished because of the passing of time and because of his emotional state at the time of the event.
  • Inverted in Braveheart where according to the film, historical inaccuracies can be explained by history itself being the unreliable narrator (having being written by the winners)
  • In the song "I Remember It Well" from Gigi, Maurice Chevalier's character claimed to remember a past meeting with Gigi's grandmother perfectly, only to be contradicted by her in every detail.
  • A probable example occurs with A Christmas Story, which is told as a likely 40-something-year-old man recalling events from when he was 9 or so. This explains such improbable details like the massive snow mountain present in the department store that would be impossible to store the other 10–11 months out of the year and the fact that their hillbilly neighbors apparently had hundreds of bloodhounds.
  • The movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron goes on great lengths to show that Humans Are the Real Monsters, that horses are enslaved by us, and that they should be free. Humans in the parts where the protagonist is broken in and forced to pull a train down hill are depicted in a negative manner while the parts where he's with humans that let him mostly do whatever he wants are portrayed positively. This movie is told from the point-of-view of a wild stallion who has had no contact with humans in his life, suddenly becoming captured by them.
  • Flourish stars Jennifer Morrison as Gabrielle Winters, a tutor who is brought in for questioning in the death of her sixteen-year-old student, Lucy. She tells the entire story to the police officer questioning her, and when she finishes, the police officer asks her how she could have spoken about events she wasn't present for. It's then revealed that Gabrielle is actually in a mental hospital, and the police officer is a psychiatrist. Prior to the story, Gabrielle was in a car accident that caused her brain trauma; as a result, she has frequent memory lapses and unconsciously fills them in with fictional details (sharp viewers will notice that one of the suspects in Gabrielle's story is played by the same actor as the man questioning her). Gabrielle overhears the psychiatrist talking with someone else and comes to the realization that she has made up nearly everything she said. However, the psychiatrist also notes that Gabrielle did correctly guess a lot of the details, leaving it up in the air how much of her story was actually true.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Black Donnellys: The narrator (Joey "Ice Cream") puts himself into the story in places where he couldn't have been, gets dates wrong by a year or so, and just has the general demeanor of not being a guy whose facts are ready to bank. On the flip side, the story he tells does not make him seem like a Marty Stu. He gets shut down by the ladies. He never plays a pivotal role in the events of the story. This leads us to believe we can accept at least some of what he is saying. Naturally, the series was canceled.
    • Joey Ice Cream generally gives the sense of wishing he had brothers like the Donnellys, and that's why he inserts himself into the story, in a hopeful-sad attempt to feel like part of them while he's really an outsider. Sometimes it seems like he may have been there, and usually it seems like it was probably another Donnelly or sometimes Jenny who was really there. I usually wanted to give Joey a hug, and maybe some ice cream.
  • How I Met Your Mother started off occasionally playing with this, but has used the device increasingly often as it progressed. Unusually, it is not because Future Ted is lying per se (at least, not often - there are some instances of outright lies), but because of ordinary memory lapses (having a character named Blah Blah because he can't recall her name), subjective interpretation of ordinary events (showing Robin's forty-something date as elderly), or sanitizing the story for his children (using "I'm getting too old for this stuff" instead of "shit".). The few times he tells us things that seem to defy reality (such as Lily and Marshall escaping their own party by jumping out the window, or having high school athletes and a Teen Wolf on a kindergarten basketball team), he Hand Waves it by saying that's all he heard about it. In short, if there is a way to exploit the potential of an Unreliable Narrator for comedic purposes, it's been done on How I Met Your Mother at some point.
    • Another good example is in "The Rough Patch" (OK fanboys, let it out...and we're back). Since they began happily dating, Barney and Robin have let themselves go a little; however, in Ted's mind, they look like absolute hell, and Barney in particular is now comically overweight. He even admits that he's unreliable on this point, but they stay that way for most of the episode anyway.
    • "Zoo or False" includes two more examples. The question of whether or not Marshall was mugged by a monkey goes unanswered, and the last two minutes of the show, where the monkey carries a little doll woman to the top of Ted's scale model of the empire state building while paper airplanes are thrown at him are left similarly ambiguous.

Ted: Barney, enough with the lies. You can't just tack on a new ending because you're unsatisfied with how a story wraps up.
Barney: Oh really? Well, mark my words Mosby, 'cause someday you'll be telling this story, and you'll see it my way.
Ted: Doubtful. (narrating from the future) And then, kids, you'll never believe what happened!

      • Particularly great, since the setup for the awesome end has been laced throughout the episode--so if Future Ted is making this up he's likely made up a fair chunk of the episode.
    • This also happens to Ted when he goes to see a movie and finds out that the story is based on how Stella left him right before their wedding. It portrays him as a Jerkass and makes him the villain. Is he being slandered or does did he actually edit the events in his memory to make him look like the hero?
      • More likely he sees the movie as being far worse and "Jed Mosely" as way more of an asshole than in reality, because he's too close to the events to see the movie objectively and is oversensitive about every bad trait Jed Mosely displays. The movie's financially successful, no one else seems to notice how utterly stupid and poorly-written the movie is, even people who are supposedly down-to-earth like Lily and Robin, so it's probably just a typical shallow romcom with a Disposable Fiance.
    • Subverted in episode 5.5, "Duel Citizenship:" Future Ted says, "And then it happened...Marshall and Lily morphed into one big married blob." This is shown literally happening, indicating Ted's narration is being exaggerated for comic effect. Then Present Ted blinks and says, "Whoa...I gotta dial back on the Tantrum." This refers to a highly caffeinated beverage he'd been consuming, implying that he was hallucinating.
  • Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did this deliberately, especially in the episode The Wire, because as a former secret agent of the Cardassian Obsidian Order he liked obfuscating his own past and never told a truth if a lie would suffice.

Bashir: Out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren't?
Garak: My dear doctor, they were all true.
Bashir: Even the lies?
Garak: Especially the lies.

