Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

An irrational belief, often leading to a minor Taboo with an accompanying restorative Ritual – for example, spilling salt is unlucky, but the bad luck may be averted by tossing a pinch over one's left shoulder. The inevitable twist in fantasy (and, more often, Dark Fantasy and Horror) is for superstitions to be reinterpreted as rational attitudes. Libations (> Sacrifice) will supposedly placate the Gods: in John Brunner's The Traveler in Black (coll 1971) something unseen does indeed consume the poured-out wine before it reaches the floor. To the superstitious, numbers like Thirteen and 666 (> Great Beast) are unlucky; in Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (1983), saying "eight" may in fact invoke the unpleasant God Bel-Shamharoth whose number this is. Pessimistic superstitions about things going wrong – Murphy's Law, "whatever can go wrong, will" – are actualized in fantasy as literal Gremlins, like Piers Anthony's Wizard Murphy in Castle Roogna (1979), whose power is to make others' efforts go awry. Further examples abound. Superstition is the theme of Peter Crowther's Narrow Houses anthology sequence. [DRL]

see also: Mirrors; Moon; Numerology; Omens; Portents.

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.