One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
Magpies. Black and white birds that feature in a lot of stories. There are also a number of superstitions surrounding magpies (especially in the British Isles) related to warding off the bad luck of a lone magpie. Some superstitions are quick and only require a simple salute while others a bit more eccentric involving pinching, spitting or saying certain phrases.
Magpies are particularly noted for thieving tendencies and, as the rhyme
indicates, for predicting the future. (This leads to a flock of magpies being a "tidings of magpies".) Because they can't appraise value, they tend to be indiscriminate in their thefts; a collector who gets both valuable and cheap things may be compared to one for that reason.
Magpies are members of the corvid family and relatives of Ravens and Crows
, both in Real Life
and as tropes. (The rhyme (in all its manifold variations) is also used for crows, on occasion.)
One popular All Is Well That Ends Well Happy Ending
is for accusations of theft to be cleared up by the revelation that a magpie stole the item in question.
- Invoked in The Sandman
Delirium, in The Wake: One for sorrow, two for sorrow, three for sorrow, four for for for I don't know. But I'm bored of sorrow, five for three two one, six for gold, seven for a magpie who tells me where to go...''
- In the earlier story "Parliment of Rooks", Eve sings the rhyme while holding the infant Daniel. Abel finishes with the last line, then adds, "It's true, you know."
- In Tintin The Castafiore Emerald, The Adventures of Tintin has a Eureka Moment when he hears that Castafiore, still missing her emerald, will be performing in La Gazza Ladra (the Rossini opera mentioned below). Sure enough, he finds the emerald in a magpie's nest.
- A minor Batman villain was named Magpie for her kleptomania and the unfortunate birth name Margaret Pye.
- In The Crow, the rhyme is referenced (with blackbirds in the place of magpies) by Eric as he prepares to kill a bar full of thugs, and capped with a classic line.
Eric Draven: Seven blackbirds in a tree, count them and see what they be. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret that's never been told. You're all going to die.
- Ashe Corven of the movie The Crow City Of Angels references this rhyme as well as he's trashing the bad guys of a strip booth establishment where his second target is, using crows in place of magpies.
- Journey into Mystery begins with 7 magpies on a quest after the demise of Loki at the end of Siege. The seventh is the only one to make it to their destination.
- Also, Ikol (a magpie-shaped remnant of the old Loki) tells kid Loki the magpie rhyme at the beginning of the Everything Burns crossover, and sets the record straight about it.
Ikol: Humans see groups of magpies. Magpies don't. Magpies know they stand alone. ... There is only ever one for sorrow.
- The Windex cleaning spray commercials prominently feature magpies.
- Several versions of the rhyme occur in Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum. It's explained that none of them work very well, because nobody knows the version the magpies use. Also, the "modern" vampires of that book shape-shift into magpies rather than bats, which is a pun on their family name (de Magpyr).
- One of the peripheral Discworld books (I think it might have been an art collection) also has Pterry bemoan the fact that Britain used to have hundreds of regional variations on this rhyme, but nowadays if you ask anyone they'll all give you the version from Magpie.
- He bemoans this state of affairs in "The Folklore of Discworld," but happily he got to know the book's co-writer, Jacqueline Simpson, because she answered "which one?" to the question "do you know the magpie song."
- There's a book called One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, by Clive Woodall, about more-or-less-anthropomorphic birds. It's a little like Watership Down, but with birds. The villains are magpies.
- Tom McCaughren's Run with the Wind series about a group of Irish foxes has a flock of magpies as minor villains.
- One non-speaking Magpie appears briefly towards the conclusion of Kenneth Oppel's book Silverwing, curiously investigating the recently lightning-struck villainous vampire bat, Goth; he's promptly killed and eaten when Goth comes to.
- A magpie literally named One For Sorrow appears as an assistant to and messenger of the guardian of the old animal highways in The Wild Road. You can pretty much guess what happens to him based on his name.
- Not only this, but Cornish cat Pengelly mentions a (cat-adjusted) version of the rhyme that goes: "One's sorrow, two's mirth, three's a mating, four's a birth, five's a naming, six a dearth, seven's heaven, eight is hell, and nine's the devil, his own sel'".
- The Mercedes Lackey story "Counting Crows" has a different version: "One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for a birth", IIRC.
- Daniel Handler's Adverbs features magpies throughout. In one story, a magpie steals a lost diamond from Handler's actual life and delivers it to a story written by another author entirely. He's a fairly odd bird himself.
- The beginning of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival compares the unsteady man, in whom good and evil are mixed, to a magpie, which is half black, half white.
- Spike in the nonfiction work Corvus: A Life With Birds, whom the writer portrays as a bit of a small, feathered Chaotic Neutral Loveable Rogue.
- Star In The Storm by Joan Hiatt Harlow uses "One for sadness, two for mirth; three for marriage, four for birth; five for laughing, six for crying; seven for sickness, eight for dying; nine for silver, ten for gold; eleven for a secret that will never be told."
- In Michael Flynn's In the Lion's Mouth, Shadows' subordinates, in black and white, are called magpies. When one is always in Donovan's line-of-sight, he feels uneasy, knowing the old Terran belief that a single magpie is bad luck.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales, one of the tales after The Lord of the Rings includes going through Saruman's tower and discovering he had become not a dragon but a magpie with what he hoarded. They still find a treasure there.
- Weathercock by Glen Duncan has the Catholic protagonist (plagued by a case of Chronic Villainy, to put it mildly) suffer periodic intimations of evil. Outside a church, he is visited by no less than nine magpies. He tries to remember the rhyme, but to his unease can only recall the more modern version from TV's Magpie. Fridge Brilliance or Fridge Horror, when the reader themself remembers that in most versions of the rhyme, nine magpies signify the presence of the devil.
