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Sometimes you track down the monster and pull the rubber mask off to reveal the janitor.
Sometimes you try that, and the monster gobbles you up.
And sometimes you don't get either way. You are left with nothing except the tracks, the sightings, and hypotheses. Two characters can argue for the alternative explanations, supernatural or naturalistic, without either one of them carrying the Idiot Ball.
How this is done affects any reaction to it. Sometimes it invokes The Chris Carter Effect or Kudzu Plot. Sometimes it is an eminently satisfactory way to Leave the Plot Threads Hanging (generally when the question has not been the focus of the plot).
A common effect is to offer a mundane explanation of how something could have happened, but not in fact establish that is how it did happen. (Such as never trying to eliminate the purported cause and establish that the effect does end.)
The verifiable presence of magic in the world does not preclude this trope; in Fantasy works, this may come into play for divine intervention. Or some magical things may be clearly magical, and others more ambiguous.
Sub-Trope of Riddle for the Ages; Super-Trope of Or Was It a Dream?. Often comes into play with Angel Unaware, and does when characters say Because Destiny Says So about situations that could be interpreted as Contrived Coincidence. Any apparent Dead Person Conversation (particularly if Talking in Your Dreams) may fall under this, if the conversation contains nothing that the character could not have known. Frequently the argument for mundanity is You Imagined It.
Compare Through the Eyes of Madness, where the audience sees evidence in favor of the weird explanation, but remains unsure of whether it's real or not because of the possible unreliability of the narrator.
Anime and Manga
- The entire premise of Umineko no Naku Koro ni is based on this, so much that the creators have established two distinct camps where the fans can take sides. There's Fantasy, for those who favor the idea that everything was done by witches and magic, and Mystery, which believes that everything was done by human hands, and that witches were no way involved. This becomes increasingly difficult, as more than a few Epileptic Trees are bound to pop up in order to explain everything done by human means.Now, that's the simple part, but with Anti-Mystery and Anti-Fantasy mixed in, everything gets a whole lot weirder.
- Higurashi does this too; the "Wrap Party" at the end of the first novel has all the characters arguing about whether the events were due to humans or a curse. Amusingly, Ooishi takes the side opposite what he does in the novel, and Keiichi doesn't care, since they're all trying to get him anyway. However, it's resolved eventually: It's mostly mundane, with the weirdness being a combination of a Government Conspiracy and Hate Plague; however, the repeated arcs are due to magic, and Rika remembers all of them. In other words, There IS "magic" at work, but the murder mystery is 100% mundane and magic is only used to "explore" it.
- Chiyo's parentage in Azumanga Daioh falls into this. Both Osaka and Sakaki dream of her father being a "cat creature" which is seen in series as a stuffed animal. When scenes are shown of Chiyo interacting with her family, her parents are never seen. Thus, while one possibility is that she has parents like the other girls, but they aren't seen either, the way it's presented tends to suggest that she is either talking to imaginary parents, or that her father really is that cat-creature.
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a non-supernatural example of this trope. In many of the early episodes it is left to the viewer to decide whether he goes through lucky accidents or is a genius.
- Goshiki Agiri from Kill Me Baby is a ninja, yet most of the actual ninja tricks she uses are either obviously accomplished or purely jokes.
- Hayate Cross Blade: Did Wanko REALLY curse those two girls in her debut fight, or did they just freeze from fear at her sheer creepiness?
- Sora no Woto thrives on this. Are the main religions right and "Them" were supernatural beings? Are the ghosts real, or just a hungry owl and a PTSD induced hallucination?
- Some of the things Break does in Pandora Hearts fall into this. We've seen him use actual magic to bind Alice right at the beginning. But he also produces things from nowhere (or out of his hat) which could be illusions or could not. And is Emily ventriloquism or something else?
- A major theme of My Neighbor Totoro.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Is Hobbes a real person, or (as most people around Calvin think) just a stuffed animal subjected to Calvin's vivid imagination? Careful attention reveals that instead of both being possible, neither is: Calvin could hardly tie himself to a chair, for instance, which Hobbes has done to him (on request). On the other hand, photos of Hobbes in action show only a stuffed tiger. The best we're likely to get is the author's comment that "Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it."
- The Batman villain Scarface, a ventriloquist dummy mob boss, is sometimes teased as something more than a delusion of an unstable mind. The Ventriloquist himself believes that the dummy is possessed by the spirit of a gangster rather than a facet of his own personality; since it was cut from wood of a tree that in the past was used to hang criminals, it is a rather spooky origin for a seemingly mundane puppet.
- How "real" Scarface is also depends on the continuity. In some, the Ventriloquist was able to free himself of Scarface's influence via therapy; in others, all it took was destroying the doll.
- An issue of Global Frequency revolves around the appearance of a spectral, otherworldly being referred to as an 'Angel', which is powerful enough which drives the entire population of an isolated Norwegian coastal town mad. The team eventually discover a mundane explanation involving the burning down of a local church and resonance around local rock formations which caused sensory overload -- but then, after they've identified this explanation, one of them floats the possibility that the appearance of a real angel might have similar effects involving similar probabilities.
- The JMS Spider-Man run introduces a character named Ezekiel that claims that Peter's powers aren't a mutation caused by an irradiated spider bite but are in fact "totemic" powers carried by the spider which it felt compelled to pass on after being hit by the lethal radiation beam. It was written in a way letting it totally ambitious if either this version or his classic origin is the real one, and even suggesting that both might be true to some extent.
- The Men Who Stare at Goats: The film never answers if there's real psychic powers or not. The main character does run through a wall at the end...
- Pan's Labyrinth has two different interpretations according to whether the fairy world is real or made by Ofelia's imagination. The director believes it's real (well, as real as fiction gets anyway), but has no objection to people coming up with their own interpretations.
- Done ineffectually by the infamous finale of the B-Movie Monster a Go-Go!.
- In Miracle on 34th Street, the old guy who claims to be Santa Claus never does anything unambiguously supernatural. Even his piece de resistance, finding exactly the thing Susan wants for Christmas even though nobody was sure it existed, might just be a stroke of good luck.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose: was she possessed or insane?
- The opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Shiva sent you! Indiana attempts to convince them that it really was a string of wild coincidences that brought him there, alive, despite many, many things that could have killed him if they had shifted by a hair's breadth. Oddly enough, they continue to find the divine intervention plausible. (In all of the other movies, however, whatever is being sought after is unequivocally both real and have supernatural powers.)
- Fantastically done in K-PAX, where the film never truly answers the question of whether the main character, Prot, is an alien or just a very convincing delusional. The audience is left to wonder, and the possible consequences of either answer end up surprisingly heartwarming.
- Though the fact that he can apparently see gamma radiation makes the delusion pretty convincing.
