Ur Example

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The Ur Example is the oldest known example of a given trope. Some people will tell you it's named for the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, but "ur-" is just a German prefix meaning "proto-, primitive, or original."

Typically, an Ur Example doubles as the Trope Maker—but not always, and far less often with ancient tropes, which often evolved over a long period of time rather than suddenly burst forth from someone's head, fully formed. When they're distinct, a Trope Maker differs from an Ur Example in that the latter becomes an example of that trope only in retrospect.

For instance, one of the pivotal Trope Makers of the Detective Story is Edgar Allan Poe's collection of Dupin stories; before Dupin, there is no story genre of fictional detectives going about the business of solving crimes. Nevertheless, while you may or may not know Poe's Dupin stories, you've probably encountered a certain Danish Prince named Hamlet, who not only sets about to ensnare his uncle King Claudius, but even incorporates into his plans a play-within-a-play he dubs "The Mousetrap." And half a millennium earlier still, "The Tale of the Three Apples" is a proto-Detective Story from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights—which makes "The Tale of the Three Apples" the Ur Example of the Detective Story, or at least a possible candidate. However, Oedipus Rex, first performed on 429 BCE, depicts Oedipus investigating the cause of the plague that has struck his realm.

Wherever a trope has evolved gradually, determining the Ur Example can be a complicated and contentious business. In many cases a trope has more than one Ur Example, because determining the "earliest use of the trope" depends on subjective choices as to which aspects of the trope are its defining qualities.

Regardless of these issues, an Ur Example should not be confused with the cat that's in ur fridge, eatin ur logic.


Notable Ur Examples:


Tropes[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The Book of Job is probably the Ur Example of Rage Against the Heavens.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh provides a possible Ur Example of the Femme Fatale, Ishtar—and a hero Genre Savvy enough to recognize her as such.
  • Where was the first use of By Wall That Is Holey? Not in Buster Keaton films, not in animated shorts, but in an ancient Pima story of creation perhaps millennia before the creation of film, in which the creator god Juhwertamahkai twice destroys the world by letting the sky fall to crush everybody, while avoiding such a fate himself by breaking a hole in the sky with his staff.
  • Time Travel is yet another of those very murky tropes that it's impossible to give one single Ur Example to. Stories in which people are thrust *forward* long periods of time trace back to Mahabharata, in the eighth century B.C.E. Similar ancient tales about travelling forward in time include the story of Honi HaM'agel in the Talmud and the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro.
    • An early story with hints of backwards Time Travel is Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) by Samuel Madden.
    • "Missing One's Coach: An Anachronism", written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838, is a very early quasi-Time Travel story.
    • In Charles Dickens' 1843 book A Christmas Carol, we follow Ebenezer Scrooge into his own past and then back to the present. However, he is only able to view the past and unable to interact with it.
    • A clearer example of time travel is found in the popular 1861 book Paris avant les hommes (or Paris before Men) by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard. In this story the main character is transported into the prehistoric past by the magic of a "lame demon" (a French pun on Boitard's name), where he encounters such extinct animals as a Plesiosaur, as well as Boitard's imagined version of an apelike human ancestor, and is able to actively interact with some of them.
    • Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), in which the protagonist finds himself in the time of King Arthur after a fight in which he is hit with a sledge hammer, was another early time travel story which helped bring the concept to a wide audience, and was also one of the first stories to show history being changed by the time traveler's actions.
    • The first story to feature Time Travel by means of a time machine was Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau's 1887 book El Anacronópete.
    • One year later, in 1888, H. G. Wells published the first story to feature Time Travel by means of a time machine which allowed its operator to navigate through time purposefully and selectively: The Chronic Argonauts.
    • H. G. Wells also coined the term "time machine," which was popularized (and eventually universalized) through his story The Time Machine.
  • The origin of the phrase Eat the Rich dates back to around the time of The French Revolution, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau reportedly said, "When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich."
  • Sobekneferu, who reigned in the 12th dynasty of Egypt, around 1800 years BC, is the first known case of She Is the King – though it is possible a handful of female pharoahs predated even her... by up to a thousand years or more.
  • While the legends of Elizabeth Bathory are widely considered to be the Trope Maker for the Blood Bath, the story of Siegfried from the Nibelungenlied bathing in the blood of the slain dragon to become invulnerable predate Bathory's ties to the trope by at least 500 years.
  • Godwin's Law has an interesting one. Goebbels, being Wrong Genre Savvy, figured Indians had no loyalty to America and could be convinced to work as a fifth column for the Nazis. He was dead wrong; this is the story where the Big Bad offers exactly this to the protagonist and the hero rebuffs him. Goebbels even declared that the Sioux were Aryan! Either way, Interior Secretary John Collier compared the Nazis to Mormons for this.
    • Hard to say if it's a Godwin invocation. Goebbels and the LDS church had one critical element in common in the story; neither were willing to accept that Native Americans are in fact Native Americans, rather than a long lost offshoot of whatever ethnicity they can fit into their private mythology.
  • Typon from Classical Mythology is likely the Ur Example of a Hero-Killer, driving the gods from Olympus by himself, and defeating Zeus in their first encounter, ripping out his sinews, and leaving him to rot. He covers all the requirements for the trope and is easily Older Than Feudalism.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Despite technically being predated in publication by Superman, the Ur Example for the Flying Brick in superhero comics would be Namor the Sub-Mariner. Superman couldn't fly until the forties, but Namor was airborne from day one.
  • The Tomb of Dracula contained the first Vampire Detective Series, following Hannibal King.
  • Popeye the Sailor is the Ur example of the comic book superhero. He's heroic only to Olive Oyle however, many others (sometimes including innocent bystanders) are often brutally killed.


