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  • In Simon R. Green's Nightside series, there is The Speaking Gun, which is a conglomeration of flesh, bone, gristle and skin in the rough shape of an oversized handgun. It is infused with both the power of the one who commissioned it Lilith and the ancient words that God used at the beginning of time to create the universe. It harnesses it's knowledge of these words of power and speaks the True Name that was granted by God of whatever it is pointing it at backwards, effectively uncreating it. It is very much a sentient creature in and of itself. The Speaking Gun hates existence, and everything in it. It knows the true names of everything, longs to "unspeak" them, but resents the fact that it cannot do so without someone to pull its trigger.
    • Rossignol from the second book is a more conventional example: her sad, sultry performances can induce suicides in her Gothier-than-thou fans. This is because the Cavendishes poisoned her and had her revived as a borderline walking dead without her knowledge, the better to ensure their absolute control over her career.
  • The Piano Tuner features a minor character who, according to his story, was deafened after hearing a mysterious woman-deer-deity sing during a sandstorm.
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  • The word "fnord!", from the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea; at a young age, everybody is trained to unconsciously ignore the word, but feel unspecified fear and anxiety when they see it.
  • The fictional play The King In Yellow, featuring in Robert W. Chambers' collection of horror stories by the same name, caused anyone who read it — no actual performances are ever suggested — to either go mad or meet a horrible death. Often in that order. Rightly censored by governments, it was, effectively, a civilization-destroying Forbidden Fruit.
  • The King In Yellow was later absorbed by August Derleth into his elaborated Cthulhu Mythos, with the reveal that an actual vocal performance of the play is a summoning ritual for Hastur. Anyone who wasn't driven insane by reading or viewing the play can say goodbye to their sanity once he shows up.
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  • In the novel Infinite Jest, a movie known only as "The Entertainment" was described as so fascinating, anyone who watched it became obsessed with it.
  • Der violette Tod (The purple Tod) by Gustav Meyrink (1902) is almost literally this trope. A very specific word causes the collapse of the auditive system and in a domino cascade of the whole body, resulting in a purple cone. The word is "Ämälän". Then this word is casually widespread throughout the world, with thousands of victims in different nations, until "hearing" becomes forbidden.
    • The sensorial explanation is given in the final part of the tale by a pompous academic. At the begin it is presented like a form of dark magic because it is used by a tribe of reclusive people that adores the evil (or so it is reported). Not very useful for a cure, but people stop the search of a germ explanation and overall stop to say that word (if written, it is harmless. The word was found in a document written by a deaf explorer).
  • In Malodrax, the music in Dancing-Place of the Lesser Gods can bring a Super Soldier to his knees and incapacitate him. One of its victims is said to bleed from his eyes and mouth.
  • In Hyperspace Demons looking into the lights of hyperspace can drive a human being mad. On the other hand, humans can be exposed to hyperlight with closed eyes with no ill effects.
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  • In Black Legion, the Talon of Horus is this to anyone with psychic sight, due to the fact that it was used to kill Sanguinus and mortally injure the Emperor. When he feels it for the first time, Khayon, a powerful sorcerer in his own right, nearly passes out.
  • Conversly, in Horus Heresy, the Emperor himself. He's so powerful, most of the psykers who look at him suffer from massive Sensory Overload. One of them has a panic attack upon remembering the sight. It even bleeds over to mortal world — most people can't look at the Emperor directly when he's not masquerading. It's said that only Primarchs and Malcador don't suffer from this.
  • SF author David Langford invented the Langford fractal basilisk or blit (see here), a fictional type of computer-generated image that acts as a Logic Bomb to the human brain. In the story, it is explained that logical paradoxes like THIS SENTENCE IS FALSE aren't normally dangerous to our sanity or our health because we filter them through three or more levels of cognitive understanding; basilisks, as theorized by Langford, cut right past cognition and infect you directly through the visual cortex. One of the stories. According to Langford, death is not immediate, because You Cannot Grasp the True Form.
    • Some Post-Cyberpunk writers who've used the concept have acknowledged Langford as inspiration: Greg Egan calls it the "Langford Mind-Erasing Fractal Basilisk"; Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series has the "Langford Visual Hack"; and Charles Stross has "neural wetware-crashing Langford fractals" and the "Langford Death Parrot". (MacLeod also has his narrator claim it's completely impossible, but now the idea of it is out there people feel they have to take precautions, concluding "What kind of twisted mind starts these things?")
  • An image similar to Langford's "basilisk" was used in the Star Trek novel Before Dishonor.
  • The short story Von Goom's Gambit featured a mathematician who became the world champion chess player "by default" when he discovered a certain arrangement of pieces on the board which formed an image that would short out the brain of anyone who saw it from the opposing player's perspective. Effects of the gambit included: causing some to go blind, driving others insane, and in one instance even causing all of those who saw the gambit at one tournament to turn to stone.
  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • The fictional black magic tome, the Necronomicon (aka the Al Azif) by the "mad poet" Abdul Alhazred. It was written under the influence of some pretty heavy, although unspecified, drugs, among other things. It is supposed to cause or trigger madness in the careless reader.
