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Literature / The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd

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"The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd" is a fantasy story by Patricia C. Wrede.

Caliph Arenschadd is not a terrible ruler, on the whole, but he's bad-tempered and proud, particularly of his magical abilities, which has led to a situation where he tends to express his displeasure by putting curses on people. Even that's not so bad, since the curses tend to be more annoying and inconvenient than really harmful, so it's just a matter of enduring until the vizier comes through with the appropriate counterspell.


But then the Caliph tries out a new curse, one which has potentially lethal consequences and doesn't have a counterspell...

This story provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Mirza, Imani's mother, tries not to laugh when Imani's solution involves making the Caliph angry, since Mirza was angry with the Caliph to begin with.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: "The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd" is set in an unnamed fantasy land with Arabian Nights trappings.
  • Benevolent Mage Ruler: Caliph Arenschadd is a wizard. His rule is mostly benevolent apart from his tendency to put curses on people when he loses his temper, and even that is generally regarded as better than, say, chopping people's heads off, since none of the curses are lethal and most are more annoying than really harmful.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Most of the curses fall along this way, from turning people green to causing lycanthropy.
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  • Curse: Caliph Arenschadd produces a variety of imaginative examples.
  • Curse That Cures: A curse is used to cure another curse—Tumpkin realizes the family's curse-induced lycanthropy can be cured by inciting the Caliph to curse them with something else, since the Caliph's curses only work one at a time.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The Caliph is forced to admit this when his vizier begs for the werewolf curse to be lifted, when there isn't a cure.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Apart from the question of whether a curse is a proportionate response to begin with, there's the fact that he always curses the whole family of the person who displeased him.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Caliph changes his curses to just turning people blue after he realizes that he's endangered his realm with curse forty eight.
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  • King Incognito: The vizier's daughter Imani befriends a boy she meets in the palace garden and assumes is one of the pages. He turns out to be the son of the Caliph.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The Caliph apparently has to cast the sixty-two curses in order, and cannot skip over one or recast an old one. Also, even though his curses affect the whole family of the target, if he casts on a different family member it restarts the sequence from Curse #1. It's unclear whether this is due to some limit of the Caliph's magic, or if it's a unique fixture of the sixty-two curse sequence.
  • One Curse Limit: The cure for the unbreakable curse the family is under turns out to be having a different curse put on them, which displaces the first.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The protagonist meets a boy who's reluctant to tell her his real name, so she dubs him 'Tumpkin' on the grounds that she has to call him something. At the end of the story, she finds out who he really is, but the audience doesn't get to learn his real name, because she keeps calling him by the name they became friends by.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Zig-Zagged with the Caliph. On one hand he casts curses on anyone unfortunate to displease him, even if they have to deliver bad news. On the other, he doesn't want to actually hurt anyone.
  • Sense Freak: People who are cursed to turn into wolves are immediately enthralled with the awesome sensations of hearing and smell.
  • Shoot the Messenger: How the sixty-second curse is activated; Father has to deliver bad news to the Caliph when he's in a rotten mood.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Tumpkin.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Tumpkin mentions that the curses can only be activated one at a time. Good thing she listened, since she doesn't want to know what curse 49 is, and angers his father deliberately.
  • Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Imani tells the Caliph this when he's forced to admit that he didn't think of a cure for the werewolf curse, in an effort to make him angry and get him to curse her with a new spell, starting from the beginning.

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