I'm watching an anime called Mob Psycho 100 (2012) who features a boy who has very powerful psychic powers and he's afraid of losing control over them since when he does he can destroy buildings or anything with them. I've seen similar ideas to this in other anime/manga/comics/live-action sci-fi movies, for example Akira (1982) where IIRC Akira destroys a city, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), where Phoenix/Jean Grey tears an island apart, Looper (2012) where Cid/the Rainmaker tears people apart when he gets angry and is able to levitate people/objects and send massive shock waves, etc.

Then my question is, which was the first story featuring a psychic being unable to control their own powers and destroying their surroundings with them?

  • 32
    Does the story of King Midas count? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midas
    – IMil
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 6:25
  • 7
    I will go for Medusa? Like midas but without the need to touch. unable to control a supernatural power. Messy hair sayan like when all snake are standing and hissing. Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 8:56
  • 2
    @user14111 Though I agree that it is ambiguous, I don't see how the answer would depend on that detail.
    – pipe
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 15:46
  • 13
    I'm no mythology expert, but surely there are tons of ancient stories about people gaining too much power and not being able to control it? That trope must be as old as storytelling itself. Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:46
  • 2
    I think that King's Carrie (1974), or even Firestarter (1980) should get an honorable mention.
    – Sulthan
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 16:33

6 Answers 6


In the story “Obstinate Uncle Otis” (July 1941), by Robert Arthur, the eponymous Otis Morks is a stubborn Vermont farmer struck by lightning. This grants him the power that whenever he asserts that a certain thing does not exist, it instantly becomes so:

Uncle Otis obstinately would never believe that anyone would erect a statue to Ogilby, and had never admitted that the deed would be done — that there actually was such a statue in the village square. But there had been, and it had been a massive thing. Nonetheless it was gone now.

A villager describes how it happened:

“‘What statue’ he wanted to know, his eyebrows bristlin’. ‘There ain’t no such thing as a statue to a blubbery-mouthed nincompoop like Ogilby in this town!’
“So, though I knowed it wasn’t any use … anyway I turned around to point at it. And dad blast if it weren’t gone.”

Things get worse:

“Everybody’s crazy these days,” [Otis] declared. “Piece here about President Roosevelt. Not Teddy Roosevelt, but somebody called Franklin. Everybody knows perfectly well there's no such a president as Franklin Roo—”
“Uncle Otis!” I cried out wildly. “Look, there's a mouse!”

“Where?” he demanded. “No mouse I can see!”
… As soon as he had spoken, of course, the mouse was gone.

The other characters are terrified. He might vanish the local dam, or:

“Murchison!” she gasped. “Quick! Go out with him! We mustn't leave him alone. Only last week he decided that there aren't any such things as stars!

Eventually, Otis, who also has amnesia from the lightning strike, disbelieves in himself, and that is the end of the story.

  • @Pablo Is there a reason you approved this answer, and not the earlier story in this answer from user14111?
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:17

1952: "Tonight the Sky Will Fall!", a novella by Daniel F. Galouye; first published in Imagination, May 1952, available at the Internet Archive.

Nineteen years before The Lathe of Heaven, another story of a character with uncontrolled reality-wrecking powers. Tarl Brent is unaware of his power, but he thinks he is being followed. He is. Someone else has found out about his power, and a small army of government agents has been deployed to secretly watch over him and make sure nothing happens to upset him and provoke the thing in his subconscious.

A meeting at headquarters:

The fourth man, who hadn't spoken until then, said hesitatingly, "I wonder whether everything would have been all right if we just hadn't tried to verify the supposition — if we'd just taken it for granted that what we suspected was true and hadn't tried to experiment by triggering the initial response?"

T. J. held up a hand protestingly, "Well, that's all in the past now. Too late to do anything. It's true — it was our test that resulted in the 'unexplained' disappearance of the planet Mercury. We know the planet didn't fall into the Sun while at apogee. We know it was just dematerialized . . . But, we learned beyond a doubt what was lurking in the back of Brent's subconscious."

[. . . .]

"I was saying," the man on the director's right spoke, "that something must have been miscalculated . . . Unprovoked responses have cropped up almost periodically since we started this project — expressly to prevent such responses! True, we had hoped there would be only the initial response. But others followed. And now, they're getting closer together . . . T tell you, that thing is stirring! What about the disappearance of the common cold a year ago? — "

"Why, that was . . ." T. J. broke in.

"And there’s the matter of the newly established distance of the Earth from the Sun," the agent ignored the interruption. "And the unanticipated discovery of three elements that defy assignment to the periodic table. The disproof of Avogardo's Hypothesis . . . That's too many milestones at once. I tell you the thing is stirring!"

As the world is falling apart, Tarl's chauffeur and girlfriend, both agents, explain to him:

He sat erect again. Nothing was making sense to him. Nothing at all. He wanted to pinch himself to see whether he was not in some fantastic dreamland . . . But a glance outside at the eerie panorama of destruction served the same purpose.