  • Dexter often mentioned his lack of any emotions in his narration, which is increasingly obviously untrue, especially in season two. He's not lying to the audience so much as he simply doesn't understand a lot of human nature.
  • In one segment of Mad TV, Aries Spears tells a story as a photomontage of the events he's detailing accompanies. We start with Aries hanging out on the roof, where he goes to chill out in his downtime, and noting that this would be a great place to launch a glider. After this point, the wholesome and educational narrative he details begins to subtly (and, very very shortly, not so subtly) diverge from the things we're seeing, and ends with Aries high as a kite on glue fumes, under the impression that one of the other actors, aware of what has happened and concerned for Aries' safety, is some kind of demon out to kill him.
  • The Dharma orientation films of Lost are narrated by Francois Chau's variably named character. The Swan film is located "behind The Turn of the Screw" on the bookshelf, tipping the audience in advance that perhaps "Marvin Candle" is not to be trusted.
  • Hard to prove, but Kevin of The Wonder Years may fall under this. He is recalling events to him long past, and while the broad details are likely accurate, consider that the older brother and some of the pre-Women's Lib neighborhood girls get away with a lot of hitting. Also, when unfairness, especially parental, hits Kevin, it seems to focus on him exclusively, making you wonder if his older self is letting the filters of nostalgia and occasional bitterness influence his re-telling.
    • The premiere episode has Kevin recalling that he was a 'pretty fair athlete' while showing a perfectly thrown football pass bounce off his chest.
  • Malcolm in the Middle plays with the more humorous variant. For one example, Malcolm says the house next-door never seemed to have a permanent resident and they never figured out why. Cue montage of the boys playing all sorts of pranks on the previous residents, then cut to Malcolm saying "I don't know - I think it might be haunted."
  • Lampshaded in Space Cases. When Catalina is asked to describe what happened with the Ion Storm, Harlan acts completely and utterly worthless and it's actually her who saves the day. When this flashback finishes, everyone says "...wait that's not what happened" and they ask for Harlan's version, which is...more or less the same thing but with Harlan presented as the hero and Catalina being useless and her obsession with Suzee being exaggerated. Naturally this is one of the more humorous examples, but it just blended so well with the rest of the rather serious episode.
  • In The Trial of a Time Lord, the Valeyard has tampered with the evidence in the Matrix, especially in Mindwarp, to make the Doctor's conviction certain.
    • In the more recent Doctor Who story, The Unicorn And The Wasp, Agatha Christie questions the attendees at an outdoor party regarding a recent murder. As the suspects each give their story, we see the events that they describe, but as they really happened. Example, one young man claimed to be wandering alone, but in the flashback scene it's shown that he was flirting with another man. His father lies not only about what he was doing but also what he was reminiscing about at the time, leading to a flashback-within-a-flashback.
    • The episode Love & Monsters is framed as a story being told to the camera by Elton Pope. It's explicitly shown that his memory of how the band sounded, and how they actually sounded are rather different, which calls into question a lot of his interpretation of events.
  • In the fourth-season MASH episode "The Novocaine Mutiny", Frank and Hawkeye give wildly differing accounts of the same event.
    • Speaking of M*A*S*H, the series finale segment in which Hawkeye - via flashback - describes the bus ride with the chicken to Sidney, is a powerful example; made powerful due to the frighteningly awesome reveal later on.
  • BBC sitcom Coupling had numerous examples of unreliable narrators, notably pretty much anything said by either Jeff or Jane. But the greatest example of was in the third season episode Remember This, where Patrick and Sally's individual recollections of how they met match in many, but not all details, to great comedic effect. In particular, the print of Munch's The Scream that the exceedingly drunk Sally remembers is revealed to be a mirror in Patrick's memories.
  • The X-Files. In "The Unnatural" an alcoholic ex-cop tells Mulder how he encountered an alien posing as a famous Negro baseball player in 1947 Roswell; a story that even Mulder finds hard to believe. When Mulder tries fitting these facts into what he knows about the Government Conspiracy, the cop basically tells him to just shut up and enjoy the tale.
    • The X Files used this trope very frequently, especially in the more comedic episodes, like "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and "Bad Blood." In "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'", one alien is named "Lord Kinbote" after Charles Kinbote, the unreliable narrator in Nabokov's "Pale Fire."
  • In Dollhouse, Bennett's memory of how her arm was crippled shows Caroline abandoning her to save herself. Caroline's own memory is later seen, and shows her trying to dislodge the rubble pinning Bennett, then explaining that as an employee Bennett can pretend she wasn't involved, and pinning her ID badge to her to make this more obvious before leaving. Which seems very thorough. The apparent implication is that Bennett's memory is incomplete, though depending on how you view Caroline, one might consider both of them to fall under this.
  • The Janitor from Scrubs is a pathological liar. He tells the most bizarre tales about his past and doesn't even keep track of what is true in them, if any at all. Or maybe he does but just wants to screw with you.

(as Janitor finishes a story)
JD: Is any of that true?
Janitor: Somebody would have to read it back to me.

  • Played for laughs on Red Dwarf. In the episode "Blue", the crew travel through an artificial reality version of Rimmer's journal, in which he depicts himself as a brave, handsome leader and the other crew members as reliant on him for various things which, in reality, they're better at than Rimmer.
  • All in The Family had a Rashomon episode where an incident was seen from the points of view of all four principles - Edith's version was the objective, accurate one, of course.
  • Most of the Supernatural episode Tall Tales is a Rashomon episode, with Sam and Dean telling their own version of the previous events to their Mentor Bobby - and often end up arguing over who's telling the story and the exact details of what occurred. It is eventuality revealed that a Trickster (a minor god of chaos) has been messing with their relationship in order to distract them from the case at hand, so most of the narrative consists of whichever brother is speaking portraying himself as a suave, dedicated professional searching earnestly for the truth, while painting the other in decidedly uncomplimentary colors. In Sam's narration, Dean appears as a slutty, gluttonous pig with no standards, while Dean portrays Sam as a prissy, supersensitive do-gooder with Camp Gay mannerisms. They end up working together to defeat the Trickster and sincerely apologizing for their behavior after closing the case.
  • Completely subverted in Arrested Development. The narrator is actually the most reliable 'character', pointing out all of the various lies and misconceptions put forth by other characters, and even going so far as to offer extra background information on many occasions. (With the possible exception of the "On the Next..." segments, but many of those end up being true anyway.)

Lucille: So what if I'm a bad mother? It's not like children come with a manual!
Narrator: [On a screen showing Google search] In fact, Lucille was not aware that there are thousands of books on child-rearing.

GOB: Believe me, we didn't do any sleeping. I had sex last night.
Narrator: But he really didn't.
GOB: Yes, I did.

