Something about dark lords, with rhyming couplets
April 5, 2017 8:42 AM   Subscribe

When Tolkein helped create the modern fantasy genre, he also re-introduced a key fantasy trope, the prophetic poem that is key to the plot of the novel. Whether elegantly written (as in Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising poem or Clarke's Prophecy of John Uskglass) or rather awkwardly accumulated (as in the Wheel of Time's Karaethon Cycle), the prophetic verse is often a tired trope, but one which a variety of fantasy novels have used to good effect.
posted by blahblahblah (83 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
And Mandos had a prophecy as well, but that was non-poetic.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:57 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


All this is true
because it rhymes
posted by The World Famous at 8:57 AM on April 5, 2017 [19 favorites]


I enjoyed the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams in part because there's some prophetic fallacy (warning: TV tropes) at play; the heroes rush around to fulfill the prophecy, not realizing that the prophecy is for the bad guys.
posted by nubs at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2017 [13 favorites]


Hodor hodor
the hodor
that hodor
the hodor

and hodor
hodor hodor
saving
for Hodor

Hodor
they were hodor
hodor
and hodor
posted by oulipian at 9:06 AM on April 5, 2017 [11 favorites]


I liked what Miéville did with prophecy in Un Lun Dun, but I don't think there was a poem in it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:07 AM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


My own earliest example of this was in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L'Engle. She called it St. Patrick's Rune, and it was apparently based on an earlier actual prayer called St. Patrick's Breastplate. It has a chanting cadence that really stuck with me as a kid:

At Tara in this fateful hour,

I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God's almighty help and grace

Between myself and the powers of darkness
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2017 [29 favorites]


nubs: "the heroes rush around to fulfill the prophecy, not realizing that the prophecy is for the bad guys."

Ooh, if prophecies worked in the real world, this would happen all the time, I bet.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


I first encountered this trope in the Redwall books.

Who says that I am dead
Knows nought at all.
I - am that is,
Two mice within Redwall.
The Warrior sleeps
‘Twixt Hall and Cavern Hole.
I - am that is,
Take on my mighty role.
Look for the sword
In moonlight streaming forth,
At night, when day’s first hour
Reflects the North.
From o’er the threshold
Seek and you will see;
I - am that is,
My sword will wield for me.
posted by timdiggerm at 9:13 AM on April 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


Stephen King and The Dark Tower relies on this trope quite heavily, too much I think sometimes.
posted by Fizz at 9:15 AM on April 5, 2017


I like this post.
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Stephen King and The Dark Tower relies on this trope quite heavily, too much I think sometimes.

I'm not sure; the Dark Tower series is a weird kinda meta-case from my perspective. I don't want to spoil anything, but given the nature of Roland's journey, the existence of a lot of prophecy around it makes some level of sense to me.
posted by nubs at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


I like this post.

As foretold in the ancient Book of Lore:

infini
we foresee
likes FPP
on prophecy

It's pretty clear, if you think about long enough....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on April 5, 2017 [18 favorites]


I think my favorite prophecy is in the obscure SF novel "Star Prince Charlie". On a distant planet an alien culture has a prophecy that the "Prince of the Prophecy" would come and free them from a local tyrant. A human passing through coincidentally meets one if the qualifications of the Prince of the Prophecy, and political manipulations begin to make him meet the rest of the prophecy...by hook or by crook.

It's a wonderfully cynical take on the whole prophecy idea, and the fact that it came out in 1975 shows that even 40 years ago the ideas of prophecy and chosen ones were really cliched.
posted by happyroach at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


It is foretold!
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2017


happyroach that sounds similar in some ways to the way Frank Herbert treated prophecy (and religion in general) in Dune: political manipulators would spread religions that feature prophecies and other elements beneficial to them that they could later (sometimes centuries later) use to exploit the populations who embrace them, or get help when they needed it because they know which symbols/prophecies to invoke.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Thou who art Undead, art chosen. In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords. When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know..."
posted by mysticreferee at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ooh, if prophecies worked in the real world, this would happen all the time, I bet.

