When Light is Good
and Dark Is Evil
, it was held that just as darkness was the absence of light (which is accurate), so evil was the absence of good. Where there was good, therefore, evil could not stand.
Anything "sufficiently" good didn't need to be intelligent
in order to protect itself because good was invincible enough just being there
. Good things had "auras" of purity or goodness that could slice and dice evil or evil-aligned
beings like blades, atomize them entirely or at least leave a second or third degree burn. Even the greatest threats
would run off screaming like nursery girls at the mere rumor of their presence, ignoring the fact that the objects of their fear were otherwise absolutely harmless.
Often times, the more proactive heroes were unable to have such an effect
due to lesser purity, which left the local priest, nun or pure child
to act as a Deus ex Machina
for when they get overwhelmed by the legions of darkness
. Objects touched or blessed by objectively good characters could gain similar protective qualities, and religious sanctuaries were the mightiest of fortresses when evil was on your tail.
This injurious side of good is becoming rare as readers and viewers learn to take Grey and Gray Morality
for granted, but expect very strong showings in religious literature. A Purity Sue
(or any Sue
in general) may have this trait, but often without the restricted freedom
that traditionally comes with it.
Note that differences of belief
weren't ever an issue because it was taken for granted that the good thing or person really was good, and not just belonging to the majority faith, sometimes resulting in a rather heavy handed Aesop
for characters who were
from the dominant church or local equivalent
and Discredited Trope
, with some exceptions. It's largely been absorbed by the Holy Hand Grenade
and Smite Evil
tropes. It's an interesting cultural study; people no longer think that Good, itself, is invincible, but used correctly it can really kick ass! If it is used in modern works, it's usually in ones centered squarely on the Idealistic side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
, or where the baddies ARE shadows/darkness and thus are Weakened by the Light
. It's often utilized alongside Only the Pure of Heart
. Holy Burns Evil
is a subtrope,. The inverse of this trope is Allergic to Evil
(for people) and Cross-Melting Aura
(for holy artifacts
). Might be a reason for Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth
. See also Revive Kills Zombie
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Anime and Manga
- A secularized version is played for laughs in The Slayers when Lina turns Love Freak Amelia loose on Xellos. Since Mazoku in the slayerverse feed on negative emotions the full unbridled effect of Amelia's sheer perkiness (backed up by a rather insincere-sounding Gourry and Zelgadis) is enough to completely debilitate one of the most powerful evil characters in the series.
- The character known as "The Oracle" from Spider Riders has the ability to prevent her power form being abused by those who use it. Mostly she dosen't actually hurt anyone, she just blinds them with a flash of light.
- In the Doma Arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Pharaoh defeats the Orichalcos God with the power of the goodness in his heart.
- In The Snow Queen 1977, the Snow Queen is burned alive when Gerda and Kai pray.
- The page image comes from a What If? Silver Surfer story, "What if the Silver Surfer had not escaped Earth?" (v2 #22). Mephisto finally acquires Silver Surfer's soul and brings him into Hell. He then makes the mistake of slaying his physical body, realizing too late that the Surfer's soul is so good and pure that its light hurts him. Since Surfer already agreed to be in Hell forever, Mephisto will burn "until time's end".
- In an Italian Mickey Mouse comic book story, Mickey meets Flagellus, a "Knight of Evil" whose sole presence causes chaos and disaster to spread around him. After turning Pluto into stone and burying Goofy, he is about to kill Mickey in a sword fight but agrees to let him live if Minnie becomes his bride... and she accepts without hesitation. As he takes her hand, he yells in pain and fades off into nothingness, because "her good is more powerful than his evil".
- Marvel Comics' The Brood are an entire alien race that, until recently, screened out compassion by killing any of their offspring that showed potential for it. Brood can learn compassion, but having it suddenly forced on them (via psychic projection for example) will kill them.
- Mephisto really doesn't learn. Being (possibly) Marvel's version of Satan he likes nothing more than corrupting the souls of goodly heroes by offering them deals, except then claiming said souls for eternal torment. He once pulled such a deal with Black Panther, but forgot to take into account two things: 1, the deal was made not for personal gain but to aid others, making it a selfless sacrifice and thus not "corrupting" him; and 2, T'Challa's soul was already bound to the Panther Spirit, and thus the soul of every other Black Panther in history. Whereas Silver Surfer's soul merely "burned" him, that much Incorruptible Pure Pureness threatened to obliterate him until he released T'challa from the deal. All According to Plan.
