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Accidental Incantation

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"Reading ancient books silently in your head can be a great way to learn about monsters and how you might potentially defeat them. Reading them aloud is a good way to call down the end of the world."
— Tip #16, Horror Survival Guidenote 

You're one of those reading-aloud types. A mystical text — possibly in Latin or in rhyme — improbably ends up in your hands, and you obviously want to know what it says (or maybe you just want to pretend you're a Latinophone). Well, you've sounded out the last syllable, only to find that your loose lips have just cast a spell!

The consequences of an accidental spellcast can range from killing a villain and saving the day, to warping to another dimension, to Butt-Dialing Mordor, to swapping bodies with your dog, to reviving the dead or awakening ancient evils. If it's a Horror Film, expect this to have fatal consequences. No magical powers are required of the people involved — the incantation is often enough to make the magic happen, although magical items such as wands, rings, talismans, or amulets may factor into it.

This is a common source of conflict for skeptical, curious, or otherwise oblivious characters. In more egregious examples, it may feel like an excuse to throw them into traps at a moment's notice. However, when not Played for Drama, this can also be an easy way to get characters out of a bad situation (such as by opening a den of hidden treasures, or unwittingly getting the characters where they need to go).

Sister Trope to Unexpectedly Real Magic, which covers skeptics accidentally casting magic, and Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot, in which a beginner intentionally casts magic, but is unable to keep it under control. By contrast, this trope is about not realizing something is a spell, but activating it out of sheer ignorance. Compare and contrast Be Careful What You Wish For, which involves wishes accidentally coming true; Magic Misfire, which is when a spell is meant to be cast, but has Gone Horribly Wrong; and Real After All. Also compare Speak of the Devil, as well as a common attempt to subvert it, The Scottish Trope. Contrast with Words Do Not Make The Magic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cardcaptor Sakura: The events of the series are kicked off by Sakura reading aloud the name of the Windy card and accidentally summoning wind to scatter the Clow cards across the city. What's lost in the dub is that part of the reason why Sakura said the word in the first place is that it was written in the foreign language (to her) of English and she was sounding out the unfamiliar word.
  • Fairy Tail: Natsu does this near the beginning of the filler episode "Changeling", after finding an odd request on the request board which states whoever can figure out the meaning of the ancient writing that is written on it will earn 500,000 Jewels. Natsu recognizes the letters and promptly reads them out loud which results in him, Lucy, Erza, Gray, Happy, and Loke switching bodies with each other.
  • Zatch Bell!: Kiyomaro accidentally sets off one of Zatch's signature spells, Zaker, when he tells the boy not to mess around with him (fuzakeru na). In the English dub of the anime, accidentally misnaming him ("Zack, or whatever your name is") accomplishes the same thing.

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Strange: Referred to occasionally. Stephen often finds it necessary to warn others that it's generally not a good idea to read unknown spells and incantations out loud, having learned through bitter experience.
  • Justice Society of America: Johnny Thunder possessed a ring containing a genie named the Thunderbolt, who was summoned with the magic words "Cei-U". It took Johnny a while to catch on that the genie even existed, though, meaning that every time he said "Say, you-" the Thunderbolt would appear to grant anything Johnny said that sounded like a wish. And the Thunderbolt was a Literal Genie to boot.