- This is the whole point of A Serious Man, which is extremely stubborn when it comes to answering Larry's questions (and ours) as to whether the hand of God is at work in his life, or if there is a purely rational explanation for everything (as he wants to think).
- Wonderfully played in the climactic final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and Lord Blackwood in the movie starring Robert Downey Junior, where after dissecting every one of Blackwood's "magic tricks" as fakery, he comments that if Blackwood actually believed in his own sorcerous rites and the dark things he'd invoked, then he'd know what waited for him after death. Cue Blackwood accidentally falling to a hanging death, just as a crow flies past.
- The film Dracula's Daughter, despite being advertised as a sequel to the famous Bela Lugosi Dracula film, remains maddeningly vague on whether the title character actually is Dracula's daughter. She's never seen doing anything overtly supernatural like Dracula in the first film, and ultimately dies from a stake in the heart, something equally lethal to both humans and vampires.
- Vincent and Jules being miraculously saved from several gunshots at point-blank range in Pulp Fiction.
Marvin: "Man, I don't even have an opinion."
- Hot Tub Time Machine repeatedly draws attention to this trope and straddles a strange line between playing it straight and parodying it in the person of the Hot Tub repair man, who may just be a repair man, or may be some sort of Time Police setting the time travelers on their way. Jacob even lampshades it, by noting that the repairman's words perfectly support either theory, and asks if it would kill the repairman to just give him a straight answer.
- Below: Were the strange apparitions the result of high CO2 levels or vengeful spirits? On the one hand they clearly weren't Dead All Along, on the other something other than guilt brought them back to the site of the hospital ship they accidentally torpedoed and deliberately covered up...
- In A Matter of Life and Death: did his head injuries cause his visions? Or are the angels really discussing the proper thing to do with him?
- Black Death ends like this, with the witch taunting the protagonist that her "black magic" was really tricks and misdirection she used to control the villagers. This is particularly stinging because the protagonist had earlier killed his love interest after she had been "raised from the dead" as a mindless abomination... the witch implies she was merely heavily drugged and was never dead in the first place. It's left ambiguous as to whether this is the truth, or if the witch was simply lying to the protagonist to get him to lose his faith in God.
- In 13 Assassins, one of the characters is stabbed through the throat and has his stomach sliced open. He falls down, seemingly dead. At the end of the movie, he returns, only slightly bloodied, and explains that samurai swords are child's play compared to wrestling bears. In an interview, the director says it's up to the viewer to decide whether he was just a really tough guy, or if something supernatural had happened.
- The 2014 Hercules film plays with this. We never get clear confirmation that Hercules is the son of Zeus, and the story unfolds such that a good deal of doubt is placed on this claim. Indeed, in the credits of the movie, it is shown that he accomplished his 12 Labors with the help of his teammates. However, there are one or two acts of extreme strength and desperation performed by Hercules and Hercules alone, that are substantial enough to leave everyone wondering if he is simply really strong and lucky, or if he really is the son of Zeus.
- Why can Vision wield Mjølnir in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Because, as an android and a synthetic being, his lifting the hammer is no different than putting the hammer in an elevator and it moving or because he genuinely is a worthy being? Tony and Cap think it's mundane while Thor thinks it's the magic one. Doesn't help that Mjølnir is technically Magitek with the Asgardians not really bothering to distinguish between magic and science.
- Doc Brown theorizes that November 12th 1955 (the day Marty went back to 1985 in the first film) in Back to the Future is the nexus of the space/time continuum after Old!Biff returns to it from 2015. Though he notes it could also be an amazing coincidence.
- Chirrut in Rogue One. Maybe he's a very weak Force sensitive, maybe he's just that badass or it could have all just been blind luck thanks to Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Or it could have been all three.
- In John Hemry's A Just Determination and Burden of Proof, after the death of men, the crew believe that the ghosts are haunting them. When two junior officers are in free fall, a screw starts to move. The engineer explains that vibrations could cause that.
- Encountered many times in The Lord of the Rings:
- When Frodo and Sam have climbed down the rope given to them by the elves, it comes free. Frodo says the knots must have given way, and Sam thinks that it came when he called it. Neither one thinks either explanation very good, but both conclude that it had to be that way because nothing else would have worked. Later, a third possibility is implied, when Gollum mentions burning his hands on elven rope but gives no details of when and where this happened.
- Other instances: Was Frodo divinely appointed to be ringbearer or was it blind luck? Did supernatural intervention block the pass of Caradhras or did they just get there in a bad season? When Frodo heard that voice on the steps of Amon Hen, was that God or Gandalf or just his own good sense kicking in? Etc.
- Invoked when some elves of Lothlorien reveal that what is magic and what is mundane is a question of perspective in Middle-Earth, as the elves themselves have no concept of "magic" -- a lot of things that are natural to the elves are considered magic by mortals, simultaneously lumping it together with methods employed by Sauron, which the elves will never use.
'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel.
- Tolkien's other works also feature this:
- In Dorothy L. Sayers' Nine Tailors, one of the bells is "known" to have killed two evil-doers in the past. At the end of the book, Lord Peter Wimsey realizes the victim was also killed by the bells, in this case by being in the belltower during a long peal, which may have been a third instance of the bells dealing out justice.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 novel Deus Sanguinius, after psychic attack by Inquisitor Stele has driven him to suicidal depression, Rafen flees. He stumbles on the mediation chamber he had made for himself earlier -- explicitly described through the guiding hand of the Emperor, muscle memory, or blind chance.
- Earlier, when Talking to the Dead, Rafen asked Koris to guide him one last time. The dead man's communicator fell to his hand. It had been sheared loose, but fell only then. Although using dead men's equipment was forbidden except under the gravest of circumstances, Rafen takes it up and uses its command codes.
- Earlier, in Deus Encarmine, Rafen remembers, in his Backstory, how he had once thought he had seen Sanguinius in lights in the sky; perhaps a trick of the mind, through fatigue and despair, but it reminded him that the Pure One was judging him and caused him to rally.
- In Black Tide, Rafen wonders whether his capture was the guiding hand of the Emperor or capricious fate. (If it's the first, he will do his duty; if the second, to hell with fate, he will do his duty.)
- In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, all of Merlin's "magic" relies on fakery and a gullible audience, and he's strongly implied to have no actual powers at all. But at the very end, he casts a spell that really works, and it's never stated if he found some scientific way of pulling it off or if he really did have some magical powers after all.
- Each part of Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz (which take place hundreds of years apart) features a very similar old Jewish man. The Wandering Jew -- or not?
- In Kate Seredy's The White Stag it is never clear if the forces that brought the Huns to the new land and the white stag are a higher being fulfilling prophecies, or just plain luck.
- In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Ultramarines novel Black Sun Dead Sky, when Uriel is trying to convince the Unfleshed of his friendliness, their icon of the Emperor lights up -- either a mechanism jogged by Uriel's movement, or a miracle.
- Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland toes the edge of this trope. Though it is revealed that the voices which Wieland hears have a physical source, the fate of Clara and Wieland's father is still ambiguous: it was either the inexplicable wrath and majesty of God, or spontaneous combustion. Which people did believe in in those days!
- Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete. He, and those around him, think he's been cursed by the gods to forget everything every night. Even the gods speak of it when they talk to him. We, on the other hand, have enough evidence about his head injury to conclude that that may explain both the amnesia and the hallucinations.
- In Brian Jacques's Redwall, Matthias addresses a tapestry showing Martin the Warrior about his weakness. When Cornflower appears to reassure him and say that his tears are not Water Works, he interprets this as a message from Martin.
- In the Dresden Files, Harry's Church Militant friend Michael frequently receives very beneficial "coincidences." At least, Harry believes it to be coincidence. Michael is quite certain it isn't. Harry's repeatedly stated position is one of absolute neutrality -- as he describes it, Theological Switzerland. He acknowledges that Michael possesses a power unlike Harry's wizardry, but debates just how powerful Michael's divine protection and ability seem to be at times.
- In one book, Father Forthill just happens to knock on his door at the same moment Michael needs to leave his house, because Forthill's car just happens to have gotten a flat tire nearby, freeing Michael to leave his younger kids with someone he trusts.
- At a few points in the books, Harry debates this to one of the other Knights -- who paradoxically, is a confirmed agnostic -- and Harry's taking the side of Christianity.
- In Small Favor, a civilian under attack by a monster screams Oh, God in Heaven, help us!" Which is right when Michael appears.
- On the other hand, when Michael is mysteriously absent during Molly's prosecution for the use of Black magic, Harry's plan to prevent her execution relies on Michael having been sent to just the right place for "coincidence" to work in his favor.
Michael: So what you're saying is, you took a leap of faith?
- Another time in Harry's darkest moment in Changes, Sanya manages to show up again just after an old woman screams "Oh, God in Heaven, help us!" Sanya claims it was probably just a coincidence.
- Every single Bailey School Kids book is like this. Is the authority figure supernatural/villainous, or are the kids just jumping to conclusions?
- Edward Eager's books are usually about children who find some kind of magic object and have adventures, but in two of them -- Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers -- the main characters never find out if the wishing well was really magic or if everything that happened was just coincidence.
- In Castle Roogna, a ring claims to be magical, a wishing ring. When Dor makes a wish on it, it answers, "I'm working on it." Every wish made on it comes true through outside factors -- except that every wish made on it does come true, and it never claimed that it could pull off instantaneous wish granting.
- In Sharon Shinn's The Alleluia Files, the revelations about the spaceship do not shake all the characters' faith. Some still think that their lives, and these events, had been divinely guided. Indeed, Tamar, raised to disbelieve, announced that she had come to believe.
- A Song of Ice and Fire appears to have a clear relationship between the existence of dragons and that of magic. The dragons died out before the start of the series, with only a few dormant eggs left behind, and no living dragons = very limited magic. So the series starts with little magic (although some of it seems rather powerful) and until Daenerys hatches her dragon eggs most "magic" is faked, lucky, or misunderstood. After Dany hatches the dragons, the lines get blurred; while more true magic is beginning to occur and is increasing in frequency and power as the dragons grow and Daenerys gets closer to Westeros, there are still fakers, lucky people, and ignorant people out there. Some examples:
- In A Storm of Swords, Stannis and Melisandre perform a ritual which will supposedly cause the deaths of the other three surviving kings, Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon. By the end of the book, they're all dead... but they all died from separately, from completely unrelated causes. More importantly, the events leading to the deaths were, in two and possibly all three cases, set into motion well before Stannis even performed the ritual. Tywin Lannister had already plotted to kill Robb, Margaery and Olenna had been making provisions for Joffrey, and while the cause of Balon's death remains somewhat unclear there is a long, long list of people who might have been planning to take a shot at him--not least Euron Greyjoy, who conveniently appeared just after the death to be claim the throne throne. To make things more confusing, Melisandre has definitely performed legitimate magic prior to the ritual, most notably sorcery that was definitely the cause of Renly Baratheon's death. According to A Dance with Dragons Melisandre's powers are a combination of tricks and legitimate magical power. Since the rebirth of the dragons, she's been using more of the latter kind.
- There are a lot of cases where something might be magical, or it might just be a coincidence; in particular most prophecies are entirely self-fulfilling. Most notably among the point of view characters is Cersei, who was told that she would be supplanted by a younger, more beautiful queen, and betrayed or killed by her younger brother. Nothing has come of it yet, but she could very easily fulfill it all by her lonesome; there are two beautiful potential queens (Margaery, who married King Renly and then King Tommen, and Sansa, who could yet become Queen in the North) who have good cause to hate her, and she has been absolutely vile to both her brothers (remember that Jaime is the younger twin by a matter of seconds,) so that now one really wants to kill her and will very likely make an attempt when their paths next cross, and the other may yet cause her death by inaction, having ignored her pleas for his help in favour of fulfilling his oath to Brienne.
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone! Except that it's really really hard to tell the difference between a true psychic dream and a hallucination, especially since most psychic dreams occur while characters are badly injured/feverish/etc. (such as Bran's dreams of the three-eyed crow during his coma, or Jaime's visions regarding Brienne during a traumatic injury and subsequent severe infection. While the former's visions seem to be genuine, the latter's might yet swing either way--though they seem to be mundane, as the character they were dreaming of might be dead.)
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Larkin's scope. It appears to show him things. Except that he's several cards short of a full deck.
- His best example comes from the story of the Angel in Ghostmaker. In a mission to sneak into a Chaos-held city and snipe its leader, Larkin loses it and abandons the mission team. He holes up in a room high up on a tower with a statue of an Imperial Angel - which he imagines talking to him, convincing him to do his duty and giving him a strip of cloth to help steady his aim. He ends up taking out the Chaos warlord, then passes out. When he comes to, other Ghosts are helping him up, and Angel is just a statue again - but his long-las is sitting in the corner with a band of silk tied to it.
- There's also the... impressive performance of Saint Sabbat in Sabbat Martyr. On the one hand, she has a small fortune worth of the best armor and weaponry the Imperium has to offer. On the other hand, she comes by the title "Saint" honestly. (On the gripping hand, she solo-kills a Baneblade and duels and kills a Chaos warlord.)
- Much of the premise of House of Leaves is very heavily based on this trope.
- In K.J. Parker's The Scavenger Trilogy, after he loses his memory, all of Poldarn's actions are consistent with being just a unwittingly malign man, mired in circumstance and human nature or being the God of Destruction. Or possibly the human agent for a group mind of crows. Or both.