- In Alethea Kontis's Enchanted, one pirate sent to deliver gifts is Magpie.
Music And Sound Effects
- Magpie was the name of a kids' TV show on ITV in the 1970s (which was pretty much a Blue Peter lookalike). The theme tune used a version of the rhyme as its lyrics, and the show's mascot was a cartoon magpie named Murgatroyd, who looked too fat to fly.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", the Slitheen Margaret Blaine described the Doctor as having a "magpie mind", i.e. one that's always collecting bits of information.
- A news discussion Top Gear once went on about how dangerous magpies are while driving because of gestures, but none of which the presenters could agree on which one was correct. Richard Hammond's was the most confusing; it turns out rather than picking one of the many variations to ward off bad luck, he chose them all.
Opera and Theater
- The rhyme itself appears in the song "A Murder of One" by Counting Crows. As corvids, magpies are part of a family of birds known as crows. The rhyme is also the origin of the band's name.
- Seanan McGuire's Filk Song "Counting Crows" opens with a version of the rhyme, and continues on the theme. Chorus:
In mercy's shadow, nothing grows./And she's running hard now, counting crows.
- Similarly, Vixy and Tony's Filk Song Thirteen asks what happens when there are more than seven:
Count my brothers and count my sisters, we'll tell your fortune and we'll tell you true/But the path's all covered in claws and feathers, Magpie, there's too many of you...
- A magpie appears in the artwork to some early albums by Marillion, and is referred to in the lyrics of Misplaced Childhood. One of the band's live albums is titled La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) after the Rossini opera (see below).
- Patrick Wolf has a song that quotes the aforementioned rhyme as the last stanza. Unsurprisingly the song itself is named Magpie
- "Two Magpies" off of Paul McCartney's album Electric Arguments features lines from the rhyme. Unsurprisingly, it's extremely catchy.
- In Rossini's Thieving Magpie, the charges of theft against a servant girl are resolved when they discover a magpie stole it.
- The famous rhyme, with many variations. (Sometimes quoted for Ravens and Crows—but chiefly magpies.)
- "... Eight's a wish, and nine a kiss / Ten is a bird you must not miss."
- "... Eight for heaven, nine for hell / And ten for the devil's own sel'."
- "One for sorrow, two for mirth / Three for a wedding, four for a birth."
- "... Eight for a letter over the sea / Nine for a lover, as true as can be."
- "... Five for England, six for France / seven for a fiddler, eight for a dance."
- The Adelaide Crows in Australian Rules Football—ironic, considering that Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, whose inhabitants are nicknamed "croweaters".
- The Australian Magpie is technically part of the shrike family rather than the corvid family, but the Collingwood Magpies probably qualify anyway.
- The European Magpie is part of the corvid family, so Newcastle United deserve a mention, as their distinctive vertical black-and white striped logo and home colours mean they're sometimes referred to as "The Magpies". This has fallen out of favour these days, however, and their semi-official nickname is simply "The Toon".
- Magic: The Gathering has a "Thieving Magpie" card; whenever it deals damage to an opponent, you get to draw a card (representing something that the magpie picked up).
- The "Freedom City" setting for Mutants & Masterminds has a Gentleman Thief named Magpie who can teleport, but never would he teleport into a building— he savors the challenge of breaking in the hard way. His power is used only for last-second escapes, and even then only if he can't vanish any other way.
- Both normal and giant magpies were described in the Creature Catalog, a monster book for Basic/Expert/etc D&D. Their stats made them weak in combat, but excellent filchers of unattended shiny objects; in effect, they were a potential hook for the DM to lure parties into other encounters, by having a magic item snatched up by this trope's embodiment and forcing them to pursue it.
- Shows up in The Secret World during a quest. You have to pick the proper birds (they're strangely not magpies) in order to reproduce the clue that you discovered earlier in the quest, as "the birds know the way".
- Of course, there's Heckle And Jeckle, two wise-cracking magpies who, by trait, con their way into getting whatever they need. They also make life miserable for two dogs, a lugubrious bloodhound (Dimwit) and a tough bulldog (unofficially named Chesty).
- One episode of Polish cartoon Hip-Hip and Hurra centers around series of thefts that lead the main characters to a Magpie, who all other animals judge as a serious criminal. The Magpie is put on a trial, where the animals learn that she was in fact controlled by instinct, and was only motivated by curiosity. She is declared inocent at the end of the episode.
- This took place in India in 1878. Sir Louis Cavagnari was to lead an embassy to Kabul. Earl Roberts records in his memoir, "As we [met before the embassy left], curiously enough, we came across a solitary magpie, ... Cavagnari pointed it out and begged me not to mention the fact of his having seen it to his wife, as she would be sure to consider it an unlucky omen....my heart sank as I wished Cavagnari good-bye. When we had proceeded a few yards in our different directions, we both turned round, retraced our steps, shook hands once more, and parted for ever." About two months later "...telegrams were received..., telling of the Mission [in Kabul] having been overwhelmed and every member of it cruelly massacred..."
- Magpies are one of the few birds known to have demonstrated self-awareness. German scientists Helmut Prior, Ariane Schwarz, and Onur Güntürkün used the mirror self-recognition test on four magpies—placing some kind of mark on them and showing them a mirror. Three of the magpies—Gerti especially—recognized themselves in the mirror and used the reflection to try and remove the sticker. The fourth, Harvey, well ... he reacted the way most birds do and treated his reflection as another magpie.
- In Swedish the name of the bird is skata, which can be read as "will take". It's not the actual meaning of the word, but is sometimes pointed out as an accurate interpretation.