    • Almost everything in Lovecraft's stories is described as being just a little bit harmful to sanity. He must have been fascinated by the idea of things so horrifying and/or alien they're inherently upsetting. Besides of all the Eldritch Abominations and other Ultimate Evils you really don't want to look at too closely, there are things such as Pickman's paintings, of which the tamer ones caused an uproar when displayed, while the ones he didn't show everyone were enough to make a jaded and prepared onlooker scream in terror.
    • Played utterly straight in the story Out of the Aeons (co-written with Hazel Heald). The Eldritch Abomination featured there is so horrible and/or accursed that not just its appearance, but even any sufficiently-accurate image thereof will cause a human onlooker to soon afterwards grow stiff and be transformed into their own mummy — while their brain remains alive and helplessly trapped inside their skull.
    • In "The Call of Cthulhu", the awakening of Cthulhu results in people being slaughtered and three men dropping dead from horror. A further two lose their sanity, one of whom is left a blubbering mess.
    • In "The Music of Erich Zann", the eponymous character's music apparently acts as this for whatever the hell is on the other side of his apartment's "window", and keeps it/them from trying to enter our world.
  • One of Ramsey Campbell's more notable additions to the Cthulhu Mythos was Y'Golonac. Part of the reason why was how easily Y'Golonac could be summoned: if you just read his name — not even aloud, but on the printed page, as you've already done twice — there was a chance you could end up possessed by him. Seeing as he's a god that represents every act that could be viewed as depraved by all individuals sane or mad, this is not a pleasant fate.
  • The Dragon Below trilogy has a Daelkyr whose telepathic voice gives sane people horrendous headaches and insane people orgasms.
  • The plot of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash revolves around the titular Snow Crash virus which resets a person to speaking and understanding only ancient Sumerian, which is described as a programming language for human beings. It allows people to be programmed directly, but leaves them gibbering crazy people spouting glossolalia until then, and shows up in the form of a bitmap image. All hackers are vulnerable, because they can understand the embedded binary code in this bitmap, which causes their unconscious to be able to pick up and mentally "run" the virus. Any hacker who sees the bitmap, whether in cyberspace or in real life, becomes infected with the virus and instantly turns into a wandering bag-lady (or, erm... bag-lord?).
  • Discworld:
    • Logic Bombs are used in the novel Thief of Time to slow down (or destroy) the logical and obedient Auditors, in the form of signs saying things like "Ignore this sign (by order)", and an arrow pointing right that says "Keep Left".
    • The Discworld also features the gonagles of the Nac Mac Feegle, who fight by reciting atrocious poetry and by playing music on their painfully high-pitched mousepipes. They can make it rain.
    • The Library of the Unseen University is full of books that do horrible things to people. In particular the Necrotelecomnicon (Written by Achmed the Mad, who preferred to be known as Achmed the I Just Get These Headaches) will drive mad any man who attempts to read it. Fortunately The Librarian isn't a man (but an orangutan) so he has no problem with it.
    • On a less-rarified level, the 128-foot "Earthquake" pipe on the UU's pipe organ is said to have caused acute bowel discomfort across a quarter of the city when sounded. Which was only attempted once, as the same subterranean-depth note also got the six students who'd worked the bellows to power the organ sucked into the ductwork, plus the university's Great Hall shifted an inch to one side.
    • The people of Llamedos are said to have once been a terrible martial race whose battle-choirs could reduce any foe to quaking jelly just by close harmonic singing. They employed battle-harps which in the lowest register could cause walls to collapse, and the bowels of the foe to do terrible and unseemly things.
    • In a less-than-lethal example, the species of bird called "geas" (mentioned in Sourcery) uses this trope defensively, by being so monumentally silly-looking that any potential predator will laugh itself sick at the sight.
    • Bouncy Normo, a character described in supplemental material on the Fools' Guild, was an otherwise-ordinary Ankh-Morpork citizen who just happened to be so insanely-hilarious to witness no matter what he did - whether walking, speaking, shaving, or just standing with his back to the audience - that he was kept in seclusion to prevent people from laughing themselves to death. He had no idea why everyone laughed at him all the time, and eventually died a side-splittingly funny death involving a flight of stairs and a high bounce off an awning.
    • The Patrician's waiting room has a clock designed so that the ticking is irregular, the sounds coming a tiny bit before or after you're expecting it, or sometimes not happening at all. After it has tried to make sense of this for about ten minutes, one's mental state is reduced to mush.
  • One of the best known examples of a Brown Note in Hispanic literature is in The Zahir, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. In the story, the Zahir is a random, unique object, picked by Allah himself, which drives anyone who takes even a tiny little peek to obsession with that thing, to the point of becoming unable to feed himself out of pure detachment. The list includes a navigation device, a tiger, a vein of marble in a mosque, and an Argentinian coin with a "2N" scratched on one side. The story itself tells how the character became increasingly obsessed with the Zahir.
    • This trope was a favorite of Borges' (especially the obsession version). In The Book of Sand the protagonist becomes obsessed with a book which has no beginning and no end. In Blue Tigers the protagonist becomes obsessed with a collection of stones which defy all laws of mathematics.