    Comic Strips 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Blackbeard's Ghost: When the protagonist reads an incantation from a book hidden in the pan he won at an auction, he suddenly comes face to face with the ghost of Blackbeard.
  • The Cabin in the Woods: Ghostly whispers command one of the characters to "Read the Latin... out loud..." Despite one of the characters' Genre Savvy protests, they inevitably do. Zombies ensue.
  • Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988): Elvira inherited a book, which she used as a cookbook to create some Adraka Kozorol thinking that it was casserole, although not strictly following the recipe. The result was a dangerous monster that sprung out of the pot, and Elvira learning that it's actually a spellbook. She attempted to replicate the effect at the village potluck, but instead caused people eating the casserole to become unnaturally aroused.
  • The Evil Dead (1981): The events of the film start when the group find a recording left by Professor Knowby, which just so happens to contain him speaking the incantation to summon the Deadites.
  • Halloweentown: In Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge, the way to undo a spell is to say the incantation in reverse. The Big Bad's "Gray Spell" has afflicted the entire town, stripping them of magic, memory, and personality, and he's trapped the good guys there while he turns his attention to the mortal world. At one point, Marnie is racking her brains for how they can "get out of this trap, a spell or a—" which unexpectedly results in a cursed person nearby returning to normal. Initially, they think that the curse just wore off, but when the evidence against that piles too high, they review what happened and realize the truth: she said "trap a," and the curse's incantation is simply "Apart!"
  • Just Visiting: Shortly after Thibault returns to his original time, Hunter, back at the house, drinks what he thought was a shake that they poisoned. He finds a slip of paper on the counter, and accidentally reads out the incantation. Immediately he is sent back to the medieval era seemingly in the same place as Thibault.
  • Knights of Badassdom: Eric and his friends are at a LARP event. He tries spellcasting, unaware that his book is more than a prop. Long story short, his seemingly farcical incantation actually summons a Succubus who takes on the form of Beth, his friend Joe's recent ex-girlfriend, and starts slaughtering other event participants.
  • The Lord of the Rings: This occurs at Moria in the first movie, at least on Frodo's part. After he asks Gandalf for "The Elvish word for friend," he seems somewhat surprised when the door opens upon Gandalf's answer, suggesting that he at least thought he'd have to repeat it intentionally to make it work. (This word was the password to open the door.)
  • The Mummy: This is how Imhotep is unleashed upon the world. Evey really should have known better than to read from the Book of the Dead.
  • Scary Movie 5 parodies the Evil Dead scene. The protagonists find the Book of the Evil in the basement of a cabin in the woods, where a Christian group on retreat is also staying. The protagonists ignore the many "DO NOT READ THIS" warnings and start reciting the curse and spell to reverse it multiple times, completely oblivious to the Christians being repeatedly possessed and unpossessed upstairs.
  • The Shaggy Dog:
    • The 1959 original has Wilby Daniels find a ring with an inscription ("in canis corpore transmuto") and read it aloud several times, turning it into a little song. It turns him into a dog.
    • In the sequel The Shaggy D.A., when other people read the inscription it continues to turn Wilby into a dog. Late in the story, the Big Bad learns about it; he keeps reading the inscription over and over to keep Wilby in dog form. Eventually it backfires on him and turns him into a dog.

  • A Bavarian folk legend from the collection of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth concerns a man paying a visit to his friend, the sorcerer Zwergl. While the guest waits alone in the sorcerer's room, he picks up a strange book lying atop a cupboard and starts reading. Soldiers come in by the door, with ever more of them entering so long as the guest keeps reading. Eventually the man panics and jumps out of the window; Zwergl comes by and speaks a few words to the soldiers upon which they disappear, then warns his friend "not to touch things which aren't his business". It is implied the soldiers were demons summoned by the magic book.