Years ago a well-meaning progressive academic doing research stumbled upon an ancient scroll promising that in 2016 the American political and social order would be upended by the sudden emergence of an unconventional outsider who would forever change the country.

Dutifully he began fulfilling the arcane requirements listed on the scroll...
posted by Sangermaine at 9:40 AM on April 5, 2017 [10 favorites]


Although Paul Atreides really *was* the Lisan al Gaib.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:41 AM on April 5, 2017


Although Paul Atreides really *was* the Lisan al Gaib.

But did the prophecy exist because he would some day fulfill it, or did he fulfill the prophecy because it existed?
posted by tobascodagama at 9:43 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Well, as I understand it, the Bene Gesserit Missionaria Protectiva spread these legends so that a) people would be primed for the Kwisatz Haderach, but also b) individual Bene Gesserits would be able to manipulate people in a pinch by appearing to meet the legend specs.

So, a little bit of both, I guess? The BG said a savior is coming. Paul and Jessica fit the specs of that savior. But he also turned out to really be the savior. But then, they were TRYING to breed a savior.

It's all a bit chicken and egg, to my mind.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


my name is dark lord
an all yor elf
an all yor dwarf
an yu yorself
shall all be rooled
by me yor king
cos wen its dark
I lik my ring
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:52 AM on April 5, 2017 [70 favorites]


It's all a bit chicken and egg, to my mind.

It's pretty straightforward: the BG had been trying to breed the KH for ages. As you say, to prime people for his eventual appearance they spread these savior legends. The idea was that between the powers of the KH and a population long-groomed to accept and worship him, when the BH finally succeeded in breeding the KH they would rule the universe. Unfortunately for them, the KH didn't arise on their terms and they weren't able to control him as they planned, so all their careful preparation work ended up working against them when Paul seized the initiative.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Two nights ago, the kid and I began re-reading Cooper's "Silver on the Tree".
At the front of the book is the prophetic rhyme.
Of course, I read it rather than skipping to the first page of the first chapter like the kid would.
I realized just how fucking good it was. Again.
I found the first of those books while hiding in the library when I was in the 4th grade.
My kid is in the 4th grade now. He finds his own books and has his own loves and fixations.
But that series has withstood the test of time.
And that rhyme gets me every fucking time. Gets me right here. {{imagine me pounding on my chest}}
posted by Seamus at 10:01 AM on April 5, 2017 [20 favorites]


I realized just how fucking good it was. Again.

It's etched in my memory after four decades, so I concur. Even though I last read them before I was 20, I still remember how unfair and necessary the prophecies in Cooper's books felt. Maybe it was my first exposure to Cosmic Indifference, although it's not expressed in those terms.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:14 AM on April 5, 2017


Let's not forget that The Lord of the Rings itself was foretold in prophetic limerick form by the quidnunc kid. At least that's how I read it.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 10:18 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Cool post! Thanks!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:38 AM on April 5, 2017


(See, the reason I posed that question about the prophecy is that I think the point of prophecy in stories, at least when used well, is precisely to create that sense of ambiguity. And I think part of what's going on in Dune is that Herbert leans really hard into that ambiguity by explicitly telling you that the BG and these other groups are planting the seeds of prophecy to be turned to their needs but then making the rest of the story about a guy who can actually see the future.)
posted by tobascodagama at 10:41 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's why I feel there is a bit more duality than Sangermaine said. Yes, the BG are running a breeding program to create a messiah, and the MP program is specifically to spread legends that will make the population receptive to the messiah when he is finally created. But my understanding - and FWIW, the Dune wiki seems to agree - is that it's ALSO spreading legends so that a BG sister in a tough spot can use those legends to help herself out. And I think that's Jessica's initial plan - manipulate the Fremen legend of the Lisan al Gaib to get her and Paul out of there. It only then becomes clear Paul IS that guy for reals.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:49 AM on April 5, 2017 [7 favorites]


A few prophecies I didn't include in the FPP:

From the Belgeriad (so much prophecy! not much rhyme!)

