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"What's up with all the loopholes? Seriously, was this fairy tale written by a lawyer!?"

There is the tendency for every magic spell (usually Curses) to have a condition that negates the effect, frequently involving a True Love's Kiss. Maybe the curser is trying to teach the cursee a lesson, maybe they're making it the most unlikely thing imaginable, or maybe there's something in the magic that requires the escape clause in order to function.

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Compare No Man of Woman Born, which is a prophecy that acts as an If/Then Statement. Like that trope, the Curse Escape Clause is usually something ludicrously unlikely (of course, we all know how statistics play out in stories). Playing with the language of the escape clause is common; sometimes the words are twisted around to use puns or less obvious meanings but this is so old that taking it literally has become more common.

Alas, forbidding someone to do something because such abstinence is needed to break the curse tends to be Forbidden Fruit.

Not to be confused with Curse Cut Short.

Warning: By its nature, this is a spoiler trope.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bloody Cross, all half-bloods are cursed to die by the age of 18, but the curse can be removed by either drinking the blood of a pure demon or finding a powerful enough God's inheritence to remove it.
  • In D.N.Angel, the Niwa family possess a genetic curse that affects the oldest male of each generation. The curse causes the host to transform into the phantom thief Dark Mousy, and vice-versa, whenever they feel unrequited love. The only way for the host to be released is for him to find true love, his "Sacred Maiden", and for that true love to love him back, demonstrating that love in some way. However, the "Sacred Maiden" must also learn that the host is sharing his body with Dark and still love him regardless of that.
  • Averted in Fruits Basket. Although some of the characters are desperately looking for a way to break the curse (the rest of them having already given up hope for it), there's not the vaguest prophecy to be scrutinized. Even after it breaks, it's not quite clear how or why it happened, except that "God" was somewhat responsible.
  • In Fairy Tail, Zeref and Mavis are affected by Ankhseram's Curse, which gives them immortality and the curse to kill everyone around them especially those they care for. However, the "kill everyone" part does have a workaround: If they stop caring about others and kill with impunity. Either way, they're condemned to kill others. It turns out the only reason Mavis' "Instant Death" Radius didn't activate sooner was because she was involved in a war in which she willing sent her allies to their death in battle to save more innocent ones.
    • There is one other way to break it — the purpose of the curse is to deny the recipient happiness. When Zeref fell in love with Mavis, his love for her was great enough to bypass the immortality clause of her curse and kill her (mostly) after they kissed, denying them the chance of being together. The reason it didn't do the same to him is because Mavis subconsciously forced herself to not to admit to loving him as much. In fact, the curse is ultimately broken when in the end they both admit they still truly love each despite everything, providing the ultimate contradiction and allowing them both to die.
  • Dowman Sayman's Frog Curse is a short story about a girl looking for a way to break the titular curse upon herself via True Love's Kiss. The catch is that she was turned into a poison dart frog; unprotected contact could potentially kill anyone who tried to kiss her.
  • In Ranma ½ Shampoo is captured by Maomolin (a giant ghost cat) to be its bride. Shampoo easily beats him up and tries to leave, however a curse is already put on her. With more beating up and a threat of her commiting suicide, she manges to force it to create a way to break the curse: a kiss from her true love, specifically with Ranma in mind. Later when Mousse and Akane learns about this they are not happy about it.

    Comic Books 
  • One XXXenophile story had a genie and his mortal lover, who (before the story began) had gained her freedom when her oppressor changed her name, thus qualifying her for three additional standard wishes. She wants to set the genie free, but can only do so by making a wish he wants to grant, but cannot. She wishes for him to make love to her until he's exhausted, which he does. Then she wishes for him... to do it again. Which he's too tired to do, thus freeing him. (He promises to make good on it once he's rested up, though.) Another story featured the warrior Blue Opal who, in a homage to Red Sonja, was prohibited from indulging sexually unless defeated in combat first. A traveler tries to take her mind off things by teaching her a strategy game... and upon winning the first time, accidentally breaks the prohibition. Turns out the game was called, in the traveler's native language, "Combat"...
  • During one Incredible Hulk story arc, the Hulk reverted to a mindless brute and was sent to "the Crossroads" by Doctor Strange. From this nexus he could go to almost any world (except straight back to Earth), with the caveat that, if he were truly unhappy in a given world, he would be sent back to the Crossroads to choose again.
  • During the early 2000s restart of The Defenders, Doctor Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer and the Incredible Hulk were cursed by Gaea to always unite whenever there was a threat to the Earth. They solved that problem by taking over the Earth and waiting until the curse was lifted.
  • Chakan: The Forever Man won immortality in combat with Death. But it didn't come with eternal youth, and now he doesn't want it anymore — so Death tells him he'll undo it if he destroys all evil. After spending an ungodly amount of time destroying all evil on Earth, Death clarifies that he meant all evil in the universe. Including all those planets out there in space. So now Chakan waits for humanity to develop interstellar travel...