Films -- Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • One film—the Harold Lloyd silent classic The Freshman, in which Harold goes off to college and strives to become popular—might well be the Ur Example for Big Game, Big Man on Campus, Dean Bitterman, and Put Me in Coach.
  • Psycho is considered to be the Ur-example of the Slasher Flick, although it doesn't actually have many of the tropes associated with more modern slasher films, being more of a classic serial-killer movie.
    • Another possible candidate for the Ur-example of the Slasher Flick would be the 1932 film Thirteen Women, which predates the classic proto-slashers Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (also 1960) by twenty-eight years. Thirteen Women codifies the genre as follows: 1) all the deaths are brought about (even if indirectly) by one individual; 2) the film sets up the victims and then kills them off one by one; 3) all the major characters die, except for a lone, innocent Final Girl.
  • Eugène Pirou's 1896 movie Le Coucher de la Marie is generally considered to be the Ur-example of soft-core pornography. The first hard-core porn was either El Satario or A L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge, both around 1908.
  • Nanook Of The North is considered the Ur-example of the Nature Documentary, as well as the first major documentary film ever released. It documented the life of an Inuit tribesman living close to the Arctic circle.
  • Contrary to common belief, the original 1903 The Great Train Robbery was not the first film, but it was probably the Ur Example of the action western. Not a bad one, either.
  • Fritz Lang's M is commonly considered the Ur Example of the police procedural genre in film, as well as the Ur Example of the modern serial killer in cinema (the fact that M is still a complex, realistic, and somewhat sympathetic portrayal despite having been made in 1931 is what makes it a good candidate for Trope Maker as well).
    • It's also the Ur Example of a leitmotif in film.
  • The Howling is probably the Ur Example of anthropomorphic werewolves (as distinguished from Wolf Men) in cinema.
  • The very first instance of what we now call DVD Commentary appeared on the Criterion Collection's 1984 laserdisc for King Kong (their second ever release). On the track, Ronald Haver (the film scholar with the honor of being the first commentator) calls the audio a "lecture track" as opposed to a commentary.
  • Woody Allen's directorial debut What's Up, Tiger Lily? was the ur-example of a Gag Dub. He bought the rights to a Japanese spy thriller and dubbed over the audio with a brand new story. The trope was so new that the film starts with Allen explaining the concept to a straight man.
  • The first ever Gangster Picture was the 1927 silent film Underworld.

Games (all kinds)[edit | hide]