"Behold, it shall come to pass that in a certain moment, that which must be and that which must not be shall meet, in a meeting shall be decided all that has gone before and all that will come after. Then will the Child of Light and the Child of Dark face each other in the broken tomb, and the stars will shudder and grow dim"

From the Dark Crystal:

When single shines the Triple Sun,
What was sundered and undone,
Shall be whole - the Two made One,
By Gelfling hand or else by none.

And, of course, the John Donne poem at the heart of Howl's Moving Castle.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:54 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


If I remember right, the Belgariad/Mallorean prophecy was an actual living thing that talked to Garion.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:55 AM on April 5, 2017


If I remember right, the Belgariad/Mallorean prophecy was an actual living thing that talked to Garion.

I think I am going to have to beat myself up and steal my own lunch money for knowing this, but while the prophecies in the books are actual beings, there were a bunch of codices and documents that also had bits of prophecies written down in them.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


OMG, no Ursula Le Guin?
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky


- The Creation of Ea
Growing up on an island, I adored the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy -- now a series.
posted by olopua at 11:04 AM on April 5, 2017 [12 favorites]


Off the lawn

-Nero
posted by clavdivs at 11:06 AM on April 5, 2017


My favorite is the Sibyl's verse on the imperial family in Robert Graves's "I Claudius." "The hairy first to enslave the state . . ."
posted by jfwlucy at 11:45 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


The very first example in modern fantasy fiction isn't in Tolkien, but in a book that Tolkien would certainly have known, Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, the runes on Weland's sword:

The Gold I gather
Is drawn up
Out of deep Water.

Like a shining Fish
Then it descends
Into deep Water.

It is not given
For gods or gear
But for The Thing.

I'm pretty sure Tolkien had this in mind when he composed the runes on the One Ring: another object of power that refers to itself. Is there a trope for 'self-referential magical object'? Susan Cooper does the same thing in Silver on the Tree, where the sword describes itself:

I am the womb of every holt,
I am the blaze of every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield for every head,
I am the tomb of every hope.

Cooper took these lines from Robert Graves's The White Goddess. I'll never forget the shock of recognition when I found them there, many years after I'd read Silver on the Tree; it really did feel like a prophecy coming true.
posted by verstegan at 11:58 AM on April 5, 2017 [11 favorites]


The night is dark and full of terrors
Much more this time than many eras
Of those who die, I pray spare one
George, don't die before you're done
posted by adept256 at 11:58 AM on April 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


Don't forget about prophetic vocaloids:

Pulled from my home inside a cloud,
Lost to the dark I drift alone,
Now I’ve returned beyond the shroud,
Ever to reign upon my throne,
Here in my Crystal Kingdom.

I saw beyond the omniverse,
Far past the places we should see,
But for my vision I was cursed,
Torn from my home and family,
Lost to my Crystal Kingdom.

Saved from the darkness by my child,
Locked in a cage of glass and steel,
But my true love remains in exile,
Beckoning me to break the seal,
Into this Crystal Kingdom.

Kept from our children, lovers, friends,
Subject to laws we did not make,
This is where separation ends,
And souls of the lost will come awake,
Enter this Crystal Kingdom.
posted by kmz at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