  • Ubbo-Sathla, a story from the Cthulhu Mythos by Clark Ashton Smith, is about a British archeologist, called Paul Tregardis, who found a strange gem that causes anyone who looks into it long enough to have all his mind and consciousness transferred to all the ones who looked at the gem before, until his body disappears and his mind is transferred to the "original chaos"—the eponymous Ubbo-Sathla, primordial font of the original organic life-forms (think Gnostic Demiurge with no mentality at all beyond reflex). He might not have even considered doing so... except for the legends about an Evil Sorcerer who tried to use the thing to get a peek at the spell-holding tablets Ubbo-Sathla had been situated upon. The legends, of course, only knew that he had disappeared—not that it had happened via backwards reincarnation. And the beginning of the story suggests that the gem will ultimately shuttle all life back to be one of Ubbo-Sathla's mindless brood...
  • In the Cordwainer Smith short story The Fife of Bodhidharma, the fife can cause either serenity or madness, depending on how it is played.
  • Necromancers' bells in the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. Different bells give different effects, and the effect also depends on how the bell is played. One of the bells kills everyone who hears it, including the player.
  • A variation of this occurs in A Clockwork Orange. After Alex's psychological conditioning, he is unable to listen to classical music without feeling sick and weak (in the film, only Beethoven's Ninth has this effect). At one point, one of Alex's former victims uses this knowledge in an attempt to drive him insane.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • The first book: Vogon poetry in a form of Cool and Unusual Punishment.
      Vogon poetry is the third worst poetry in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Gruthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning", four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Gruthos was said to be "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to recite his masterpiece, "Some of My Favorite Bathtub Gurgles", when his small intestine, in an attempt to save galactic civilization, leapt into his skull and throttled his brain.
    • Arthur Dent isn't terribly bothered by Vogon poetry since humans are capable of writing and listening to worse poetry. The very worst poet in the universe was a human being who perished when Earth was destroyed.note 
    • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: The "Total Perspective Vortex" (a machine that displays a map of the entire universe with a tiny beyond microscopic dot that says "You are here") causes anyone run through it to feel so insignificant that they go mad (except Zaphod, and that was under special circumstances). It's used as a humane way to carry out the death penalty, since the brain can't handle that much data and simply stops working.
  • The Father Brown story "The Blast of the Book" has a book that supposedly causes anyone who tries to read it to vanish into thin air and never be seen again. It's actually all just an elaborate practical joke. Robert Anton Wilson brazenly plagiarizes this in Masks Of The Illuminati
  • The Ultimate Melody by Arthur C. Clarke revolved around a scientist attempting to reproduce the primal tune from which all music is derived. He succeeded, but on hearing the song caught it in his head for the rest of his life, rendering him catatonic. On discovering him, his assistant shut off the machine playing the tune, and it was dismantled before it could be reactivated; the assistant was immune to the effect due to being tone-deaf.
  • The Fritz Leiber short story "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" is about the discovery of a waltz rhythm that causes anyone who hears it to become maniacally obsessed with it, listen for other examples of it, and recreate it at every opportunity.
  • The Chuck Palahniuk novel Lullaby is about a poem which kills anyone to whom it is recited. Or even those toward whom it is thought.
  • Palahniuk also included a box in Haunted with an eyepiece. Looking inside had some horrible effects such as madness and consequent suicide.
  • In the Magic the Gathering novel for the Apocalypse set, Lord Windgrace uses a thought which kills the thinker against a dragon engine, starting the thought in his head and sending it to the dragon engine before it becomes fully formed within his own mind.
  • Harry Potter
    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
      • Passing references to books that burn out the reader's eyeballs. And also books that can't physically be put down — readers are cursed to go around reading those books for the rest of their lives.
      • A more harmless example is the occasionally-mentioned Sonnets of a Sorcerer, which makes you speak in limericks for the rest of your life.
      • The big threat of the book is a basilisk — a gigantic one, at that.
      • The legend of the Mandrake (see below). The students have to wear hearing protection when pulling them out of the ground. Immature mandrakes just cause fainting. One can even tell their level of maturity by what they do—when they start trying to move into each other's pots, they're mature. The movie adaptation subverted it, though: when Neville passed out while handling the mandrakes Professor Sprout assumes he didn't have his earmuffs on all the way, but Seamus checks and says he just fainted on his own.
      Prof. Sprout: Yes, well, just leave him there.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the tentacled flying brains that attack Ron do more than just physical damage, "There were still deep welts on his forearms where the brain’s tentacles has wrapped around him. According to Madam Pomfrey, thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else, though since she started applying copious amounts of Dr. Ubbly’s Oblivious Unction, there seemed to be some improvement."
    • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has, along with the basilisk, the Fwooper. Prolonged exposure to Fwooper call is said to make listeners go insane. One wizard who tried to prove that Fwooper call was beneficial to health came back wearing nothing but a dead badger on his head. Granted, this was Uric the Oddball, who, as the name implies, wasn't all that sound to start.
