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One character treats another to a lengthy third-person anecdote. Either the receiver, or the person telling the tale, will be one of the crucial characters. Usually it's revealed, but sometimes it's just implied.
Can be used to inspire a fellow character in a similar predicament, but it's most often a means of explaining crucial Backstory. You wouldn't think you would explain something the heroes need to know in a way that looks like wasting their time with some story about irrelevant third parties, but it seems to be a pretty effective distancing tool for these narrators.
Seen often in Glurge. If you're reading one, and the wise old stranger is telling the discouraged younger person an inspirational tale of someone who was just like them once, you know it's coming.
Compare You Know Who Said That, where the anonymous example of some value turns out to be a historical figure. Also compare I Have This Friend, Actually, I Am Him, and Let Me Tell You a Story. For when the entire story turns out to have been one of these, see Narrator All Along. If the main character does this, it's Nostalgic Narrator.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig includes an episode in which a woman who owns a shop tells the Major a story about a boy and a girl who were some of the first people to get cyborg bodies. It's implied that the little girl is in fact the Major, which is all but confirmed at the the end of the episode when the Major seems to know something about what happened that the woman didn't tell her. Also, later episodes suggest that the boy was the season's Anti-Villain Kuze.
- In The Sandman miniseries Death: The High Cost of Living, a young woman, in order to drive home the point that "ennui" is no reason to commit suicide, tells the story of a "friend" who was repeatedly molested by her father and his buddies the mayor and chief of police, so there was no one in her small town she could turn to. She attempted suicide by slicing up her arms, but survived and was glad that she did. When asked what happened to her in the end, she says "I expect she came out to the big city" (the miniseries takes place in New York). Furthermore, she's wearing long gloves...hint, hint.
- This infamous Very Special Spider-Man Issue. To make things worse, "Skip" was originally supposed to be none other than Uncle Ben, before executives nixed the idea. Who said Executive Meddling can't be used for good?
- Balto begins with a grandmother telling her granddaughter the story of Balto and how he saved all of Nome to help a little girl who cared about him. At the end of the story, Rosie, the girl Balto saved, tells him she'd be lost without him. At the end of the film, the grandmother turns to the statue of Balto and quotes Rosie, the granddaughter calling to her as 'Grandma Rosie', revealing she was Rosie from the story.
- Bolt has Mittens telling Bolt how they cannot trust humans while inevitably revealing her past to him. While Mittens never outright says it was her, it was obvious that she was talking about herself.
Mittens: "[People] pretend they're going to always be there for you, and then one day they pack up and move away and take their 'love' with them, and leave their declawed cat to fend for herself! They leave her, wondering what she did wrong...."
- Played with disturbingly in Psychopathia Sexualis. A woman tells some girls a very morbid story of how a mute girl found her voice (via screaming) whilst being raped and then killed her rapists who she and her father had put on a shadow-puppet show for. The girls listening seem very disturbed and the woman narrating it seems sad and nostalgic. In the end she offers a disconcertingly weak "its only a story" to the girls.
- In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine strongly implies that he served under a death-conquering Sith Lord in order to sway Anakin to his side. He also implies that Anakin was created by that same death-conquering Sith Lord, or possibly by Palpatine himself, who the Sith taught all his tricks to, after all.
- Where the Truth Lies: The journalist tells the story of a little girl who was saved thanks to a call-in show. Of course, it turns out it's her.
- Subverted in Caddyshack, with Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) telling the story about the guy "night putting" with the dean's daughter.
Ty: You know who that guy was, Danny?
Ty: Ha ha... No, that guy was Mitch Comstein, my roommate. He was a good guy.
- The end of The Road Warrior reveals that the Narrator is none other than the Feral Kid.
- In Matilda, the Reasonable Authority Figure describes how the Big Bad was her Evil Stepmother without mentioning either herself or the Big Bad by name. The Child Prodigy protagonist sees right through this, of course.
- In the novel, she doesn't use the pretense of third person at all and upfront states that the little girl in the story was her when she starts.
- The musical offers a new twist, as the story is made up and told by Matilda, who is surprised to discover that her fiction is real.
- The Four Musketeers (1974). Athos, when he tells d'Artagnan the story of the Comte de la Fere. d'Artagnan figures out that Athos was the Comte, and near the end of the film Athos admits it.
- It plays out much the same in the original novel.
- Fox tells a similar story to explain why she works for the Fraternity in Wanted.
- Medicine Man has a rather nightmarish version and subversion of the trope. Dr. Campbell tells Dr. Crane why he doesn't want to tell anyone about the cancer cure he thinks he has discovered while living among the natives of South America -- because another doctor, he explains contemptuously, had discovered a painkiller in similar circumstances, which resulted in another tribe being wiped out by swine flu when the drug company came down to mass-produce it. Later on it's revealed that Campbell himself was that doctor, and he keeps a journal filled with pictures he drew of every single person in the tribe he destroyed. Subverted a bit in that it seems almost a Freudian slip when he reveals this to Crane; it's not clear whether he actually wanted her to know.