  • Occasionally used in The Middle, but to a pretty mild degree. On more than one occasion, a scene will go surprisingly well, considering things rarely if ever go well for the characters. Frankie will then voice over "OK, that's not really what happened." and show the much worse thing that actually happened.
  • On NCIS Tony tends to embellish his stories. In a sad example he has been embellishing a story about a school prank for so long that he started to believe that his version of events was exactly what happened. When he starts feeling guilty and goes to apologize to the now grown up victim of the prank, the guy is baffled by Tony's apology. Tony was actually the victim of the cruel prank and he the other guy was the bully. Tony realized that over the years he managed to flip the story in his head and made himself into the villain.
  • Alan Bennet's 'Talking Heads' series of monologues is built on this trope. Each narrator tries to tell their story to their own advantage, but we can see through their facade to see the real story. For example, 'Her Big Chance' features Julie Walters as a woman who thinks she's a highly professional actress but we get enough hints to see that she is anything but (for example whenever she says a line, the director tells her it might be silent). She also appears to have no idea that she's acting in a soft-core porn movie for the German market.
  • The YA superhero novel Charlotte Powers is presented as the titular character's journal. Although afflicted with an 'honesty curse' that means she can't tell a direct lie, Charlotte often focuses on the wrong thing, goes off on a tangent, or simply omits information. The fact that she's under psychic influence for much of the story doesn't help.
  • The Farscape episode "Scratch 'n Sniff" features Crichton relaying the events of why he had to leave a planet to Pilot. At several points, Pilot refuses to believe Chrichton (even at one point suggesting that if Jool had lost as much fluid from her body as Crichton said, she'd be dead) and in the end it was left ambiguous how much of the story, if any, was true.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Most of the Barenaked Ladies song "The Old Apartment" is meant to imply that the narrator has broken into his ex-girlfriend's apartment in a fit of creepy stalkerishness. Toward the end of the song, he reveals that he and the girlfriend are still together, and have just moved to a nicer house; he's broken into their old place in a fit of creepy nostalgia.
  • The protagonist of King Diamond's concept album "The Graveyard" claims that he was thrown into a mental hospital because he threatened to expose a politician as a child molester. Since the entire album is from his point of view, and he's an insane killer, it's not clear if he's telling the truth or just crazy.
  • The refrain of Gaelic Storm's "Johnny Tarr" goes: "Even if you saw it yourself you wouldn't believe it/But I wouldn't trust a person like me if I were you/Sure I wasn't there - I swear I have an alibi/I heard it from a man who knows a fella who swears it's true". The story told in the song is borderline fantasy, wherein the title character dies of thirst in the middle of a drinking contest.
  • They Might Be Giants do this so much they considered calling one of their albums Unreliable Narrator. To cite one example, "Purple Toupee" is built around the narrator's horribly mangled memories of newsworthy events of the 60s ("I remember the book depository where they crowned the king of Cuba"..."Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms").
  • Denton, TX based Slobberbone's "Billy Pritchard" features a father telling his daughter how he doesn't approve of her relationship with a boy in her town, and implies that he killed her brother. Near the end of the song, we learn that the father shot his own son in the back of the head after mistaking him for Billy, and that most of what he had said was a lie.
  • Eminem played with this for the majority of his career. His 'Slim Shady' character was an obvious parody of the excesses of the gangsta rapper archetype, but a lot of the devices Eminem used with Slim Shady were kept on even after he abandoned the character. How much of Eminem's rapping reflected his own attitudes is a very debatable question.
  • Rael, the protagonist of the Genesis Concept Album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is practically made of this trope.
  • In Joanna Newsom's song "Colleen", the story is told by a young mermaid or sea nymph who lost her memory and was subsequently adopted by humans. It's implied that by the end of the song, she's still unaware that she's not human, although it's obvious from the lyrics.

I'll tell it as I best know how, and that's the way it was told to me: I must have once been a thief or a whore, then surely was thrown overboard, where, they say, I came this way from the deep blue sea...

  • Pink Floyd's The Wall, the movie in particular.
  • Ludo's song "Lake Pontchartrain" is told from the perspective of a young man who supposedly witnessed his friends' watery, supernatural deaths. But at the last verse he adds; "That's how it happened/Why would I lie?/There were no bodies/I got none to hide", implying that he's being tried for killing them.
  • Gorillaz bassist Murdoc is notorious for this. He may be the only speaking witness to Noodle's disappearance and apparent death, but he changes the story every time he tells it. Sort of justified in that he claims to be withholding information in hopes of a movie deal. Of course, Murdoc's been known for exaggerating stories and flat out lying on important topics, so it's possible that he's just making things up as he goes.
  • Pick a Randy Newman song. Any Randy Newman song.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Some members of the For Better or For Worse Hatedom point out that a lot of events are communicated to the readers by having one character tell another, such that we get this information second or even third hand. This treatment is notably applied to Anthony's ex-wife, Therese - the audience sees very little of her, and almost everything we know about her is communicated by other characters when she's not present. As a result some question just how accurate the portrayal of Therese as an evil harpy really is.
    • Elly is inclined to think of herself as a kind, reasonable, generous mother, and will paint herself as such in any retelling of events which involved her. Occasions when Elly has been any of those things, as a mother, as a wife, or just as a person in general, are few and far between.


Radio[edit | hide]

"We swore we would escape the school, or die in the attempt."
"And what happened?"
"We died in the attempt."
"Oh, how awful!"
"Of course not, you blundering idiot! How would I be talking to you now?"

