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As we all know, thieves are often found among the lowest criminals you're likely see in any given media. Their gifts, lying outside usual law-abiding social circles, mean little room for real friendship. Yet even among such lowly figures we occasionally see the admirable virtue of loyalty. When most don't want to have their back, they've got someone looking out for them.

They could be family, lovers or childhood friends, but in the end outlaws take allies wherever they can find them. Even the more selfish thief may recognize strength in numbers increases his own chances for survival. Over time even the cynic comes to value allies beyond self-preservation and even realizes The Power of Friendship. In rare cases, like-minded individuals may even have formed a guild based on a rough sense of honor and prestige.

The ultimate test of this honor usually comes when the chips are down and the law is at the doorstep. Expect sacrifices, last stands and even last-minute heroics. All of which firmly seals that rare moment when mere thieves show loyalty above and beyond expectations.

Bonus points if this unexpected loyalty comes as a shock to those hunting down said criminal, especially if the thief in question has never cared for anyone but himself. In its purest form this trope sets out to show that deep down even criminals have some good in them.

Then again, some thieves would gladly steal the fillings from your soon-to-be dead body and don't hold their fellow thieves in any high regard either. Compare Gentleman Thief, Classy Cat Burglar and Just Like Robin Hood.

Examples of Honor Among Thieves include:


Anime and Manga

  • In From Eroica with Love art thief Dorian views his crew as more family than anything else. They even have team t-shirts. The collection of rogues who attend his convention are also pretty civil and protective of each other
  • The titular character of Lupin III and his henchmen, Jigen and Goemon. The three have evolved over time to become a close-knit group loyal to each other, almost until death in some cases. If one of them does betray the others, there's usually a damn good reason behind it. In contrast is fourth member and Femme Fatale Fujiko, who usually suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. However, when things get serious, she can be found right alongside Lupin.

Comic Books

  • Subverted in Birds of Prey as Mafia Princess Helena Bertinelli is more than familiar with the concepts of criminal "honor" and hates the very concept, since all it does is provides excuses and justifications for their actions. This comes to a head when Black Canary and Lady Shiva are forced to fight a duel to the death over an affair of honor involving yet another criminal, the White Canary, and the end result is just that people will die for no good reason.


Fan Fiction

Film

  • In Plunkett and Macleane, highwayman Plunkett returns to rescue Macleane from hanging despite the latter having spent their hard-stolen cash on hookers and gambling. Not only an example of this trope but also display of outright Honor Before Reason.
    • In the films beginning Plunketts young partner refuses to give him up, despite being tortured by Chance.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean frequently plays with this, among other variations, with the Pirate Council.
    • In the first movie, long before any mention of any Council, one of the first things Captain Jack Sparrow is shown doing is to notice three skeletons dangling from a sign reading "PIRATES YE BE WARNED" on his way to Port Royal, whereupon he removes his hat in respectful, apparently sincere salute to the dead pirates.
  • The two thieves in the first Dungeons and Dragons movie.
  • Neil's team of robbers in Heat are mostly this. Despite some bad habits, they usually watch out for each other. Except for Waingro, who is too inhuman to count. Furthermore its Neils adherence to this trope that makes him abandon his usual self-preserving pragmatism when the law is at his heels in order to avenge his friend.
  • This trope is a staple of Robin Hood adaptations.
  • Hwal Bin Dang in the Korean film Hong Gil Dong.
  • The crew of Serenity.
  • Ocean's Eleven. Especially obvious in Ocean's 13.
  • The Wild Bunch are hardened criminals with few scruples but in the end decide that they are tired of being treated as if they have no honor and take bloody revenge for the murder of their friend though it gets them all killed
  • Discussed in The Dark Knight, where the manager of a bank, himself part of Gotham's criminal mob, fights back against the Joker's attempt to rob it, but is disgusted with watching Joker and his goons systematically bump each other off so as to leave all the money to (ultimately) just the one survivor.

Literature

  • The Gentlemen Bastards are extremely loyal to other criminals who have the same principles as they do. On the other hand they have no problem being disloyal to and cheating criminals who have gone beyond what the Bastards consider is decent behaviour.
  • The Mandalorians in the Republic Commando novels and short stories. Except of course for the evil ones.

Live Action TV

  • Earl and his gang from My Name Is Earl, mostly. (During the Flash Back bits when they stole stuff that is).
    • One episode played with this a bit. They establish that thieves don't steal from thieves, but when Earl finds out his former friend stole from him now that he'd "turned good", he figured if he wasn't part of that group anymore, he can break their rule on "snitching." This action is treated by other lowlives as even more of a betrayal than simply ceasing criminal activity. In the end, they all cave from light police pressure and snitch on each other, indicating their thieves' code was never that strong to begin with.
  • An episode of Kung Fu in China featured a thief with the qualities of this trope. It works out pretty well for him.
  • The crew from Firefly, especially Mal.

