Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Magic Words

Familiar magical catchwords include "abracadabra", a near-palindrome used since the 2nd century as a Charm written in Amulets, and "hocus-pocus", possibly from the Welsh for a trick by a pwca or pooka (see Puck) but also interpreted as a gibe at the Latin communion's "hoc est corpus"; both are now associated, like "Hey Presto!", with trickery and stage magic. MWs are often condensed Spells protected by pronunciation hazards: the Tetragrammaton conceals the Name of God behind the letters YHWH or JHVH; in L Frank Baum's The Magic of Oz (1919), the MW whose correct pronunciation allows Metamorphosis into any animal is "pyrzqxgl"; Superman's imp-like magical tormentor Mr Mxyzptlk can be returned to his Otherworld dimension only by inducing him to pronounce his reversed name; the MW "Absarka" which can rehumanize the Werewolf hero of Anthony Boucher's "The Compleat Werewolf" (1942) is unfortunately not sayable by a wolf. The Deplorable Word uttered by Queen Jadis, which destroyed all life on the world Charn in C S Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (1955), is wisely not printed; the words of power uttered in Howl's Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones are always lost in rolls of thunder. MWs of Superheroes tend to personalized: Captain Marvel's "Shazam" and Marvelman's "Kimota" work only for their owners.

MWs may also be passwords or magic keys, the most famous being "Open Sesame". Saying "mellon" (Elvish for "friend") opens the secret gate of Moria in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), being actually written above the doors; the passwords XYZZY and PLUGH from the original fantasy computer Game "Colossal Cave" are still remembered; an animated doorknocker in Terry Pratchett's Mort (1987) parries an imperious request for admission with demands for the MW, which here is "Please". [DRL]

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.