A hundred years of the Punic Curse
And Rome will be slave to a hairy man,
A hairy man that is scant of hair,
Every man's woman and each woman's man.
The steed that he rides shall have toes for hooves.
He shall die at the hand of his son, no son,
And not on the field of war.
The hairy one next to enslave the State
Shall be son, no son, of this hairy last.
He shall have hair in a generous mop.
He shall give Rome marble in place of clay
And fetter her fast with unseen chains,
And shall die at the hand of his wife, no wife,
To the gain of his son, no son.
The hairy third to enslave the State
Shall be son, no son, of his hairy last.
He shall be mud well mixed with blood,
A hairy man that is scant of hair.
He shall give Rome victories and defeat
And die to the gain of his son, no son—
A pillow shall be his sword.
The hairy fourth to enslave the State
Shall be son, no son, of his hairy last
A hairy man that is scant of hair,
He shall give Rome poisons and blasphemies
And die from a kick of his aged horse
That carried him as a child.
The hairy fifth to enslave the State,
To enslave the State, though against his will,
Shall be that idiot whom all despised.
He shall have hair in a generous mop.
He shall give Rome water and winter bread,
And die at the hand of his wife, no wife,
To the gain of his son, no son.
The hairy sixth to enslave the State
Shall be son, no son, of this hairy last.
He shall give Rome fiddlers and fear and fire.
His hand shall be red with a parent's blood.
No hairy seventh to him succeeds
And blood shall gush from his tomb.

I Claudius came out in 1934, quite likely Tolkien read it. Though Tolkein and Graves were rough contemporaries who were both soaked in myth.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:32 PM on April 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


Await this July
HBO has prophesied
Winter is coming
posted by adept256 at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the Dark Tower really doesn't have a prophetic poem as such, although as mentioned, there is some prophecy, as well as the use of song and verse throughout; the story is also inspired by Browning's “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, although there are only a few relevant details used in the story itself (Cuthbert, the horn).
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:44 PM on April 5, 2017


I loved these so much as a kid, they were a key criteria when I chose reading material. That, and a map. If it had a prophecy and a map, I was sold. It is truly a winning combination and as a result I can still remember the ones I memorized in middle school, some 25 years ago. Personally, I'd like to see every work of fiction (and hey, nonfiction) have one of these.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:49 PM on April 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


(and hey, nonfiction)

Advanced Physics by J. R. R. Tolkein

One string to rule them all, One string to find them,
One string to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
posted by adept256 at 12:59 PM on April 5, 2017 [6 favorites]


According to Herodotus and others, the Delphic Oracle spoke in verse.
posted by jamjam at 1:01 PM on April 5, 2017


"Make your choice, adventurous Stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had."
posted by ntartifex at 1:21 PM on April 5, 2017 [16 favorites]


This is from a Middle Grade novel I never managed to sell:

Maid Melanie Miles is icky and gooey
There surely are stink rays that rise from her butt.
She creeps around wearing one glove and one shoe-y
She oozes with boogers and who-can-say-what?

She'll claim that this prophecy doesn't apply
But her protests and whining just serve to annoy us.
Whatever she utters is clearly a lie
And, when she reappears, she'll be here to destroy us.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:51 PM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


WHEN IS SUSANNA CLARKE GOING TO WRITE SOMETHING ELSE AAAAAH SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME
i have actually had a google alert set up for her since oh, 2006 or so
and still nothing.
(is it weird to have someone be your total favorite writer based on only one book and one short story collection?)
posted by capnsue at 1:53 PM on April 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


When I was a kid I enjoyed this trope but I never thought the poems were good. They were mostly too long and only worth skimming for clues, not for pleasure.

Having said that, the Darkangel series by Meredith Ann Pierce has a prophecy poem, but the whole series is so beautiful and weird (and the poem clues are actually really good ones) that I don't mind it as much.
posted by emjaybee at 2:05 PM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


The glove-
If it doesn't fit
You must acquit
posted by the phlegmatic king at 2:06 PM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


When the Dark, comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track,
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain, shall find the harp of gold;
Played to wake the sleepers, Oldest of the old;
Power of the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:16 PM on April 5, 2017 [9 favorites]


Well, I did link to it above, but if you are going to do the first three stanzas, we should complete it (I can almost do it from memory):

On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.
(The mountains are singing, and the Lady comes.)