    Fairy Tales & Mythology 
  • In general, expect either the victims of fairy-tale curses, or a random guardian spirit, to know the precise details of the loophole with no explanation given.
  • One Celtic myth had the hero under a geas that he should not see his love, neither in day or by night, neither on foot nor mounted, neither clothed or naked. He visited her at twilight, wrapped in a fishing net, with one leg on a mule.
  • Sleeping Beauty is cursed to die on her Dangerous 16th Birthday until another fairy turned it to merely sleeping a century. (In many variants. In others, she's victim of a Prophecy.)
  • In "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", the hero was cursed into a white bear by day by his Wicked Stepmother. If the heroine had only not looked at him for a year by night....
  • The froggy heroes of "The Queen Who Sought a Drink From A Certain Well" and "The Well of the World's End" was cursed into that shape. He had to have the heroine obey him for a whole night and then cut his head off to free him.
  • In "Snow-White-Fire-Red",
    • the prince is cursed as a small boy to be unable to marry anyone but the heroine, so he tracks her down.
    • the ogress curses the hero to forget the heroine as soon as his mother kisses him. However, when she sends a magical dove to recite her story, it jogs his memory loss.
    • In "The Dove", any kiss whatever makes him forget the heroine, but she cures it the same way.
  • In "The Six Swans", the heroine must not speak for six years and make shirts out of star-flowers to free them, and nearly gets burned as a witch for her strange behavior.
  • In the classic fairy tale The Gold Mountain a princess is cursed to turn into a snake and be alone, until someone spends three nights in the castle, as a gang of men visit each midnight and do greater and greater violence to him, unto death, without fleeing or fighting back or crying out. Fortunately at this point she'll turn back to human and can use some magic water to resurrect him.
  • In "The Seven Ravens", the sister has to track them down.
  • In the Old Norse "Tale of Norna-Gest", an angry norn curses the baby Gest to live no longer than a certain candle. A friendly norn extinguishes the candle, and Gest becomes immortal, so long as the candle is kept safe.
    • A similar tale exists in Greek Myth - Meleager was fated to die when a particular log on the fire was burned up, but his mother overheard the fates and rescued it. However when Meleager killed his uncles over their treatment of the huntress Atalanta (whom he had a one-sided crush on), his mother in anger threw the log into a fire, and Meleager died suddenly.
  • In "Sorli's Tale", Odin puts a spell on the fighting kings Hedin and Hogni and their warriors that makes them come to life again as often as they are killed, so that their battle will last forever. Only if a Christian warrior kills the combatants they will stay dead, and that is the only way to free them from fighting and dying again every day.
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    Fan Fics 
  • In Long Road to Friendship, Sunset Shimmer is cursed by the Elements of Harmony to always tell the truth, and to do whatever's asked of her if she's asked politely. Also, as Sunset later finds out, she can't tell anyone about the curse, even if she wants to. The Elements say the curse will be broken once Sunset learns to trust people and be trusted in return, which Sunset does once she unites Canterlot High School at the Winter Ball.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door:
    • The Three Heroes defeat the Shadow Queen and use a curse to prevent her from leaving the Palace of Shadow. However, she eventually discovers that should she or anyone working for her (whether the 'anyone' in question wants to or not) defeats the three heirs of the heroes in a fair contest, the curse will be broken. However, should a heir of the Three Heroes defeat her, the Queen will die.
    • As punishment for trying to steal from her, the Shadow Queen cursed the pirate Cortez to guard his treasure hoard as a ghost forever. The curse can only be broken if someone can defeat him in a fight or a game of skill like Duel Monsters. If he holds back or throws the contest, it doesn't count.
  • Facing the Future Series:
    • In "Royal Occupation", Tucker ends up transformed into a frog by Aragon. Being Genre Savvy to fairy tales, he think he can return to normal if he's kissed by a maiden. He turns to be right when he he shares an Accidental Kiss with Jazz.
    • In "What She Wants", it's revealed that Desiree's compulsion to grant any wish she hears was due to a spell being placed on her in life by an ifrit. The only way to break it is if she finds her One True Love. Believe it or not, it's Sydney Poindexter.
  • In The Hobbit fanfic I'll Make a Dwarf out of You, Smaug is cursed with a Sleep-Mode Size that will only be broken once he performs a genuinely unselfish act. He decides to help Bilbo pose as a dwarf (It Makes Sense in Context), but because he's only doing it to break the curse, and not because he genuinely wants to, it obviously doesn't count as an unselfish act. It's only when he chooses to try and defend Bilbo from Azog - despite being badly injured - instead of fleeing that he returns to his normal size.
  • In Three Fillies And A Griffon, Starswirl the Bearded, as a punishment for their greed, put a curse on the griffons so that all their children born would die on their first birthday. But he makes it so that, if the child is given a name starting with G, the child will survive to adulthood, hence the Alphabetical Theme Naming for griffons.
  • Invoked in the Contractually Obligated Chaos series. The Fairy Godfather explains that the magic which prevents Beetlejuice from saying his own name is, in fact, not a curse as he had believed - the fact that there is no Curse Escape Clause is proof.
  • Three in With Strings Attached (and probably more, since curses seem pretty common there):
    • The curse on Lyndess keeping her in Ketafa could only be overcome if she could cross the ocean without using any sort of vessel or teleportation. She was hoping to build up enough charge in her teleport plaques to overcome the proscription and send her over. However, she decided she had a better chance to escape by porting the four to Baravada, asking them to find her friends and have them rescue her. She also came up with a wacky scheme to shrink herself and ride John over (he had been mutated into a Winged Humanoid), which would have taken weeks, and turned out not to be feasible because his appetite had increased beyond her ability to keep him sated.
    • Brox's stay-in-Ta'akan curse on Ast'aris could be broken if he died—not as drastic a solution as it sounds, as resurrection is cheap and easy in Baravada. However, he was much too proud to kill himself, which Brox knew very well.
    • The curse on Ketafa that prevented the gods from seeing it could only be removed if the Vasyn, a statue sundered into three pieces that were scattered across dimensions, was restored to the continent. Of course, the four ultimately found themselves doing this. However, subverted in that there really was no curse on Ketafa; the gods merely told everyone there was so they didn't have to pay attention to the place. They were, however, delighted when the Vasyn showed up, because they'd been wanting to leave the planet forever but couldn't for legal reasons. The arrival of the Vasyn meant they could transfer the place to the Pyar gods.
  • In The Legend of Link: Lucky Number 13, Link escapes an endless cycle of Ocarina of Time runs (where he would win, be sent back to "regain his stolen childhood", and everything would repeat) by instead living 6 of the designated 7 years normally and then defeating Ganondorf a year early. This way, there would be no justification in sending him back to regain anything - he gave it willingly.
    • Possibly subverted in that the goddesses had full control of the situation and could have sent him back anyway, and chose not to because they figured he was sufficiently prepared to face his father.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the Disney adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, this is justified in that Merriweather was actually augmenting Maleficent's "die on her Dangerous 16th Birthday" curse. She wasn't strong enough to negate it, but she could provide an out.
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast had the enchantress give the stipulation that if the Beast could learn to love someone selflessly, and have his love returned by the time the petals fall off a magical rose, the spell would be broken. Possibly to Teach Him A Lesson but her motives aren't revealed.
  • Disney's adaptation of Hercules involved a deal made between Hercules and Hades where Hercules would give his powers up for 24 hours in exchange for the safety of his Love Interest Megara. After a fight between Hercules and the Cyclops, a pillar was knocked onto Meg, fatally injuring her. As a result, Hercules' powers were restored.
  • In Disney's The Princess and the Frog only the kiss from a princess can break the spell, all others need not apply.
    • They try to break the spell through deliberate Loophole Abuse, too. First Naveen and Tiana try to break the spell by having Naveen kiss Charlotte, who's been crowned Princess of Mardi Gras (a ceremonial title akin to a prom queen). When they fail to do so before the end of Mardi Gras, Naveen marries Tiana. Since Naveen is a prince of the kingdom of Maldonia, their marriage automatically makes commoner Tiana a princess. So when Naveen kisses her right after, the spell breaks. Bonus points that neither of them knew that that would happen.
  • The spell Queen Grimhilde of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs places on the apple. It stipulates that one who suffers from the sleeping death can be cured only by love's first kiss. Grimhilde dismisses the loophole since Snow White will be taken for dead and buried alive. Grimhilde obviously didn't read a lot of fairy tales as a child.
  • Frozen; "Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart." In this case, it was Anna's act of love that thawed her heart, not the True Love's Kiss as Anna and Kristoff thought it was at first. Just as well, as Hans was nobody's True Love.
  • In The Swan Princess, the curse that turns Odette into a swan and back ostensibly can only be broken by Rothbart himself if she marries him. It's later revealed that if her sweetheart Derek makes a vow of love to her that he then proves to the world, that will be enough to break it.
  • In Shrek, Princess Fiona is cursed from a young age to transform into an ogre at sunset and return to her human form at sunrise. It can only be undone by True Love's Kiss — but when this kiss comes from the titular male ogre, she retains the form that's compatible with him, subverting the usual Beauty Equals Goodness ending.
    • Fun trivia? In the original storyboards, the "night" form was her NATURAL form! She was actually under an enchantment to be beautiful during the day. This makes sense, in light of her father being a frog.
    • In Shrek Forever After, Rumpelstiltskin's Magically Binding Contract with Shrek is rendered null and void by... wait for it... True Love's Kiss. Further played with by noting that Rumpelstiltskin is obligated to provide an escape clause in his contracts, and he's had to resort to alternate forms of trickery to hide it. In Shrek's case, the words are scattered willy-nilly about the page and it requires origami to put it together.
      • There's also a passing mention of the "Correctly guess my name" escape clause from the original fairy tale. Apparently he stopped doing that after it got to the point that everyone knew his name.
  • In Brave aside from the Celestial Deadline of breaking the spell before the second sunrise, there's an actual rhyme whose meaning Merida must puzzle out. "Fate be changed/Look inside/Mend the bond/Torn by pride."
    • Interestingly, in a short film on the DVD, the witch explains more of the backstory for the Big Bad, Mor'du and how he was given a similar clause. She made a small cauldron for him, which he could use to gain the strength of ten men as he wanted, or he could instead use it to heal the rift he caused within his family. As you can probably guess, he chose the former, slaughtered his brothers, and then his own men either turned on him, or fled in fear because they only saw a beast, not their leader. So unlike Merida, he ended up destroying his kingdom due to his wish to change his fate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played with in Frog Story. The magic frog who turns into a woman apparently isn't cursed; she can turn back into a frog at will. But she does need a true love's kiss in order to change into a woman again.
  • The lovers of Ladyhawke are cursed to be apart: she is a hawk by day, while he is a wolf by night. When they are reunited during a solar eclipse, the spell is broken.
  • Zig-zagged in Maleficent, when the title character curses Aurora, claiming that no force on earth can stop it once it is cast; King Stefan's begging appeals to Maleficent's sense of humor and she includes the True Love's Kiss escape clause. Neither Maleficent nor Stefan believe in true love after Stefan's betrayal, making it a cruel No Man of Woman Born situation in their perspective — though while Love at First Sight turns out to be a wash, Maleficent's own eventual love for Aurora as a surrogate parent is strong enough to overcome the curse.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has the eponymous curse laid on the gold by the Aztec gods: Any man who removes but a single piece from the chest is cursed for all eternity. The only way to break the curse is to return not only every single gold piece to the chest, but also blood from the one who took it. Merely possessing a piece from the chest is not sufficient to suffer the curse; it only affects those who actually remove the gold themselves. Moreover, the curse can be lifted only by the specific afflicted individuals (or their direct blood descendants). Both the curse itself and the escape clause are employed strategically by Jack during the final battle.