  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: Dr. Willett reads aloud an incantation that resurrects someone. Fortunately, who-or-whatever they were, they were on Willett's side.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • The heroes of The Colour of Magic are in the lair of Bel-Shamharoth, a.k.a. the Soul Eater, an Eldritch Abomination so horrible even Time doesn't go near it. Rincewind realizes exactly where they are; and since he knows that eight is its sacred number, tells everyone not to say the number that corresponds to the sum of seven plus one, or three plus five, or ten minus two... (Even the narration gets in on it, describing the 7a passages as branching off from the room with four times two walls). Cue Hrun's talking sword asking why Rincewind doesn't want them to say "eight"; the words "EIGHT, Hate, ate" echoing around the temple without fading away; and of course, Bel-Shamharoth waking up.
    • Played with when the inept Wizard Rincewind is charged with speaking the Great Spells that reset the world and abort the Apocalypse. He gets the pronunciation wrong at a key moment: most of the spoken words hover in the air in iridescent colours, waiting to be completed. But the one he repeatedly mispronounces comes out as a dirty brown mist, the visual equivalent of the flat "ding" noise Microsoft computers make on making an input error. It takes a lot of time and experimentation before it comes out right.
  • The Echorium Sequence: The Echorium Wizarding School trains its Singers extensively to use the five mind-altering Songs of Power, but the Big Bad manages to "pirate" one Song, invoking and exploiting this trope by tricking a Singer into using a Song of Power within earshot of a flock of semi-sapient Bird People that are perfect vocal mimics. Since it's not being consciously directed, the Song doesn't work well, but the Big Bad makes do with quantity over quality.
  • A short story called The Gazing Ball has a very benign example—a little girl's father buys a new home with a garden—within this garden is a faerie garden for her, complete with a gazing ball. When she looks in the ball, she expects to see herself—but sees a fox-like creature, who likewise didn't expect to see a human girl in his gazing ball. The two begin a VERY long-distance friendship that takes an unexpected turn when their respective worlds make contact. Alas, by the time it's possible for their people to easily travel from one planet to another, a century has passed since the two first made contact, which means they are far too old to make the trip, and never see each other face-to-face. They do, however, have a joyous meeting in the afterlife.
  • Goosebumps: In Night of the Living Dummy and its sequels, characters find a piece of paper near a dummy with the words "Karru marri odonna loma molunu karrano". They read them aloud in confusion, prompting the dummies (Mr. Wood and Slappy in the first one, and just Slappy in the sequels) to come to life.
  • Inheritance Cycle: Eragon's sword Brisingr bursts into flame whenever he says its name. It scares the bejeezus out of him when he first names it.
  • The Magic Tree House: When Jack and Annie discover the tree house, they unwittingly activate its Time Travel abilities (and get sent back to the Cretaceous period) when Jack wishes he could "see a Pteranodon for real".
  • Exaggerated in Time Warp Trio. What causes The Book to send Joe, Sam, and Fred to different time periods changes every installment, ranging from saying the right combination of words to highlighting key phrases in the text.
  • Unsong: The main character kicks off the plot by accidentally discovering the last seven syllables of one of the names of god. All of those syllables are "Meh."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel:
    • In the Backstory, Fred accidentally opened a portal into Pylea by reading aloud from a book whose language she didn't know.
    • In another episode, Angel comes upon some low-level grunts from Wolfram & Hart performing a spell. They don't know what they're saying; they're merely acting under orders, following a list of instructions "like a cookbook."
  • The Aquabats! Super Show!: In "Floating Eye of Death!", the band accidently summon the titular creature by saying its name backwards three times.
  • The entire plot of Ash vs. Evil Dead was kicked off when Ash and a random one-night stand decided to try reading random passages from the Necronomicon while stoned.
  • The plot of Astrid and Lilly Save the World is initiated by the titular girls, burned by a mean prank from their peers, do a random series of actions as an outlet for their frustration. It just so happens that the cosmos was aligned and their actions perfectly performed a ritual in those conditions to open a Hellgate and unleash monsters from parallel dimensions onto their hometown.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In an interesting twist, one of the first episodes has a demon who is released into the school's Internet network as the library converts all its texts to digital format. In scanning the tome that summoned him, the computer system did its equivalent of "reading it aloud."
    • In the episode "Superstar", Riley is researching and asks Willow if the spells really work. She says that they do, but require concentration and being attuned to nature. Xander tries to illustrate with the following:
      Xander: Right, you can't just go... [looks into the book and picks out a random group of words] 'librum incendere' and expect —
      [the open pages of his book burst into flames; Xander closes it quickly to extinguish it]
      Giles: Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.
  • Charmed:
    • In one episode, Phoebe tells her non-witch classmates that the words to a supposed love spell they are reading are wrong; and gives them the correct version, which one of them records on a tape recorder. The three classmates then try to do the spell with the wrong incantation, to no avail. One of them plays the tape, and before they can do anything, the spell is cast, turning animals into strapping naked men.
    • Shortly after joining the family, Paige starts having dreams of her past life. Not realizing yet that they're real, she finds an old rhyme from her dreams in the Book of Shadows and reads it out loud, satisfied to finally remember how it ends. It promptly brings her evil past incarnation into the future.
  • The Outpost: Talon is given a page with a Lu'quiri's name and a summoning incantation by Galwood Outpost's blacksmith, who has been studying the lore of the blackbloods and Lu'quiri for many years. He warns her not to read it aloud; she does and accidentally summons the creature, which starts killing a civilian every night until she's able to banish it.
  • Sesame Street: In one episode, Grover assists the magician The Amazing Mumford in a disappearing-pineapples trick. Mumford makes each pineapple vanish merely by reciting "A la peanut butter sandwiches!". After they've all disappeared, Grover casually comments how he is amazed that all he had to do was recite the words. Mumford tries to warn Grover not to repeat them, but Grover does anyway...with ugly results.[1]
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): "I of Newton" has a professor reciting equations out loud as he writes a math problem on the blackboard: "The integral of d of x over the cosine to the n of x..." When he can't work out the problem's solution, he angrily cries "Damn it! I'd sell my SOUL to get this thing right!" Cue a demon manifesting in the classroom to take said soul. When the professor protests that he didn't mean what he said, the demon explains that the spoken equations had "the right phonetic structure to be a good old-fashioned demonic invocation—especially with that neat little curse word woven into it."
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: In one episode, a group of people are reading a magic scroll to no effect. Gabrielle realizes that they are using the wrong meter. When she demonstrates what the correct pronunciation is she accidentally casts the spell herself.
  • The Young Ones: Parodied when Rick reads an article about getting an increased student grant in the notoriously misspelled Guardian. When he tries deciphering the last part of the sentence three times ("All you need for an increased grant is a numcal pucajule ftoomch"), it ends up summoning a demon.