      • Subverted with the Augurey, a bird whose cry was once said to predict death. As it turned out, the Augurey merely cries out at the coming of bad weather. (Uric the Oddball, mentioned above, once heard an Augurey cry and was convinced he was dead; he ended up with a concussion after trying to walk through a wall.) Some wizards keep Augureys as weather forecasters, but their constant moaning in winter makes them hard to put up with.
  • The protagonist of Ian McDonald's novella Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone has discovered visual patterns with various effects on human neurology — and has two of them, one that blanks memory and one that kills, tattooed onto his own palms as self-defense.
  • The Euphio Question by Kurt Vonnegut was about a device which picked up the "music of the spheres" (though it wasn't called that.) Anyone who heard it experienced pure happiness and, because they had no desire to fulfill their needs, stopped whatever they were doing to listen to it.
  • Will Ferguson's novel Happiness™ is about a self-help book which tells you how to lose weight, make million of dollars, have great sex and be happy — and actually works. Somehow, reading the book acts on your mind to make you happy and content. This brings about the collapse of the economy, the death of culture and the end of history. Or, more simply, the end of the world.
  • A China Miéville short story features a disease which causes the victim to slowly go insane while constantly repeating a phrase referred to only as the "worm-word." The disease is caused by pronouncing the word properly; it is theorized that the sufferer repeats it so that the listeners will repeat it in confusion, risking infection through proper pronunciation. (There is mention of young Victorians who would live dangerously and take turns reading the word aloud, each time gambling with accidentally getting the pronunciation right.) This story first appeared in The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases as "Buscard's Murrain" and was reprinted in his collection Looking For Jake. For those who like to live dangerously, the word is yGudluh.
    • That story isn't the only one in the Lambshead Guide, either. There's actually a warning marker for diseases which can be contracted by reading the descriptions - and it gets used several times.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Mule": A seemingly harmless bard plays a song with massively nasty effects on the listeners. Subverted eventually, with the revelation that he's the telepathic Big Bad and the music just enhanced powers he already had. And his performances have been the undoing of worlds.
  • Stephen King
    • Cell has people reset to a primitive state by a signal they receive over their cell phones. It's even a literal reference to the Trope Namer, since afterward they don't seem to notice or care about soiling their clothes.
    • Everything's Eventual revolves around a man who can make people kill themselves by sending them a seemingly random pattern of symbols and a word that is significant to their life over email.
    • In IT, the sight of the title monster's true form causes whoever views it to go completely insane.
    • The scrimshaw Turtle in Song of Susannah, a Clingy Artifact which possesses whoever sees it in a good way, hypnotizing them and leaving a chain of forgetful, happy people in its wake. The turtle is possibly a Shout-Out to Borges above, given its presumably divine origins.
    • The "Black Thirteen" crystal ball from The Dark Tower series has similar effects from an evil perspective. Left alone, it would kill everyone it comes in contact with by causing them to kill or commit suicide and/or release the Beast into the world. Fortunately, the heroes, who are pressed for time, decide to leave it in a long-term storage locker under the World Trade Center.
  • The house, particularly the deeper parts of it (such as the Grand Hall and the Spiral Staircase), in House of Leaves. Some would argue that the book itself is a Real Life Brown Note. Seriously, it's that strange. It has managed to cause inspired nightmares.
    • The Minotaur.
  • Mark Twain's witty essay/short story Punch, Brothers, Punch! (also known as "A Literary Nightmare") concerns a tune which the narrator is unable to force from his head, and is unusual in that the killer verse is presented for us in full — and the nature of the silly little ditty is such that just reading the lyrics really is enough to get the damn tune stuck in the reader's head! He finally banishes it from his mind by tricking a friend into getting it stuck in his head.
    Conductor, when you receive a fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare! A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare, A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare! CHORUS Punch brothers! Punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
  • Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey has a story where someone puts a horrible song on the jukebox in the lunch counter. Anyone who hears the song— whether the original jukebox tune or someone else's rendition— can't get it out of their head. Ultimately the main character gets it out of his head by using Punch, Brothers (above), then gives it to the rest of the town. Now he's cleared but they have it. So, he tells them to sing it to the one person who hadn't been in town. Now everyone is cleared except that person, who now has to be smuggled out of town to keep from reinfecting the whole town.
    • The flip side of the same record causes the listener to get hiccups at the thought of the words "pie" or "Mississippi".
  • In Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Dr. Hilarius, That Wacky ex-Nazi, claims to be able to cause madness by making weird faces at people. And then those nice young men in their clean white coats come to take him away (ha ha).
  • The Deplorable Word from The Chronicles of Narnia was used by Jadis to destroy Charn, her homeworld. We don't learn what the word is—only that it kills every living thing except the one who speaks it. We do learn that, whatever it is, it does not work on Earth.note 
    Aslan: While mankind has not yet reached the levels of corruption that Charn has, there is the possibility that man could learn the Deplorable Word.
  • Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy introduces a mind-destroying version as a weapon. This is a universe where the soul is immortal, and the souls of the dead are coming back to possess the living, gaining "energistic" powers in the process. The "Anti-memory device" is humanity's response: a laser beam that carries a mind-virus. When viewed by human eyes, the virus is processed into the cortex, where it proceeds to destroy the "mind" (i.e. thought processes), thus killing both the possessing soul and the soul of the body's owner, leaving the body in a vegetative state. The resident Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are unsurprised by the fact that humanity was the first to perfect such a terrible weapon. They theorize that the virus might even transmit back into the afterlife (with which the possessing souls still have a connection), kill every lost soul in there, and go past the "human spectrum" and attack alien souls as well. It's that bad. What's more: Quinn Dexter gets the weapon at one point. He's very happy when he finds out what it does. Turns out it facilitates possession when the body is soul-less.
  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester mentions advertising melodies called 'pepsis' which, once heard, are almost impossible to remove from the conscious mind, due to the way they are constructed. The Big Bad asks specifically to hear one of them because he wants to use it as a blocking mechanism to avoid telepathic detection of the criminal thoughts he harbors.
  • The whole plot of Simon R. Green's Nightingale's Lament deals with this: a singer whose songs cause (some) audience members to commit suicide.
  • Piers Anthony
    • The Xanth novel Night Mare. Looking into a hypnogourd caused a person's consciousness to enter the gourd, leaving them catatonic.
    • In Macroscope there is a sort of video that will destroy the intelligence of anyone above a certain IQ who hasn't evolved beyond violent tendencies.
  • Paul Robinson's short story It Can't Be That Bad tells how Clark Rosecrans discovered something terrible that bothered him. He goes to visit a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, upon hearing what Clark knows, uses a chair to bash a hole in the window of his 20th story office, and jumps out, screaming. His secretary calls the police, and at first it's thought Clark has killed the psychiatrist. So he's taken down to the station to be interviewed. A police officer and a deputy district attorney interview him before his lawyer show up. When they hear his story, the police officer draws his revolver and eats a bullet. The Deputy DA runs out, runs across the street, and jumps off a bridge. The tape recording of the interview is transcribed. After the transcriber finishes, she walks out of the office, walks into the ladies' room and drowns herself in a toilet. Her supervisor picks up the transcript, reads it, then walks down to the motor pool, douses himself with gasoline, and lights a match. The DA has decided not to prosecute, because first, nobody knows if he's done anything illegal, and second, because no judge will touch the case, for fear of hearing what Clark has to say. The joke is, every time Clark tells his story, he's worried, and the response is always, "Oh, it can't be that bad."
  • In The Idol of Cyclades by Julio Cortazar the main character is driven mad by a statuette he had found while exploring an island. He spends months making replicas of it until his replicas are identical to the original. In the end he attempts to sacrifice his friend to anoint it with blood.
  • John Varley's short story Press Enter starts with an investigation into the suicide, possible murder, of a computer hacker and reveals that somebody roaming the young Internet (or perhaps the Internet itself) defends against persistent probing with a signal that compels the intruder to commit suicide.
  • Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy books feature the "Name of God", a powerful word that contains within it the secrets of the nature of the entire world... or something like that. Carey resorts to some very clumsy cheats in order to avoid printing the Name. Whenever it is spoken, it appears as "____________".
    • She uses these "clumsy" cheats because when Phedre speaks the Name of God, everyone later says that the word they heard was "love" in their mother tongue.
  • Ted Chiang's short story Understand features two super-intelligent people duelling by trying to implant deadly Brown Notes in each other. The one that succeeds had been subconsciously planted in its victim in the previous few days; it is then triggered when his enemy tells him to "Understand"
  • One of Bentley Little's perverse stories involves a numerical code that causes anyone who looks at it to suffer a crippling orgasm. The military considers using it to end all wars.
  • The hero of one of Mercedes Lackey's SERRAted Edge novels uses the entire discography of They Might Be Giants to do this to a group of psychics sicced on him by the Big Bad; the theory was that the nonsensical nature of the band's lyrics made it impossible to sing along to without devoting a considerable amount of conscious thought to them, meaning his (and their) minds would be too preoccupied with thinking about the lyrics to do much of anything else. (It helped that the psychics trying to pick his brain were culturally stuck in the Middle Ages and had no possible context by which to even begin to grasp what was going on in his head; one of them was led off wailing helplessly about alchemical formulae.) Also, they were Ear Worms, so every pyschic who didn't have them stuck in their head yet would hear it from the ones who are already affected, thus infecting them too.
    • However, one of the hobgoblin servants found the tunes quite catchy and was also singing them before being bitch-slapped by his boss.
  • In Animorphs, at one point they fight a race of aliens called Howlers, who have a screaming cry that has very nasty effects on any sentient creature who hears it. Interestingly, morphing into something with a simpler brain can apparently protect you from it. There's a scene where everybody in different shapes hears the Howlers' cry. Ax, who is not morphed and has a highly-developed brain, is most affected, and starts bleeding from the eyes/nose/etc., while everybody else has different reactions according to what they've morphed into.
  • The Lord of the Rings universe has the Nazgul's screeching.
  • Andre Norton's novel Lord of Thunder mentioned that subsonic noise could be used to control animals or drive them into madness.
