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Whenever characters start hearing the Voice of the Legion whisper in their ear, or the Black Speech dancing on the wind, there's something bad in store for them... and it comes in two flavors! — Insanity Berry and Evil Sauce.
Insane — Bob's completely lost his mind, but how can we make that plain to the audience? Simple-- Have him mention hearing voices in his head, or depict him conversing with them. Closely related to Split Personality. If Bob is a telepath suffering from Power Incontinence, the voices may actually be the cause of his madness, rather than a symptom.
Evil — The evil version can come from a lot of sources. Demonic Possession, nearby ghosts, Artifacts of Doom and Tomes of Eldritch Lore. The Demon/Spirit/Artifact(s) possessing Bob may serve as the "evil" shoulder angel, and rather than (or in addition to) force(ing) him to do evil, tells him to. As Bob realizes Evil Feels Good, the demon can then claim that it didn't make Bob do anything he didn't want to.
Good — The voices come from a higher power, often God or angels. Rather than compel Bob to go on a killing spree, they'll offer him guidance, and likely encourage pacifism. Or cause him to become a Knight Templar...
??? — It's often unknown where the voices are coming from, whether the source is holy, unholy, or neutral is never delved into. Or even Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. Alternatively, the voices come from a multitude of sources, some good, some evil.
Interestingly, Bob may not actually be hearing voices-- a common variation is for Alice to make him think he is, using a hidden radio transmitter or the like. If that's the case, see Gaslighting. Subtrope of Terrible Ticking, though they're usually implemented differently.
Anime and Manga
- Higurashi: One common symptom of having fallen victim to the curse of Oyashiro is hearing a disembodied voice saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." and footsteps. Although as a practical matter, this is an indicator that the character is about to snap, there is a source of the voice and footsteps, although not necessarily one with a physical form.
- Joshua Christopher in Chrono Crusade has the telepath variant, where the "noise" from the thoughts of the people around him drives him insane. There's a bit of the 'evil' side for him, however--he was given the power by the Big Bad, and in the manga it's implied he might be hearing the voice of the demon's Hive Queen.
- Lain from Serial Experiments Lain sometimes hears a crowd of noises in her head, that in turn sometimes give way to a charismatic narrator voice that claims to be God - this is clearly meant to hint to schizophrenia. It turns out that she's hearing conversations from the Wired, and the "God" is an omnipresent entity that resides within it.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Green Goblin is so crazy, he not only hears voices, but also sees little floating goblins.
- Deadpool has two. He enjoys arguing with them.
- Marv from Sin City has mentioned hearing voices and strange sounds in the past. In fact, in his first story, he wondered if he snapped completely, hallucinated the entire murder mystery, and was killing innocent people. Fortunately for him (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), this wasn't the case and people were out to kill him/frame him for murder.
- Some versions of Two-Face's insanity manifest in this way, frequently being divided between a "good voice" and an "evil voice".
- In Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, the titular Murderer of children, whom both the police and The Mafia end chasing, claims that he hears voices periodically, and kills to silence them.
- The Promise (by the Swiss author Albrecht Dürrenmat): Herr Schrott (portrayed by Gert Fröbe in the first film of the book) is a rapist and murderer of preteen girls whose motivation is a mixture of Freudian Excuse through his overly dominating wife and die Stimme (the voice).
- A ??? example in Maximum Ride. Max has a "Voice" . . . which comes from a chip in her arm . . . except not . . . except her whole adventure was a dream . . . except not . . . except the "Voice" is Jeb . . . sorta . . .
- Wheel of Time: Rand al'Thor has been hearing the voice of his previous incarnation, Lews Therin Telamon, in his head for quite a while now. It's not clear whether he's going crazy, or whether he really is hearing Lews Therin talking to him. This is finally resolved in book 12. It's both; that is, as the Reincarnation of Lews Therin he is essentially gaining knowledge and memory of the Age of Legends from him, but the holding of actual conversations with a distinct voice is a symptom of his psychosis. He stops hearing the voice when he has a breakthrough which included the realization that he and Lews Therin 'were not two people, and never had been'.
- In Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Sigismundo Celine begins hearing voices and eventually conversing with imaginary moon-people, after being locked up and drugged. Things get really weird when the footnotes start going crazy too.
- One of the insane people in the asylum in The Stealers of Dreams hears voices (and asks others if they can hear them too).
- One of the characters in Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel is a schizophrenic actress hearing the voice of the character she played in several movies. Unusually for this trope, the voice helps her more often than it gets her in trouble.
- Zane in the second Mistborn novel has a voice in his head telling him to kill almost everyone he meets. He's not actually evil, just really, really screwed up. The voice however is the Big Bad who is able to speak to him because he's crazy and because he's got a hemalurgic spike in him.