    Literature 
  • In George MacDonald's Little Daylight, a princess is cursed to be nocturnal and have her beauty wax and wane with the moon. When the moon is full, she's very beautiful and looks as young as she is; as it wanes, she gradually loses her beauty and seems to age. The condition of the curse ending is that a prince kiss her without knowing it. (It's broken when a prince meets her or sees her when the moon is full, and then later meets her when the moon is new and (platonically) kisses the "old woman" he sees without knowing it's her.)
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, a fairy woman is bound into service until "the moon loses her daughter, if it happens in a week when two Mondays come together". The condition is met by the moon "losing" her daughter (the star) to love, in the same week that Mr. Monday gets married.
  • In Shaman of the Undead it's a healthy practice to include an escape clause in your immortal oath if the oath proves impossible to fulfill. You can make an oath without it, but you're doing it at your own risk, and if you fail to fulfill the oath, side effects include annoyed ghosts, lack of sleep and Heroic RRoD.
  • In George MacDonald's The Light Princess, a witch curses a baby princess with her Baptismal water (it's a very Christian book) to "lose her gravity" — which means that she's tossed about by the slightest breeze, and that she cannot take anything seriously. The only time she is unaffected is in the water, so the kingdom's finest scientists reason that if she can be made to cry, the spell will be undone.
  • These are apparently mandatory on the Discworld: in Sourcery, a dying wizard tries to cheat Death by transferring his essence into his sourcerer (not a typo) son's staff. Death reminds him that, because only he is inescapable, there must be some loophole in the prophecy. The loophole is that the wizard would truly die when his son voluntarily threw away his staff. Which he did when he realized he just wanted to be an eight year old boy, not the most powerful wizard on the Disc.
    • The wizard had originally tried "till hell froze over," but Death stopped him because he was "not allowed to enlighten [him] on the temperature of the next world."
  • In The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, one of the subplots involves a sorcerer who uses pure gold as his power source, but must deliberately put a flaw in each spell. For example, he created a magical prison for the destructive Sandgorgons, the flaw being that if a particular Sandgorgon's name is spoken aloud, it is released until it kills the speaker. He wants Covenant's white gold ring, because being an alloy, it is "flawed" already, and thus can be used to create perfect works.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, setting and foiling these clauses is practically a science (though it would have to be, since The Tradition, ambient magic in the land, causes events to turn out like whichever fairy tale they most resemble). If there isn't an escape clause in the curse The Tradition will put one in. It hates unbreakable curses.
  • In Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly, the villainess performs a curse without 'limitations' and summons a dragon which she refuses to banish. The heroine later figures out that she can't banish it, not won't, since the 'limitations' keep the curse alive and give the caster ongoing control over it.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In The Moonlight" when a Physical God used Taken for Granite on his son's murderers, for some reason he let them move in the moonlight — which lets them plague people during that time. Fortunately, Olivia deduces this from her dream.
  • In James Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon short story "Child of the Gods", Telzey is mentally enslaved by another psionic, with several of her most potent skills locked away. When the man is incapacitated and a monstrously powerful alien is shortly due to arrive to enslave and/or eat them, Telzey breaks free when she realizes that his command to look after his best interests—without him conscious to decide otherwise—would best be served if she had full access to all her abilities and was free of his control so she could use them most effectively.
  • In Jim C. Hines' The Princess Series curse loopholes are explained as being about leverage and possibility; a truly unbreakable spell would require an enormous amounts of power but true love is rare enough that it's functionally the same as an unbreakable curse. Which also implies that people only hear about the notable cases — the rare ones that have been broken.
  • Shadow Spell by Caro King (from the Seven Sorcerers series) features many of them:
    • Azork - If he ever feels love again, his existence as leader of Cryptmonsters ends.
    • Simeon Dark - if somebody tells him who he is, he will remember everything and become the sorcerer again
    • And Stroodds True Immortality also has one...
    • And while never explicitly stated, it's heavily implied that Nin's luck will expire if she ceases to be a Plucky Girl.
  • In Vadim Panov's Secret City:
    • The Key of Three Races is an ancient prophecy involving the three oldest races in the known universe - the Asura, the Nav' and the Tat'. As the Nav' have exterminated the Asura and hunted the Tat' down to three individuals, no details are known except that the prophecy must contain some specific trigger condition.
    • The House of Lyud' carries the Harbringer prophecy. While all male Lyuds are incapable of magic, a boy born with magic will change the very nature of the House of Lyud'.
    • The Hyperboreans, upon losing the war against the united forces of Nav', Chud' and Lyud', willingly sealed themselves in pocket dimension known as the Deep Bestiary. Azag-Thot and his three mistresses stayed outside, and their coming into power would release the Hyperboreans. Over the course of the series, a sizable Hyperborean army is released in this fashion, but some stay behind.
    • The mistresses of Azag-Thot could not stay as they were. Their essences were grafted into three human women and are carried by their bloodlines, always skipping two generations and manifesting in girls. The carriers are easily identified, as they perfectly resemble their grand-grandmother, but resemble neither parent. The escape clause is imbibing a dose of the Golden Root extract or an artificial designer drug of the same structure and properties.
    • The Flying Dutchman exists as a ship of the name, cursed to forever attempt traveling around the Cape of Good Hope. The escape clause is actually completing the journey, but the crewmen on board are ageless and impervious to harm as long as they don't decide to quit.
  • Bruce Coville:
    • One story features an inversion: a ghost of a seafarer who simply could not stop wandering the world, much to the annoyance of his wife. Since she was a witch, she put a curse on him, that his ghost would only rest once man had walked on the moon, and he was told about it. However, he's not in much of a hurry to move on, as he's found a young boy who's eager to hear his stories (and the boy's friend almost spills the beans before he knows that).
    • In Juliet Dove, Queen of Love, Juliet Dove gets a magic locket stuck around her neck. Because the locket magically causes all men to become obsessed with her and is the prison of Eros, god of love, she really wants to get rid of it. Unfortunately, she can't break the love spell on it until a "mouse roars like a lion" and can't get the locket off without a "mother's touch". The mouse roaring like a lion refers to her overcoming her shyness and improvising a poem in front of an auditorium of people. The mother's touch is fulfilled when Aphrodite, mother of Eros, touches the locket while acknowledging she was wrong to separate him from Psyche.
  • Holes: Elya Yelnats does not fulfill his promise to carry Madame Zeroni up a mountain and sing while she drinks from a stream, so she curses his entire family with bad luck. When his descendant Stanley Yelnats carries Hector Zeroni up a mountain and sings while he drinks from a stream, the curse is lifted.
  • The Sweet Valley Twins book The Magic Christmas, the magic of the fairy land the twins travel to requires curse escape clauses—though the caster of the curse can make it as difficult as possible to invoke the escape clause. The initial curse that the twins break to set off the adventure involves two princes who were changed into dolls until two different people could solve a riddle at exactly the same moment. At the end, the heroes change the villain into a doll, keeping him in that form until the twins' friend Lila can come up with a rhyme for "kingdom." The twins tell Lila not to think about it too hard.
  • In Pavane In Pearl And Emerald, all curses have an escape clause as a side effect of the magic system. Unfortunately the protagonist doesn't know what the escape clause is for the curse binding the princess.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cleverly applied in Buffy and Angel: Angelus, described as "the most evil vampire on record," is cursed with a human soul, resulting in him having a conscience and suffering guilt for the 150 years of atrocities he had committed. The clever part is that the escape clause is "if he experiences true happiness", which in the season it became a plot point is explicitly defined as "one moment when his soul is at peace". Effectively meaning that the curse would break only when it was no longer making him suffer. When Angel has his night with Buffy, the one he loves, in the second season of her show, it's enough to activate the Curse Escape Clause and before Buffy knows it, it's Angelus time.
    • The curse is later deliberately broken when they need to ask Angelus some things Angel doesn't know, by hiring someone to feed him into a magic Lotus-Eater Machine.
    • It was a bit subverted (not sure if that'd be the right word for this) when Wesley tells Angel to stop using the curse as an excuse not to go after a relationship opportunity with an interested woman (who Angel met because she was bitten by a werewolf). After all, as Wes puts it, "Most of us have to settle for adequate happiness."
    • It was played with when Angel was given drugs by a starlet wanting to be turned so she could keep her good looks, and the curse was loosened enough to allow Angelus to take control while he was high. Also, the curse failed to break after Angel had sex with Darla, as this was an act of despair, not love.
  • Once Upon a Time is all over this trope. The entire town of Storybrooke is cursed with Laser-Guided Amnesia, but Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter was smuggled out and is slated to break that curse Because Destiny Says So.
    • In-universe, True Love's Kiss acts as a universal cure for all manner of curses.
  • Married... with Children: To exact Disproportionate Retribution against the blacksmith who insulted her, a witch cursed the village where they lived into never receiving sunlight again. The curse was set to last until the blacksmith and all his male descendants were killed within the village limits. Four hundred years later, the trope was averted when Al Bundy (descendant of the blacksmith) defeated Igor (descendant of the witch) and it ended the curse without fulfilling the conditions set by the witch.
  • Being Human (US): Werewolves can lift the curse on themselves by killing the werewolf that first turned them. The catch? It has to be done while in human form. The part where doing so also cures anyone you've infected, on the other hand, is just a hopeful myth.
  • On Wynonna Earp, it's believed that the Earp Curse can only be broken if the same Heir manages to kill all 77 revenants before the next one comes of age.