- Pretty much every one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels dealing with the witches positively dances on this line. Witches obviously use magic. They also use "headology", which is essentially making people think they're using magic. Which one they're using at any given time isn't always clear. And then Granny Weatherwax gets annoyed at people's gullibility for assuming she's doing high-level magic when there's actually a perfectly mundane explanation, even though she and the reader know she was using magic and the mundane explanation is wrong. ("That's not the point. I might not have been.")
- Near the end of Making Money, Moist is in a jam, and decides to try praying to Anoia, Goddess of Things Stuck In Drawers. Later in the book, after he is saved from a mugger when the man's dentures explode -- albeit after years of abuse, he decides to make a thanks-giving offering of a really big ladle.
- Édouard de Gex's resurrection in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. Was he Only Mostly Dead, or did he genuinely come Back From the Dead?
- In Cryptonomicon, also by Neal Stephenson, Enoch Root does something to fix Amy's leg after she gets shot with an arrow. Neither of them are willing to say what he actually did.
- Enoch also qualifies for this trope, as he appears in both Cryptonomicon (set in WWII and the modern day). As well as appearing in The Baroque Cycle. It's never explicitly stated if it's the same Enoch, or two men with the same name.
- The "King's Cross" chapter in Harry Potter: Either Dumbledore speaks to Harry from the afterlife, or Harry is sorting the information out himself, using Dumbledore as a mouthpiece.
- Similarly, the Deathly Hallows themselves - are they genuinely mystical artefacts of Death himself, or merely incredibly powerful magical items invented by the Peverell brothers?
- Also, Professor Trelawney is generally believed to be a fraud who enters the occasional genuinely prophetic trance, but almost every "fake" prophecy she makes comes true in some sort of way. Some of them can be explained as cold readings, but sometimes she comes suspiciously close to the truth - at one point she reads the cards in a way recognised by the reader (though not her) to identify that Harry's close by and in a bad mood; and at one point she gets Harry's birth month about as wrong as possible, but it's perfectly accurate for Voldemort, a part of whose soul is sitting in Harry's head.
- An early Babysitters Club book, The Ghost at Dawn's House, ends with Nicky Pike being responsible for most of the strange things that Dawn observed--but not all of them. The ending of the book leaves open the possibility that Dawn's house really is haunted.
- In Kate Seredy's The Singing Tree, the cat acts ill in the cart, so they stop by a hospital where they learn she's having kittens. They wait, and Kate and Lily help the nurse bring soup to the wounded. Which is how Kate sees the amnesia case and realize it's her Uncle Marton -- shouting that at him jogs his memory lose. When arguing that they should take him home despite his lack of papers, one argument is that it was obviously Destiny and who are they to argue with destiny.
- In Warrior Cats, during a big battle over leadership in WindClan, lightning strikes a tree, causing it to topple over and form a bridge to a nearby island (which would then be used as important neutral ground for the four Clans). It also crushed the cat attempting to usurp leadership. The cats (and some of the fans) see this as far too convenient to be coincidence, and believe that StarClan directed the lightning. On the other hand, the cats have seen StarClan's influence in things they had nothing to do with before, and StarClan have also stated that they have a strict non-interference policy.
- In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Kor'sarro is not sure how he recognizes that Nullus is a daemon; intuition, or maybe being near another daemon.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Black Colossus" when Yasmela consults an oracle, being desperate, she does what it says despite this.
"Mitra has spoken," replied the princess. "It might have been the voice of the god, or a trick of a priest. No matter. I will go!"
Was it some trick of the moonlight that touched the eyes of the black figures with fire, so that they glimmered redly in the shadows?
- Much of the fascination of ETA Hoffmann stems from the mix of this with Unreliable Narrator and Purple Prose.
- Samuel Delaney's Dhalgren: all sorts of strange things happen, ranging from mildly unsettling (several characters get exactly the same scratch on the thigh), through the absurd (the city's geography seems to rearrange itself), to the absolutely terrifying (the sun rises one day and takes up half the sky, and then the next day everything is back to "normal"). None of this is ever explained, so it could be the Unreliable Narrator, or it could be something far weirder.
- In Jo Walton's Among Others, the main character is able to see supernatural beings and work magic. However, it is somewhat ambiguous as to whether the beings she sees are magical or the product of a lonely teenager's imagination, at least in the beginning of the book. The magic in this book mostly works in a subtle manner through coincidences that leave plenty of room for doubt as to whether the results were really due to magic after all. For example, the character tries to cast a spell to find a karass or Nakama because she can't find anyone at school she can relate to. The next day she gets just the kind of result she was hoping for when a librarian mentions a local science fiction book club and asks the protagonist if she'd like to join. The protagonist herself wonders whether this was a result of magic or coincidence as the book club had existed for a while before she'd ever heard of it.
- In Poul Anderson's The Devil's Game, what exactly is the title "devil"?
- The Turn of the Screw is an early example: are the ghosts real or a figment of the governess's imagination?
- In Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series the narrator maintains that all the magic shown by Merlin, Nuimue and others have possible natural explanations but that they could be genuine. Further confused by Nimue's admission that some of her and Merlin's magic is indeed just trickery while she says that some of it is genuine. The series plays with the existence of magic just about every way possible. For example, some of the most powerful magic users admit that half of magic is trickery and working on the psychology of the viewer. So it's not real, right? Then an item works that must be magic... until it doesn't later. So which is it? While the first two books lean towards "mundane" the last one has several events that are really difficult to explain without magic.
- Bernard Cornwell really likes this trope, with The Saxon Stories pulling it every now and then, with the rune sticks being disturbingly accurate and Uhtred's shadow walker antics.
- Even possibly Sharpe providing an example with the Gonfalon of Santiago, though the last leans very much on the mundane end of the spectrum.
- In the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, the question of whether the ScreeWee, the Dead and the time travel are all real or whether Johnny is, as Wobbler tactfully puts it, "mental", is resolutely unanswered until the final scene of Johnny and the Bomb, when Kirsty remembers it too. There is evidence supporting the former view, but it could all be explained away if you tried hard enough.
- In CS Lewis's Till We Have Faces, it's unclear whether certain events are caused by the wrath of the gods or whether it's just coincidence being misinterpreted by a superstitious people. Until the narrator sees a god with her own eyes.
- In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet Captain Desjani insists that Geary is guided by the living stars.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Regained, Gregory recounts a vision that changed him -- and then immediately dismisses it as a delirum, albeit one that made him think.
- In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Valency offended her mother, who sulked. Then she got the letter from the doctor, which gave her her diagnosis of fatal illness. She thought the matter providential, because otherwise her mother would have asked whether there were any letters and read it; now she could keep it a secret.
- In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan's famous dialogue with the Devil might be pure feverish delirium, or might be a genuine vision. You're the reader: you decide. This is foreshadowed by his own parable of the Grand Inquisitor, when Alyosha (tellingly) protests that the prisoner could not have actually been Jesus, and Ivan just says it doesn't matter either way.