- Vin, on the other hand, hears a "good" voice, later revealed to part subconscious, part evil.
- Michael from The Republic of Trees suffers those near the end of the book. Though he refers to them as "demons", they all keep screaming at once, so he never hears them clearly enough to figure of what they want.
Live Action TV
- Subverted in NCIS when they investigate a case of a naval officer that was diagnosed with schizophrenia after her husband was killed in action and she starts hearing voices in her room. It turns out the "voices" were from a radio transmitter planted in her air vents. She had vital information regarding the whereabouts of a large sum of stolen money, and the criminals who wanted it were trying to get her out of the picture by having her declared insane.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When the trio try to convince Buffy that she murdered a girl using perception-altering demons, she hears a torrent of whispered "What did you do?"s.
- In Firefly, River sometimes complains about hearing voices and screaming, and in Serenity she is actually shown in a couple of instances actually hearing said voices.
- In the Criminal Minds episode "Derailed", a train is taken hostage by a schizophrenic whose paranoia is driven by a voice in his head, which is depicted as a man standing behind him that only he (and the viewer) can hear.
- "Voices" by Disturbed. It's mainly from the perspective of the personality giving the insane suggestions, though.
- "Skullcrusher Mountain" by Jonathan Coulton: "The voices that control me from inside my head say I shouldn't kill you... yet."
- "Absolutely Bill's Mood" by They Might Be Giants. Formerly the page quote.
- Green Day's Paranoia. "I hear the voices in my head I swear to god it sounds like they're snoring..."
- World of Warcraft
- The Old Gods are very fond of this trope. Whispers of madness are in fact one of their favorite ways of corrupting people. In the Backstory, Neltharion, the Black Dragon Aspect, was driven mad by the whispers of the Old Gods during his eons of sleep deep within Azeroth. Succumbing to their temptation, he constructed the Dragon Soul and nearly succeeded in exterminating all the Dragonflights.
- In the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj, the player gets whispers saying things like "Death is close," "Your friends will abandon you," and "Your heart will explode." These are sent by C'thun, the Final Boss.
- In the Death Knight starting area of Acherus: The Ebon Hold, the Lich King will randomly whisper suggestions to the player.
- Yogg-Saron whispers to the player in various locations in Northrend. There are areas where these whispers have driven large numbers of NPCs mad, such as Whisper Gulch in Howling Fjord and the Saronite Mines in Icecrown. He is the Final Boss of Ulduar. Favorites include things like "Kill them all... before they kill you" and "It WAS your fault." Given that none of the areas where these whispers show up actually require a group, it comes across more as helpful advice than corrupting whispers of insanity. Then again, that seems to be one of Yogg-Saron's big things.
- High General Brigitte Abbendis, leader of the Scarlet Crusade after Grand Crusader Saiden Dathrohan is found to be corrupted, and later leader of the Scarlet Onslaught until her death at the hands of the player believes that she is receiving the good kind of whispers when she hears voices telling her to go to Northrend. She was not.
It's never made clear the sources of the voices. One theory is that she was receiving the whispers of insanity because of her extreme zealotry, but more likely is that she received the evil kind of whispers from Mal'ganis, who would later appear disguised as Grand Admiral Barean Westwind. Whatever the case, it is certain that the whispers did not originate from the Lich King, as he is surprised at her choice to attack Northrend.
- In Warcraft III, the Lich King whispers to Arthas through Frostmourne. More of an Evil instance, though.
- In Eternal Darkness, the game whispers gibberish at you when your Sanity Meter is low.
- Doug from the Portal series is a schizophrenic with no medication. He thinks the Companion Cube talks to him.
- From The Onion, Laid-Back Voices Urging Man To Kill His Family When He Gets A Chance.
- In what is genuinely a creepy scene, The Nostalgia Critic hears manic laughing and all the bullies who teased him about Doug, before snapping back and realizing there's blood all over his hands.
- One episode of Batman Beyond has the Villain of the Week try to drive Bruce insane by pretending to be a voice from inside his head. He fails, partially because the voice keeps calling Bruce by his name. That isn't his name for himself.
- The Ice King from Adventure Time hears voices and sees strange visions due to his magical crown.
- Taken to extremes in Holly Jolly Secrets when we realize that he used to be a normal man until he put on the crown and unconsciously drove away his wife and let himself go so insane, he's completely unrecognizable in his present form...
- Meg Griffin of Family Guy exhibits increasing Sanity Slippage and wishes that she had softer voices in her head.
- The Joker of The Batman once mentions "Another voice in my head? The more the merrier!"
- ThunderCats (2011) has Kaynar who once mentions "At least I'll have the voices in my head to talk to."
Anime and Manga
- Il Palazzo hears voices in the both the Excel Saga manga and anime, though they affect him differently depending on the continuity.