  • Doctor Who audio "And The Pirates" is told by Evelyn and the Doctor. Evelyn gets many of the facts wrong and is caught making up names on the spot, such as "John Johnson" and "Tom Thompson". She even initially says the Doctor died mere minutes after saying he'll be around to tell more of the story. Parts are told out of order, and all the sailors have the same voice because she can't impersonate them well. The Doctor's version of events is much more accurate but suspiciously full of characters complementing his unorthodox wardrobe.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Nearly all of the background material for Warhammer 40,000 is told from possibly inaccurate histories and skewed propoganda pieces, making the exact nature of the setting dubious at best.
  • And like Warhammer 40,000 the regular Warhammer Fantasy books are also written in an unreliable sort of way.
  • Much like the above Warhammer example, all of the material on BattleTech is written from an in-universe perspective, always of some particular person or organization. This goes for everything, even the technical readouts on new 'Mechs and such. ComStar was the original viewpoint group, but it has since branched out to every faction. Some of the earlier books had significant errors (people doing things before their stated date of birth, using 'Mechs that hadn't been invented yet, etc), and the in-universe perspective allowed them to chalk it up to different perspectives. It also allowed them to Retcon things that they didn't want.
  • Traveller Sourcebooks are kind of this way too, though far more reliable as it is a more mundane setting. There is enough leeway for a good gamemaster to go every which way.
  • Notably used as a justification for adventure hooks in Unknown Armies, in the form of rumours that may or may not be true as the GM decides. One example: "Bigfoot has a social security number".
  • Almost all source materials for games set in Greg Stafford's "Glorantha" (RuneQuest, Hero Quest, Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods) along with books (King of Sartar) are written in the style of Unreliable Narrators with no one absolute truth.
  • Large parts of Shadowrun supplements were written as posts on an online message board, and the authors were ever eager to point out that anything could be wrong, exaggerated, or invented.
  • All of the world background in White Wolf's Old World of Darkness is presented in this way. This is most notable in the clanbooks/tribebooks etc. Each Vampire clan tells a different version of history in which their own clan is somehow older, smarter and generally more awesome than all the others.
    • The largest one: Demon: The Fallen. We never get the other viewpoint, and the viewpoint we do get is filtered through several millennia of resentment.
  • Many 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks involve Unreliable Narrator and/or Unreliable Expositor. After all, players need a good idea of what is considered "believable" in-universe.
    • The Complete Book of Elves. It very seriously explains how the elves are wondrous sophisticated creatures and - contrary to a popular opinion - most certainly not backward arrogant jerks at all. And then it gleefully gives in-universe and in-character examples. Quoth a review on rpg.net forums - "So we're half a page in and we've already learned something that will serve us well as we read the rest of the book: elves are gigantic dicks."
    • Most notably the Planescape ones, are assigned specific narrators. Planescape had more unreliable narrators than others, considering the fact that at least one of them was certifiably insane by human standards...
    • This also includes the Ravenloft with Van Richten's Guides and a bunch of others.
    • Forgotten Realms has its share. Its style leans more toward Unreliable Expositor, but "Volo's Guides" use a lot of both - and Elminster's "helpful corrections" and mocking comments on the author's indiscretions don't make Volo look more credible. An especially interesting example of this was the Netheril: Empire of Magic sourcebook that described said lost civilization in the Forgotten Realms. Except one particular archwizard of immense power was never mentioned in the entire book, despite being a prominent figure. That is, until you start to try to figure out who the narrator was...
  • Indie storytelling game The Adventures of Baron Munchausen makes every player into an unreliable narrator, and has specific mechanics governing how players can challenge the veracity of each others' tales.
  • TheDeadlands source books are divided into two to three sections. The Posse Territory sections are for general use, and give about as much information as the world at large knows. No Man's Land is for information only certain people would know, like the existence of Harrowed or how Huckster magic works. Both of these sections are filled with untruths, ranging from simple misinformation to Blatant Lies. The Marshall's Only sections have the lowdown on how things really work. Part of the setting's mystique is having the inner workings of the Reckoning remain a mystery to the players.
  • The First and Early Second Edition Sourcebooks of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG were all written from the subjective in-universe point of view of the Clan or Faction that was the primary focus of the book. This was done both for flavor and to give the GM the freedom to decide what was true and what wasn't in his campaign. This approach was eventually abandoned during the Second Edition because Wizards of the Coast thought it was too confusing for d20 players.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Dragon Age II has an unreliable narrator in the form of Varric. On several occasions his interrogator points out his lies and he retells a section of the story. It doesn't help that in the game he tells Hawke that he is a compulsive liar. In fact, the game allows you to play through his exaggerations: for example, in the prologue, Hawke and his/her sibling are fighting a group of darkspawn, and are able to one-shot Hurlocks left and right, even curb-stomp an Ogre, before he's called out on it and the player replays that section at level one. The second time, the gang is raiding a mansion, and Varric bursts in through the front door and is able to mow down all the guards Scarface-style with his Automatic Crossbow.
  • World of Warcraft creators tend to cite unreliable historians—making it slightly easier to explain away various retcons—to the point "canon" is usually refered to as "lore".
    • Humorously demonstrated in the Badlands zone post-cataclysm where the player meets a trio of characters who each tell a story of their encounter with Deathwing as he carved the gigantic gouge across the landscape. Each tale is filled with ridiculous exaggerations and Blatant Lies, the other characters constantly calling out the tall tales and even invading upon the third one' story, interrupting his "epic confrontation" to keep on perpetuating their own bragging. And it's absolutely hilarious.
  • Properly applied, Unreliable Narrator can be used as an in game explanation of why the character dies and is resurrected by whatever means. Even if there isn't a narrator explicitly stated, the player can assume a reset after a character's demise was the narrator of the tale suddenly remembering that wasn't how it went.
    • Which is exactly how it happened in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, in universe, since the Prince is the one telling his story, yet somehow fails to remember HE DIDN'T DIE until he actually says that he did.
      • As Yahtzee put it: "And then I wall-jumped at the wrong time and fell down a chasm and died. Oh, sorry, I'm thinking of something else. What really happened was... I wall-jumped at the wrong time... and fell down... no, wait, hang on. In actuality I wall-jumped at the right time, then accidentally pressed circle instead of X and fell to my death - I'm not boring you, am I?"
        • Could be justified as the Prince may have gone through all these deaths and add in all the micro time traveling... he's probably just not exactly sure what actually took place. So he may unintentionally be unreliable.
  • Common in Interactive Fiction, where it can be used for comedy, as in Infocom's The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy ("Okay, I was just joking, you really can't go west."), or for suspense, as in Andrew Plotkin's Spider and Web, (where the entire first half of the game is a spy's "confession" under interrogation, and he's trying to mislead his interrogator).
    • In Photopia, the narrator of the fantasy segments turns out to be a babysitter who is telling the story to a little girl with her as the protagonist.
    • More than one puzzle in the aforementioned Hitchhiker game relies on the player working out that some of the room descriptions are lies. The game eventually gives in and admits the truth if you look at it hard enough.
    • Make It Good relies heavily on this. The player plays as a hardboiled detective, send to investigate a murder scene, but various little clues eventually reveal the PC was directly involved in the murder, and the goal changes from identifying the murderer to subtly meddling with the evidence and getting the blame off yourself.
  • Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII seemed to have several retellings on a key event in the past before the game makes you play through his subconscious to figure out what the hell really happened.
    • Cloud's narration of the events is completely accurate, in terms of events that took place. The only really unreliable aspect is that he told the story as though he was Zack.