- This ambiguity is at the heart of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus:
- Did Adrian Leverkühn sell his soul to the Devil for 24 years of musical genius?
- Did he contract a case of syphilis that drove him mad and killed him, but not before unlocking surprising sources of creativity in his brain?
- Are there any parallels with Mann's home country of Germany and its "deal" with the Nazi party?
Mann's apparent catch-all answer ... "Yes."
- Metro 2033 is riddled with this. Are there evil spirits in the tunnels, or toxic gas? Did evil presence kill everyone in parallel tunnel, or was it just monsters? Why should you never look at Kremel towers? The games inspired by the book are little more explicit on the answers, but the book never provides them.
- In Nackles there is evidence to suggest that Frank was taken by the titular creature or walked out on his family.
Live Action TV
- The show Mysterious Ways bases its entire premise on this, with a quirky teacher wanting to find a "smoking gun" of supernatural activity but always ending up with plausible but unlikely alternate explanations.
- The Eerie Indiana episode "Heart on a Chain" is the only one in the series that never answers its mystery. A shy, terminally ill girl has a crush on a devil-may-care boy, who dies in a freak accident. A heart transplant from his fresh corpse saves her. She then begins acting increasingly bizarre (with a lot less self-control). It is left completely unclear until the end whether his heart's personality has taken over hers (as the Agent Mulder believes), or whether guilt has made her not herself.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Thirty-Fathom Grave". A U.S. Navy destroyer crew investigates a strange knocking sound coming from a submarine sunk years earlier. One of the ship's crew escaped the sinking sub and feels Survivor Guilt: he thinks his old crew is angry at him because he didn't die with them. At the end it's revealed that an object inside the sub could have been making the knocking sound.
- Also the episode "The Grave", apparently based on a similar well traveled urban legend. A cowboy in the Old West visits the grave of his enemy on a bet, the dying man's own last words having been an assurance that if he went anywhere near the grave, the dead man would reach up and grab him. As proof, he has to plant a dagger into the plot. When he finally musters the courage to do so, you can't see what's happening but * something* snags him and he goes down stiffly, mostly off-screen. The next morning his corpse is found there by the townsfolk. He had had a heart attack and the dagger was pinning his garments to the ground, perhaps having been blown into his path by the wind, causing him to have mistaken the situation for the obvious supernatural substitute when he found himself snagged upon trying to turn away. But one of the people observes that "the wind was blowing in the opposite direction". The closing narration says that it's up to us to decide what to believe.
- "Nick of Time" had its protagonists consider whether a penny fortune-telling machine could truly answer any yes-or-no question correctly, or if it was merely on a lucky streak. People who continue to believe in the machine are shown to stay in town and continue feeding in pennies for fear of their lives. Is it only paranoia, or does the mystic seer use real power to gain addicts?
- Babylon 5 usually went with First One technology for its 'supernatural' effects, but a couple of episodes are more ambiguous. Neil Gaiman's 'Day Of The Dead' in season 5 leaves it ambiguous whether the dead people that came back for the night are a result of Brakiri telepathy or the genuine article. At the end, it seems to come down on the side of the supernatural.
- The entire point of Cupid, the 1998 version, was to be ambiguous as to whether Trevor was genuinely Cupid, or crazy. The 2009 version likewise fits with this trope.
- One memorable Buffy episode featured a demon that caused Buffy to hallucinate herself in a mental hospital. Her mother was still alive, her parents were still together, and she was diagnosed as paranoid and delusional. The episode never really explained if everything we've ever seen in the show is real, or all part of a sad girl's hallucinations.
- In the episode "Amends", a snowfall prevents Angel from killing himself. The chances of a blizzard in Southern California are incredibly small, but there's still a chance that it was entirely mundane. In the Angel spinoff series it's further hinted at that the Powers That Be may have intervened, but it's still left pretty ambiguous.
- Christmas episodes seem to be a breeding ground for this trope. It happens in a Christmas episode of Roswell when Max heals an entire children's cancer ward. Possibly averted given Max's abilities, but the trope is largely played up in the show.
- ER had an episode where a jolly, bearded toymaker comes in... and has mysteriously vanished by the end of the episode.
- ER also had another Christmas episode where Benton offhandedly touches a blind hypothermia patient's forehead, and said patient suddenly (and temporarily) regains his sight, causing several homeless people to station themselves in the ER to get "healed" by the "miracle worker". Benton predictably brushes their claims off with annoyance, but keeps getting his claim that it was just a coincidence weakened by random occurrences like a broken vacuum suddenly starting up again when Benton passes by. At the end of the episode, Benton still won't address the issue, but is told by Neurology that no one can find a medical reason for why the man got his sight back for an afternoon.
- Cheers subverted this when no one in Norm's Department Store Santa class could identify the realistic Santa from their class, which caused Frasier (in full Ebeneezer mode) to ponder if it was the real Santa. When the Santa returns, he asks if anyone had a jump for his car. Frasier is still amazed and filled with the Christmas spirit because for a brief moment, he actually thought Santa Claus was real.
- The killer in The X-Files episode "Grotesque" is eventually revealed to be a profiler who looked too long into the abyss of a particular serial killer and turned into him. Whether this is a psychological effect or transferred demonic possession is left up to the viewer.
- In House, a teenage faith healer somehow manages to shrink the size of a terminal cancer patient's tumor. By the end, it's revealed that the healer had a virus that's been known to combat cancer. However, as Chase points out, the odds of it being both the right strain of virus and the right type of cancer were astronomical, leaving the possibility of divine intervention open.
- Similarly, in an episode of Eleventh Hour (American), water that cured a boy's cancer proves to be heavy water. However, as the FBI agent points out at the end, this discovery leads to the arrest of domestic terrorists which otherwise would have gone completely unnoticed.
- Or Jesus. The team can't identify the problem of a priest who came in with hallucinations of Jesus and got more and more symptoms. House tries ignoring the hallucination and looking only at the other symptoms, and solves the case. This leaves the unanswered question of where the visions of Jesus came from if they weren't related to the patient's illness.
- Lost never definitively revealed the show's major mysteries as either essentially supernatural or essentially science fiction. The second-to-last season seemed to come down heavily on the side of science fiction, but the final season introduced plot elements that seemed balanced more toward supernatural explanations. Fans remain divided on whether the show ultimately came down on one side of the question, intentionally left things ambiguous to let each viewer decide, or was attempting a fusion of both SF and the supernatural.
- Murdock of the The A-Team is either insane, or a very good actor. Though most of his ramblings (such as that golf balls need to breathe) are clearly not founded in reality, he is actually capable of seemingly becoming invisible to anyone who doesn't know him (either that or he paid off the waitress to play along). Also, at the end of one episode his imaginary dog Billy pulls him off-screen in a manner that couldn't be faked without something else actually pulling him.