- In One Crazy Summer after Ack-Ack is kicked out of his dad's house, Egg starts telling him a story about "a little fat kid that nobody loved" that becomes more and more specifically about Egg as it goes along. Eventually Ack-Ack stops him and asks "Were you the little fat boy?" Egg replies no, but he used to beat that kid up.
- Guess who the narrator in Chocolat turns out to be?
- In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, George tells Nick the story about a boy he knew during his youth who accidentally killed both of his parents (his mother with a shotgun, and his father in a driving accident). When asked whatever came of the boy, George told him that as far as he knew, he was still in the asylum. This was not the case, of course- the boy was George.
- In the opening of the first Spy Kids film, Ingrid (the mother) tells Carmen and Juni a bedtime story about two enemy spies who were assigned to kill each other and fell in love instead. It is, of course, Ingrid and Gregorio's actual Backstory.
- The entire Frame Story for Mark Helprin's Swan Lake turns out to be setting up one of these: the little girl who is treated to the story turns out to be the young Queen.
- In Larklight, after Jack tells them the story of how his parents died, Art asked "Was that you?", to which his sister replies that obviously it was him, or else what was the point of telling them the story?
- In Wizard Of The Pigeons by Megan Lindholm, the female lead has a tendency toward conveying information like this. At one point, she tells the protagonist a story about a group of boys, and at the end it turns out he was one of the characters in the story (although not the one he was expecting). Later, she tells him a story about a little girl, and he sarcastically predicts the "And That Little Girl Was Me" ending (and is so busy being a smartass that he neglects to actually think about why he's been told the story, and fails to learn anything from it). There's also a point where she tells him an anecdote in first person, but ends by saying that it didn't actually happen to her; she just told it that way because that's how the story is traditionally told.
- Near the end of the dystopian novel Devil On My Back by Monica Hughes, a character tells the protagonist a story that, although he is careful to disclaim it as a fairy story with no particular meaning or real-life relevance, doesn't take much imagination to interpret as a description and explanation of his own actions during the novel.
- It looks like this trope is being subverted in The City of Dreaming Books, when the protagonist (Optimus Yarnspinner) meets the Shadow King, who tells him a story about his friend, one of the few humans in Zamonia. About halfway through, Optimus stops him and asks if his "friend" is actually him. The Shadow King asks if he looks like a human, which he doesn't. However, as his story goes on, his friend was turned into a different creature, and he finally reveals that he is now that creature.
- In Jack Vance's Throy - the heroes Glawen Clattuc and Eustace Chilke go in search of a businessman who can lead them to the source of a planetary conspiracy and are accompanied by his secretary. When in the course of rescuing the businessman they are attacked and wounded by hostile aliens, the secretary unloads on the aliens with a blaster and saves them all. In a slight subversion of the trope, it's not the secretary but her boss who later recounts the tale of a former employer whose house collapsed long ago in a storm, leaving only a terrified and badly wounded little girl at the mercy of those same xenomorphs... Possibly also qualifies as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- The Bible has an example of this with the Trope Namer of The Uriah Gambit. After the king sent Uriah to his death so he could take Uriah's wife (despite having several wives already), his wise adviser tells him a story about a man with many sheep stealing a sheep from someone who had only one. When the king is outraged and says that man should be punished, the wise adviser reveals that he was talking about wives, not sheep, and the king is that man.
- In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's The Palace, Roget tells a group of workers that his master Ragoczy is trustworthy because he once rescued an escaped bondsman at great risk to himself. When one worker scoffs that Ragoczy made the story up, Roget reveals that he was the escaped bondsman.
- Played with in Fred Saberhagen's The Holmes-Dracula File, in which the Count narrates his first couple of chapters' events in the third person, before getting bored with the pretense and admitting that the "old man" he's been describing is himself. He even Lampshades the transparency of the ruse.
- In "Father Brown's Story" a priest tells of a man, disillusioned by the death of his beloved sister, who turned to atheism and hated everything religious. Then one night he had a dream of a mysterious woman who he followed to the edge of the sea. It was his sister, who pointed at the ocean and said "It is the holy blood.". The man awoke with tears on his cheeks and changed his ways. As they are leaving the priest stops one man and tells him "I was that man."
- Arguably subverted in an episode of Monk. Sharona has a fear of elephants that culminated when she was a little girl. She tells a story of how when she was little, a small girl ended up in the elephant cage at a zoo. As the girl didn't actually get hurt, the audience waits for her to say "I was that little girl", but nope, she was apparently traumatized because some other girl was in that predicament.