Also, verstegan your comment was fascinating.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


I can summon up off the top of my head a solid handful of either cheesy fantasy prophecies or worse fantasy doggerel, but no good examples combining the two. You guys are killing me!

"There will be born to the Royal House one who is Dead yet will live, who will die again and live again. And when he returns, he will hold in his hand the destruction of the world...."

"...with each new day's birth,
We die in our hearts,
Truth black we are told,
Death always returns..."


"Though under earth and throneless now I be,
Yet while I lived all earth was under me."


"Orcs are gathered in their masses,
Legolas will kick their asses,
In my pipe Old Toby's burning,
Sauron's war machine keeps turning,
Oh Lord, yeah!"


&c, &c, &c.
posted by comealongpole at 3:05 PM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


The Mindsword spun in the dawn's gray light
And men and demons knelt down before.
The Mindsword flashed in the midday bright
Gods joined the dance, and the march to war.
It spun in the twilight dim as well
And gods and men marched off to hell.


Had to look that one up, I can definitely remember Farslayer's rhyme, but the Mindsword seems a bit more portentous somehow.
posted by comealongpole at 3:10 PM on April 5, 2017


Well, if nothing else, this kicks off my every-three-year rereading of the Dark Is Rising books.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:29 PM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Prophecy poems have always given me goosebumps. And Susan Cooper is the BEST. I remember reading the Dark is Rising series as a child, and having the book seem to come alive for me -- like I could see it happening, clear as a movie. Books hadn't been like that for me before; I think those books may have been when I stopped "hearing" words when I was reading, and instead I just took in the story direct from eyes to brain.
posted by Malla at 4:40 PM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


O, and hey, how about J. Scalzi's The Androids Dream?
posted by Malla at 4:44 PM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Count me as another who can still chant the Dark is Rising poem after having fallen gladly into that world as an eleven-year-old. I still have my Year 7 copy, protected by blue Contact.

There's at least one Narnia rhyme as well, possibly more:

When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne
The evil time will be over and done
posted by andraste at 7:41 PM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


Me too! I'm 41 years old and can still recite the Dark is Rising poem from reading the books in early elementary school. I can open any one of them and pick up the story like no time has passed. My little friends and I TREASURED them.
posted by centrifugal at 9:05 PM on April 5, 2017


I thought to myself that, "Three swords must come again" but nubs beat me to it in the third comment. Ha! Well done!

(I think of that prophecy and the game of shent every couple of months, I should find time to reread those.)

The Man of His Word series by Dave Duncan takes some book titles from a Keats poem, but I don't think it ties in with the plot of the novel as much. At least not that I remember.

On the other hand, what I remember of the lore in The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin seems to be mostly prose, some of it sounded a bit prophetic in the BSG "All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again" sense.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:57 PM on April 5, 2017


It's interesting how uneven the quality of the prophetic poems is. Not very surprising since they're found in prose books, but at least in some cases you can tell the author was gunning for a prophetic poem, any poem. And make it portentous!

Of course the trick to good prophecy is ambiguity or enough leeway to upend its perceived meaning. Ibis redibis non morieris in bello.
posted by ersatz at 11:30 PM on April 5, 2017


I Claudius came out in 1934, quite likely Tolkien read it.

The Sibylline Books and their prophetic rhymes come from antiquity, not from Graves. And I haven't seen references to Nostradamus, but he was also a master of the form.

On the other hand, people in Europe have been subverting prophecy tropes since they started telling tales about Oedipus and his family trouble.
posted by sukeban at 12:01 AM on April 6, 2017


Also, the influence of the Poetic Edda is a lot more blatant in Tolkien. He took the names of Gandalf and most dwarves from the Hobbit from the Völuspá, which is the poem that foretells Ragnarök.

There was Modsognir,/ greatest of creations,
greatest of Dwarfs,/ but Durinn second;
Manlike creations/ many they did,
Dwarfs from earth,/ as Durinn said.

