Friday, May 13, 2011

Superstition in Fiction

Everywhere around the internet today, in particular, you'll find people mentioning Friday the 13th, accompanied by their own tales of bad luck that happen, be it this day or any previous Friday the 13th. It got me thinking about other supersitions that I've recently read about in books.

One of my current reads is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. As I was reading along last night, I came across mentions of the Knights Templar, which of course, have been credited with our common fear for Friday the 13th. According to Ms. Harkness, Jacques de Molay, the last Grandmaster of the Templars, was arrested in 1313. In fact, my cursory search on the web today, shows he and sixty-some others were arrested on October 13th, 1307 (yes, it was a Friday). Poor Jacques was imprisoned until 1314, when he was executed. Indeed, this day in history was not lucky for the Knights. What's further curious is that close to 700 years later, we continue to be weary of the bad luck associated from this long ago occurence.

In a similar vein, while reading Lesley Livingston's Darklight and Tempestous earlier this year, I came across a reference to "the Scottish play". Being descended from the Scots (I'm the first Canadian in my immediate family), I thought it strange I'd never heard of it before, so off I went to Google it.  Turns out, it has nothing to do with Scottish history. Instead, it seems that mentioning the name 'Macbeth' within a theatre is just asking for disaster. According to Wiki, this particular curse dates back to the play's first appearance on stage when a real dagger was mistakenly used instead of the prop. Since then accidents and deaths have been reported when the play's name is used in house. Theatre afficionados therefore use the term as noted above or "the Bard's play" when discussing it. I cannot remember if, throughout the performance, the name is mentioned, but it would be worthwhile looking into...and to keep in mind in future. It's always best not to tempt fate ;-)

Additionally, a couple of weeks back, I was chatting with Mel at He Followed Me Home, and we were discussing faeries. The Fey are prominent characters in Lesley Livingston's work as well as other popular series', like The Iron King by Julie Kagawa and Tithe by Holly Black, to name a few. Mel found a reference that warned of how fairies are portrayed in literature. While I couldn't find that specific link, I did find a similar warning here, that basically says you must always speak kindly of faeries or prepare for consequences. This must be difficult in modern fiction, where the good is almost always pitted against the bad, hence the potential to cross any wee folk watching the writer. Thinking back to what I've read in fictitious renderings, most of the main fairies involved are presented as the tricksters they're reputed to be, but always having some redeeming qualities also. Yet, there always has to be a bad guy, right?

The World English Dictionary defines superstition as an "irrational belief usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterized by obsessive reverence for omens, charms, etc." I think that authors have a great ability to expand upon the idea of the unknown elements that are the basis of many superstitions. Julie Kagawa's Iron King takes an interesting look at the more ancient ideals as compared to our modern world. Overall, people have had these ideas ingrained for hundreds of years and still respect them for their power, real or imagined as it may be.


Mel (He Followed Me Home) said...

It's funny how we fear things irrationally, like a Friday 13th or walking under ladders (which I never do). I really need to get my butt in gear & read Discovery of Witches..sounds totally up my alley!
Happy Friday the 13th :)

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