- In The Golden Girls, Sophia often ends her "Picture it..." stories like this.
"That beautiful young peasant girl was me. And that artist...was Pablo Picasso."
- The House episode "Three Stories": House tells a class of medical students three stories about diagnosing three different patients, all complaining of leg pain. The third story is revealed, at the end, to be the story of the aneurysm, and infarction that caused House's permanent leg injury, and continuing chronic pain.
- Subverted, since he never tells the students the third patient was him. His colleagues, who're listening in, do figure it out.
- Subverted in an episode of My Two Dads: Nichole is worried about going to the prom, and Judge Margaret tells her about another teenage girl who was teased at her prom. When Nichole asks what the girl did, the judge says she destroyed the other girls with her psychic powers.
Nichole: Wasn't that Carrie?
Margaret: It's all I've got. I was really popular at school.
- In the Christmas episode of Glee, Coach Beiste has to dress up as Santa Claus, to convince Brittany (who still believes in Santa Claus) that even Santa's magic can't grant her wish: for Artie, who is paraplegic, to be able to walk. Beiste does this by sitting down Brittany on the couch and telling her a story about another little girl, just a little younger than herself, whose only Christmas wish every year was to be petite and slender instead of "a little husky". And how she never got it, but she did get the gift of patience. Subverted in that Brittany never gets it -- Santa's a boy, duh!
- Parodied by Chris Rock in a commercial for one of his HBO comedy specials. The ad consists of him telling us about a little white girl growing up in a convent in the Alps, who would "sing her heart out whenever things looked bad." He then informs us that he was that little girl. "And now I'm an adult black male," he says, with no further explanation.
- Quasi-subverted on Hill Street Blues when the eccentric vigilante "Captain Freedom" spins Detective Belker a long story about a boy growing up neglected and abused with only the heroes of comic books and TV shows to relieve his horrible existence. However, when Belker is moved to tears by the story the Captain assures him that the little boy grew up to be a business leader and that he read about him in Reader's Digest. It's unclear if the Captain was actually talking about himself or not.
- The pilot of Boardwalk Empire has Nucky Thompson get a group of Moral Guardians on his side by telling a story about how his family suffered terrible poverty in his childhood, and he was once forced to catch three rats for their dinner. Then outside, he reveals it was all made up.
- In Metallica's "The Unforgiven", the narrator switches between first (in the chorus) and third person. The last verse ends with:
The old man then prepares
To die regretfully -
That old man here is me.
- Eminem used this in 'Criminal,' as part of another rant against his mother:
My mother did drugs, hard liquor, cigarettes, and speed
The baby came out - disfigured, ligaments indeed.
It was a seed who would grow up just as crazy as she.
Don't dare make fun of that baby, 'cause that baby was me.
- Britney Spears has done this with 'Girl in the Mirror.'
I can't believe it's what I see
That the girl in the mirror
The girl in the mirror
- Emilie Autumn, Opheliac
She speaks in third person
so that she can forget that she's me
- The chorus of Lindsay Lohan's "Drama Queen (That Girl)" from the similarly-named film Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen:
That girl was a one-time teenage drama queen,
A hot, tough everyday wannabe,
But she'll have changed her destiny, now she's a somebody.
That girl was a wild-child dreamer but she found herself.
'Cause she believes in nothing else,
And you'll look back and you won't believe
That girl was me.
- In Jim Croce's "Box #10", the narrator sings of "a down home country boy" who has a rough time of it in the Big Applesauce. The verse ends with, "Oh well it's easy for you to see that that country boy is me".
- Mary J. Blige's song "Take Me As I Am" ends the second verse describing a girl's life before the bridge with "ask me how I know, cause she is me(eeeeeee)."
- Svetlana has a song like this in Chess. Though everyone in the audience has figured it out by then, it ends:
And if that girl I knew should ask my advice
While I wouldn't hesitate, she needn't ask me twice
I'd tell her that for free
Trouble is, the girl is me.
- "The Barber and his Wife" in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- In Phantom, Gérard Carrière tells Christine all about the Phantom's childhood and his relationship with his father; when Christine asks him how he knows all this, he reveals that he is the Phantom's father.
- A similar approach was taken in this Wind Waker commercial.
- In Cage in Lunatic Runagate Yukari explains what happened in her last attempt to invade the moon this way. Ran actually figures it out immediately, but Yukari denies this being the case.
- Jeremy tells a story about his childhood like this in Double Down.
- Team Fortress 2 short Meet the Medic combine this with Orphaned Punchline
Medic: "It gets better! When the patient woke up, his skeleton was missing... and the doctor was never heard from again! *Laughs* Anyway, that is how I lost my medical license".
- Rosalina in the storybook from Super Mario Galaxy.
Rita: Are you that young girl?
Dana: Nope, you are! Bye now!