  • Final Fantasy X has a particularly interesting example of this trope. Much of the game is told as a flashback by the main character. While not necessarily deceptive, he also does not reveal a number of key points. This parallels his process of discovery; the player isn't told anything explicitly until the point in the story where the narrator himself first learned them.
  • In the video game Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow, most of the game is Jack recounting his adventures. Being Jack Sparrow, he exaggerates things quite a bit, which is sometimes lampshaded by having other characters point out factual inaccuracies in his stories. This allows the game to include giant spiders, frozen vikings, and a very different version of the events of the first movie.
  • Viewtiful Joe features a narrator attempting to make Joe's actions look heroic. The truth is Joe is having a blast being a superhero, completely forgets about his captured girlfriend, and more or less arrives where she is accidentally.
  • The main character of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is a rookie soldier who trained extensively in VR and has never been in actual combat before. Only he isn't a rookie. He was a child soldier and highly prolific killer who served under Solidus Snake and has since spent his life acting as though it never happened and carefully suppressing memories of what he went through.
  • The World Ends With You has Hanekoma writing about the Fallen Angel throughout his secret reports—seriously, why would anyone teach Minamimoto the Dangerous Forbidden Technique?! Well, of course Mr. H was the Fallen Angel all along.
  • In Hitman Bloodmoney, the game takes place in flashbacks being told in an interview by former FBI director "Jack" Alexander Leland Cayne, who's account contains multiple inconsitencies with what actually happens in the game. It turns out that Cayne founded "The Franchise" and was behind the "The Agencies" destruction and part of a plot to assassinate the President so that he couldn't forward his pro-cloning policy, allowing for Alpha Zerox continued monopoly on cloning. At the end of the game, Diana revives 47 in the funeral house and 47 kills everyone on the premises, including Cayne and the reporter performing the interview.
    • It's employed in other ways during the series as well. Several missions in the original Hitman: Codename 47 were remade for the third game, Hitman: Contracts, but in the latter instances the level architecture is different, some events play out differently from the originals, and all of them take place at night in dismal weather. The disparity is explained by the Framing Device of 47 having been shot and going through a near-death experience in which he recalls past missions; it's never made explicit whether the original version of the missions is unreliable, or the remade versions.
  • Every character in Twisted Metal: Black narrates their tale during the three cutscenes (opening, mid-game flashback, and ending). However, at least two of them find that the truth is far from what they thought... and neither get a happy ending.
  • The Silent Hill series has two unreliable narrators: James in the second and Alex in the fifth.
    • Also, possibly, the third. "Monsters? They look like monsters to you?" Most likely this is just a mindscrew attempt or a lame joke, though.
    • Possibly Shattered Memories: It is likely that the entire game involving Harry Mason takes place in Cheryl's head and it has even been suggested that the therapy sessions are also viewed in a biased manner, explaining Kauffman's poor attitude.
  • Captain Qwark in the Ratchet and Clank series built his career by telling bogus stories about his heroics that were either actually done by someone else or never actually happened. This is actually a major point in the Secret Agent Clank spinoff, where there are entire gameplay parts based on Qwark's ridiculous narrations. Amusingly, one of Qwark's apparent fabrications are "robotic pirate ghosts"... until Tools of Destruction revealed the existence of robot Space Pirates and Quest for Booty featured undead Robot Space Pirates, thus making his story seem much more plausible...
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni loves this trope in unhealthy ways, with an omniscient narrator who wants to convince the protagonist to believe in witches, and gleefully fictionalises whole conversations, ghost sightings, characters, relationships and killings. Figuring out what 'really happened' from the thinnest of clues is the main draw of the game. It reaches such a point that in the second game, the author added in special text that will always be true. Unfortunately, in one arc, you might get four lines of that, while everything else could be pure crap.
    • It gets even more confusing considering how there's now second special text which implies that the first special text is lies and that the second text could be the truth or could be a lie.
  • Haldos in Nexus War follows this trope closely, although despite plenty of Kick the Dog behavior on his part and the fact that he openly admits to learning what he knows directly from the Big Bad, there's nothing to actually disprove his claims.
  • Lampshaded in Penny Arcade Adventures where the narrator right at the start sets doubt in the player's mind as to his identity and motivation. "Please, do not dwell on my... mysterious identity. You're dwelling on it, aren't you?"
  • In Tales of Legendia, whenever the player sees Stella during a flashback from Senel's perspective, she seems to be a Purity Sue. However, Stella appears a lot less than...idealized whenever the flashbacks are from Shirley's perspective.
  • Braid ...that is, if you're somehow able to figure out what the heck it's supposed to "really" be about.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, given that she gives you a lot of exposition, from background of the Mandalorian Wars to the whys of the Jedi Civil War to the reason the Exile was... exiled by the Jedi Council, Kreia fits this description.
    • Making Kreia possibly unique as a party member in RPG history—she is always lying about something.
  • Heavy Rain gives you Scott Shelby.
  • This trope is an excellent summary of Touhou. Each of the various routes in the games (depicting different characters or even the same character experiencing similar, slightly altered events) are all canon simultaneously. The universe compendiums are written by a reporter who hasn't even heard of journalistic integrity, a historian relying almost entirely on conjecture and second-hand reports, and an insane thief. Even ZUN himself is prone to blatant contradictions, messing with the fans and outright lying. Inevitably, the Fanon is truly massive.
  • In a rare case of the games' Encyclopedia Exposita being this, the entries for the Pokédex are written by 11-year-olds, and thus are likely to contain wild exaggerations about the Pokémon they describe. This would explain the games' use of Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale, but then the Fridge Logic hits and you realize that this means that The Professor's life's work will be utterly ruined.
    • Actually, the Pokédex entries are written by the professors, not the trainers. Which casts doubt on their actual Science knowledge, with all those errors in the descriptions.
  • Portal and Portal 2 make use of this trope all over the friggin' place, largely because the characters who act as narrators during the games are (a) insane, (b) blatant liars, (c) self-aggrandizing glory-seekers, (d) complete morons, or any combination of the above. Even the out-of-game promotional material surrounding Aperture Science, the company responsible for all of the insanity, is filled with apparent inaccuracies and material that's directly contradicted by revelations within Portal 2.
  • The Resident Evil Chronicles games depict the events of previous games through records and word-of-mouth. This results in some things that happenned either glossed over or misinterpreted.
  • Is Super Mario Galaxy 2 a retconned take on Super Mario Galaxy (based on what happened at the end of the first game) or a storybook?
  • Mass Effect 3 does this big time concerning the Quarian's retelling of the morning war. While they admitted that they had previously instigated the war, they left out the fact that they killed the Quarians who tried to make peace with the Geth. It wasn't until the Quarians who tried to defend them were killed that the Geth finally fought back.
  • The near-entirety of Cry of Fear centers around and takes place within Simon's book as a personification of himself, making you wonder what inspired the events inside or otherwise aside from the obvious causes, like his insanity and being able to walk in it. Whatever caused them is (likely intentionally) left open to interpretation by those who play.
  • Rucks in Bastion doesn't lie, but his recounting of the game's backstory comes off as selective and self-justifying, including some whitewashing of aspects of Caelondia's history and culture.
  • There is a very, very subtle hint that this is how the story of Final Fantasy Tactics is unfolded. When Ramza meets Orlan Durai for the first time, the latter is shown capable of seriously overpowered magick ("Galaxy Stop!") while fighting the thieves that caught him spying in their guild; but Ramza and co must save him anyway as he's outnumbered. Such magicks are the domain of inhumanly powerful wizards, but Orlan is just a spy; in fact, later he can't use the same magick to stop Delita from (not-)executing him. Thus, a more likely explanation is that it's the narrator, Alazlam Durai, who exaggerates the power of his ancestor.
  • Dear Esther's narrator talks about events that aren't actually happening to the player. It turns out that most of what he says is either a blatant lie or a metaphor for what really happened.


Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • The early parts of A Profile do not have entirely accurate narration because it is all from the point of view of Masayuki, who insists on seeing the best in situations and people, even if they're terrible. After some of his backstory is revealed, the point is largely dropped.
  • Shikanosuke in Kira Kira is sufficiently Kuudere that he won't admit what he's feeling, even to the reader. Despite him being the narrator it can fall to other characters to explain his emotions.
  • Taichi in CROSS†CHANNEL to some extent is an unreliable narrator. The first version of events about something he says or illustrates is rarely entirely correct and leaves out a great deal of necessary context. For example, he initially portrays his earlier relationship with Touko as a mixture of an experiment and mere seduction, but later it turns out he really was trying to have a relationship, but she turned out to be incredibly clingy and obsessed with him nearly to the point of being a yandere.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Homestuck has a subversion. After the reader goes to Doc Scratch for some god moding help, he gives out a huge amount of exposition and his self-serving memory prompts Andrew Hussie, the creator of the comic, to break through the "fifth wall" and beat him up.
  • One of the characters in Flying Man and Friends, Harbor the loon, is convinced that his belly and the bottle of eggnog he carries with him count as two separate characters. This is never refuted, so it's his word against dead silence. In one strip, he somehow detonates an atomic bomb that is never explained (and is eventually undone). The entire story is unreliable.
  • In a story arc in early Order of the Stick, Durkon is lost in a dungeon with a female dwarf named Hilgya, and he's starting to fall for her. She tells him the story of how she came to be with the Linear Guild, where she's married against her will to a cruel husband who refuses to understand her needs, so she runs away to make her own life. The panels below her narration show that the "cruel husband" was in fact an extremely pleasant guy who was thrilled to be so lucky as to be married to a dwarf like Hilgya, and whose only need out of the relationship appeared to be meeting hers. In fact, in one panel he asks if she'd like a footrub, to which Hilgya responded, "You're crushing my spirit!" It doesn't matter which story Durkon believes, though-he's shocked either way, and commands her to return to her husband, telling her that doing your duty is everything that it means to be a dwarf, even or especially if it makes you miserable.
  • The Nightmare Fuel-ish animated short arc "Twist, Twist, Twist" in Jack. "I'm in hell because I love my wife... imagine that."
  • A Sluggy Freelance strip features Gwynn showing Torg one of Oasis's knives as evidence that Riff and Zoé are dead; after speaking with a psychiatrist, he realizes that it wasn't a knife, but the necklace that had bonded to Zoé.
    • Later, we believe we are seeing Torg relating his experiences in the Digbot city to Sasha, when in fact we are seeing Torg telling Kiki a largely embellished story about relating the experiences in the Digbot city to Sasha--a recursive flashback, as it were. While it definitely seemed weird, there was nothing to indicate that what we were seeing was false until Torg got killed by a porcupine on a boomerang—and then resurrected by said porcupine, who is also a necromancer.
    • An earlier example of things being "not quite what they seem" is the Oceans Unmoving arc. When we'd last left Bun-Bun, he had just been thrown out of the time stream, so it's not unreasonable to believe that the recently-deposed "Eater of Holidays" is Captain Bun-Bun. Actually, the traitorous first mate Blacksoul is the Bun-Bun we're familiar with, and the captain we've been following is a younger version that had yet to meet Torg and the others.
    • The story about Riff sawing Gwen in half with dimensional portals, just a tall tale Torg had spun alt-Agent Rammer.
    • A few of the Christmas stories, including a "Gift of the Maji" variation in which Torg and Riff sold their shoulders to science to pay for each other's coat/flannel...but they didn't appear shoulderless to the old man Torg told the story in a bar.
    • Torg's story to the storyteller in the original Stormbreaker saga. He gives an account that's at least partially the story of Army of Darkness including telling the storyteller he had a chainsaw for a hand. This calls into question the rest of the story, some of which is obviously proven true but the rest, we're never certain how much is real and how much is Torg 'embellishing'.
    • Many of the stories Torg tells Zoe about his garden also qualify.
    • Has anyone noticed that five of the six examples listed here are narrated by Torg?
  • Megatokyo has a consistent running theme of different perceptions of reality and what events fit into which character's reality, creating what is, in effect, an entire cast of unreliable narrators -what is perfectly obvious and logical for one character is dismissed out of hand as impossible by another, if it gets noticed at all.
    • Of course, considering how often it comes up, even so far as to be lampshaded by both characters and the author, this is probably more of an Unreliable Author.
      • Also, since all of the examples above are about Pirovision being unable to see Largoland, it's worth pointing out that it works both ways.
    • Additionally, nature and circumstances of Piro and Miho's "relationship" differ greatly depending on who's telling the story.
  • In Collar 6, Butterfly and Trina give mutually exclusive versions of how Butterfly got information on Michelle's techniques from Trina, and Word of God has confirmed that this was intentional. Its unusual, in that both of them presented versions that made themselves look worse Butterfly claiming she tortured Trina, and Trina claiming she gave up the information freely.
  • What the Fu is narrated by the main character, who sometimes pads out the blind spots with imaginary scenes, which employ even broader stereotypes than the comic generally does.
  • Schlock Mercenary had one scene narrated via "The Memoirs of Jud Shafter, K.F.D.A. Commando"—not quite in sync with panels. Later this bitten him in the butt (sorry).
  • None of the Scandinavian countries are telling the whole unvarnished truth about Norway's butter crisis.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Oktober, a collection of journal entries from each of the main characters. Now, obviously, journal entries aren't going to be entirely accurate, so sometimes minor discrepancies appear. Other times though...
  • The SCP Foundation website is made up largely of documents. Given the nature of the Foundation, much of it is deliberate misinformation. Also, there tends to be a lot of stuff with black marker over it and a large amount of [DATA EXPUNGED].
    • There was one instance however in which all of the blacked out sections and [DATA EXPUNGED] were removed, allowing the article to be read in its entirety. Let's just say that there is a very, very good reason for those edits.
  • During The Third Night of The Tale of the Exile, Gaven Morren (who tells the story from a first person POV) is dosed with a potent hallucinogen. What follows is a trip into Daydream Surprise, dream logic, and Schrödinger's Butterfly, helped along by a character actively lying to him about events to prevent herself from disappearing.
  • Rather common in The Slender Man Mythos. Examples on the wiki include J and Damien in no small part thanks to his multiple personalities. A possible example (via Alternative Character Interpretation) would be Zeke Strahm, according to the final entry in the blog.
    • A notable example in that the recent video of Tribe Twelve 'The Envelope', there is a piece of paper torn in half that says "unrel/ narra/". Noah may not be telling us everything...
    • Paranoia Fuel especially comes into play with Dare 2 Die where Ulryc wasn't even narrating for most of the time.
  • The Jobe stories of the Whateley Universe. Jobe Wilkins narrates his own stories, explaining how as a handsome, dynamic, brilliant, but misunderstood bio-deviser, he has to put up with all kinds of grief from everyone else. Even within his own stories he seems to be an Unreliable Narrator. Everyone else in all other Whateley stories sees Jobe as an egocentric, inconsiderate, unattractive Heroic Comedic Sociopath who might be a little short on the 'heroic' part. Still, Jobe doesn't seem to lie about events, just put his own personal spin on interpreting them.
    • Anything Phase says about the Goodkinds. Canon (particularly "Ayla and the Late Trevor James Goodkind") has proven that there's a lot Ayla doesn't know about his family, but he keeps insisting that the Goodkinds are almost totally morally blameless, ignoring canon events because he doesn't want to apply them to his family.