    Pinball 
  • In Golden Logres, the Green Knight's curse can only be lifted after he is defeated by Sir Gawain.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Ravenloft campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons, if any character speaks a curse against somebody, they may attract the attention of the Dark Powers that control the setting, which will inflict the curse upon the victim. This is more likely to happen if the curse has an escape clause. Additionally and more prominently, every Darklord of the setting is in very special hell tailor-made to constantly torment them despite their powers. The only known way to break free is to admit that they've done unforgivable deeds and deserve their punishment; but the whole thing is doubly ironic as if they are capable of admitting their mistake, they would never have become Darklords in the first place.
    • The Book of Vile Darkness gives us dying curses, which are spoken by an evil creature as it dies. There are two ways to cure them - one is ninth-level magic, and one is a condition set at the time of casting (such as "Climb the tallest mountain in the world"). These may be completed by someone acting on the cursed's behalf, as long as they do so explicitly to lift the curse (for example, if a peasant didn't know the king was cursed and climbed the tallest mountain in the world, nothing would happen - but if the king's champion did so in his lord's name, the curse would be lifted).
    • In the Forgotten Realms sourcebook "The Fall of Myth Drannor", the elves of Myth Drannor captured daemons (yugoloths) and locked them in an invisible prison, which would only break if a "good-hearted red dragon" flew past it. Centuries later, as elven civilization became far less militaristic, a hybrid red dragon, raised by a good person, did just that. Oops... The daemons went on to destroy Myth Drannor in a massive war, at one point being attacked by the furious dragon, when it discovered how they had escaped.
    • The Imprisonment Spell places the victim in an And I Must Scream situation. They can become imprisoned underground, in a Pocket Dimension, a gemstone, etc. The caster can provide a set of requirements for the victim's release. It's also possible to dispel this curse by using Dispel Magic as a 9th-level spell or Wish, but if you do not have access to either of those things, it is probably a better idea to see if you can somehow fulfill the curse's escape clause.
  • Inverted in New World of Darkness game Changeling: The Lost. One power changelings get is the ability to create Pledges — magically binding agreements with a range of possible effects. For instance, a person may agree to do a changeling's laundry in exchange for having a servant show up out of nowhere and work for them free of charge. While low-power pledges can be of the "do this to get that" variety, increasing power requires both parties to stipulate some kind of increasingly-bad punishment for breaking the pledge. Fortunately, they can be made for a set duration.
    • However, it is possible to work around the conditions of a pledge, which is why most people with a brain don't try making deals with the Gentry — they likely know every trick in the book. Similarly, the Gentry have made deals with the very nature of creation, but as a result of such phenomenal cosmic power, they're inflicted with Frailties, things that weaken them or cause them harm. The intro fiction to one book has an abducted mortal realize her captor kept visiting her at twilight, compares it to the situation in the Celtic myth above, and waits for the time to take advantage of an in-between state.
    • Mage: The Awakening plays it straight with conditional durations that can be set for spells by a mage with sufficient power over Fate. It allows a mage to extend the duration of a spell, in return for setting a condition under which the spell will end instantly (the easier the condition, the longer the duration). Its explicitly noted that impossible conditions (such as "When the moon falls") cannot be set. It's also subverted with the Curses of the Proximus bloodlines (families of mortals with a magical heritage). If a Proximus family attempts to exploit loopholes in their family Curse, the Curse just alters itself to become worse, while closing off the loophole.
  • For game balance reasons this is required for any "permanent" effect in GURPS.

