Created By: MicahAugust 1, 2010 Last Edited By: jormis29July 9, 2014

Mysteriously Uncountable

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Trope
This is some landscape feature whose parts cannot be counted accurately, thereby revealing its occult status. This is often — but not always — a stone circle or similar monument.

Compare Alien Geometries.

Examples

Literature
  • Winnie The Pooh has an uncountable circle of trees.
  • Wyrd Sisters parodies this:
    The stone was about the same height as a tall man, and made of a bluish tinted rock. It was considered intensely magical because, although there was only one of it, no-one had ever been able to count it; if it saw anyone looking at it speculatively, it shuffled behind them. It was the most self-effacing monolith ever discovered.
  • In the Wayside School books, the school's steps work this way.

Live Action TV
  • The Doctor Who story "The Stones of Blood", filmed on location at the Rollright Stones, is about a stone circle which is called the Nine Travelers even though there aren't actually nine of them.

Video Games

Real Life
  • The Ur Example is probably the Rollright Stones, to which local folklore famously attributes this property. For the record, there are currently 82 of them standing, though there were probably quite a few more originally.


Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • August 2, 2010
    Arivne
    Two common situations:
    • One person counts the things repeatedly but gets a different total each time.
    • Multiple people count the things, and each one comes up with a different number.
  • August 2, 2010
    randomsurfer
  • August 2, 2010
    STUART
    ^Those aren't mysteriously uncountable, they're just numerous.

    I'd make a supertrope for supernatural objects that can't be accurately observed by nature..
  • February 28, 2011
    Micah
    Bump. Any more thoughts?
  • February 28, 2011
    INUH
  • March 2, 2011
    Micah
    What's being counted in Kingdom Hearts?
  • March 3, 2011
    followeroferis
    • This happens in the short story N. by Stephen King using the aforementioned stone monuments.
  • March 3, 2011
    TheChainMan
    Almost always, one of The Seven Mysteries is "stairs that gain/lose one step at night".
  • March 4, 2011
    Puck
    I say make this broader: just call it Mysteriously Uncountable to include things other than monuments. A common variation/subversion (depending on how it's played) appears to be this to one character because another character keeps surreptitiously changing the number of items being counted.

    • In Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn convince Tom's aunt that her house is haunted by alternately stealing and replacing spoons from the kitchen drawer so that every time she counts them she finds a different number.

    (The Winnie The Pooh example above is sort of a one person version of this variant, since the audience knows there is nothing special about the trees: absent-minded Pooh just keeps losing track of which one he started with).
  • March 4, 2011
    Micah
    I think that variation is covered by Gaslighting.

    I'd be willing to interpret "monument" pretty broadly, but I really do think it's different when this happens with a structure that's supposed to be unmovable than when it's just stuff. One is eldritch, the other leads to conspiracy theories.
  • March 4, 2011
    Puck
    Yeah, there's overlap with Gaslighting, but I would think that the reason it is effective as a gaslighting technique is that there is something innately eerie about Mysteriously Uncountable things. This trope feeds that one.
  • May 16, 2011
    PaulA
    Another non-monument example occurs in the novel Drachenfels, where a convoy of caravans sometimes seems to have an extra caravan in it.
  • May 17, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    • This is played with in Ore-sama Teacher. Two boys are counting steps and supposedly there is supposed to randomly be a thirteenth step when the staircase only has twelve. When they get to the bottom they freak out because they count a thirteenth step but it turns out they are standing on a someone who was laying on the floor in front of the last step.
  • May 17, 2011
    EternalSeptember
    Remember to note this on the Adverbly Adjective Noun index.
  • May 17, 2011
    jaytee
    I don't really like the name. The trope isn't required to be a monument and it seems strange to attempt counting a single monument anyway.
  • May 17, 2011
    LeeM
    ^^ There are four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, which presumably is the same number it would take to fill the Albert Hall.
  • May 18, 2011
    bluepenguin
    What's being counted in Kingdom Hearts?

    It's stairs, IIRC.
  • May 18, 2011
    jaytee
    I missed Puck's comment on the name

    Seconding Mysteriously Uncountable.
  • May 18, 2011
    PaulA
  • May 24, 2011
    TBeholder
    With Mysteriously Uncountable some macguffins by Jorge Luis Borges also counts. That is, can't be counted.
    • Blue Tigers has the protagonist finding some stones and discovering their number was varying when he counted them, even though none seemed to appear or disappear.
  • January 6, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
  • July 2, 2012
    PaulA
    Another non-monument example of mysteriously uncountable things:

    • In Drachenfels, the number of vehicles in the convoy travelling to Castle Drachenfels: several people get the feeling that there's an extra one on the end of the convoy, but whenever they count the vehicles they get the right number. It gets particularly weird when they stop for the night; the number of parking spaces set aside for them matches the number of vehicles, and yet there is one vehicle left over.
  • February 11, 2014
    Arivne
    If this is changed to include all uncountable things:

    Other Sites
    • SCP Foundation. SCP-404 is a pair of manilla envelopes which contain a series of photographs and have a series of pages attached to the front. Any attempt to count the number of pages or photographs fails, with the person doing so losing count and having to start over. Any attempt to count them with a machine results in the machine malfunctioning.
  • February 11, 2014
    SharleeD
    Some more possibilities if it's expanded to include non-monuments:

    • In the Dragaera novels, the tower of Castle Black has a room at the top with windows that are portals to other realms. When Vlad tries to count them, he gets a different number every time.
    • In On Stranger Tides, the party that visits the Fountain of Youth passes through an area of uncertainty, and its members keep getting the impression that another presence has joined them. When they count everyone quickly, they come up with an extra person, but when they take the time to name people off while counting, it's not there.

    Another Discworld example:

    • In The Fifth Elephant, after acting-Captain Colon has driven off the rest of the Watch with his bullying and paranoia, he's left alone in his office, obsessively counting the sugar lumps from the watchhouse canteen. Every time he counts them, there are fewer than the last, which baffles and infuriates him. Not really a mystery, as he's been eating them himself without noticing.
  • February 12, 2014
    Arivne
    • Formatted Examples section.
    • Namespaced and italicized work names.
  • February 21, 2014
    Arivne
    Other Sites
    • SCP Foundation. SCP-026 is an abandoned school building. Its stairways have a variable number of steps, and the number of rooms off a hallway change each time they are counted. Testing with robots and video feeds show that the number of steps and rooms don't change in reality, SCP-026 just changes the perceptions of the viewer.
  • February 21, 2014
    SKJAM
    • Nana Fushigi Gakuen (Seven Mysteries High School) has stairs that have a different count going up or down as Book Ends in the first and last episode.

    It was an anime, might have been based on a manga.
  • May 18, 2014
    DaibhidC
    I realise this would be better if I could identify the story, but...

    • There was a story in one of the Pan Book of Horror collections about a young couple mucking about at a stone circle that, in addition to being uncountable, was supposed to be a site of pagan sacrifices to the gods of the harvest. The woman starts to count the stones, and as she goes on, the man get more uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the circle, especially when he realises there's a local watching impassively some distance away. At the end of the story, she's just about to get an answer, when suddenly she's dead, and her boyfriend is holding a rock, and he knows that the watcher knows that the harvest gods will be satisfied.
  • July 9, 2014
    Arivne
    Other Sites

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