- In the anime the voices tell him to abandon his Well-Intentioned Extremist ideals and conquer the world for the sake of power alone.
- In the manga the voices tell him something that somehow makes him competent and far more effective in taking over Fukuoka City.
- In Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie, Sakuya enters an antique shop and immediately hears a woman's voice calling her towards a particular book. The voice, belonging to the movie's antagonist, Tsu Young, coaxes/mind-controls Sakura into opening the book, resulting in the capture of all but two of her friends/family.
- Used in the Lord of the Rings movies, to hint at the One Ring's corrosive mental effects.
- Poltergeist. While Carol Anne is watching a TV set to a dead channel, the static starts to sound like whispering. This is apparently the sound of the ghosts on the "other side".
- Star Trek: First Contact. Picard keeps hearing the voice of the Collective in his head.
Live Action TV
- In Farscape John starts hearing voices after being subjected to the Aurora Chair. At first he isn't sure what's going on, but then he starts to see Scorpius as well, indicating that there is definitely evil at work.
- Angel. The Beastmaster tries to intimidate Willow and Angelus by booming away in their heads. Neither of them are amused.
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Harry starts hearing the basilisk's voice. Another subversion in that he isn't actually hearing voices in his head; it's just that he understands Parseltongue, so all anyone else can hear is a faint hissing.
- Ron hears these in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows when he wore the horcrux necklace.
- In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Horus Heresy novel Fulgrim, this is how Chaos corrupts Fulgrim.
- Celmomas in The Second Apocalypse has a voice in his head. It's probably not a good voice considering what a creepy psychopath he is.
- Randy Orton in his heel role for the WWE uses Rev Theory's 'Voices' as his theme song and at one point claimed to be unable to control himself. Not sure if this counts as 'insane' or 'evil' but whatever it is, he's good at it.
- Former WWE Diva Victoria used a similar theme to Orton (All The Things She Said by Tatu) in her early career.
- The Whispers background trait in Exalted.
- Final Fantasy XII: Both Vayne and Cid turn out to be taking orders from a god-like being.
- In Persona 2, Tatsuya Sudou states from time to time that he hears voices, notably in Eternal Punishment where he screams "Voicesvoicesvoicesvoicesvoices..." before attacking the party. In Innocent Sin, the voice is explicitly stated to be Nyarlathotep.
- Adventuring with the Squamous Gibberer familiar in Kingdom of Loathing causes you to see chat messages from nowhere (in grey, italicized text), saying things like "Everything you care for will be smothered and extinguished." and "Even now little plots against you."
- In her first cutscene, Sahori from Shin Megami Tensei V hears a voice in her head that’s intrigued by her wishing for power. However, while she is indeed going insane from allowing her anger and hatred for her bullies to boil inside of her, she is not hallucinating that voice. It turns out that an evil demon by the name of Lahmu is speaking to her. And he has horrible intentions.
- Tales of Symphonia: One of the game's sidequests involves collecting the Infinity Plus One Weapons, the Devil's Arms. When you have collected a few, Presea begins hearing voices from the weapons. After completing the sidequest and defeating the Bonus Boss, Presea is almost posessed by the spirit that lived in them, but is saved by Colette.
- World of Warcraft: One of the weapons (which is sadly not available as of Patch 3.0.2), Corrupted Ashbringer, would send players /whisper messages while they had it equipped, including, yes, 'kill them all'.
- In Mass Effect, the Reapers' indoctrination can manifest like this; whispering voices in the back of your mind. Apparently, they start out quiet, unintelligible, but steadily grow stronger. By the time you can understand them, it's too late.
- In Solatorobo, Red hears a voice commanding him to destroy everything when The Order is given. Elh becomes his Living Emotional Crutch during that time, talking to him to keep him calm.
- The evil souls involved in the "Soul-Splice" in Order of the Stick basically share a body with the character, and provide input on the character's actions, such as telling which direction to go to dodge an attack, or telling them to "Tear down creation, just to see if you can."
- In The Gamers Alliance, Refan hear voices. It's because his sword (which houses a malevolent spirit) is influencing him and trying to trigger his demonic side.
- PRE07 aka the Choir
- In Transformers Prime, Megatron can hear the voice of Unicron giving him instructions after he injects himself with Dark Energon.
- Magnus hears the voice of the Holy Spirit, which gives him direction.
- Garion from The Belgariad hears the voice of Prophecy in his head, sometimes the voice helps, sometimes it makes snarky comments, but it's definitely good.
- Safiya in Neverwinter Nights 2 Mask of the Betrayer hears voices of her other incarnations giving advice, or possibly rescuing her by distracting her before she can finish reading a scroll that will incinerate herself and the surrounding area.
- Yuri has a voice in his head in the first Shadow Hearts that compels him to save Alice Elliott, and to further the questline. The voice isn't happy if he disobeys. The voice turns out to be Koudelka, main character of the eponymous game.