- In Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog, Penny's inspirational song begins "Here's the story of a girl...", but she realizes how silly it is to keep up the pretense by the end of the fourth line.
- On American Dad, Roger uses this as part of a convoluted back story for his made-up detective persona.
Roger: My name is Braff Zeckland. I was an international race car driver. One day a baby carriage rolled onto the tracks, so I swerved into the retaining wall to avoid it. The car burst into flames, but the baby miraculously survived. I was that baby.
- In Recess, Spinelli's ballet teacher tells her, "You remind me of little dancer known by me in old country." "Yeah? What's she doing now?" asks Spinelli. "That I am telling later," replies the teacher. After her big ballet recital, Spinelli asks what happened to the girl, and the teacher reveals that "little girl... was me."
- In Rugrats, there's a scene where an old lady is relating to Grandpa Lou about a man who showed her some kindness when she was younger, and how she never got the chance to thank him. Grandpa just smiles and replies "You just did." They get married in the second movie.
- In The Simpsons, Otto tells a bedtime story to Lisa, the Urban Legend of a woman outrunning a driver who seems to be stalking her, but was actually trying to warn her of the axe wielding maniac in the back seat. He then asks her if she wants to know how he knows the story: "I....was that maniac" Cue Homer and Marge hearing Lisa's screams.
- Played with in an episode of Hey Arnold when Arnold is complaining about Helga. Grandpa Phil tells Arnold about a little girl named Gertie in his class that was horrible to him and spent the school year making him miserable. At the end of the episode Arnold's Grandma states that she was that very girl - though Arnold doesn't here it. Which leads to some Fridge Logic when you realize that Arnold probably knows his grandmother's name, and so he should've have made the connection that Gertie was his grandma, especially since it's a really uncommon name.
- Gertie sounds like a nickname. Which means that maybe she isn't called by that by anyone except Phil anymore.
- In an episode of the Madeline animated series, Madeline is humiliated when she messes up during a ballet recital. She's then told a story by a professional ballerina about another girl who messed up, but got back out there and kept trying. "That little girl...was me!"
- Inverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Katara goes to find the leader of the Fire Nation raiders that killed her mother. Yon Rha reveals via flashback that he was sent to kill the last waterbender of the tribe. Kya, seeking to protect the tribe and her daughter, who had interrupted the conversation moments before, falsely confesses to being that waterbender.
Katara: She lied to you. She was protecting the last waterbender.
Yon Rha: What? Who?
Katara: ... ME! *cue badass yet terrifying display of using waterbending to suspend the rain*
- On Metalocalypse, Pickles once took his bandmates on a tour of the sleaziest parts of Los Angeles, in an attempt to teach them about the drug-fueled excesses of 80's glam rock (and why he thought they were awesome.) He concluded the tour in an alleyway where he once saw a famous male singer performing oral sex on a guy. "And that guy...was me," he says. The others are shocked, and then Pickles laughs at them and says he was just kidding.
- In the Thundercats 2011 episode "The Duelist and the Drifter", the Drifter, aka Hattanzo the Swordmaker uses this technique to relate his past to Lion-O, warning the young hero that he'll inevitably duplicate his failure because they're Not So Different.
- In an episode of Transformers Prime, Ratchet tells Raf how the field medic who saved Bumblebee after Megatron had tortured him wasn't able to fix Bumblebee's voice box. He was speaking about his OWN inability to completely fix Bumblebee since he was that field medic.
Ratchet: Yes, well... the medic could have done better.
- The first Care Bears movie had the old man who head of an orphanage tell a story about a possessed magician's apprentice named Nicholas who was saved by the Care Bears. In the end, his wife calls him by name, which is, of course, Nicholas.
- Subverted by Granny in Squidbillies when she explains how Gaga Pee Pap ran out on their family:
Granny: He done married me, got me pregnant, ran off with some floozie bitch and had a baby. And that baby grew up to be... me.
Early: She don't fully recollect her connection to the man.
Granny: What man?
- There's a famous Real Life subversion of this. American psychologist Gordon Allport was visiting Sigmund Freud and told him a story of a boy he'd seen on the train who wouldn't sit near anyone dirty. Allport said that the boy's mother seemed to be domineering, which might have something to do with his behavior. Freud leaned over to him and said, "And was that little boy you?" It was not.
- A story (perhaps anecdotal or urban legend) of an artist who was commissioned to do the life Christ in a giant mural. He started with Christ's birth, using the most cherubic baby he could find as a model, and after years reached the end, but was only stuck on the model for Judas. He simply could not find anyone degraded enough to use, until he finally found a worn out drunk with the most depraved look and hired him. The drunk could hardly refuse the money, but when they reached the studio and saw the mural he burst into tears. Asked why he said "I know about this painting. My mother told me about it. I was the model for the Christ child."