Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The ability to visit misfortune upon the person or property of another by means of a formal recitation of ill-wishes is one of the traditional attributes of Witches and other magicians, Fairies and Demons. Hereditary curses visited on families are staples of legendary lore and Occult Fantasy, often featuring in tales of Reincarnation.

The folkloristic curses most extensively re-examined in literary fantasy include the punishments inflicted on such Accursed Wanderers as the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman. Comedies parodying Horror fiction often employ absurd curses, after the fashion of "The Curse of the Catafalques" (1882) by F Anstey. By the same token, comic fantasy (see Humour) often features peculiar curses: "The Affliction of Baron Humpfelhimmel" (1901) by John Kendick Bangs requires the baron to express all the laughter his immediate ancestors were cursed to avoid, while The Fakir's Curse (1931) by Kennedy Bruce involves a bewitched camera. In Heroic Fantasy curses sometimes turn out to be blessings in disguise, like the isolating curse of The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933) by Lord Dunsany or the curse of eternal wakefulness in Slaves of Sleep (1948) by L Ron Hubbard. More earnest treatments can be found in Frost (1983) by Robin Wayne Bailey and The Prince of Ill-Luck (1994) by Susan Dexter, while "The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars" (1983) by Fritz Leiber is delicately ambivalent. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.