In A Clash of Kings, A Song of Ice and Fire - Book 2, Tyrion tells three different stories about Myrcella to three different people in order to discover the fink. That was a great tactic.

Is there a term or keyword for these kind of tricks in literature? (e.g., psychological manipulation?) How should I search for some other tricks like this one?

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    In literature? I'm not sure. In espionage this is known as a Barium meal test. – Beta Aug 14 '13 at 22:00
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    Note: The poster is not asking what the specific trick used is, he is asking for the term for all types of these tricks in literature, and how to find others like it. – JohnP Aug 15 '13 at 5:24
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    @Beta It's actually called a canary trap. We used it in the Air Force, but several Army IO's use your term. – Mariovingian Aug 15 '13 at 14:26
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    @JohnP - Which makes it off-topic for SFF:SE, since it's about literature in general – Valorum Dec 3 '19 at 17:44

Viewing Wikipedia's list of lies, Tyrion is engaging in a half-truth, with a bit of contextual lying thrown in for good measure.

A half-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame or misrepresent the truth.

Contextual lie: One can state part of the truth out of context, knowing that without complete information, it gives a false impression. Likewise, one can actually state accurate facts, yet deceive with them. To say "Yeah, that's right, I ate all the white chocolate, by myself," utilizing a sarcasm that is a form of assertion by ridiculing the fact(s) implying the liar believes it to be preposterous.

  • He tells three people he suspects of treachery, three different stories.

  • Then he waits to see which one propagates.

  • Discover the traitor.

Just to spell it out: Tyrion has now told Cersei's three counselors each a different story about his plans for Myrcella. Depending on what story Cersei ends up hearing, Tyrion will know who Cersei's man is.


With the nod to Beta in espionage circles, this might have been called a canary trap or the Barium meal test. A means of deception where information is given and loyalty tested by watching who reveals what information.

A canary trap is a method for exposing an information leak by giving different versions of a sensitive document to each of several suspects and seeing which version gets leaked.

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The basic term for it is "literary device". Everything else is a subtype of that. A literary device (or trope or motif) is simply something that an author uses to enhance the story and/or deliver the message that they want to deliver, or to produce a specific effect.

Some examples are:

  1. Anthropomorphism - Giving human characteristics to inanimate objects - The Ents in the LOTR trilogy, the playing cards in Alice in Wonderland
  2. Allegory - The Christian parallels in the Chronicles of Narnia series
  3. Reverse Chronology - Telling the ending first then chronicling the events. This can be seen in the movie Memento
  4. Parallel stories/butterfly effect - Used excellently in the movie Sliding Doors

There are many many others that are used in various novels, and often you will see more than one in the same story (novel, movie, play, whatever), or even the same one used in different ways.

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Back in 2002 the Air Force taught us something called "The All-Seeing Eye." The gist is that the interrogator SEEMS to know everything, and in doing so is able to gauge the sincerity of the source (interrogatee) via red herrings, straw-men, and disinformation. Recently, there is a civilian copy of the test called "The CIA Document of Human Manipuation" by KUBARK. Of course there are several lines deleted but it will, with 100% certainty, give you better insight into the stratagies and tactics of Varys, Tyrion, and Littlefinger.

P.S. Sun Tzu's The Art of War gives a more ancient account in the chapter about spies.

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