Monday, January 10, 2011

Foul Language

The Canadian film Pontypool presents a “zombie” outbreak with a novel twist. The zombifying vector is a neurolinguistic or perhaps memetic “virus.” Some sort of infectious agent that hijacks certain previously innocuous English words, and when understood, begins overtaking the minds of its victims. As William S. Burroughs would have it: “The word is now a virus.”

Fantasy or weird fiction already presents a kind of malevolent Stendahl Syndrome in the pages of Chamber’s The King in Yellow, and Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. And of course, there’s also already the idea that words themselves have magical potency--Vancian Magic, anyone? Power Word Kill?

Perhaps magical formulae could get infected like the English language does in Pontypool.

Or perhaps something more has been lurking there all along. Maybe magical words or ideas are a virus or a living thing of some sort already. Maybe they don’t turn the user into a zombie or kill them, but maybe they have goals all their own.

Could it be that people who become magic-users are the ones that magical language or symbology can’t destroy or transform into some mindless creature? Or maybe they survive exposure, but all mages are driven a bit mad.

Maybe a they can “fire,” but they can never truly “forget.”


Unknown said...

I am immediately reminded of Neil Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and Ken Hite's "The Madness Dossier" from Gurps Horror 3e.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I like the cut of your jib. This whole spell-as-living-thing angle is like a vast and only partially explored territory.

John Arendt said...

I haven't seen Pontypool but it's certainly on the list; (Netflix hasn't had it available).

I like the theme of mental corruption spreading through an unusual vector. There have been creepy visual approaches (the video in The Ring, the snuff film in Cigarette Burns); you mentioned the King in Yellow - seeing a performance. The Happening had chemicals breathed in; words, however, that seems to be something new.

This is a wide open slice for messing with the party's magic users.

I'm seeing an evil spellbook, left behind by some long dead necromancer. Anyone who finds the book gains access to these tremendous spells, but similar to what you said, they don't completely erase when cast. Little viral pieces get left behind, eventually enough bits gather to assemble a new spell right within the caster's memory - something transformative, something that reincarnates the necromancer, awakens his sleeping lich, does a magic jar or mind switch, any number of delayed programs set as a contingency all those centuries ago.

The mind boggles with the potential of Trojan Horse and viral spells and spell books.

Trey said...

@Risus - Oh yeah! I forgot out the Burroughsian linguistic element to "Madness Dossier." That was a very cool campaign idea.

@Greg - Thanks. It's the only jib I got. ;)

@Beedo - Great idea. malign spellware (or Malcraft? ;)) is a great idea. Maybe botched speels have a certain chance of producing a viral spell?

Anonymous said...

Spooky idea when you really think about it. I am sure that this type of thing already happens via neural linguistics, but I try not to think about it too much.

The Drune said...


"Language is a virus from outer space."
-William S. Burroughs

One of my other favorite Burroughs lines:

"Death needs Time for what it eats to grow in..."

Dictionary of Mu comes to mind...

ze bulette said...

The subject of deadly memes always reminds me of the killing joke. Best portrayed in MP's Flying Circus, of course.

Trey said...

The pinnacle of existential horror. ;)