  • The Dance of the Gods quadrilogy by Mayer Alan Brenner has a character named Jurtan Mont who has a mental illness that causes him to hear a soundtrack to his life, to the point that hearing music outside of his mind made his brain jealous and knocked him out. Later on he finds that playing (or in some cases just shouting) the music in his head knocks out or puts others to sleep.
  • In Dream Park, an industrial spy steals samples of 'neutral scent', an odor that causes a person's pre-existing emotions to become hyperintense. Too strong an exposure can make people lose all control of their fear, anger, lust, etc.
  • The "Ultimate Perfume" crafted by the protagonist in Perfume, a deformed man with a heightened sense of smell. It's a pheromone made from the dead bodies of women he's killed, capable of seducing anyone. When he finally puts it on, it causes all the random passerby around him to love him so much that they tear him apart limb from limb and devour him.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Talents are susceptible to a "sting-pzzt" sensation whenever they're near Hivers or anything built by Hivers. Not really harmful, but as it's described as a constant metallic, acidic "smell" (for want of a better term; it's actually a psychic sensation), it tends to make them very irritable.
  • Stephen Dedman's novel The Art of Arrow Cutting features a mujina (shapeshifting creature from Japanese mythology) whose true face is a blank gray void that causes humans who see it to become mindless vegetables.
  • A short story called "Hypnoglyph" features a tactile example; a small carved object that acts on the sensory nerves in such a way that a person who touches it becomes obsessed with holding and stroking it, to the extent that they lose all interest in their surroundings (at which point they become prey for the alien creators of the objects).
  • In Henry Kuttner's short story "Nothing But Gingerbread Left" a semantics professor develops a German-language ditty so catchy that a person hearing it will be able to do nothing but think about it. Broadcast in occupied Europe, the song drives The Nazis so insane, they lose the war.
  • In More Information Than You Require, anyone who looks at an axolotl (a type of salamander) for too long will become one.
  • The short story/long sentence "The Fulcrum" features the discovery of a punctuation mark that will destroy your understanding of language, which in turn leaves you incapable of comprehending reality. This was presumably an attempt on the part of the social sciences to dispel the popular notion that it's incapable of creating a world-ending monstrosity in defiance of God's will. Take that, the hard sciences.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, the cry of a rathorn (a vicious, carnivorous unicorn-like creature) induces terror in those who hear it. The Kencyr house of Knorth adopted the rathorn as its banner and its cry as their Battlecry; members of the House appear to be immune to the sound.
  • The Ravenor series of Warhammer 40,000 novels contains the arch-villains quest to learn Enuncia, the language of the gods. A single, out-of-context syllable read aloud causes the speakers mouth to bleed, a nearby servitor's head to explode, and drives another berserk enough to smash its head to itty-bitty little pieces against a stone wall.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Songmaster, the protagonist, Ansset, can manipulate people psychologically with his singing. At one time, he causes a sadistic man to disembowel himself by showing the sadist the depth of his own evil through a song.
  • In Wheel of Darkness, an Agent Pendergast novel, the Agoyzen is a type of this - the mere sight of it unhinges something in the viewer's brain, making them become a sociopath. Pendergast is one of those who suffers from Agoyzen sociopathy, but he gets better.
  • German sci-fi pulp series Perry Rhodan has Alaska Saedelaere, a man who had an alien fragment fused to his face in a transporter accident which made everyone go insane and die just from looking at it. He had to wear a mask to disguise it. Being one of the series' main characters who had received cell activators to make them immortal, he had to wear that mask for a very long time. He got better after a couple of centuries, but had his condition reverted again.
  • The short story The Riddle of the Universe and its Solution by philosopher Christopher Cherniak provides an example where comprehension of a certain fact induces a coma. Often, the last word uttered by a victim is "Aha!".
  • Some of the magical tricks Garrett keeps up his sleeves in the Garrett, P.I. series would qualify, as they impair anyone who's looking at the flashy F/X when he activates them.
  • In Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, we have Du Svardenvyrd, the Wyrd of the Swords. The man who wrote it was insane, and the first person to encounter it immediately committed suicide. Only one other person's response is shown, and he went from being the best and brightest of a circle of wise, learned men to being a wandering thief and alcoholic, unable to commit suicide, but unable to live with what he'd read.
  • In Into the Looking Glass, one of the results of the creation of the Chen Anomaly is a bubble covering Boca Raton, Florida. Any attempt at recording what's inside the bubble fails, and anyone who sees it goes incurably insane. A technician assisting Weaver's investigation of the anomalies caused by the explosion at the University of Florida suggests the result is like that from a human in the Lovecraft mythos looking upon one of the Old Ones, by seeing something that's completely beyond human comprehension.
  • In Stephen Tunney's One Hundred Percent Lunar Boy, people with a certain genetic condition have the ability to see the fourth primary color all around them, and this color happens to be in their irises as well. This color does not bother them, but normal people who see the color of their eyes fall into a temporary catatonic state, in which they are extremely suggestible and can have their thoughts manipulated.
  • E. E. “Doc” Smith's Second Stage Lensmen, features near the end a scene in which the Thralian Prime Minister Fossten is revealed as an Eddorian, specifically The Dragon Gharlane. For various reasons, his true form is hidden from Kim Kinnison, but everyone else on the enemy flagship's bridge can see it and falls into a paralytic, near-braindead stupor.