  • Senet is the Ur-example of the Board Game. There probably existed others before, but this is the oldest known.
  • Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was the Ur Example of Metroidvania.
  • Probably the first roleplaying video game was Colossal Cave Adventure, though it's difficult to determine, since Dungeon (a D&D like game) came out around the same year (1975). This genre grew out of pencil and paper RPGs, making it a gradual progression and difficult to pin down.
  • The Ur-First-Person Shooter is the 1973 game Maze War. Wolfenstein 3D is the Trope Maker and Doom the Trope Codifier.
  • Pokémon may be responsible for the monster catching craze, but Megami Tensei had it beaten to the punch by almost a decade. (Dragon Quest V also dabbled in monster capturing right in between the two.)
  • Bungie's Marathon is the Ur Example for the 'mouselook' control scheme, where instead of only using a keyboard to control an FPS character, you control the view with a mouse as well. Terminator Future Shock is the Trope Maker, but due to Marathon being on the apple platform, and Terminator Future Shock just not being popular, it took until Quake and it's innovative online multiplayer before the mouselook feature became codified.
  • Easter Eggs are a common trend in video games of the modern era, and the Ur Example thereof is probably Adventure, a game for the Atari 2600. Atari refused to credit programmers for their work - but Warren Robinett rebelled, providing a well-hidden credits screen partway through the game. While the term Easter Egg is now used to refer to any hidden content within a work, it started with programmers getting recognition for their efforts.
  • Adventure is also the Ur-example of the Wide Open Sandbox gameplay style.
  • The Orion Conspiracy, realeased in 1995, is the Ur-example of the Coming Out Story in Video Games. There have been reports of games containing Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual dating back to the 1980s, but The Orion Conspiracy is one of the first, if not the first, games to break the gay taboo.
  • Vib Ribbon, released in 1999 for the Playstation, was the first game to generate levels in realtime based on the music on a CD supplied by the player. This genre became popular years later when technology had advanced enough to make the games more visually appealing. However, Monster Rancher, a game in which *monsters* are generated through the music (or other data) on a CD supplied by the player, predates Vib Ribbon by two years.
  • Recca, an NES game made in 1992, is the Ur Example of Bullet Hell.
  • Akalabeth: World of Doom, released in 1980, marked the beginning of the Computer Western Role-Playing Game.
  • The Space Marine trope: Warhammer40000 was the table top game Ur Example, Doom the videogame version.
  • While Rogue is the Trope Maker and Trope Namer for the Roguelike genre, the genre has its Ur Example a bit earlier: Dnd features all the elements that would later be associated with Roguelikes - except random dungeon generation, which is one of the most important features of the genre today.


Literature, Poetry[edit | hide]

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, being among the first recorded stories known to man, is the Ur Example, or at least one of the very earliest Trope Codifiers, of the heroic epic poem and a lot of the related tropes. That Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk, not far from Ur, just makes it sweeter.
  • Marking the first novel is a rather ambiguous and arbitrary endeavor given the long evolution of literary tradition that eventually becomes what we now define as novels. The Roman novel The Golden Ass, by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus in 160 AD is perhaps the oldest work that could be considered a novel. Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji (1010) is the oldest that is universally accepted as a novel. Don Quixote is widely considered to be the first modern novel, divided into chapters and two parts.
  • The character Dante in The Divine Comedy might be the Ur-example of Author Avatar.
    • As might Lucius, the protagonist of Lucius Apuleius Platonicus's novel The Golden Ass, written more than a millennium earlier.
    • You could consider Socrates/Plato of The Republic to be the Ur-example. Just don't get hung up on who the author was.
  • The Ur-example of the Detective Story might be "The Tale of the Three Apples," from The Book of the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ - kitāb 'alf layla wa-layla; Persian: هزار و یک شب - Hezār-o yek shab). While it's difficult to say exactly how ancient the roots of the story go, we can say it probably dates back at least to the fourteenth century A.D., since that's when The Book of One Thousand and One Nights was compiled.
    • The One Thousand and One Nights has at least one other detective story, "Ali Khwajah and the Merchant of Baghdad" where a thief is caught with the help of logic and olive experts.
    • The deuterocanonical (or apocryphal, according to Protestants) extended Book of Daniel has a story where Daniel figures out a locked room mystery. Essentially a Detective Story in the way that it's played out.
  • The True History by Lucian of Samosota, written at some point in second-century Greece, is sometimes considered the Ur-example of Science Fiction, as well as the Tall Tale. Discussing whether or not it counts is Serious Business for academia. Also, it ends with a To Be Continued.
  • George Chesney's story The Battle of Dorking (1871) can be considered the ur-example of military science fiction.
  • The Lensman Series gave us power armor and space marines.
  • Several of Lord Dunsany's stories provide the ur-examples of the Sword and Sorcery fantasy subgenre. To give one example, one story concerns the gods Chu-bu and Sheemish and the names and personalities of these gods are quite similar to those that turn up in Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and in Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. The story itself is an example of Gods Need Prayer Badly which turns up in similar ways in a lot of later fantasy.
  • The Stars My Destination and to a lesser extent The Demolished Man and The Caves of Steel prefigures Cyberpunk- you have mega corps, dark anti-heroes, and every thing you'd expect from the genre.
  • Charles Dickens' Bleak House is possibly the first instance of Spontaneous Human Combustion showing up in a work of fiction; however, several stories of this phenomenon really happening in Real Life predate Bleak House, the oldest dating back to 1654 in the book Historiarum Anatomicarum Rariorum by Thomas H. Bartholin, which provides a report of such an incident that is dated from the late 1400's.
  • Childhood's End for Ominous Floating Spaceship
  • The fin-de-siècle Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler is usually credited with pioneering the stream-of-consciousness, internal monologue, 1st-person style with his short story "Leutnant Gustl".
  • With the Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling was perhaps the first Mundane Fantastic Sci-Fi, and its sequel As Easy as ABC had "flying loop" (proto-Tractor Beam).
  • The Moonmaker (1916) was a "stop-the-asteroid" story by Arthur Train and Robert Wood. Using their uranium-powered rocketship with thrust vectoring from The Man Who Rocked the Earth, but that's beside the point...

