Follow TV Tropes

Following

No Ontological Inertia / Literature

Go To

  • In The Hunger Games, a character is near death with blood poisoning and a several-inches-deep gash, most likely dehydrated, and they haven't properly eaten in perhaps a week, but after a shot of a very potent medicine of sorts, they're pretty much fine.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Hogfather features such a Collapsing Lair: The Castle of Bones, located in the otherworldly realm of the anthropomorphic personification and winter god called the Hogfather, starts to disintegrate back into ice and snow from which is was created after the Hogfather became the victim of an assassination attempt to erase his existence from mythology. In a weird subversion, the Hogfather seems to have negative ontological inertia; he ceases to exist before the assassination plot is anywhere close to completion, and returns when the plot has been foiled (again, before completion). This can be somewhat explained by the plan consisting of preventing belief in the Hogfather by means of magically not letting people believe in him, but it used bits of people as they were earlier. For example, making a 30-year-old not have believed in him since 8 years old.
  • Advertisement:
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the destruction of Sauron's Soul Jar (the One Ring) reduces him to an impotent ghost-like state, and with his power gone everything he made is undone, notably his fortress and the morale of his army. All the Rings of Power were created and controlled by Sauron's power and innately tied to the One Ring, so they lost their magic as well — thus the instant destruction of the Nazgûl, which had been kept alive and intact only by the Nine Rings. Even the Three Rings of the Elves lost their power. Though Sauron never touched them and had no hand in their creation, the Ring-Smiths learned their craft from him, and whatever he taught them must have ensured their creations depended on his power or could become tied to it. Presumably, any surviving Dwarven rings were also rendered inert.
  • Harry Potter:
      Advertisement:
    • Spells (at least, some of them) in this universe apparently lack Ontological Inertia. For example, Harry realizes that Dumbledore is dead when the paralysis that character had cast on Harry releases. That same spell has several times been used to zap someone and walk off, so there's no reason but Ontological Inertia that this would work. It is also stated that a piece of soul trapped inside a Horcrux disappears when the Horcrux is destroyed (handwaved as a Horcrux is, apparently, the exact opposite of a human being; thus the Ontological Inertia depends on what contains the soul).
    • Transfiguration also works this way; transfigured objects only stay that way temporarily, and they go back as soon as the wizard stops keeping them transfigured via magic. Referenced by Professor Slughorn, who received an enchanted fish from Harry's mother Lily, one of his former students. Several years later, at the height of magical Britain's civil war, he came into the room with its bowl one morning and the fish had vanished — so he immediately knew that Lily died.
    • Advertisement:
    • More specifically, spells like these seem to be tied to the caster's body being able to house their soul; when a wizard's body is damaged beyond repair and their soul vacates it, these spell effects expire. When Voldemort attempted to kill the one-year-old Harry, his Killing curse rebounded, which destroyed his body but due to his Horcruxes didn't kill him. It's described that after Voldermort's apparent death hundreds of wizards who had been under the Imperius curse came back to their senses – although it's unclear how many of them were actually telling the truth.
  • Deryni magic works this way. Not only is it physically tiring to perform (exhausting when performed excessively), but effects vanish when their creator is destroyed. In The Quest for Saint Camber, Tiercel De Claron dies after Conall pushes him down a flight of stairs, and the handfire he'd created to light their way flickers and vanishes.
  • Commonly in stories involving vampires, werewolves or other "infectious" monsters; killing the "head vampire" (or what have you) also cures or kills any subservient creatures that one had created. Great way to have all of the main cast turned into these creatures and then have them back to normal in time for next week. Then again, magic may work that way for the purposes of plot.