Films — Animated
- Chernobog in Fantasia is driven away by the forces of "the sacred".
Films — Live-Action
- Played with in The Mummy, when Benny holds up a series of holy symbols hanging around his neck — accompanied by appropriate incantations — to try to find one that will fend off the titular monster. (Turns out Imphotep doesn't fear crosses or stars of David ... just cats.) One of them does still sort of work, however; Imhotep recognises "the language of the slaves", ie Hebrew, and decides Benny might be worth keeping around.
- In Fright Night, Peter Vincent brandishes a large, ornate cross at Jerry, who simply laughs at him. "You have to have faith for this to work on me," he tells Vincent. Charlie moves in with a small, simple one, but with the faith required and Jerry flinches back, until his zombie protector shows up.
- More than one powerful baddie in The Lord of the Rings had a vulnerability to Elvish invocations of the Valar.
- Gollum feels pain when he comes into physical contact with the enchanted rope the Elves gave to Sam. Also his aversion to the sun might qualify.
- So does the Nazgūls' fear of running water; the power of Vala Ulmo still runs strong in Middle-Earth's waters.
- The Silmarils of The Silmarillion burn anyone of evil heart who comes into contact with them, as they contain the trapped holy light of the lost Two Trees. This is a plot point several times — Morgoth burns his hands when he originally steals them and is forever in pain afterwards (but still covets them and wears them in his iron crown), the great wolf Carcharoth goes on a panicked rampage being burned from the inside out after swallowing one, and when the Silmarils' creator Fėanor's sons Maedhros and Maglor find that stolen Silmarils burn them, they realise that their evil deeds mean they have lost all right to them.
- The light in the vial that Galadriel gives to Frodo, which Sam uses against Shelob? That light is the concentrated essence of one star - but that's not really a star at all, it's a Silmaril in the sky. And the Silmarils are made from the light of the Two Trees, and therefore the light of Ilśvatar itself. By the Transitive Property of Holiness, Sam fights Shelob with the light of God.
- Then, it's subverted at Mount Doom, where Sam pulls out the vial for some kind of help... only to watch in terror as it grows dim. Mount Doom, apparently, is an evil so absolute, even the (reflected) glory of God gives way.
- Harry Potter. The Power of Love his mother gave him is powerful enough to melt faces and make the most powerful of curses backfire. However, since the universe is mixed with Magic A Is Magic A, the Big Bad is able to take steps to prevent its effects against him.
- Voldemort is still hit with this at the climax of book five, when he succeeds in possessing Harry. He tries to goad Dumbledore into attacking Harry in hopes of killing them both at once. Harry is in so much pain that he finds himself wishing Dumbledore would do it, since it would mean he could see Sirius again - and Harry's thoughts of Sirius cause Voldemort so much agony that he never even tries the possession tactic again.
- The Dementors can be fought off by summoning a creature made of concentrated positive emotion (love or happiness). It's not clear whether dementors are evil (since they appear to have very minimal sentience), but it's implied that Patronuses are made of good (they are immune to Dark magic).
- In Good Omens, the demon Ligur is rather nastily killed by holy water. Holy water's typical effect on demonic entities such as demons and vampires in fantasy fiction is a common type of this trope.
- Something of a subversion in that it wasn't sprinkled at him with a chant by a robed holy man; it was weaponized into booby traps and squirt guns by another demon who premeditated his defense.
- The good/evil lines on Good Omens are all blurred, which is sort of the point; Crowley isn't very evil, but he is still a demon and he still treats holy water with the caution a chemist gives to concentrated acid.
- All over the place in Left Behind, of course, but most squickily in Glorious Appearing, where a would-be rapist of a returned immortal Christian bursts into flames—but only after being allowed to begin the attack, and even though traditional narratives allow for less violent methods of defense, such as intangibility.
