CURSES IN LITERATURE
We’ve been telling stories with hexes and curses for as long as stories have been told, filled with bad luck, punishments, and redemption. But, whatever the reason they were cast, these curses deliver precisely what we humans crave in literature and our everyday lives: clear causes for disastrous consequences and explanations for the terrifying and irrational. They are lessons in cause and effect.
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables follows the generations of a Puritan family and the curse that follows them. The Pyncheons are a well-respected family in their little Massachusetts town, but their past is filled with mysteries, inexplicable deaths, and a dying man’s curse. Colonel Pyncheon is a wealthy and influential Puritan from Salem, Massachusetts. He has one ambition: to bequeath his descendants a magnificent home. After much hunting, he finally discovers the perfect spot for his house, adjacent to a freshwater spring. But there’s a snag. It’s a big one. Matthew Maule, a poor man, owns the property. Colonel Pyncheon refuses to buy Maule’s land since he has already cleared and tilled it. Colonel Pyncheon, on the other hand, is patient. Pyncheon saw his opportunity when witchcraft mania swept Salem in 1692. He accuses Maule of witchcraft, and Maule is hanged as a result. Maule curses Pyncheon before dying, warning him that ‘God will give him blood to drink.’ Pyncheon begins construction on a large residence, which he names the House of the Seven Gables, as soon as he obtains Maule’s land. However, Matthew Maule’s curse reappears on the day of Colonel Pyncheon’s housewarming party. Pyncheon is discovered dead, his neck covered in blood. The curse has begun. And so the story continues with the descendants of Colonel Pyncheon being affected by the curse.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
In this novel by Erika Swyler, we have Simon and Enola Watson, who are from a line of breath-holding carnival mermaids. Still, each generation of Watson women suddenly drowns on the same day every year. In this novel, the plot is about the investigation of a curse with Simon trying to find out the source of it to attempt to end it. The clues to the curse of July 24th are strange ecological events, a mysterious ancient book, and a collapsing house. I will tell you that the story deals with a cursed object causing the problem, but, not being an author who enjoys publishing spoilers, you will have to read it to find out what that object is. It may not be the one you thought.
THE BOY WHO LOST HIS FACE
In this 1989 young adult novel by Louis Sachar, we are introduced to the main character, David, a young boy in middle school. His friend, Scott, wants to hang out with the cool kids, but David isn’t quite cool enough to be accepted into the group. When the boys decide to take an elderly lady’s cane, the old woman casts a curse with David as the target. Everything goes wrong suddenly: David smashes his parents’ bedroom window, his fly is never zipped, his pants come down, and he pours flour all over the place. Meanwhile, his “friends” mock him and exclude him from their social circles. While you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens, this is an excellent example of a curse cast by using nothing but words. Or, do the words create a self-fulfilling curse?
CURSES IN MOVIES
Hollywood and television have used curses and hexes in their plot too many times to count. But here are my two favorite examples, each one using a different type of curse.
The Owens family curse is one of the fundamental conflicts in the film. The first thing viewers learn about Maria Owens is that she cursed her family (accidentally), resulting in a generational curse that any man who dared to love an Owens woman would die. Her original intention was to call a spell on herself so that she would not feel the pain of love loss. But, over time, it caused her to turn bitter and the spell transformed into a curse. When Sally and Gillian’s father dies when they are only children, we see the curse in action. Their mother passes away due to a broken heart, and the two girls are forced to live with their aunts. The curse reappears several years later, this time with Sally’s husband, who also succumbs to the curse and is hit by a truck. The elimination of the curse was one of the many difficulties remedied after the ritual that took care of Jimmy. There is no curse in Alice Hoffman’s book “Practical Magic.” Sally and Gillian’s parents, as well as Sally’s husband, do pass away. (In the book, he is hit by a car full of teenagers when he steps off the curb.) However, none of these fatalities have anything to do with the curse. These deaths are solely to drive the plot forward.
DRAG ME TO HELL
Christine Brown works as a loan officer at a bank, and she is competing for an assistant manager position with a coworker. Because her boss thinks she is incapable of making hard decisions, she declines a time extension on a loan to an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush, who is facing foreclosure and the loss of her home. In vengeance, the elderly woman casts a curse on her, which she later discovers will result in her being dragged to hell after three days of being tormented by a Lamia demon. (In mythology, a Lamia is a demon who devours children.) She eventually turns to a psychic who has had experience with a Lamia to try and exorcise the demon. Here we have a curse that calls upon an outside force, a demon, to carry out its wrath, a similar, but more serious, scenario to calling upon an Intranquil Spirit.
Whether the curse appears in books, television, the theater, movies, or beloved fairy tales, any good fiction writer will appreciate the one thing they have to offer – they provide the characters with a conflict that seems impossible to hurdle. As readers and viewers, we love to be left on the edge of our seat wondering if the hero will get past trouble and get their happy ending.
This article is an excerpt from the book, HEX APPEAL – How to Cast Dark Spells of Revenge, Cursing, and Damnation by Gregory Lee White