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These are the times before the end. They were happier times. These were the times before everything started to go downhill. The streets were paved with gold, and everyone was happy. At least, that's what the survivors think it was like.
The Beforetimes is what the survivors of some world-changing event refer to the time period before that event. In the case of a Nuclear Holocaust The Beforetimes is basically our world, usually our world as it was at the time the story was written. Of course, other events, especially any which result in a decrease of the quality of life, can count as the event separating the characters from The Beforetimes.
Plots in After the End settings have a tendency to involve things from The Beforetimes. If the disaster was recent, Beforetimes objects might still be in fairly numerous supply, with things such as working guns and vehicles manufactured in the past being valuable, but not extremely rare, finds. If the disaster was less recent, discovery of these things tends to be much rarer, and require a bit of Ragnarok Proofing so that the protagonists can still make use of them.
If society has recovered enough for there to be historians, The Beforetimes is likely to be the official label for the era leading up to the disaster, possibly named after the most important development of that time period, i.e. whatever it was that started society over again.
While usually a Sci Fi trope, the Beforetimes can be spoken of in any kind of fantasy After the End scenario. Perhaps the magic-equivalent of atomic warfare wiped society out, and instead of Lost Technology, the scavengers are looking for old magical artifacts and trying to learn how to weave the threads of reality once again. Alternatively, for whatever reason the gods just left or disappeared and this has had a disastrous effect on those who were left behind.
Contast with And Man Grew Proud in that The Beforetimes were recent enough to not have fallen into myth. The publics knowledge of what life was like back then is reasonably accurate, although oftentimes it's portrayed as even better than it was, as people living now can't imagine how you could possibly have troubles when you had all the food you could eat.
Compare Time of Myths, which may overlap with this trope, especially for fantasy settings. The Beforetimes is often where the Precursors lived, and sometimes, those precursors may even have been mankind itself.
- Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the specific Trope Namer, although many other series provide similar names. A group of children born shortly before or after societal collapse speak of "The Beforetimes, in the Long Long Ago..."
- In Peace on Earth (and its sequel/remake, "Goodwill To Men") an adult animal tells the kid animals about the before time, a time of men, who all killed each other off.
- Summer Of The Apocalypse by James Van Pelt uses this. People born before the flu plague are said to be from the 'before time'.
- Folk in Edgar Pangborn's post-holocaust stories tend to talk about the old times as if they were incredibly ancient rather than a few short decades or centuries ago.
- Andre Norton's No Night Without Stars. The story takes place in a Post Apocalyptic Earth. The period before the Dark Times that ended the world is called the Before Days.
- Those living in the Firefly 'verse speak of Earth-That-Was (and is in fact the Trope Namer), humanity having long since left Earth in pursuit of more sustainable planets.
- Gamma World:
- In 1st and 2nd Edition, the period before the apocalypse that destroyed civilization was known as the Shadow Years.
- In 3rd Edition the time before the end was called the Age of Glory.
- In the Fallout series, civilization was mostly destroyed by worldwide nuclear bombings. Objects or sites dating back to before the bombs dropped are referred to as 'pre-war.'
- The Bohrok-Kal in Bionicle, as well as other villains, often speaking of "returning this land to the Before-Time".