"Chain letters," said the Tyrant. "The Chain Letter to the Ephebians. Forget Your Gods. Be Subjugated. Learn to Fear. Do not break the chain — the last people who did woke up one morning to find fifty thousand armed men on their lawn."Character receives a letter, one which informs the recipient that he must mail it to a certain number of people or suffer bad luck. Though warned by his credulous friends, the skeptical character mocks the very concept of luck and vows to ignore it. Disaster proceeds to befall him on a scale which would make Job from The Bible look like a paragon of good fortune. Chain letters in real life have nowhere near the credibility that they do in media, and are annoyingly common in e-mail spam and on comment pages and message boards. Often utilized for a specific type of Superstition Episode. If the horror movie with the same name is what you're looking for, see here.
ExamplesAnime and Manga
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, Russia got one saying that if he does not mail it to three other people within three days his capital will become Warsaw. Poland points out that, since he doesn't have friends, he'll freak out. It doesn't work since Russia just sends it to his subordinates instead.
- Charlie Brown (of course) once got a chain letter and agonized about sending it or not. He finally decides to tear it up. Then it starts raining.
- In this comic, he gets one that tells him to copy it six times, and tries to do this with a pen. However, there's a reason he calls his pen pal a pencil pal...
- Even The Wizard of Id had a chain letter arc. The King ended up mailing it on, even though nothing bad had actually happened yet, because...well...better safe than sorry.
- The Powerpuff Girls comic book story "Chain of Fools" (issue #30) starts with Bubbles getting a chain letter. When she doesn't respond to it, her powers are zapped while the girls are fighting a monster. She immediately flies home and sends out chain letters—to her sisters and Mojo Jojo, and when they don't respond, the same thing happens to them.
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series: "Chains" revolves around Calvin and Susie receiving these. Susie rips hers up, and proceeds to have bad luck for the rest of the episode.
- The premise of the 2010 Slasher Movie Chain Letter was that if the characters didn't forward the chain letter, they would die agonizing deaths involving...chains.
- In the Baby Sitters Club book "Mary Anne's Bad-Luck Mystery", the club starts having bad luck after Mary Anne throws out a chain letter.
- This is a staple of Sit Coms and has been for decades, as such, nearly every sitcom that ran long enough has had at least one episode about a chain letter.
- A rare common sense moment had Red of The Red Green Show ignoring a recent chain letter craze over the Lodge until Dalton pointed out that Harold, who started it, got a $100 bill from it. By the final act, chain letters are going out like crazy until Harold reveals he didn't get a $100 bill - it was a bill for $100 from the library. It also provides a rare case of the sender getting the bad luck, not just from the bill, but from the others dipping into his cash box to pay for all the letters.
- In an episode of Home Improvement, Unlucky Tim eventually realizes that his ill fortune isn't caused by the letter but rather that, owing to his incompetence, bad stuff always happens to him.
- In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, both Dick and Mary receive chain letters. Mary throws hers out right away and tells Dick to do the same. Dick ambivalently holds on to his and leans more and more toward sending it out when Mary is repeatedly hit by bad luck. Eventually, Dick ends up taking superstitions seriously to such an outrageous degree that they totally run his life.
- A Kids in the Hall sketch had a company's CEO presenting a chain letter to his board and asking them what to do. Only one character refuses to take it seriously.
- One episode of The Facts of Life saw the girls neglect the store's upcoming health inspection because they were so involved with a chain letter. Jo also accidentally sent the money for the chain letter to the health inspector, who thought it was a bribe.
- An episode of an Australian news parody show (the name escapes currently) had one short about a man who refused to sign a chain email that said, 'if you don't pass this on, a little boy will die'. He ignored it. The boy died, and the man is being held accountable for manslaughter.
- In an episode of iCarly, Freddie gets a chain letter regarding Consuelo, a Spanish woman who had died. He must pass it on, or suffer such misfortunes as red socks getting mixed with white shorts, his sandwich getting run over, making it absolutely gigantic (at least the size of his torso), and his computer shorting out and making weird popping sounds.
- Subverted though, because Sam caused all that misfortune. Freddie catches her in the act though and gets back at her at the end of the episode.
- An episode of Ghost Whisperer centered around the ghost of a teenage girl who was assaulting people who received a chain letter and didn't forward it. It turns out to be the same chain letter that the girl received before she died, so she believed that both her death and her mother's cancer were caused by her breaking the chain, and was convinced by another malevolent ghost that she had to harm other chain breakers in order to fix things. It's not until she's confronted by the ghost of her mother (who died near the end of the episode) that she realizes the foolishness of her actions, causing them both to finally cross over.
- The Andy Griffith Show has an episode where Barney gets one of these, Andy convinces him to throw it out, and...well, you can guess the rest.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show has an episode where Mary gets one of these from Lou Grant.
- In Ars Magica, the malleus epistula, or "hammer-letter," is one of these. This document provides advice for battling against demonic and pagan magic, teaching an uncompromising ideology of "torture and kill them all; God will know his own," along with the basics of the Ars Goetia to banish demons with and Mind Manipulation techniques that help the inquisitor extract confessions. At the end of the letter, the recepient is instructed to keep the letter a secret, but to make six copies of it and pass them along (anonymously) to other members of the Church, or else some curse (depending on the particulars of the letter) will befall the recipient. If you haven't already guessed, the letters were in fact originated by demons, and the inquisitors who study the letter become infernalists.
- In Suburban Knights, the Nostalgia Critic accidentally reveals that the map he received was part of a chain letter.
- On Bogleech's GHASTLY MACARONI!!! anthology, the stories "THE KILLER SPIKES" and "2 BEARS FOREVER" amount to this.
- One episode of Pinky and the Brain began with Brain planning to send a chain letter as part of his latest plan. He was beaten to the punch by his sworn enemy, Snowball, whose letter had the exact same text, except the subliminal message (the key element to the plan) was changed from "You will bow before the Brain" to "You will bow before Snowball".
- In a 6teen episode, Jen gets a chain email, ignores it, and has bad luck throughout the episode. She then tries to get a number of people's email addresses, but later it is revealed that those people have Jen's email address, so she has more chain letters to send.
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