"Tarl," Charles continued. "That thing—that intellect within you—is the only thing that really exists. Nothing else exists. Not even space. Not even time. Not even matter. Only that intellect—that intangible, bodiless power of reasoning—is real! That and that alone is the universe—the entire universe. All that is, exists only by virtue of its imagination!"

Tarl was staring dully ahead again. He shook his head. "I don't understand. I can't grasp it. I must be going crazy!"

The lurking quiet outside still flaunted its imponderable threat and the sky was lighted by the fires which were spreading through the city.

"Our directors," Marcella got control of herself, "believe the entire universe, even you and your active mind, is but part of the thought pattern of this—this intellect. They believe this entity, over an indefinite period, created everything as we know it now—in an act that was motivated by loneliness . . .

"Possibly it created you first, or one of your ancestors. If it was you first, then it not only created everything as we know it, but it also created a history for the universe and a racial and individual memory for every creature in it.

"If it created one of your ancestors first, then the intellect progressed down the line of descendants until its host body is now you.

"After creation, it enjoyed its universe and its world awhile, then lapsed into a state of suspended mental activity. It relegated to its subconscious the task of controlling all the objects and actions of all the beings in its universe."

[. . . .]

"But is it awakening? What's causing it to stir?"

"Over-caution," Charles shrugged.

"The directors have been stepping on one another's heels," the girl said rapidly. "The suspicion you felt seeped through into your subconscious—into the subconscious of the intellect. The thing was prodded, stung. Not one time, but several times. Each time it was disturbed, an impulse from its subconscious got through into the order it was sustaining. And each time chaos resulted. Finally, they have almost, if not entirely, awakened it."

"And?" He tried to pull the words from the girl's mouth.

But it was Charles who broke the silence. "And this is it! This is the end!"

  • "That and that alone is the universe—the entire universe. All that is, exists only by virtue of its imagination!" Is it getting a bit solipsistic in here, or is it just me? Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:52
  • 5
    @MasonWheeler it is, and always has been, just you Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 0:04

Probably not the first by a long shot, but something to get the ball rolling.

1971: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. A version was published as a two-part serial in Amazing Science Fiction for March and May of 1971 (links to the Internet Archive).

From the Wikipedia summary:

The book is set in Portland, Oregon, in the year 2002. Portland has three million inhabitants and continuous rain. It is deprived enough for the poorer inhabitants to have kwashiorkor, or protein deprivation. The culture is much the same as the 1970s in the United States, though impoverished. There is also a massive war in the Middle East, with Egypt and Israel allied against Iran. Global warming has wrought havoc upon the quality of life everywhere.

George Orr, a draftsman, has long been abusing drugs to prevent himself from having "effective" dreams, which change reality. After having one of these dreams, the new reality is the only reality for everyone else, but George retains memory of the previous reality. Under threat of being placed in an asylum, Orr is forced to undergo "voluntary" psychiatric care for his drug abuse.

George begins attending therapy sessions with an ambitious psychiatrist and sleep researcher named William Haber. Orr claims that he has the power to dream "effectively" and Haber, gradually coming to believe it, seeks to use George's power to change the world. His experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor, enhance Orr's abilities and produce a series of increasingly intolerable alternative worlds, based on an assortment of utopian (and dystopian) premises: When Haber directs George to dream a world without racism, the skin of everyone on the planet becomes a uniform light gray. An attempt to solve the problem of overpopulation proves disastrous when George dreams a devastating plague which wipes out much of humanity and gives the current world a population of one billion rather than seven billion. George attempts to dream into existence "peace on Earth" – resulting in an alien invasion of the Moon which unites all the nations of Earth against the threat.

Each effective dream gives Haber more wealth and status, until he is effectively ruler of the world. Orr's economic status also improves, but he is unhappy with Haber's meddling and just wants to let things be. Increasingly frightened by Haber's lust for power and delusions of Godhood, Orr seeks out a lawyer named Heather Lelache to represent him against Haber. Heather is present at one therapeutic session, and comes to understand George's situation. He falls in love with Heather, and even marries her in one reality; however, he is unsuccessful in getting out of therapy.

George tells Heather that the "real world" had been destroyed in a nuclear war in April 1998. George dreamed it back into existence as he lay dying in the ruins. He doubts the reality of what now exists, hence his fear of Haber's efforts to improve it.

  • Have you read the novel? While George Orr's dreams change the world, he does not destroy the world. He has a number of dreams that cause large-scale destruction, but not before Haber becomes his therapist. The most destructive dream is Haber's, after he has managed to copy Orr's capabilities. Orr is one of the characters who then need to save the world from destruction.
    – user89356
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 13:51

I wasn't sure the Uncle Otis story would count as an answer to your question, as it seemed to me that Uncle Otis used his power in a controlled and purposeful (if deranged) way. Anyway, "Obstinate Uncle Otis" was first published in the July 19, 1941 issue of Argosy. Here is a rather similar story published five months earlier:

February 1941: "The Ultimate Egoist", a novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, originally published (under the name E. Hunter Waldo) in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, February 1941, available at the Internet Archive.