    Theatre 
  • In Into the Woods, the witch's spell causing the Baker's family to be barren will be lifted if the Baker and his wife can procure a few select objects. (The objects are not directly related to the curse on the Baker's family: they're actually part of the Escape Clause for a curse that the witch is suffering under, and she promises to take the spell off the Baker if he helps her out.)
    • And why does she need the Baker to get the items for her? One of the stipulations of the clause is that the Witch cannot touch any of the ingredients, which becomes critical when they try to use Rapunzel's "hair as yellow as corn" for the spell. Luckily cornsilk "hair" works in a pinch.
  • In the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Ruddigore, Baronets of Ruddigore are cursed to commit a crime every day or die painfully. The main character outwits the curse by pointing out that not committing his daily crime is the same thing as killing himself, which is in and of itself a crime.
  • In the musical Once Upon a Mattress King Sextimus the Silent is mute until "the mouse devours the hawk".
  • In Damn Yankees, Joe, being a shrewd real estate man, insists on writing an escape clause into his Deal with the Devil: he can walk out of the deal at 9:00 PM on the 25th of September, the last day of the pre-World Series baseball season (Joe originally wanted to make the time limit midnight, but the Devil set it back to nine o'clock because the final game of the season would clearly be over by 12:00). Joe ultimately invokes the escape clause at the last possible second, but is still able to help the Senators win the pennant.