- Shin Megami Tensei V: Tao hears a benevolent voice telling her not to despair when she is stabbed by Lahmu. It turns out that she’s about to be reincarnated as a goddess.
- Voices provides an interesting use of this trope. The voices heard by the protagonists are in fact commands given to them by the readers on the forums, allowing the readers to interact with the characters and help the protagonists work towards their goals. However, while the intentions of the voices are good, at least one protagonist is insane.
- Innerspace. A man thinks he's hearing voices: actually, he has a miniaturized ship implanted in him, and the pilot is talking to him.
- Real Genius: Chris (Val Kilmer), Mitch, and friends gas Kent and implant a transmitter in his molar. They then impersonate a booming voice of God only Kent can hear, and command him to place a massive Jiffy Pop in Jerry's house. When the military test-fires the laser (which has been reprogrammed by the gang to target the house), the house fills to the bursting point with popcorn.
- The "Whisper People" in Knowing.
- In Nine, it is barely hinted in the viral sites that 6 hears voices, and a deleted scene shows him speaking back. However, where the voices come from, why they talk to him, or even if they're good or evil or neutral is never explained.
- In the classic American horror tale Wieland: or, The Transformation the four main characters hear inexplicable voices that confuse, threaten, and utter prophecies that come true. Eventually these voices drive Theodore Wieland himself to kill his own family, as he, deeply religious, believes they are coming from God. However, it turns out the source of the voices is the local hobo/ventriloquist, Carson — Or Are They?
- In Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic quartet, Tris has been hearing random voices for years, leading many of those around her, including herself, to believe she's either crazy or possessed or both. It turns out to be part of her weather magic, with the winds bringing her voices from afar. Later she gains the ability to see images on the wind, which help her catch a serial killer.
- The same thing happens to Zhergoz in The Will of the Empress (part of the Circleverse), but he actually has begun to go crazy; the copious amounts of drugs which he was forced to take to cure his "madness" are suggested to have something to do with that...
Live Action TV
- Lost has these for people who find themselves wandering alone in the jungle. They often herald the appearance of the Others or sometimes apparitions, like with Libby in season 4. In Season 6 it's explained that they're the dead on the island, trying to communicate with the living in order to move on.
- Are Head Six and Head Baltar the products of insanity, guilt, or divine intervention? The series finale points to the latter.
- One of the many manifestations of The Messengers. To the point where a common joke about the old Hunter was, "So, there are voices in your head telling you to kill people who are secretly monsters... and you think you're the good guy?"
- Devil May Cry 3 had this on the mission start screen.
- A Stock Sound Effect in the Chzo Mythos to indicate the presence of John Defoe.
- Dawn of Mana features both good whispers (from the Mana spirits) and evil ones (from the Echoes.)
- Scratches. Early on in the game, there are the eponymous scratching noices. Later on the main charater starts hearing whispering voices mocking him during an exorcism.
- Xkcd: Black Hat Man strikes again!
- Homestuck: Aradia Megido hears voices of the dead. Also, every single player of Sburb hears voices soon after starting the game. They're of the "Good" variety - they're commands issued by Exiles from several hundred years in the future to help the players.
- In Tales of the Questor the squire thinks the armor is haunted because of this.
- In Endstone, the Banestone does this and drives its rockers mad.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Ax and Deidra hear voices of ghosts because of their tribe's deep connection to the spirit realm. The spirits have different motives, some being helpful, others downright malicious or just having fun by chatting with the living.
- Clone High: Joan thought she was finally hearing the voices of her original self, but in fact a had radio transmitter stuck in her teeth.
- In Wakfu, Big Bad Nox claims that he can talk to the Eliacube, the Artifact of Doom which both gave him his powers and ruined his life.
- St. Joan of Arc thought her military campaign was a literal Mission From God. Dr Craig Taylor said in his recent book on the subject, it's a matter of personal belief or opinion whether Joan belongs in the Good or the Insanity sections — the evidence we've got from other similar cases favoring Insanity.
- The soldiers following her were by and large convinced this was an example of the Good variety. Their faith in her and her mission drove them to many victories as a result.
- These tropes can be thought of as the Theme Park Version of hearing voices, which for many is Truth in Television. People can hear evil voices that are abusive and disturbing, good voices that are helpful and supportive, neutral voices, or a mixture of these. Voices may give good or bad advice. Whether people actually listen to their voices depends on the individual and the type of voices. Whether people interpret their voices as coming from religious sources or not depends on the individual, and whether the people who hear them are insane or not depends on the individual. In Real Life, hearing voices is generally unrelated to Split Personality.
- A certain company has released a male's T-shirt that states "I only do what the voices in my wife's head tell her to tell me to do."