  • In A Fire Upon the Deep, high-protocol networks use supersentient packets. These are dangerous. Reading them can assimilate you into the blight (a fate that may be worse than the death of your entire civilization). After discovering they have been subverted, a security firm offers the following advice:
    If during the last thousand seconds you have received any High-Beyond-protocol packets from "Arbitration Arts," discard them at once. If they have been processed, then the processing site and all locally netted sites must be physically destroyed at once. We realize that this means the destruction of solar systems, but consider the alternative. You are under Transcendent attack.
  • In Tales of Kolmar, the Rakshasa lords must have their true names spoken for them to be summoned. Demon summoners are practiced in this and manage, but a non-summoner overhearing is driven to vomit. Late in the series, we see that the sound of the Demonlord's laughter has the same effect.
  • The Dresden Files: Wizard's Sight basically lets you grasp the true form of whatever you're looking at. Harry, being the unlucky person that he is, turned it on a skinwalker. He then spent an hour curled up in a ball, whimpering and shaking.
    Try to imagine the stench of rotten meat. Imagine the languid, arrhythmic pulsing of a corpse filled with maggots. Imagine the scent of stale body odor mixed with mildew, the sound of nails screeching across a chalkboard, the taste of rotten milk, and the flavor of spoiled fruit.
    Now imagine that your eyes can experience those things, all at once, in excruciating detail.
    • Even without the Sight, looking at He Who Walks Behind was hard enough on sixteen-year-old Harry that he still has psychic scars from it ten years later, and the closest he could get to comprehending His name was a feeling of overwhelmingly powerful malevolence.
  • Fraternity of the Stone by David Morrell. The protagonist (a former US govt assassin) thinks he's being set up for this when he's asked to make a phone call at a particular time. He sets up a tape recording of his voice and a pet mouse in a cage, and after making the connection, watches from a distance to see what will happen. When blood suddenly spurts from the mouse's ears, he yanks the tape recorder off the table, causing the men at the other end of the line to think he's been killed.
  • In H. Beam Piper's story "Naudsonce", an alien race is discovered that experiences sound as physical sensation. The sound of the water pump set up by a human expedition gets the aliens blissed out (a long-term problem, since they live at a subsistence-agriculture level and will starve if they don't work); the sound of one expedition member's voice horrifies and disgusts them.
  • In Aristoi, Captain Yuan developed a whole range of postures, gestures, words and phrases that he determined, based on his research into kinesics and metalinguistics, had a psychological or even physiological impact on both the individual performing them and anyone observing. Since Yuan's time, the Aristoi have initiated a program to condition all citizens from birth to make them especially sensitive to them, such that, by the time of the novel, a Mudra of Domination can actually physically stagger anyone who beholds it.
  • The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus is based on this trope. The language of kids is making adults sick and that's not meant metaphorically.
  • And then there was this short story where hearing the unholy word "Älämä" turned everyone into a purple cone. (Author? Title? You probably tried out the word already and don't need them anymore...The German audioplay version was dubbed Die violetten Kegel.)
  • Lars Bengtsson's novel, The Long Ships, had an appearance by two Irish jesters/dwarfs who said they were careful to tone down their performance because they'd killed one patron by being so funny that he laughed himself to death. The Viking crew who'd picked them up decided not to tempt the fates/Norns by calling the jesters on their claim.
  • Flash Frame, a short story by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It's basically a modern-day retelling of The King in Yellow with a good dose of The Ring thrown in. A reporter for a Mexico City tabloid is on the hunt for a sensational story when he hears about some kind of cult meeting at a local porno theater. So he decides to spy on them. Strangely, all they seem to do is view a few minutes of some faux-Roman exploitation flick that seems a bit... off. After a few sessions, the reporter starts having nightmares about a grotesque seductress. And then he realizes his tape recorder has picked up the hidden audio track...
    The sound was yellow. A bright, noxious yellow.
    Festering yellow. The sound of withered teeth scraping against flesh. Of pustules bursting open. Diseased. Hungry.
    The voice, yellow, speaking to the audience. Telling it things. Asking for things. Yellow limbs and yellow lips, and the yellow maw, the voice that should never have spoken at all.
    The things it asked for.
    Insatiable. Yellow.
  • The creatures in Bird Box cause anyone who sees them to go insane.
  • The people of Darkdawn, a planet in Dying of the Light, built a city in such a way that the wind plays it like a instrument, repeating a depressing symphony over and over. The city had a notably higher-than-average suicide rate, and the music at one point has an hypnotic influence on Dirk.
  • Titanicus. When one of the protaganists gets a closer look at the symbols on a Chaos combat servitor (combat robot made from human parts) she projectile vomits due to their chaotic influence.
    • The "Scrapcode" utilized by the Chaos forces and their Titans is implied to be dangerous to the augmented Mechanicus forces.