The narrator is a solipsist. One day on a walk with his girlfriend

"Let me put it this way," I spouted. "The world and the universe are strictly as I see them. I see no fallacy in the supposition that if I disbelieve in any given object, theory, or principle, it does not exist."

"You've never seen Siam, darling," said Judith. "Does that mean that Siam does not exist?" She was not disagreeing with me, but she knew how to keep me talking. That was all right because we enjoyed hearing me talk.

"Oh, Siam can exist if it wants," I said generously, "providing I have no reason to doubt its existence."

he is proven right:

"Your reasoning is typically feminine," I told her. "Spectacular but highly inaccurate. My point is this." I ignored her moans. "Since I am the creator of all this" — I made an inclusive gesture — "I can also be its destroyer. A case in point — we'll take that noble old spruce over there. I don't believe in it. It does not exist. It is but another figment of my imagination, but it is one without a rational explanation. I do not see it any more because it is not there. It could not be there. It's a physical and psychic impossibility. It — " At last I yielded to her persistent yanking on my elbow.

"Woodie," she gasped. "It's gone! Th-that tree! It's . . . oh, Woodie! I'm scared! What happened?"

"Well, of course it's — " My lips flapped helplessly a couple of times. Then, "It's what?"

She pointed wordlessly at the new clearing in the copse.

"I dunno. I — " I wet my lips and tried again. "My God," I said very quietly."Oh, my God." I was shaking and stone-cold in the hot sun, and my throat was tight. Judith had bruised my arm with her nails; I felt it sharply when she let me go and stood back from me. It wasn't the disappearance of a thousand board feet of good spruce that bothered me particularly. After all, it wasn't my tree! But — oh, my God!

After a few more demonstrations of his power, he horrifies Judith by doing away with a person called Drip:

"Woodie, you’re impossible!"

"Could be. Could be. I've found a lot of things impossible in the last couple of days. They don't exist any more. Drip, for instance."

"Drip? What happened?"

I told her. She began putting on her hat.

"Wait," I said. "I haven’t finished my coffee."

"Do you realize what you’re telling me?" she whispered, leaning over the table. "That was murder, Woodie. You murdered that boy!"

After Judith leaves him, he gets drunk and loses control:

One drink and I felt better. Two, much better. Three, I was back where I started from. Four, I started getting dismal. Seven, I was definitely morbid. Great stuff. Far as I was concerned, the woes of the world were in a bottomless bottle, and it was my duty and desire to empty the bottle and buy another. Judith was gone, and without Judith there was no sun any more,. and nothing for it to shine on. Everything was over, I said dramatically to myself; and, by God, I'd see that a good job was done of it. I staggered out and leaned against the door post, looking up the street.

"Wake up, Woodie," I quavered, "it's all over now. It's all done. There's nothing left any more, anywhere, anywhere. A life is an improbable louse on a sterile sphere. A man is a monster and a woman is a wraith! I am not a man but a consciousness asleep, and now I wake! Now I wake!" I pushed away from the door post and began screaming, "Wake! Wake!"

Just how it happened I can't say. But things slipped and slid out of existence. There was no violence, and nothing fell. Everything went out of focus and left me alone in an element that was deep and thick and the essence of loneliness. What struck coldly into me was something I saw just before I — went. It was Judith; Judith running down the street toward me with her arms out, and a smile making it tough for the tears to run off her cheeks. She had come back after all, but the thing couldn't be stopped now. My dream was gone!

Woodie ends up like Uncle Otis in that other story:

"If all things in a universe were but peopling a dream, and if they could not exist when their existence was doubted," I thought, "then is it possible that I myself am a mere figment of my own imagi — "


Surely 'Forbidden Planet' (1956) must be a contender? As it turns out that

the 'monster' is actually the manifestation of Dr Morbius' subconscious.

  • 1
    I think I watched that movie but I dont remember it quite well. Was he having those powers artificially with a machine or something, or were they natural to him?
    – Pablo
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 14:07
  • 1
    I think (from memory, I'll need to look it up later) that it was a civilisation that preceded Morbius on the planet, and they had built some sort of machine that had transformed them and gave them psychic/kinetic powers, through which they wiped themselves out! Morbius then had a go on the machine and gained the powers, but hadn't reckoned on his subconscious ('Monsters of The Id!') running amok. Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 14:50

Would Wells's "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" count?

I'm not sure whether he's exactly a psychic in the usual sense of the word, bt he is certainly endowed with mental powers, which in a careless moment very nearly wreck the world. It is saved only because he has time to make himself invulnerable, thus giving himself a breathing space in which he can restore things to how they were before he gained the powers, and renounce them for the future.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.