Client: Is he really that crazy?
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode Sacred Ground, Kes was saved either by Janeway's leap of faith or though a series of coincidental natural phenomena technobabbled after the fact by the Doctor.
- An episode of Bones features Booth being helped by his dead war buddy's ghost. In the end, Brennan refuses to accept that it was a ghost, saying it was just a stressed-out hallucination. The later revelation that Booth had a brain tumor at the time may explain it, but the final scene of the episode shows Brennan waving to the "ghost", and at one point, Cam realizes that there was no way for one person to do everything Booth said he did alone.
- Another episode was a Blair Witch Project homage. The ghost of the witch is revealed to be fake, until the end, when Angela and Hodgins discover the blurred outline of a woman in some video footage. It could be just moonlight...
- Bones in general plays with this trope a lot. Some fans assume it's because David Boreanaz still seems like Angel in the first two seasons, and enjoy making people think that's going to Vamp out to get the bad guy of the week. But it might just be because having one character who is a strong skeptic makes this a very tempting plot device.
- The Man In The Morgue takes place in New Orleans, and of course involves Hollywood Voodoo, and even some Easy Amnesia. Surprisingly, it plays the trope rather well - the viewer is left wondering if Bones is drugged or hexed.
- The Castle episode He's Dead, She's Dead has a murdered "psychic" who may have left behind a prediction of her own murder...or maybe it was left by the murderer to confuse the police. Castle wants to believe theory A, Beckett believes theory B. At the end the culprit is lawyered up and not telling.
- The episode also had the victim's daughter, also a psychic, tell Beckett that someone with the name Alexander would be important. She finally tells Castle the woman mentioning Alexander to further her argument against psychics since nobody in the case had that name. Turns out, Castle's birth name was Richard Alexander Rogers. She's left to wonder if she was wrong or if it was a coincidence.
- "Demons" is set in a supposedly Haunted House, with Castle again taking the role of believer and Beckett the role of skeptic. Although there's ultimately a mundane explanation that plausibly explains the events of the episode, there's still one or two things that suggest the house could be haunted after all.
- While Doctor Who usually opts for the mundane route, usually playing the Sufficiently Advanced Alien card, there are some ambiguous moments.
- The Doctor may have pockets that are bigger on the inside, but he may just cut a hole in his pockets through to the lining. Considering these explanations are given for two different costumes, it may even be both.
- "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" featured Satan as a Monster of the Week. Is it really him, or just a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who happens to resemble our popular conception of the devil? Never established for certain.
- Was there ever a perfect hiding creature in "Listen"? Everything that happened had a mundane explanation and the Doctor's very reason for looking for such a creature was a memory he couldn't even be sure wasn't a dream. The creature could exist or the Doctor was just working through his fear of losing Clara.
- "Last Christmas." The episode seems to confirm that Santa is just an avatar in a shared dream, something that everyone recognizes and can bounce ideas off, but also ends with a tangerine being placed on Clara's window, seemingly by magic. Perhaps Nick Frost played the real Santa or perhaps that was just a figment and the real one is elsewhere.
- "The Haunting of Villa Diodati" explains nearly everything as the Cyberium's sense screwing security system but no one can account for a woman and a girl who brought Graham a sandwich before vanishing. Yaz and Ryan seem to think that was just another illusion but the Doctor notes that they might have been genuine ghosts.
- A strange example in the usually reality-based NCIS. In the fourth season finale "Angel of Death", Dr. Jeanne Benoit encounters a little girl outside the hospital who may or may not be the Angel of Death. It's strongly implied to the viewer that she really is.
- The Criminal Minds episode “With Friends Like These” features a man named Ben who seems to be haunted by three "demons" who nobody else can see, and who force him to commit murder. The detectives dismiss them first as drug-induced hallucinations and then as symtoms of schizophrenia, but both explanations are eventually ruled out and it’s left unclear as to whether or not they were real.
- Criminal Minds makes sweet, sweet monkey love to this trope on a regular basis. Did the Satanic serial killer really have supernatural help, or was he just ludicrously lucky? Did the various psychics that the team encounter really have powers, or was it just a coincidence? Was the bullet that killed Tobias Hankel really divine will, or was it just luck? Rossi gives a little speech at one point where he outright states that he has no idea whether or not the supernatural exists, but that figuring out the answer to that question isn't part of their job, and their job is tough enough as it is.
- The Lie to Me episode "Beat The Devil" has the verification of a UFO as its B-plot. Thirty-minute mark, they find (real!) video footage of it. Fifty-minute mark, an Air Force officer shows up with a bullshit story. Loker sees right through him to the truth: The Air Force has no idea what it was, but is more than happy to let the witness twist rather than admit to an unknown penetration of US airspace. They finally get the witness and the Air Force to agree on a story to save the witness' career: uber-uber-top-secret aircraft. Loker smiles and saves the video to hard drive as the episode ends.
- In the Boy Meets World Halloween episode "The Witches of Pennbrook", Jack dates a girl who claims to be a witch, and later reveals she has evil intentions: she tries to use Jack as a sacrifice to gain immortality by placing him in the path of a light beam from the sky she claims has destructive powers, though her plans are thwarted by Eric. At the end its left unclear if she was really a witch or just crazy and if the light beam was real or not. Eric actually says something similar to the trope name when discussing it.
Jack: Eric, I saw the light beam was that real?
- The Good Witch, a series of made-for-TV movies on The Hallmark Channel, centers around an attractive woman(Catherine Bell) who relocates to a small town, moves into an abandoned house reputed to be haunted, and opens up a shop full of new-age/occult items, prompting the locals to suspect that she may be a witch. She never does anything overtly supernatural, but it's never confirmed that she isn't a witch either...
- In Six Feet Under it was generally pretty clear that the visions of dead people the characters had were in their imaginations (as emphasised by e.g. Nate Sr.'s different behaviour depending on who saw him). Still, there were a few occasions with very slight hints that something more might be going on, as with Claire meeting the dead Lisa, or Brenda meeting Nate Sr. (whom she'd never known while he was alive) or, hardest to otherwise explain, David and Nate sharing the same dream right before Nate dies.
- An episode of Cheers involved a guy who wanted to be a priest, who was having cold feet one day before being ordered, who managed to touch an old piano in the bar that has been out of order by years. The piano worked! Cloudcuckoolander Coach even says: “I can’t believe it”. All the cast convinced the guy that it must be a signal that he was special and he must become a priest. He agrees and left the bar. When all comment the miracle, Coach says he repaired the piano a week ago. When they ask him why he said “I can’t believe it” if he knew the piano was working, he answered that all those years he left the piano broke without any further thought, but just a week ago he felt the irrepressible urge to repair the piano, before it was too late.