  • Surprisingly enough, used in Survival of the Fittest. In the profile for v4 killer Clio Gabriella, it explains several parts of her personality, yet her actions in the game contradict this. Reason? Clio spent nearly all of her teenage life lying to her parents, her therapist, and nearly everyone she knew so that she could put on a demeanor of a normal, well-adjusted teenage girl, when secretly she was a basket case very close to breaking point.
  • The "Lost Soul" stories from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe are told from the singularly self-serving point of view of an immortal Erzebet Bathory, who is trying to win redemption for herself.
  • (The Customer is) Not Always Right: I mean, you really gotta wonder...
  • Strongbad in Homestar Runner is often a pathalogical liar. Sometimes narrating events that just happened as a complete fabrication. Probably most blatantly with how he narrates to us that he successfully popped Pom Pom with a pin. Seen here.
  • This metafiction story discusses it, in which the Lemony Narrator is snarked at as an Unreliable Narrator because they refuse to describe an entire days' worth of travel, resulting in a literal Plot Hole.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • A truly bizarre example in The Emperors New Groove: at one point, the Emperor Kuzco breaks the fourth wall to argue with the narrator's version of events. The twist being that Kuzco is the narrator.
  • Two Looney Tunes cartoons, The Trial of Mr. Wolf and Turn Tale Wolf, have the Big Bad Wolf tell alternate versions of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, respectively, with him as the victim.
    • A modern short featuring Daffy as "Superior Duck" had him getting frustrated with Thurl Ravenscroft's apparent inability to announce him as being faster than a bullet and more powerful than a locomotive.
  • One episode of Batman: The Animated Series focuses on 3 kids talking about different stories of who Batman is. Each one referencing a different Comic Book style for Batman.
    • The first story in Batman: Gotham Knight, "Have I Got a Story", also does this. Where each kid describes Batman differently from a different point in a single chase (in reverse order). The first describes a Shadow demon, second strikes a similar figure as Manbat, third is a robot. When Batman shows up he is, of course, human.
      • Both of those episodes are derived from a comics story, Batman # 250's "The Batman Nobody Knows."
    • The episode "P.O.V." is a Rashomon Style. The three versions are told by Harvey Bullock, who knows what really happened but is portraying himself as the competent hero and Batman as the one who screwed up; Officer Wilkes, who is genuine in his belief but makes Batman come off as a supernatural creature; and Officer Montoya, who tells the truth.
  • In the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, teasers and recaps are narrated by a character who plays a prominent role within the episode. In the episode "Rogue in the House, part 2", said duty falls upon Zog, a brain-damaged Triceraton which the turtles—taking advantage of the fact that Zog believes them to be Triceratons—recruited in the previous episode. Despite accurate visuals, Zog's narration states what he wrongly believes is actually happening—that the turtles are a Triceraton sabotage unit, the Foot are Federation.
  • An odd subversion occurs in the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Clopin, a clown who appears onscreen and speaks directly to the viewer, is our narrator. At first he seems to be totally detached from the story, merely recounting the tale as it unfolds and ignoring the fourth wall. Then during the festival sequence, Clopin shows up as a character in the narrative, MCing the Festival of Fools and remaining strictly within the fourth wall. Even more oddly, he's gone from wishing the best for Quasimodo in song to making a mockery of him by crowning him the ugliest person at the festival. Later in the film, Clopin appears again, this time as a murderous, seemingly insane criminal who stages a Joker Jury trial and tries to hang Quasimodo. Again, he stays within the fourth wall throughout this sequence. Finally, at the end of the movie, he's a narrator again, and finishes off the movie with a nice little song about how we should all see the good inside of people and Quasimodo is a great guy... this after Clopin tried to murder him earlier in the movie. So, is Clopin an actor playing contradictory roles within the story? Is he meant to represent multiple people? And considering that he tried to murder the protagonist yet ends the film by literally singing his praises, can we trust anything he's told us?
    • Perhaps Clopin was NEVER aware of the fourth wall. The Court of Miracles sequence has him acting more than a bit unhinged, up to and including talking to himself. Maybe his "narration" is just more of his mad ramblings and he's actually talking to thin air?
    • It is seen at the beginning that he is performing a puppet show to little children during his narration... A likely explanation would be that his prologue/epilogue appearances occur after the events of the story, when he has "seen the light" concerning the innocence of Quasimodo, making the bulk of the movie Clopin's flashback based upon hearsay. This could even be used to justify the vast differences between the movie and the original book... something like "Hey kids, here's this funny guy's musical interpretation of this big thing that happened that one time with that one guy!" Also, his seemingly inconsistent character is justified by the fact that on the surface world of Paris he is a jovial, colorful entertainer trying to make money and impress the townsfolk, but in the court of miracles (the secret Gypsy underworld) he is a brutal leader of a minority living in constant fear of persecution.
  • The Narrator in the Earthworm Jim animated series not only often has no idea what's actually happening, he's also, at least once, bullied into reading a scene transition to the benefit of one of the villains. "Hey, Narrator guy. Read this or I'll disperse your molecules." "Oh. Erm... later, Psy-Crow and Professor Monkey-For-A-Head have defeated the evil Queen." <Scene transition to this having already happened>.
  • Anytime that South Park's Eric Cartman tells a story, you can bet that he is lying, either intentionally, or because he's just that deluded.
    • A recent episode featuring Kanye West being offended by a joke Jimmy made up had Cartman claim he had co-created the joke. We soon see he actually believes this when he recounts the opening scene with Jimmy being more enthusiastic about seeing him and Cartman coming up with the joke all by himself. Cartman then explains the lesson is that Jimmy is such a narcissist that he rewrites his memory to include himself in a bigger role (Or something like that).
  • In one episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy Grim deliberately tell Billy and Irwin distorted versions of clasic american stories claiming that he was there.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson is this in-universe. In one episode, he wanted to buy a bottle of expensive hair-regrowth formula. After the pharmacist tells him the price, Homer realizes he can't afford it, he breaks down crying and says, "Forget you, pal. Thanks for nothing," as he leaves. This is changed in his story to his friends to an angry, "Forget you, pal! Thanks for nuthin'!" as he "stormed" out.
  • In one episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie Pie tells the Cutie Mark Crusaders how she got her cutie mark. It apparently involved her being raised by Amish-looking rock farmers, and she closes her tale with "And that's how Equestria was made!" On top of that, Pinkie follows it up by offering to tell the CMC how she got her cutie mark.
  • The Muses from |Hercules.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Pepper claims to have found information on AIM by clinging to the ceiling listening onto her father talking the the FBI. She later breaks down and admits her father just forgot to log off his computer.
  • American Dad put an interesting spin on this in "The American Dad After School Special". For the first half of the episode, Stan is shown becoming dangerously obese, apparently thanks to his family sabotaging his diet. Just before the ad break, we see that Stan is in fact dangerously underweight and the family's "sabotage" is their desperate attempts to help him. Since Stan is the viewpoint character...
  • In King of the Hill, certain parts of Cotton's recountings of his past are rather questionable.
  • Gir's witness account of Dib's alien video in Mysterious Mysteries is so out there it borders on Through the Eyes of Madness. He claims to have been Stacy: "The chubby lady hidin' in the bushes," and halfway through he starts talking about a giant space squirrel.