Music[edit | hide]

  • Venom's "Black Metal" album is considered the Ur Example of black metal. They never intended to create a sub-genre of metal, they just thought it was a cool name for an album.
  • The first modern Music Video is often (though not universally) considered to be this thing for Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," produced in 1965. That depends on how one defines "modern," as the music videos of The Beatles (among others) predate this. So-called "illustrated songs"—early precursors of the music video—date back to the beginning of the 20th century, and "musical shorts" were hugely popular by 1926, before the official end of the "silent" era of film.
  • "Stone Cold Crazy" by Queen was one of the earliest Hard Rock songs, and it was a precursor/influence to several styles of Metal (Speed Metal and Thrash Metal especially).
    • But Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" has always been considered to be the first 'hard rock' song and the first song to popularize the term "heavy metal" (the phrase originates in this song's lyric), even though it itself wasn't a 'heavy metal' song.
      • The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Cream were playing hard rock (admittedly in Cream's case it is very blues influenced) before Born To Be Wild. It is a genre that isn't defined very tightly so it is hard to name a first song- Purple Haze and Helter Skelter are two examples I've seen cited a lot, as well as I Can See For Miles (the inspiration for Helter Skelter).
    • Hard rock was around years before "Stone Cold Crazy", and so were several songs that could be considered speed metal. Compare "Finding My Way" by Rush, "Rock the Nation" and "Space Station No. 5" by Montrose, and several songs by Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. "Stone Cold Crazy" is roughly contemporary with "Symptom of the Universe" by Black Sabbath, which is more commonly considered to be the Ur Example of thrash. Deep Purple's "Fireball" or "Speed King" is probably the speed metal Ur Example.
  • Ougenweide was the first band to play Medieval Rock
  • The Velvet Underground has often been considered the very first Alternative Rock artist to have existed, though one could argue that Scott Walker, who began his solo career at around the same time as the Velvet Underground began their career, was another early "alternative" artist.
  • The early 1960s hit "Runaway" by Del Shannon was the first popular song to use what was essentially a proto-synthesizer as an instrument. The first instance of an actual synthesizer used in popular music was 1967's Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by The Monkees.
    • Technically, the Hammond B3 and C3 organs were additive synthesizers (this is why organ is one of the easiest sounds to synthesize), and had already appeared on many recordings by the early 1960s.
      • This is one of those discussions that can get rather involved... An electronic synthesiser generates its tones with entirely electronic oscillators. The Hammond organs are electromechanical, the tones being generated by magnetic tone wheels being rotated next to pickup coils. Both can be considered "tonal synthesisers", though the name tended to be applied more to electronic synthesisers after Dr. Moog's equipment became established in the public mind, the Hammonds and other similar keyboards retaining the name "organ" because that is how they were marketed and most commonly used. As for Ur Examples, well... prior to Moog's synthesiser (itself a customisable collection of modules that you had to know how to connect together) a great many people had combined musicality and electronics expertise to cook up their own electronic synthesisers. The first electronic synthesiser to be patented and manufactured was Leon Theremin's contactless wonder (the oscillator was controlled by capacitative proximity sensing), invented in 1919. The first Hammond organ appeared in 1934, though the tone wheel concept was first patented in 1897. Like I said, it can get involved.
  • 60s garage rock was sometimes known as Punk Rock. The name didn't catch on, but those 60s garage rock bands went on to inspire what is now known as punk rock.
  • Black Sabbath or Judas Priest usually get credit for having the first thrash metal songs in "Symptom of the Universe" and "Dissident Aggressor."
  • The Ur Example of heavy metal is much debated, but honors go to (among others): Link Wray's "Rumble," The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," The Beatles "Helter Skelter," Blue Cheer's cover of "Summertime Blues," Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vida," and Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild."
  • Franz Liszt's Faust Symphony opens with a theme consisting of all the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, each appearing only once. The theme returns at various points during the symphony. The rest of the work is tonal and there are no permutations, but it's still the progenitor of the twelve-tone technique. He also wrote the progenitor of atonal music in general, the Bagatelle sans tonalité.