    Video Games 
  • This is the premise Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, as Simon has been cursed with Dracula's curse after battling the latter, and in order to prevent himself from dying, Simon must retrieve Dracula's five body parts from mansions across Transylvania, and bring them back to Castleavania in order to fight Dracula one last time.
  • City of Villains characters can be cursed by the Circle of Thorns with a particularly nasty curse that will cause them to undergo the same horrible end that the Circle's enemies, the descendants of the Mu, are planned to face. It's not clear exactly what the result of the curse itself would be, but the Circle were going to slowly torture and kill each Mu, then rip out and then send to a special corner of Hell their souls to be the feed of a demon named Lilitu. As there's roughly 1 billion descendants of Mu on the planet, and the player character would have that done roughly a billion times simultaneously to him or her, mystically inclined contacts tend to assume the term blast radius is apt. Destroying and trapping Lilitu prevents the curse from working.
  • Presented in the Quest for Glory series introduces the concept of a counter-curse that can, well, undo the original curse. The manual for the original game (Hero's Quest) stated that the more powerful the curse used, the less stringent the counter-curse would be. In other words, if a curse was overly powerful, then undoing it would be child's play, but if the curse is minor, countering it would require very specific conditions to occur. And all curses and counter-curses are in rhyming verse, which necessarily results in ambiguity. The player character naturally undoes the curse (though, strangely enough, it's not required to fulfill all the objectives of the counter-curse to win the game, resulting in the game telling you What the Hell, Hero?.) The counter curse is as follows:
    Come a hero from the East You arrive from the eastern pass into Spielburg during the intro
    Free the man within the beast The Baron's son has been turned into a bear, you need to change him back to a human.
    Bring the child from out the band The Baron's daughter has been enchanted and became the leader of the bandits. She needs to have the enchantment lifted.
    Drive the curser from the land Baba Yaga laid the curse, she needs to be driven out of Spielburg.
  • Lampshaded then averted in the AGD Interactive King's Quest games. The Big Bad did put Graham under a curse. All parts of the curse (the family in danger, Graham's heart attack, Rosella and Alexander not inheriting the throne) came true, but not in the way the Big Bad wanted!
    • Invoked with King's Quest VI where Alexander is cursed by the Beast. Alex, being a minor sorcerer, points out that every curse has a weakness to which the Beast tells him to go out and fetch a "Beauty" for him.
    • In King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, the spells cast upon Attis, Lord Tsepish and the Lady of Dreams, all have this escape clause built in.
  • In Fantasy Quest, you can break the curse on a man trapped as a dog by feeding him. This serves mainly as mad mockery; the dog appeared in the first game, you had no option to feed him, and now he's retconned as a man still bitter about your earlier indifference.
  • Caius Ballad of Final Fantasy XIII-2 tries to invoke this regarding Yeul (who is cursed to constant death and resurrection because of seeress powers) by initiating a successful Time Crash. After all, if there's no timeline to see, there's no impending threat on Yeul's life.
  • Because the Dark Parables are based on classic fairy tales, there are a number of curses in them which don't quite work the way they were originally written. The escape clauses, therefore, are similarly turned on their heads, and the Fairy Tale Detective has to fix things in order for the assorted characters to live Happily Ever After.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Geralt remarks that curses are tricky and play on irony after resolving one with a woman who was transformed into a wight. The beggar who placed the curse on her said that since she was beautiful, she would never wish to look at herself in the mirror again, since she adored feasts, nobody would ever wish to dine with her, and since she refused him food, "she would never find a spoon in the world to sate her hunger". Geralt then lifts the curse by eating with her willingly without utensils and making her look at her reflection.