Nýi, Nidi,/ Nordri, Sudri,
Austri, Vestri,/ Althjófr, Dvalinn,
Nár and Náinn,/ Nípingr, Dáinn,
Bifurr, Bafurr,/ Bomburr, Nori,
Ánn and Ánarr,/ Óinn, Mjodvitnir.

Veggr and Gandálfr,/ Vindálfr, Thorinn,
Thrár and Thráinn,/ Thekkr, Litr ok Vitr,
Nýr and Nýrádr,/ now have I Dwarfs,
Reginn and Radsvidr,/ rightly mention.

Fili, Kili,/ Fundinn, Nali,
Hepti, Vili,/ Hanarr, Svíurr,
Billingr, Brúni,/ Bildr and Buri,
Frár, Hornbori,/ Fregr and Lóni,
Aurvangr, Jari,/ Eikinskjaldi.

Measure is the Dwarfs/ in Dvalin's flock
the men of lions/ and census Lofars;
there they went/ from temples rocks,
to Aurvanga shoot,/ and Joruvalla.

posted by sukeban at 12:11 AM on April 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


The Sibylline Books and their prophetic rhymes come from antiquity, not from Graves.

I Claudius was one of the seminal books of my childhood, like The Hobbit and TLTR and I can remember great swathes of it - to this day the cadence of sentences and paragraphs echo in my memory and I can be lost for ages working out where a particular repeating phrase I've got stuck on comes from. Once in a history exam - I was only about 12, that's my excuse - I regurgitated the whole poem about the lost legions of Germanicus in the Teutoburg Forest, which didn't go down well at all. "Varus, Varus, General Varus, bring me my three eagles back!"

Anyhow, the point was to mention that Graves took whole pages of I Claudius verbatim from Classical sources such as Tacitus and Suetonius. The downfall of Sejanus* for example, with all the gossipy commentary (not citing cos it's horribly brutal.) For another example, the rude rhymes about Tiberius - though Graves rendered them into doggerel, while my mum's old translation of Tacitus, printed in the 30s, left them in Latin with a footnote saying they were too obscene to translate. It was quite a shock for me as a kid to recognise the same passage in something so old and in something so new.

* I think Sejanus is who I mean. But anyway as apology for a possible mistake here's Patrick Stewart as Sejanus when he was younger. I tried to rewatch I Claudius recently and found it ridiculously creaky and arch, with a terminal case of BBC Middle-CLass Disease. We thought it was THRILLING when it was first broadcast.
posted by glasseyes at 2:28 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Graves wrote the poem for I Claudius though, as far as I know. I remember being disappointed as a child when I learned that while the Sibylline Books were real, they had not survived, because then the uncanny accuracy in Graves wasn't really spooky proof of prophecy at all, just Graves being clever.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:09 AM on April 6, 2017


Reading this it has just struck me - has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to0 be complete bullshit? It would make an interesting device. The whole cast of characters running about trying to find the Chosen One or whatever, while the actual person they are looking for is lurking in the background with no connection to the prophecy. The nearest I can think of is (IIRC) in the Harry Potter books, where Neville Longbottom is almost, but not quite, the chosen hero. And where, come to think of it, the seer is set up to be completely unreliable.
posted by Fuchsoid at 3:30 AM on April 6, 2017


Maybe not quite that, but the above mentioned Un Lun Dun is worth a read.
posted by Artw at 5:41 AM on April 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to be complete bullshit?

I'm sure there was one I remember that turned out to be totally bogus ...

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posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:18 AM on April 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


I don't actually read the Game of Thrones books, but I half expect the whole Azor Azai thing to turn out to be a big dud.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2017


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to0 be complete bullshit?