- In Warehouse 13, the basis of the show is powerful artifacts that produce near-magical effects. That's not the trope (although the organization does store them under the theory that someone will figure them out eventually). No, this trope comes into play because most artifacts were owned by famous historical figures well-known for something similar to what the artifact is capable of. It's never made clear whether their extraordinary skills created the artifacts, or if they became famous because they made use of the artifacts.
Artie: Maybe it worked on her, maybe she worked on it...the point is, it worked.
- The early 1970's show Nanny and the Professor introduced Phoebe, a nanny that arrives in America to tend to a widower and his family--before they even know of her or that she is coming. In the first ten minutes of the show's pilot, Nanny greets an airport's agent, explains where she came from (England) and where she is going. However, the only flight coming from England that day had just arrived at the gate as Nanny walks away. Nanny's ability to speak to animals, her tendencies to know what is coming before it happens, and the like, is never explained. The character of Nanny is ostensibly a Mary Poppins archetype, the magical/mystical housekeeper.
- The Christmas Episode of Eureka features Dr Noah Drummer, whose experiment will supposedly bring "peace to earth," but which actually saves the town and gives it a White Christmas, before he leaves, saying he has "an errand to run", but will be back at the same time next year.
Kid: Sheriff Carter, please tell me you aren't saying this Drummer dude was Santa?
- The Cold Open of a Crime Scene Investigation episode showing a psychic giving a reading that makes no sense to her customers, but it apparently turns out that she had foreseen her own death. Or she was a crappy psychic who was just looking around the room for random things to say and the connection of those things to her death were entirely coincidental.
- CSI Miami. Was Delko really being visited by the ghost of Tim Speedle? Or was he nothing more than a hallucination brought on by lingering effects of getting shot in the head? Two things point to the former, one, Speedle lead Delko to crucial evidence in the case, something a hallucination wouldn't be able to do. And second a later episode showed that in the CSI-verse ghosts do exist. These certainly point to the real possibility that Delko really had been seeing the spirit of his dead friend.
- Cold Case does this at the end of almost every episode, often to tear-jerking effect, with the "ghost" of the episode's victim appearing to either the detectives or someone they were close to in life. Normally, this could be written off as simply Rule of Symbolism... except the living people actually seem to react to these apparitions. Notably, the victim in "Disco Inferno" manages to have a fully-choreographed dance number with his old girlfriend from beyond the grave.
- Phoebe in Friends. Maybe she's psychic and had all those past lives or maybe she's just deeply insane.
- Greendale as shown in the Riverdale episode "Tales from the Darkside". While the Sabrina spin-off confirmed that magic does exist, all the weird things that happen to Jughead and Archie can be explained away through mundane means.
- Rex Powers in Victorious. Several episodes point to Robbie just being that good at ventriloquy (and being hopelessly insane) while several others have Rex act with quite a bit of autonomy that defies general logic, suggesting that he is self-aware.
- The old folk song "Scarlet Ribbons". The narrator overhears his/her young daughter praying for scarlet ribbons for her hair before bedtime. Unfortunately it is very late, and all the shops are closed, making it impossible to obtain them. When the narrator checks on his/her daughter again before dawn, the wished-for ribbons are lying on her bed. The song ends with the lines "If I live to be one hundred / I will never know from where / Came those lovely scarlet ribbons / Scarlet ribbons for her hair."
- Warhammer 40000 loves this trope as a cornerstone of its setting, especially when the Adeptus Mechanicus come into play. Is that ancient relic so powerful because it was created with long-lost technology of astounding power, or is it truly blessed by the Emperor to protect his children? Do the Necrons invoke some strange techno-sorcery in their weapons and vehicles, or is their understanding of the material world so absolute that we can't even begin to understand how they work? The answer is very, very rarely made clear in any given case.
- Mage: The Ascension had some fun with this too. Any smart mage makes their spells look like coincidences, hypertech, or something else that the general population believes will work (and a fair number actually believe that this is what is happening). With the heavy levels of Clap Your Hands If You Believe used, the odds are very good that there's a bit of both magic and coincidence/super-science/whatever going on.
- The New World of Darkness sourcebook Asylum presents a suite of odd happenings and disturbed individuals in the ill-starred Bishopsgate Mental Hospital in one chapter. The book gives each of them one or more supernatural explanations... and also gives a mundane one for each, with the "real" answer in the Storyteller's hands. (For example, one of the patients is a woman with foggy memories and terribly-kept medical records. The book gives two possibilities: she's being used as a storage conduit by the Seers of the Throne, who alter her records to hide their activities... or she's just an ill woman with an aneurysm on the verge of bursting, and the hospital's just really screwed up keeping their books straight.)
- Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition had a prestige class that pretended to be a spellcaster, using prestidigitation and really good bluff skills. Ironically, Prestidigitation is also a spell available to wizards, sorcerers, and bards, which enables them to perform minor tricks such as slow levitation of small objects, limited control of temperature, clean or soiling objects, or create crude objects from nothing.
- This is the main source of conflict in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Battler will not be released from his eternal game with the Golden Witch Beatrice unless he can prove that none of the murders on Rokkenjima were committed using magic. Easier said than done, since Unreliable Narrator Beatrice controls most of the narration...
- Scratches. The entire point of the plot is this: you are constantly bombarded with a mix of "magic" and "mundane" arguments up until the very end, and it's still not entirely clear which one was at work. Was there ever a curse on the mansion, or was it all just the result of a series of terrifying misunderstandings? Made even scarier when you consider that the mundane explanation behind the mystery is, arguably, at least as terrifying as the supernatural one.
- Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty. Among many, many other examples, there is Fortune. Is she Immune to Bullets due to luck-based powers, the fact that her heart is on the other side of the chest, or a prototype force field? If it's the force field, then why can she deflect missiles after the force field has been proven to be deactivated?
- Dragon Age uses a variant on this trope with Andraste, the backstory's expy of Joan of Arc and Jesus. The church's doctrine is that she genuinely enjoyed the favor of the otherwise absent Maker and through her, the Maker wrought miracles - and that Andraste's ashes in Origins have genuine miraculous power. It's suggested, however, by non-church characters, that Andraste may simply have been a powerful sorceress who fooled the world and that her ashes have power as a result of being stored near a massive deposit of incredibly pure lyrium. As with all things related to the Chantry's doctrine in-game, the writers leave the truth intentionally ambiguous.
- A variation in Dragon Age II why there are constant problems in Kirkwall? Is it because the city's layout was set down to create powerful sigils for some unknown magical purporse? Something the Tevinter Mages did when they controlled the City or some curse bestowed when they lost it during the slave uprising? Is it because the Veil between the Fade is particularly weak there? Maybe its proximity to the Primeval Thaig and vast amounts of Red Lyrium that drive people crazy? Maybe its proximity to the Ancient Darkspawn Corpypheus slumbering in his Grey Warden Prison? Or maybe its because the people who live there just make it a Crapsack World?