    Web Animation 
  • In Unforgotten Realms, the curses the Heroes have are only bound to their bodies, not their souls.

    Web Comics 
  • One Story Arc in Sluggy Freelance involves a private war between a couple ghosts. One ghost is cursed to play Solitaire over and over until he wins, which he can't do because his deck is missing one card. The 52nd card is framed behind glass, with a sign saying only to break the glass in an emergency.
  • In one Arthur, King of Time and Space strip, the sorceress Morgan mentions that every curse needs to have an out, "or the spell is structurally unsound and won't work".
  • In pages 94 through 105 of Looking for Group, Richard's imp Hctib Elttil puts a pendant on him that shrinks him to the size of a toddler, which also makes him a lot weaker. The pendant's curse can only be broken by performing a selfless act. Seeing as this is Richard, he seems to be screwed. But when the building he and a small boy are in is about to explode, Richard protects the kid with his magic, causing the curse to be broken.
  • Roza features two searches for this.
  • In Erstwhile, the heroine can be saved from being turned into a flower if she is picked.
  • In Housepets!, Pete actually uses this against King. Pete turned a human into a dog with the intent of breaking him so that he'd consent to becoming his avatar. When that failed, he let King build a happy life for himself as a dog (by his own admission, far happier than he'd ever been as a human), complete with love interest. And then told King that he'd surrender their game in one year, at which point King would return to his human form.
  • In Dangerously Chloe Teddy accidentally sells his soul to a demon lord for a girlfriend, said girlfriend reveals once they have sex, he will shortly die after and have his soul dammed. After some arguing, Chloe agrees to help Teddy.
    Teddy: You mean you'll cancel the contract?
    Chloe: Well, I can't... exactly, but there's always a loophole to these things.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Invoked. When Nick thinks he's on the lethal end of a Cartwright Curse, Legs tells him that curses always have a way out. Since he thinks he's fated to die due to being kissed by a certain girl, she suggests he kisses someone else. He tries to get a kiss from Bunni, but she's married, so she hurriedly improvises and says he needs a "pure, freely offered kiss" from someone who doesn't know about the curse.
    Legs: You do realize you just turned my quick fix into a quest.
    Bunni: I'm sure I just violated my Hippocratic Oath on somebody.
    Nick: [off-panel] Anybody got some cologne I can borrow?