- In the Inheritance Cycle, this is how Eragon defeats Galbatorix. The former casts a spell on the latter that causes him to feel empathy, and thus Galbatorix commits suicide, having been driven mad from feeling the pain of the hundreds of dragons he slaughtered.
- The protagonist in Sorcerer On The Rocks, Shibas Scotch, is such a bad person that being in a nice place like a clear meadow on a sunny day makes him ill.
- In The Dresden Files,
- The White Court of vampires is harmed if their victims express the positive emotion that is anathema to what they feed on: The lust-eating Raiths are harmed by true love, the despair-eating Skavis by true hope/optimism, and the fear-eating Malvola by true courage and bravery. Things get complicated when Thomas falls in love with his favorite "food". While Thomas wouldn't normally eat off a person who has the protection of love, he loves and wants Justine so badly, he and his inner demon try to feed off of her on instinct. Also, in a twist, if the offspring of a White Court vampire experiences their opposite emotion before they start learning how to truly 'feed', they never develop into vampires and turn human instead.
- The Knights of the Cross, wielders of swords into which the nails from the Crucifixion have been worked, are exceptionally powerful against supernatural evils for precisely this reason. Interestingly, their swords names translate as Hope, Faith, and Love, which the Bible lists as the final things of good at the end of the world.
- One Red Court vampire'snote hand actually caught on fire when she touched Micheal, the "Fist of God", at a neutral grounds party. She wasn't even attacking him, just casually touching him in an attempt at mind games. Needless to say it backfired horribly for the deranged incestuous monster.
- The Black Court, who are the basis for the classis undead Vampire, burn when in contact with holy items. Harry even used a water balloon filled with holy water on one that attacked him in his car. The creature's face partially melted.
- Among demons, holy items and rituals work against most any evil so long as the wielder has faith in the item or symbol. So Harry would gain no protection from a cross, unlike Michael, but he would gain it from his silver pentacle, a symbol of his faith in good magic and order. Likewise, only a few Medicine Men in the Ute tribes and others from the South West USA would have the knowledge to call on the rituals to banish a Skinwalker.
- Then among the Fallen Angels this is averted. When Harry had the shadow of a Fallen inside his head, he could go into a church with no trouble. Eventually, he postulated it wasn't this trope that caused them to avoid being in churches longer than needed. It was being on the holy ground made them remember His Love and Glory, the purpose they once had, the fulfillment they had at acting in His Name, and finally asking themselves what if siding with Lucifer was a mistake and all the angel had done was for nothing.
- Among the Angels arsenal is the opposite of Hellfire: Soulfire, the fires of creation. The ancient force that created the Universe and Reality. When used by a human, it makes magic and one's will power more real giving it a boost of incredible power, at the cost of reducing one's soul (it can grow back, just do some good-for-the-soul things). Using Soulfire-infused attacks Harry almost defeated a Skinwalker.
- Played relatively straight in The Stand. Trashcan Man is positively frightened by his dreams of Mother Abagail (who pities him in hers, even when she can't remember him). Flagg loses all of his composure and power around the Free Zoners, even traitors like Harold and Nadine.
- In Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, the false shadow is driven off by the priest and his bell.
- When the Dragon Reborn from The Wheel of Time finally accepts his reincarnation and remembers his previous life, he seems to have gained this ability. Darkfriends can't even look at him, it burns so much. Everyone else perceives it as a bright aura, almost a warping of the air infused with light itself. It's quite possible that such abilities are part of his purpose, because the Dragon exists to fight the Dark One, over and over. Just as the Dark One's power warps the air with darkness and gives off the essence of ruin and destruction, the Dragon's power warps the air with light and gives off the essence of hope and salvation.
- John Galt from Atlas Shrugged is supposed to be so awesome that merely talking with him and beholding his face makes any evil character very uncomfortable with all the self-deceptions that they live with. This effect is worst for the most self-deceived characters like Eugene Lawson and Jim Taggart—the latter of whom actually loses his mind when he is interrogating Galt.
- In Demon A Memoir, this trope is both subverted and subsequently played straight in the same scene: Clay goes into a church, hoping Lucian wont be able to follow him on; Lucian laughs at the idea, but does comment that the prayers of people inside the church give him a headache.