  • In the "Draco Tavern" story "The Subject is Closed," a chirpsithra tells of a race who claimed to have learnt the truth about life after death... and promptly committed suicide, all of them. The chirpsithra don't know whether they found that the afterlife was so wonderful that they all wanted to go there, or that Hell exists and they wanted to die before they sinned even worse. The chirpsithras' conclusion is that it's better not to know.
  • Glyfs (yes, not 'glyphs'), the Warp phenomena encountered by the Gaunt's team in Traitor General, have a destructive influence on the minds of people watching them. Even the sound they produce while moving is perceived as unsettling.
    • During the space battle in Salvation's Reach, the Chaos flotilla constantly broadcasts inhuman messages which manage to jam the Imperial communications, destroy some servitors, and cause panic among the crew.
  • The "noisemaker" bombs used by the Line in The Half-Made World generate a discordant, irregular noise that destroys the minds of anyone who hears it. Fortunately, its effects diminish quickly with distance.
    It had no pattern; it lurched toward structure and shattered it, crashing on, and on—it had the pulse of dying muscle tissue, spasming, or the last firings of a diseased brain.
  • The protagonist of the Charles Stross novel Glasshouse was a veteran of a war against a memetic virus known as "Curious Yellow". Its means of attack was somewhat unusual for a Brown Note. A standard means of transport and communication was the "Assembly Gate", which dismantled people passing through it and reassembled them at their destination; Curious Yellow got itself written into the minds of people using the gates, so bypassing the senses completely. Where it came from, what it did to its victims, or even why it was called Curious Yellow was just some of the information that had to be destroyed in the campaign to extirpate it - virtually the only knowledge that did survive the war was the name and the fact of the war itself.
  • In Kane story "The Dark Muse", mad poet Opyros creates a poem "Night Winds", which is exactly that. It drives all listeners insane. But then again, this is what you get when you start creating poetry under demonic influence of the said Dark Muse.
  • In the Boojumverse, there are Eldritch Abominations called Raths which come from another dimension and induce a migraine headache in anyone who looks at one for more than a couple of seconds.
  • In the first story of Conan the Barbarian ("The Phoenix on the Sword"), Toth Amon avoids looking at the fiend he summoned. Later, said demon destroys the soul of a poor victim by forcing him to look at his demonic yellow eyes.
  • In Charles Sheffield's "The Lambeth Immortal" (one of his Erasmus Darwin stories), the new owner of a British estate investigates a supposed "Beast" that arises from a flint pit on windy moonlit nights near a centuries-old mill. The Beast turns out to be an epilepsy-like affliction passed down the estate-owner's family line, that turns them into The Berserker when they witness the moon shining brightly thorough the mill's vanes, rotating at a fast clip.
  • In The War of the Flowers, the Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles always shrouds himself in shadow when he's using his true form. When he goes out in public, he can turn himself into something slightly more humanoid but that is still so hideous the sight of him can send goblins and trolls running and shrieking in terror. His true form is worse. How much worse? When protagonist Theo gets a brief look at him in bad lighting he's sent reeling, his mind coming up with a variety of squicky metaphors to try and make sense of what he saw while being unable to do so. What happens if you get a good look at the Remover? The last person who did was Erephine Primrose, and she went insane on the spot. Neither of the Remover's forms is ever described in any detail.
  • "Birth of a salesman" by James Tiptree Jr (reprinted in Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home) is all about how product attributes which are harmless to some Galactic races being dangerous to others (even music), and how this plays all kinds of havoc with interplanetary shipping.
  • The discord organ in Below is an enchanted pendant ocarina that lays down a lingering spell, turning people against one another. Like all spellbound objects, the magical energy it contains is finite, rendering it useless if it's "played" too many times.
  • In Terra Ignota, Mycroft recorded his heartbeat during his crimes, mostly just on a whim. He expected someone would find something scientifically significant in it. Instead, someone turned it into music. Now, whenever he hears the "Canner Beat," he is ripped back to the moment of his crimes, shutting him down as easily as a stun gun.
  • In "By His Bootstraps" by Robert A. Heinlein, the protagonist gets one brief glimpse of the aliens who ruled Earth in a bygone age, and is so badly shaken by it that he thereafter appears to have aged considerably.
  • In the Conan the Barbarian story The Frost-Giant's Daughter, Conan encounters a supernatural being named Attali who inhabits the form of a stunningly beautiful young woman who wears nothing but a whisp of gossimer around her perfect form. Mortal men who look upon her are driven temporarily insane with lust and will pursue her relentlessly, allowing her to lead them into an ambush by her brothers.
  • The Divine Comedy: By the seventh sphere of Heaven, Beatrice claims that the sight of her smile would be so brilliant that Dante would be set ablaze as if hit by lightning. This isn't meant simply to aggrandize Beatrice, but to show how incomprehensibly joyful it is to be united with God. In using this trope, the Comedy is borrowing from Greek Mythology and is adding a core part of Christian mythology continued in the painfully joyful Heaven of The Great Divorce.
  • Confessions: The opening discourse on God includes a line that plays on the Old Testament idea that any who look upon the face of God will die. In this case, Augustine asks to be saved from death by dying in seeing God's face.
  • In The Summer King Chronicles, the very presence of wyrms, Western dragons, drives every Named creature to mindless terror.


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