    Web Original 
  • In ''The Tale of Harvey the Hare'' the story's protagonist of the same name appears to be doomed until he finds a loophole in the prophecy that has sentenced him to death.

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles loved this one. Word of God says that adding an escape clause makes spells much easier to cast, no matter how unlikely the clause may seem. The only sorcery we've seen that can get around it is either short-term combat magic, or that of The Fair Folk, who are incredibly powerful.
    • The original "permanent statue" spell had the Gargoyles as statues until their castle "rose above the clouds." When too-bored, too-smart, and too-rich David Xanatos moved their castle onto his skyscraper, it did just that. He wanted to see if it would work.
    • Happens again in the "City of Stone" arc when David Xanatos again screws The Rules with money in order to "Make the sky burn"—he creates a flammable gas that will ignite at a specific time, then has the Manhattan Clan and his own robotic gargoyles fly the skies with packs full of the stuff. Unfortunately, Demona catches on, reprograms the gas packs to ignite early (which would make the spell fail), and then changes the computer system's password to something only she knows to prevent anyone from stopping her. It takes magic to get her to reveal the code.
    • Elisa uses Loophole Abuse to undo a spell that made Goliath into an obedient, unthinking slave, by ordering him to behave exactly as if he's not under the spell. Although this loophole wasn't built into the magic by its caster, the nature of this command evidently cancels it out entirely, as Goliath not only resumes behaving normally but ceases to look ensorcelled.
  • In Aladdin: The Series, Agrabbah was once attacked by a would-be conqueror while Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie were away on other business. In desperation, the Sultan donned a suit of enchanted armor that would make him "as strong as stone". The armor allowed him to defeat the conqueror, but also allowed the spirit of the armor's original wearer, an evil sultan of Agrabbah's past, to possess him, turning him evil and paranoid to the point where he tried having Jasmine executed. Aladdin realized that "as strong as stone" meant that the armor drew its magic from a stone statue of the evil sultan, and was able to break the spell and restore Jasmine's father to his old self by coercing him into destroying the statue.
  • The plot of the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: L.I.C.O.R.I.C.E." involves Black Tom Licorice and his crew of Ghost Pirates, who are cursed because they greedily chopped down an entire forest of red licorice. The curse made the licorice black and turned them into licorice skeletons. They seek to break the curse by planting a seed that can restore the forest, which Numbuh 5's rival Heinrich von Marzipon unwisely stole.
  • Wunschpunsch: Every spell cast by using the Wunschpunsch parchment comes with a Curse Escape Clause that comes in riddle shape and it's up to the heroes to figure it before it's too late. (Wunschpunsch spells that last seven hours become permanent).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Hearts and Hooves Day", the Love Potion spell is broken by keeping Big Mac and Cheerilee from looking at each other for an hour. This, however, is harder than it sounds, as the Love Poison makes those it's cursed become psychotically obsessed with each other.
    • Telling the truth breaks the Inspiration Manifestation spell.
  • "Secret Decoder Ring," an episode The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy involved a giant female worm creature named Lubber. She was a former classmate of Grim's who had a crush on him; when the whole student body made fun of him for it, she proceeded to devour every single one of them. As punishment, the principal banished Lubber to a bottomless pit and cursed her to guard the secret of the universe for all time. But the curse came with an escape clause: if a human looked upon the secret, she'd be free, and the poor schmuck who saw it would be forced to take her job. An honor which goes to Mindy. Bonus points for the curse being treated as an actual contract, complete with the specific section containing the clause (and a 401K, apparently).
  • 850 Meters: The "Ugly" Princess is only ugly because of a curse that'll be broken if the dragon guarding her tower is slain. It turns out to be a lie to convince the knight to look for the invincible sword. The "Princess" is actually a hand puppet controlled by the dragon's sister.
  • Shirley the Medium from Courage the Cowardly Dog is fond of karmic Gypsy curses on people who screw her over or prove to be extremely unpleasant, but she always leaves an out in the circumstance they learn their lessons. This usually mean Eustace, but Courage ends up having to fix it because it usually puts Muriel in the line of fire too.
  • Featured in the Donkey Kong Country episode "The Curse of Kongo Bongo". The only way to undo the effects of the Curse of the Double Doubloon ("The Double Curse of Bluebeard Baboon lies in these words you see / Read them once, then read them twice and your island is history") is to read a spell from one of Cranky's spell books; "The Curse of the Double Doubloon can easily be reversed / Read these words, and you will see your island is no longer cursed"
  • Steven Universe: A standard feature of Pearls is that if their owner gives them a clearly defined order, they have to obey it, even if their owner isn't around anymore. However, if they can find a way to break the order, they're free of it forever. The problem comes in that they are physically compelled to fulfill the order, making it extremely hard to find loopholes. One such instance was a Pearl who was ordered to keep a secret, and whenever she tried to talk about it, or anything connected to it, her hand would forcibly cover her mouth. She finds a way around it by sending somebody ready enough into her memories to see the order itself and the circumstances behind it.
  • Spoofed in The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror XII": Homer ruins a gypsy fortune teller so she levies a curse on him that affects those he cares about, which results in several people dying including Bart. At the end of the episode we find out that if Homer would just apologize the curse would be lifted — which would also bring back the people who died — but he refuses to do it because "She's not the boss of me!"

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