- Deconstructed in the Night Watch series, where the "White Blade" spell is supposed to harm only Dark Ones and "evil beings". Too bad its criteria of evil is so stringent that "you'd have to be a Tibetian monk who'd spent decades meditating and subduing his passions for the blazing blade to spare you". A young Light One strikes some brainwashed human mercenaries with the White Blade, only seeking to destroy their weapons, but it slices them in half instead. The Light One cannot bear the brunt of his deed and self-terminates.
- Used and subverted on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Vampires have weaknesses to holy water, crosses, and the like, (apparently, because Christians are the ones who have done the most monster hunting) but said protection in no way extends to the people fighting against them. If fact, the blood of a Slayer is said to be particularly tasty to vampires (and, if Spike is to be believed, is a potent aphrodisiac for them as well).
- Holy water is used to great effect in Supernatural (sanctified sprinkler system) and demons flinch when they hear the name "Christo".
- Both crosses and stars of David annoy vampires in Being Human.
- Gloriously revised in the Doctor Who story The Curse of Fenric, set during World War II: In this story it's not the symbol that's important, it's the bearer's faith in the good that that symbol represents. As a result, the vampire/zombie haemovores are untroubled by a priest holding up a cross, because the horrors of war have eroded the priest's faith. But the Doctor is able to repel a mob of them by reciting all his companions' names (from Susan up through Ace), and a patriotic Soviet soldier fends off some more by holding up the hammer-and-sickle badge from his uniform!
Mythology and Religion
- Many, many, many tales of Catholic saints, including St. Margaret of Antioch, who was swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon. However, her innate goodness (and the crucifix she bore) proved too much for Old Nick's saurian stomach to handle, and the dragon burst asunder. St. Margaret became the patron saint of childbirth, which should bring disturbing images to the mind of any pregnant woman.
- Many Swedish folk tales had mythological creatures of differing degrees of malevolence who could be stopped, harmed or driven off by holy things, including prayer, the sound of church bells, drawing a cross on the ground, and in one tale casually saying "cross".
- Unicorns, who were all but invincible to fight, could be tamed and therefore conquered only by purity. It was said that the touch of a virgin maiden who was pure of heart could do the trick.
- According to exorcists, exorcism is so painful for demons that they find Hell preferable.
- Fairly standard abilities for good characters of various kinds in Dungeons & Dragons.
- However, there are plenty of inversions. For example, a Good-aligned character trying to touch an Evil artifact suffers penalties identical to an Evil-aligned character touching a Good artifact. The same holds true for other properties, such as Law and Chaos, Fire and Cold; indeed, D&D has the trope generalized to Extreme Hurts Extreme.
- The High Elf Everqueen in Warhammer kills demons and undead just by her presence.
- The Merit: True Faith in White Wolf's original The World of Darkness allowed certain virtuous characters to harm evil entities by touch, deed or (at high levels) presence alone. The behavior required to match the Merit's greatest levels put them (theoretically) beyond the reach of most player characters, but - as with an game - exceptions were probably common.
- In Exalted, the Unconquered Sun is the cosmic embodiment of virtue. As a result, it is within his power to deem which sorts of beings in Creation and beyond count as "creatures of darkness" (usually demons, the undead, and Raksha). His chosen, the Solar Exalted, thus have access to Holy Charms that allow them to do extremely grievous damage to said creatures of darkness. This is something of a subversion, however. The Sun has authority to declare whomever he so chooses to be Creatures of Darkness without any due process. If a Lawful Good Paladin style character pissed him off sufficiently, she could be declared a Creature of Darkness no matter how many kittens she saved or old people she helped across the street. It is only the Sun's commitment and restraint that prevents him from abusing this power.
- Other classes of Exalted also can deploy Holy magic, though the Solar versions tend to be the most directly potent of the bunch as usual.
- For more detail, see the game's entry in Detect Evil.
- Kingdom Hearts plays this very straight in the ending of the first game when the light of the titular power destroys the game's Big Bad.
- Giygas is defeated by way of this trope in both Earthbound Zero and EarthBound. In the first game, he's overwhelmed by the love bound inside a song his adopted mother used to sing to him, and after he's become too powerful, it takes the combined prayers of everyone in the game universe, as well as those of the player, to defeat him once and for all.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, optimism and love physically weaken Laharl, resulting in reduced stats in one fight when his enemy takes advantage of this.