The closest I can think of is Harry Potter, where the naming of the savior was what made him the savior. Harry wasn't necessarily special: it was Voldemort's decision to kill Harry and his parents that gave Harry the ability to fight Voldemort. It could just as well have been Neville, if Voldemort had decided to go after his family first.
posted by suelac at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ice is cold
Fire burns
Jon Snow
Never learns
Burma Shave
posted by nubs at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to be complete bullshit?

Well, Star Prince Charlie for a start. And UnLun Dun. But we definitely need more stories where the prophecy is complete BS and and results in people getting killed.
posted by happyroach at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2017


But we definitely need more stories where the prophecy is complete BS and and results in people getting killed.

Well, depending on how cynical you are, and if we're allowed to talk real life things, I think messianism counts there. Most certainly there's prophecy, usually in verse, and people have certainly been killed while we're waiting...
posted by epanalepsis at 10:37 AM on April 6, 2017


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to be complete bullshit?

Are we going FULL SPOILERS AHEAD in this thread? Because I know an example or too but it seems about as spoilery as you can get?
posted by Justinian at 1:10 PM on April 6, 2017


There was the prophesy that Ronald D. Moore knew what the fuck he was doing with Battlestar Galactica...
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to0 be complete bullshit?

That's kind of the plot of the Foundation Trilogy if you look at it a certain way.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:43 PM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm here to say that a patron, kind out of nowhere, told me how much he loved The Dark Is Rising, and that he was looking forward to reading it to his daughters. Out of nowhere!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


has there ever been a story where the impressive prophecy turned out to0 be complete bullshit?

That's kind of the plot of the Foundation Trilogy if you look at it a certain way.


Foundation is an interesting case. Really, the basic scientific principle behind the "prophecy" that powers the series is proven wrong in the first segment, it's obviously wrong, and nobody seems to notice it.
posted by happyroach at 4:54 PM on April 6, 2017


I'm here to say that a patron, kind out of nowhere, told me how much he loved The Dark Is Rising, and that he was looking forward to reading it to his daughters. Out of nowhere!

Out of nowhere? No. As prophesied, for those who know how to read the signs.

Perhaps I've said too much.
posted by nubs at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Foundation is an interesting case. Really, the basic scientific principle behind the "prophecy" that powers the series is proven wrong in the first segment, it's obviously wrong, and nobody seems to notice it.

Well, the predictions are right for each Crisis, right up until the Mule enters the picture.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:39 PM on April 6, 2017


Well, the predictions are right for each Crisis, right up until the Mule enters the picture.

I assume that someone from was sneaking in and making those predictions after the fact.

I mean, if you look at what Seldon days right at the beginning, you see there's a basic contradiction in what he says. In my headcannon I assume the whole Psychohistory thing was created as a cover for . (Note, I haven't read any of the robot-Foundation novels.)

posted by happyroach at 9:57 AM on April 7, 2017


Yeah, but then that doesn't hold up for the recording that plays when the Mule appears - it specifically talks about the crisis they *were* heading for, pre-Mule. No one would have reason to make a wrong recording.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:33 AM on April 7, 2017


Unless the 2nds were caught flat footed by the Mule after putting the recording in, or they did it to make people realize there was a manipulator, or..or...

Look, I'm trying to make an idiotic concept work, somehow. I'm trying to make the author look smarter than he probably was. I'm probably in the same mode of denial Gharlane of Eddore was in, when he claimed that Number of the Beast was a clever and subtle joke by Heinlein.

Work with me here.
posted by happyroach at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Gharlane of Eddore. Now there's a name I've not heard in a long, long time.

He was also fond of quoting Campbell by saying, "It's Science Fiction, if, presuming technical competence on the the part of the writer, he genuinely believes it could happen. Otherwise, it's Fantasy," which fails on so many levels it's hard to take seriously. I mean Campbell was a big proponent of psionics in science fiction... I don't even.

Gharlane must have died almost 20 years ago now. You've made me feel old!
posted by Justinian at 12:01 AM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


He passed in June 2001.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:44 PM on April 11, 2017


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