Mysterious Mysteries Host: What does that have to do with anything?!
Gir/Stacy: Me and the squirrel are friends.

    • In fact, the whole episode was an example. The episode involves Zim, Gir, Dib, and Gaz all giving their accounts of the alien video Dib takes and each one is obviously biased. As noted above Gir's is absoulute nonsense, Zim's makes him and Gir out to be sympathetic children and Dib as an Ogre-style bully, Dib's show him as a powerful and confident hero while showing Gaz as the stereotypical damsel in distress, and Gaz's shows Zim and Dib as stupid to the point of mental retardation. All parties are obviously lying to some degree and what's worse is that from the actual video the you can easily tell what really happened.
  • Thundercats: Jaga's Opening Monologue is shot through with half truths, neglecting to mention that Third Earth's "peace and prosperity" belongs solely to Thundera's upperclass Cats, or that the ruler's "just heart" does not extend to other species.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Schliemann, archaeologist. Yes, he did achieve quite a lot. Digging up Troy for example (destroying quite a bit of it in the process). His part of the story always leaves out those inconvenient little things like, you know, bribery, black market, some illegal things, nothing big, really. And backstabbing his benefactor Frank Calvert (by not crediting him and basically taking away his land) who just happened to lack funds enough to do the research himself? Wherever did you get that idea?
  • The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. There's no doubt that Cellini was a great artist, but he was also an incredible egotist, judging by all the self-congratulation, exaggeration and distortion in his autobiography. That does make it an entertaining read, of course.
    • And in the same vein, the autobiographies of Giocomo Casanova - some tend to enjoy the book more if they treat it as fiction.
  • Most small children tend to be this when telling you a story or their side of the events of something.
    • This can be particularly damaging if a child is used as a witness in a trial. Their testimonies can sometimes be so ridiculously inaccurate, that many feel courts shouldn't bother asking for them.
  • A great real-life example is one Charlie Smith, who in the early 1970s became a media celebrity after making the extraordinary claim of having been born in Liberia in 1842, making him the oldest man on record. He thrived on the lineup of reporters and interviewers who visited him at his Florida nursing home, relating colorful tales of his being tricked into coming to America as a slave, escaping, fighting for the Union in the Civil War, then heading out West where, among other exploits, he rode with Jesse James. His yarns were swallowed up because he was a likeable old coot, a magnificent Deadpan Snarker, and, well, he looked like he could be pushing 130. NASA gave him a VIP seat to watch the launch of Apollo 17, and his life story was dramatized in an episode of the PBS television series "Visions" titled "Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree." He died in 1979 at the alleged age of 137, and his obituary made national news. Thereafter, however, more level-headed research established his actual birth year as either 1874 or 1879, making him, at best, 105 upon his demise.
  • Everyone is an unreliable narrator to some extent. We self-edit our memories of events, usually to cast ourselves in a better light or look less guilty, we mix up events, we forget things, or we even plain just start makes things up. This even happens whether we intend to or not. For example, Ulric Neisser did an experiment on the day after the Challenger Disaster, where he had all of his students fill out a detailed questionnaire of what they were doing when they first heard about the accident; then, 2 years later, he had the same students try to remember the events and rewrite the same questionnaire. The result was that only 10% of the subjects remembered most of the major details correctly (25% of the subjects got every scrap of detail wrong, and everyone made minor errors). The same experiment is repeated after 9/11, to the same results. This is because of the supercomputer-melting mountains of data and stimuli that the brain processes each day, only a small amount is coded down as long-term memory by neural connections, we mostly resort to doing subconscious educated guesses and general filling-in-the-blanks to string together a coherent narrative.
    • This is also why eyewitness testimony is considered the most untrustworthy piece of evidence in court.
    • If you're studying Logic or Psych, you may run across such maxims as "memory is constructive" and "memory is selective"; in other words, we make up our memories afterwards (or as we go along), and then only remember the parts and pieces that we want to (or "can").
    • It has also been found that the memories tend to be altered slightly each time they are recollected simply due to the processes involved in recollection. This is beyond memory being "selective" or "constructive", it's more just normal wear and tear.
    • It can also work the other way where people with small egos will downplay their accomplishments or believe they were being cruel. Remembering their childhood can make them think they were a horrible brat when their parents remember them being well behaved. They could have a partner who calls them loving and perfect, whereas they believe they are neglectful and insulting. There have been cases of depression caused by this self-induced guilt because the person suffering from it honestly believes they are a horrible person.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Ancient Greek historial Herodotus, famously. So much so that he is called both the Father of History and the Father of Lies.
    • Xenophon.
    • Julius Caesar.
    • Really, any and all historians are subject to this. No matter how unbiased they try to be, there's always some level of it present.
  • Before it was deleted, Troper Tales was this in spades, which is, in fact, why it was deleted.
  • The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt. He had a tendency, both in person, in his diary and his autobiography, to ignore events that he didn't remember fondly, ending up with a seemingly overly rosy life of manly exploits and little unfortune, if he said so himself. His first wife, who died young, on Valentine's Day, days after the birth of their only daughter, is never mentioned at all, and his parents, mentioned as being just about the greatest persons who ever lived, just disappear. He goes places and does things for seemingly no reason, as the context was too bitter and he abandons it with little to no explanation, for the same reason.