  Mal: "Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn't work out. We're not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we're not takin' what's his."

    • While it is implied that some theives operate that way, such as Mal's old war buddy Monty, it is also heavily implied that many of them don't, in particular Mal's on-and-off employer Badger. Niska firmly stands behind his own warped version of this trope, making him a very dangerous enemy after Mal returned his money and thus failed to do the job he gave his word that he'd do.
  • The protagonists of Hustle have a strict honour system and are loyal to each other and other members of the trade.
  • Michael, Fi, and Sam of Burn Notice.
  • The crew from Leverage. Oh so much. Their opponents, not so much. Especially Chaos, who has Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Discussed and dismissed in an early episode of Due South. Fraser's father once told him that contrary to the old adage, there is no honor among thieves, and he proceeds to predict the bank robbers' next move by assuming that they would turn on each other rather than stick together when things stopped going according to plan.

Tabletop RPG

  • Dungeons and Dragons.
    • An article in Dragon Magazine #115 had a Thieves Guild Code of Ethics.
      • Never reveal guild-related information or its sources to the authorities, nor to any non-Guild member. Guild premises, procedures, or personnel may not be discussed with any non-Guild member.
        • Never inform on another Guild member.
        • Never tell the authorities where the Guild headquarters is.
        • Never disclose the identity of the Guildmaster.
      • Never rob a business or individual protected by the Guild.
      • Never bring a non-Guild member onto guild premises without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Never include non-Guild members in Guild activities.
      • Never belong to or work for another Thieves or Assassins Guild.
      • Don't enlist the aid of another Guild or a member of another Guild without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Don't get involved in non-Guild thievery within the Guild's territory.
      • Guild members must pay all regular Guild dues.
      • Guild members must pay the Guild and the Guildmaster their share of all loot before receiving their cut.
      • No large heists or robberies may be performed without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Guild members must get the Guildmaster's approval before taking an apprentice.
      • Apprentices may not become involved in Guild business without their mentor's or Guildmaster's consent.
    • An article in Dragon Magazine #160 had a few Thieves Guild policies.
      • Don't kill victims just to rob them. Try to keep your crimes non-violent.
      • Never commit treasonous crimes (against the city itself).
      • Don't fight with your fellow thieves.
      • Pay your Guild dues (percentage of loot).
    • The 2nd Edition Complete Thieves Handbook had these Thieves Guild rules.
      • Always pay your dues, training costs and loot percentage.
      • Keep all guild information secret.
      • Tell your Guild leaders what you're planning and any other information they should know.
      • Don't steal in territory or from activities that are "off limits".
      • Only commit crimes in your designated territory.
      • Only train apprentices with the knowledge and permission of the Guild.
      • Be ready to perform any legwork the Guild needs you for.

Video Games

  • A lot of the Sly Cooper games are based around this, where the good thieves follow this trope and the bad ones are double-crossers. Even the third game is called Honor Among Thieves.
  • In Ace Attorney the fact that DeMasque sends out calling cards before his heists and acts like a Gentleman Thief instead of a common crook is what keeps Dessie loving him when she finds out her husband's a thief. Since he 'plays fair' he doesn't count as a normal criminal.
    • One could argue that a minor version of this is why Calisto Yew named herself as the Yatagarasu rather than exposing Tyrell Badd as her partner in crime, when she could have neatly gotten him arrested and out of the way.
  • At the start of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Tommy Vercetti holds this belief deeply, and he expects it of the rest of the family. As Sonny makes it more explicitly obvious how much he's been set up and used, and how disposable Sonny considers him, Tommy reacts with as much anger over his betrayal as the betrayal of this principle.

Web Comics

  • Tagon's Toughs of Schlock Mercenary are mercenaries rather than thieves (mind, the two aren't exclusive), but the same esprit du corps appears to be in play. Many of the crew are Heroic Sociopaths, but messing up a fellow crewmate is a good way to end up staring down the wrong end of a plasma gun. They're also considerate of things like preventing civilian casualties and (usually) not dishing out cruel and unusual punishment.

Western Animation

  • Red X (not Robin, the other one) from Teen Titans.
  • In Argai the Prophecy, Prince Argai runs into and befriends a trio of noble thieves, who in a later episode assist our heroes.
  • Batman: The Animated Series depicts Harley Quinn as not being hard to talk into letting the Joker destroy the city at large with a nuclear bomb, but apart from how Joker was totally prepared to leave her behind, she does care about their "friends", "Ivy and Two-Face and... Hat Guy and Lizard Man and Puppet Head and..."
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