- The Legend of Zelda, with the Master Sword, "The Blade of Evil's Bane", and the Light Arrows.
- Kingdom of Loathing has the Bad Spelling monsters, hurt by reading the dictionary.
- Good irritates evil in the video game of The Darkness. The Darkness refuses to manifest itself around the subway stations full of normal people, and if you try it'll complain that it finds the people too boring to attack; the Darkness is attracted to darkness, and even the metaphorical darkness of the heart is preferable to it.
- In King's Quest IV: The Perils Of Rosella the way to rid yourself of the villain is to shoot her with Cupid's arrow, which (probably unbeknownst to Rosella herself), kills her, as something so foul and fueled by hate cannot survive the experience of love.
- On meeting Casavir in Neverwinter Nights 2, Neeshka remarks that paladins always make her spots itch.
- In Alan Wake, Light is Good and Dark Is Evil are to be taken literally. Rub those brain cells together and see what you come up with.
- In Doom 3 hell starts leaking into our world (or Mars in this case) causing insanity and other problems. It is suggested this is also happening in reverse, although for them it's probably not so much hurt as mildly annoy.
- In World of Warcraft, the Paladin's "Exorcism" spell is guaranteed to get a critical strike when used against a demonic or undead opponent(excluding the playable Forsaken).
- The main villain of Gobliins 2 "Amoniak" is defeated by drinking a goodness potion, but instead of turning good, it kills him. This is lampshaded in the third game when Blount is temporarily sent to the land of the dead, you find "Amoniak was here" graffitied on the wall.
- Sluggy Freelance:
- The famous instance of Torg hiding from a bunch of demons inside a literal circle of goodness. He'd taunt one of the stupider demons into trying to leap at him, and his arms would catch on fire, prompting the classic line, "I'M BURNING WITH GOODNESS AGAIN!" Possibly overlaps with Holy Burns Evil, since the ray of goodness originated from the Goddess of Goodness. Holy Burns Evil also applies to some vampires in the comic.
- K'Z'K was (partially) destroyed by reading a book full of pictures that create peace and serenity in the viewer.
- Black Mage in 8-Bit Theater.
- In later comics, it turns out Fighter is the ONLY member of the party this doesn't apply to, as the other three all have negative reactions to a set of celestial weapons (although Thief and Red Mage just report uncomfortable heat and scalding, while BM bursts into flames).
- In Sinfest, when Jesus makes Hell blossom, they give Baby Blue hayfever.
- A minor version from Adventures in Care-a-Lot: after seeing his plan to break up a band made of a few of the female Care Bears thwarted by The Power of Friendship, Grizzle comments, "This sickening display of friendship HURTS!" Trueheart asks if it isn't just the high heels he's wearing as part of his drag disguise.
- Variation: In an episode of the 90s The Incredible Hulk cartoon, Ghost Rider realises that Rick is a good kid when his hellfire doesn't hurt him.
- In one episode of ThunderCats, a robot is armed with a magic katana and sent out on a rampage. The katana's original user, a samurai, stops this by doing a Bare-Handed Blade Block which results in the robot exploding. The samurai explains that since the machines are neither good nor evil, the katana didn't know it was being misused, but after touching samurai's skin it caught on and destroyed the robot.
- A softer example, Doktor Frogg from League of Super Evil is shown to hate good things like rainbows and happiness. When he was sent to a Sugar Bowl, he acted like he was stuck in the deepest pits of hell.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, King Sombra feels acute pain when he tries to cross a barrier powered by the Incorruptible Pure Pureness of Princess Cadence, to the point that it severs his horn.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: Demon sorceror Shendu cannot touch the Pan'ku Box without hurting himself, but he needs it to release his siblings. He tries a variety of methods to take it, such as having his minions grab it (the J-Team distracts them), using a staff to push it (it electrocutes him), and covering his hands with clothes (it works, but the cloth bursts into flame).
- Later on Valmont, the human whose body Shendu is possessing, rebels against him by deliberately grabbing the box, temporarily knocking Shendu out cold.