  • The Magnus Archives: invoked by Elias at the end of season 4. He knows that Jon is forced to finish a statement once he starts reading it, so he creates a fake statement and slips it in with the rest. Once Jon is hooked, he's forced to read off Elias's evil monologue explaining his full plan, before reciting the incantation needed to trigger the apocalypse.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The explosive runes spell creates a written trap that explodes when read by someone, dealing damage to them and anyone around them. Note there's no need for reading aloud with this.
  • GURPS Technomancer: The nail that changed the world (and not completely for the better) was Robert Oppenheimer actually saying the quote of the Bhagavad Gita he recalled as the Trinity bomb detonated ("I have become Death, Destroyer of Worlds") and completing a summoning spell that turned the nuclear explosion into a never-stopping geyser of Mana.
  • Old Man Henderson: During a legendary Trail of Cthulhu campaign, Henderson and some other player characters go into the cultists' house to investigate, and Henderson finds a book and reads a magical incantation out loud, calling the incantation gibberish, but summoning a monster that depletes the sanity of anyone who looks at it. Another player character tries to tell him about it, but he says he refuses to fall for a "look behind you" trick, and just leaves the room without looking at it. Later on, the party apparently catches onto this, and puts the same incantation into an overhead projector presentation at large meeting of other cultists, tricking them into thinking they're saying a prayer for their dead comrades. Hilarity ensues, especially since the player characters have noped out of the meeting by that point, and barricaded the doors from the outside.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 5:
    • At the beginning of the game, Ren and Ryuji accidentally enter Kamoshida's Palace when Ryuji coincidentally mentions the keywords in sequence (these being "Kamoshida", "Shujin", and "castle").
    • Later, Sumire unwittingly does something similar near the stadium, resulting in the discovery of Maruki's Palace.
  • Silent Hill 3's main protagonist Heather reads aloud a Latin sentence in a storybook: Tu fui, ego eris! Suddenly the Glutton, the non-combative monster that has been blocking her way forward, cries out and disappears.

    Web Animation 
  • Happy Tree Friends: In Read 'em and Weep, Pop buys the freakin' Necronomicon at a yard sale for his child Cub (it was cheaper than the actual children book Cub wanted). After reading it as a bedtime story he unwittingly causes supernatural events (such as birds falling dead from the sky) before finally summoning a demon which possesses Cub.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Opening the Nightosphere

Marceline states that she's not interested in seeing her dad after he had eaten her fries, and rambles on about the method of opening the path to the Nightosphere. Unbeknownst to her, however, Finn is following the method step-by-step, and her ramblings accidentally open up the Nightosphere, setting Hunson Abadeer free into Ooo.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / AccidentalIncantation

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