- Just what the hell is up with Sandal and why does he keep being found surrounded by countless dead Darkspawn, Demons, etc?
Hawke: I'd really like to know how you killed all those darkspawn?!
- Takane Shijou of The iDOLM@STER is implied to be from either the Moon... or Germany.
- Similar to the Calvin and Hobbes and Fight Club examples above, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories leaves players on a note of ambiguity regarding whether Harry was a physical manifestation of Cheryl's memories wandering through the real (or alternate-dimension) Silent Hill, or purely a figment of her imagination navigating an equally imaginary world. The creators are vehement that players should come up with their own answers, and ample evidence exists for both interpretations.
- Pretty much every entry in the Silent Hill franchise plays this trope. In each one, it's intentionally unknown if all of the monsters, characters, Otherworld transformations, weapon/item placements, and strange scenery pieces that Harry/James/Heather/Henry/Travis/Alex/Murphy encounter are either legitimately happening and being fought with, or are all merely drug-induced halleucinations or bad nightmares; the first game alone demonstrates as much evidence of the cult's White Claudia drug smuggling operations as there is talk of the town's still-mysterious past, Alessa's "strange powers", and the cult's creepy rituals. One of the endings for that game even suggests it was all a dying dream, but is considered non-canon. Perhaps most bizarre of all, however, is that a cutscene towards the end of Silent Hill 3 has Vincent remarking "They looked like monsters to you?", suggesting both the halleucinations-possibility again...and that our protagonists may actually be killing innocent people or cult members instead! Of course, he says he was joking afterwards, but nobody knows even to this day if...
- Also from Silent Hill 3 is the true nature of Leonard Wolf. When Heather encounters him, he appears as a large, aquatic beast. Despite this, Leonard's daughter is completely human, and no character ever mentions anything unusual about Leonard's appearance. It is possible that Heather was instead seeing Through the Eyes of Madness.
- The Dunwich Building in Fallout 3. There's a lot of fucked-up stuff that goes on in there that can be rationalized as, say, hallucinogenic gases, or maybe an odd variant of radiation, but that explanation still doesn't cover anything. It's entirely possible that the Dunwich Building is perfectly normal- well, as far as 'normal' goes in Fallout. And it's entirely possible something dark and eldritch lurks there. We'll never know for sure.
- In Fallout 2, there is a town wherein you can meet a translucent woman who claims to be a ghost, but in dialogue you simply ask her to turn off her stealthboy, an item from the first game which, well made the user translucent and thus harder to see (hence the name). So is this just a mentally disturbed woman with a stealthboy, or an actual ghost?
- It's unclear how much is real and how much imaginary in Rule of Rose, but a pretty standard interpretation is that all the supernatural events are in the protagonist's badly muddled head, and it was All Just a Dream, albeit of real events.
- In Michigan Report From Hell, it is heavily implied that the monsters in the game are a result of experiments, with plenty of evidence to back it up, however, at the same time, you can find strange things, such as bed-sheets floating as if someone is laying down in them, an oven being on even though the place is abandoned (though whether or not it was left on recently is another unanswered question), and a few other things, these possibly implying that there are unnatural forces at work.
- Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened: The various Cthulhu related elements are treated this way. It could be the Great God himself causing storms and the end of days, or simply a very large number of crazy people. The best example is when Sherlock uses an incantation said to exorcise demons to subdue a gunman. It may have worked, or it might have just his own beliefs working against him.
- In AIR, Kano may or may not be able to talk to animals.
- Grand Theft Auto V:
- The Labrador Retriever that Franklin runs across. Maybe Franklin Speaks Fluent Animal and the dog is in fact a supernatural being or given that Franklin is The Stoner, it was only ever a hallucination.
- Aliens. Flying Saucers definitely exist, operated by the FIB, but the aliens are only ever hallucinations or men in costumes. Whether or not they actually exist is never made clear.
- Fans! is certainly not "mundane" in all respects, but in a sequence where Guth visits his cousin in the afterlife, one of the first things he does is explain why it can't be a dream (arguing that it's a Lotus Eater Machine), but when he wakes up in his chair, he promptly takes it as one rather than accept the idea of life after death.
- Bob and George: So to speak.
George: But you were a ghost! And you yelled at me!
- In Something Positive, Word of God says he doesn't know for himself whether Fluffmodeous is real or not. Nobody but Kharisma can see him, but someone put that other inmate into a coma...
- Peter, the Complete Monster enemy of the Affably Evil title character in Niels, is regularly visited by and engages in not-always-consensual-on-Peter's-part relations with a demon only he can see. No proof as of yet whether it's real or a product of all the drugs Peter's on.
- Questionable Content managed to pull this off in strip 546, "Arbitrarily Named Comic Strip." Did Hannelore's little voodoo doll of Marten actually work? Or did Dora just grab Marten's butt? We shall never know.
- Mary/Christina from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja had the ability to perform spells at random to help save the world, but every one of her miracle spells left open the possibility that they had happened by chance.
- Word of God is that Dissonance will go this route--there will be a "scientific" interpretation and a "religious" interpretation, and both will be equally valid.
- Succinctly summarized by the God-entity in Futurama (who is in himself an example - the most description given was that being "the remains of a space probe that collided with God" "seems probable"):
"When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."
- King of the Hill: Did the TV remote that helped Peggy change the channel to convince Hank to be on Luane's Manger Babies show, contain batteries, or didn't it?
Homer: Good thing you turned on that TV, Lisa.
- In the South Park episode "Cartman's Incredible Gift" the police believe Cartman is a psychic. Kyle points out at the end that no one is psychic and there is a logical explanation for everything that is supposedly supernatural. However, when Cartman and a group of other psychics engage in a psychic battle, with a lot of wild hand gestures and odd vocalizations, Kyle gets extremely fed up and screams at them to stop. As he yells, the lightbulbs shatter and the shelf above his bed breaks. After a Beat, Kyle says there is a logical explanation for that, too.
- "Are You There God? It's Me, Peter" in Family Guy. Peter might genuinely have been brought to death's door and God gave him a second chance or the whole thing could have been Peter's subconscious as he was in his coma.
- God in The Simpsons. Cheap gags aside, he's only definitively appeared in dream sequences or the non-canon Treehouse of Horror episodes, with no concrete answer being offered as to whether or not he's really up there.
- Bart's soul in "Bart Sells His Soul". All the weird things that happened to Bart could have been the result of him becoming The Soulless or it could have just been life and a placebo effect was causing him to view things as worse than they are.
- this was viewed by Calvin's father. so it's not just Calvin's imagination