Mythology[edit | hide]

  • Ares of Greek Mythology may be the first case of Adaptational Badass. He was often little more than a bloodthirsty bully who got the crap beat out of him by anything that wasn't purely mortal despite being the God of War and embodiment of physical power. The Romans later identified him with their god Mars elevating him to be the divine father of Rome, second most important god to Jupiter, ideal soldier, and all-around badass.


Theatre[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Many academic disciplines have one work that's considered to clearly be the first "proper" example of its type.
    • The Histories by Herodotus; which recounts the Persian Wars in a way most people today would still recognize as a "history textbook" (and is one of the original sources.)
      • The Peloponnesian Wars, by Thucydides, is generally considered the first "proper" history, since it's the first history of any scale to use logic and reasoning rather than anecdotes. He even states that these words aren't what people said, but what they ought to have said (for the following events to occur.)
      • Followed by Xenophon's Anabasis, in which Xenophon wrote about history that he himself actually experienced, making him the Ur war correspondent.
      • Edward Gibbon's Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, published in 1776, is the first modern historical work, and largely codified the principles of historical research—most notably, the use of primary sources.
    • Plutarch's Parallel Lives is the first set of biographies, and made a point of focusing less on grand historical events and more on small happenings that give insight into the individual's character.
      • Agesilaus by Xenophon is likely the first text to solely cover the events of a single historical figure's life. However, this was a very short work of little historical importance. As such, people tend to focus on the more thorough and influential works of Plutarch.
    • The Muqaddimah (Introduction) of Ibn Khaldun, published in 1377, was the first attempt to treat politics, economics, and history in a scientific manner, thus more or less inventing the social sciences (it is often said to be the first book on sociology). This approach informed Machiavelli's Prince and Discourses on Livy a hundred years later, as well as the aforementioned Decline and Fall and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776.
      • Aristotle gave some thoughts to economics in his Politics, too.
    • Socrates was the first philosopher in our modern sense of the term. Greece had "philosophers" before him, but they were essentially studying science, or debate. Socrates was the first to turn philosophy into a study of morality, logic, and the like. Then Plato wrote Socrates' thought down, with his own additions, and the rest is history.
    • Gottlob Frege is the Ur Example of an analytic philosopher, with Bertrand Russell as the Trope Maker.
  • Since Denmark's a small country (search up a map of it, the population is between 5-7 milion) not that many know that Denmark was the first country to release photo-based porn. In case you wonder when here's the date: 12 December 1969. This was pretty much a trope codifier for Denmark's porn industry, which later spread around the world.
  • In taxonomy, the Ur Example of a newly-classified species is called a "type specimen". It retains this special status permanently, even if other specimens are subsequently collected which are of better quality; many long-extinct species have fragmentary pieces for their type specimens, even though complete fossils have since been found.
  • The city of Ur comes quite close to being the Ur Example of civilization itself. This is a coincidence, however; the prefix "Ur-" comes from German, and has nothing to do with the Sumerian city.
  • Jack the Ripper is commonly considered the Ur Example of the modern serial killer; before that it was all people who were just bloodthirsty and had excuses for getting away with it like being at war, or being a person in a position of power who liked to watch people die.
    • It may be simply that there weren't newspapers around to report them. Some of the earlier examples became werewolf legends.
      • More likely newspapers and quicker forms of communication like the telegraph, without which news would possibly take days to circulate. The Times had been around for a century by the time Jack the Ripper came along.
  • Psychopathia Sexualis is considered to be the first study of sex. The first study of sex to not call other people perverts, though, is probably Havelock Ellis' Studies in the Psychology of Sex. But that's irrelevant; the first American study of sex was the infamous Kinsey Report.
  • The first recorded medical circumcision was Lewis Sayre using it to cure a paraplegic.
  • The Ur Example of macroeconomics is Hume's Of the Balance Trade, which argued that international trade ... balances. This undermined the Gotta Catch Em All ideas of the mercantilists. The Trope Maker is Adam Smith and Trope Codifier probably Walras.
  • The Ur Example of a modern computer would be the Analytical Engine, designed by the engineer Charles Babbage in the 1800's. While it wasn't finished until later on, the design was later shown to be Turing-complete - that is, it could, in theory, compute any function a modern computer could.