10 March 2011

Spell failure

How often in (pre-D&D) literature (including myths and legends) do magic wielders fail to cast a spell or have a spell back-fire? Specific examples are especially welcome.

8 comments:

looFsydoboN said...

_The Last Unicorn_
Which really isn't pre D&D, but, it wasn't really done as a reference to D&D either. As far as I know. And it's a movie, so not literature...
Of course, if you do your spells by saying "Magic, Magic, do as you will," you're just asking for trouble.

Stuart said...

Klaatu... verata... n... Necktie. Nectar. Nickel. Noodle.

Again, not pre-D&D but not based on it either.

Robert Fisher said...

The pre-D&D qualification isn’t really about a direct influence from D&D. After all, unless you consider Chainmail, D&D had very reliable magic. There was the possibility of a spell being interrupted and spoiled, but that is importantly different from an unprovoked failure or back-fire.

Thanks for those examples, though.

The Last Unicorn novel does pre-date D&D.

The Ash example is interesting too, because he’s not an accomplished spell caster. He’s just “the guy with the gun”. Which I think also becomes an important distinction.

Dave R. said...

I can't think of any off the top of my head. That's a good question - it seems like there should be some, doesn't it?

Vancian magic, in the original sense, the Dying Earth stories, was pretty reliable once you forced the squirming, hostile, unnatural spells into your brain, but the description of that implied that just memorizing them was dangerous to the unqualified. So, maybe front-loaded spell failure of a kind.

Jeff Rients said...

I asked pretty much this same question in the middle of a post about EPT back in Feb of last year. Got a few good answers in the comments.

http://jrients.blogspot.com/2010/02/interesting-ept-mechanics.html

I'm still looking for examples from prior to the rise of the fantasy genre in prose fiction/the 19th century. The closest I've gotten thus far is the prayer duel between Elijah and the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18-39) and similar miracle throwdowns between saints and pagans. Historically you could view the inability of alchemists to make gold as a sort of spell failure as well. Though in some cases, like Edward Kelley, their patrons never doubted their abilities. The count who funded Kelley's research assumed the dude was making gold and not sharing it with him.

looFsydoboN said...

You have hit upon a point, Robert, in pointing out that Ash is just the guy with the gun. In so many of the myths and legends, which inspire the literature, the spell caster is going to be someone powerful and accomplished.

And now I'm going to have to find _The Last Unicorn_ novel...

Stuart said...

Zenobia in "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" (1977) had an unsuccessful reverse-transformation back from Seagull form... and she retained a bird foot.

Unlike some of the other movies mentioned the Sinbad movies *did* influence D&D directly in a number of places.

Robert Fisher said...

Thanks for that link, Jeff. I’d forgotten about that. And thanks for all the other comments.