    This goes all the way back to Dracula. However, in the case of old Drac, the victim only got cured because the transformation wasn't complete yet. This has also been seen in the film Fright Night and the "Vampire Odyssey" series by Scott Ciencin; the vampiric transformation can be undone but only under very strict conditions (the creator vampire must be killed before dawn the same night, or the fledgling vampire must go without feeding for three whole nights).
  • In Anne Rice's "main" saga (The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, mostly), one of the first vampires (who was also a witch/spirit seer/whatever) states that killing the first vampire would in turn kill all vampires. The king, who is the first vampire except he is not, it's actually his wife, but neither of them know it at the moment misunderstood it as "killing any vampire will kill'em all", so he let her go. This lack of ontological inertia is explained as vampirism actually being a spirit "possessing" Akasha, the queen. The spirit has lost his mind and identity (Amel has now what he has always wanted; Amel has the flesh. But Amel is no more.) and it's "core" resides in Akasha, granting her all vampire traits. Amel's "body" extends to the blood of every vampire there exists, so each of the later ones can die and that's it, but should the "core" die, the entire spirit passes on and all vampires are pretty much screwed. They manage to kill her anyways, by having another vampire absorb said "core" and become its new host.
  • Subverted in Rainbow Mars by Larry Niven. In one of the short stories in that book, the entire future in which the book takes place has its past altered so that it never came about. This is caused by the ghost of the time traveler who changed it that way in the first place. Long story. However, Svetz returns to the future and finds it the same as always, due to the effects of "Temporal Inertia". There's still a new future, but his exists purely out of the fact that it did. Of course, this is in a book where time traveling back before the 20th century takes you to a fantasy world with unicorns, Moby Dick, leviathans and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars. In some Svetz stories it's more or less explicitly stated that Svetz' "time machine" slews across parallel universes so that he winds up in the past of a parallel universe which may or may not closely resemble his own universe's past. The reason that he can return to his own universe is that only PART of the time machine (the "extension cage") actually goes anywhere/when; the other part remains in what Svetz thinks of as "the present" and serves as an anchor. It's confusing, but time travel stories often are. And the Word of God is that he goes to a fantasy world because time travel isn't actually possible in the first place — since it can only exist in fiction, "working" time travel can only send you to a fictional version of the past.
  • This is invoked in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Since magic is the effect of a magician imposing their will on the universe, the surest way to cure a person of an enchantment is to kill the enchanter. Though at the end, the curse of darkness placed on the titular magicians lingers long past the death of the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair who placed this curse. Presumably, this is because the earth and the sky actually placed the enchantment, and the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair simply asked them to do this on his behalf.
  • Averted, and explicitly referenced in the Ciaphas Cain book Cain's Last Stand, at the end Varan is dead, but people remain under his mind control. Cain says it would have been much easier the other way.
  • Played with in Larry Niven's "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?". The castles of the magician Wavyhill all collapse when he no longer keeps them functioning because he built them on hills shaped like waves, so that when the magic failed the hill would fall over and bury the castle, hiding any evidence he left behind.
  • Used straight and made part of the plot in Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series.
    • The eponymous swords: The key to their power is that each sword was created in a manner that violates the natural laws of the world: Thorn is Thunderbolt Iron; Memory (Minneyar) was made from the keel of a ship from a far-off land (allegorical Thunderbolt Iron, if you will); and Sorrow (Jingizu) is a mixture of iron and witchwood, two substances that are naturally antagonistic. The magic required to bind them to a permanent form was so strong that it took on a kind of willpower of its own, desiring nothing more than to be released so the stress on the natural order could be removed. The Storm King capitalizes on this to cause the swords to seek him out, and uses their power to reverse time to bring himself back to life. In the end, the swords, drained of their power, disintegrate into nothingness.
    • the Art is explicitly stated to work this way in general within the books; a rule of thumb measure of a character's magical power is how far they can bend the Laws, how long it takes to accomplish, and how long it lasts.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair, after our heroes kill the witch, the gnomes are instantly freed from her Mind Control spell and her cavernous kingdom begins to collapse. Puddleglum reasons the latter is the result of a spell the witch cast so that whoever killed her would die shortly after.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Talking To Dragons, after the evil firewitch is killed, Daystar looks at Shiara, turned to stone. He thinks that some spells die when the caster does, but some powerful casters can do better. This one was powerful.
  • Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron:
    • Averted: Destroying the Cauldron does not destroy all the Cauldron-born zombies. But at least it ensures no one will make any more of them. Played straight in the movie.
    • On the other hand, The High King shows that stabbing one of the Cauldron Born with Dyrnwyn will result in all of the rest dying as well, at the exact same time.
    • Also, killing Arawn will destroy Annuvin as well as mark the beginning of a magic-less time in Prydain (all magic users must sail for other lands, all magic beings must isolate themselves from humanity, and almost all magic items have been destroyed.
  • An interesting variation of this trope is used in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series as the power source of a superweapon, called "Fixed Cosmic Inertia". Basically, the device is placed in a stasis field that means that, no matter what happens to it, the major part of it continues to exist at the moment in space and time that it was originally built. When the weapon is triggered, the "rubber band" effect snaps the weapon to the present, translating all the accumulated energy into a single point in spacetime. The results are quite spectacular.
  • In the Old Kingdom series, there's an example of lack of ontological inertia that actually works against the good guys. Because the Abhorsen has sort-of died, the wardings he put on the Wall to stop the Dead are weakened and about to break.
  • An example with an explanation other that just magic; in Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, Frankenstein/Helios ensured that on his death a signal would be sent out to all of his creations via satellite causing them to drop dead.
  • Terry Brooks used it twice. Once in Sword of Shannara, where destroying the Warlock Lord not only collapses Skull Mountain, but also destroys his Skull Bearers, he being the source of the magic keeping them alive. Then in Wishsong of Shannara, the destruction of the Illdatch, also destroys the Mord Wraiths in the same manner, though it's more of a Keystone Army moment.
  • The fairy tale "The Bronze Ring", found in Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book, features a classical genie ring. Ontological inertia is intentionally canceled when the black sorcerer gets hold of the ring; his first command is "make waste of all that you've done." This is a common stratagem in fairy tales where wishing rings are involved, and may be one of the reasons usage limits were hardwired into later models.
  • Justified in the second book of the Chanters of Tremaris Trilogy, The Waterless Sea when the Palace of Cobwebs collapses to dust when the children are rescued and after the iron-call chant is stopped, as it is explained that the continuous iron-call chant was the only thing holding it together by that point, and stopping the chanters meant that the entire structure had about as much support as a gigantic sand castle.
  • Older Than Radio: In The Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Snow White", all of Snow White's stepmother's attempts to kill her work this way. She laces Snow White's dress up tightly and leaves her for dead, but the dwarfs unlace it and Snow White is fine again. She gives Snow White a poisoned comb, but the dwarfs take it out of Snow White's hair and again she's fine. Even the famous poisoned apple is like this: it lodges in Snow White's throat, and when the prince dislodges it she wakes up.
  • Played with in a short story by Neil Gaiman. The story itself is framed as being told in a club for famous con-men, by one of the best-who proves this claim by relating the tale of how he got into the club by selling a bridge (which the other members deride as so base and guileless that having ever tried such a scheme ought to disqualify you from getting in at all). In the particular corner of the cosmos the tale occurs in, magic was used regularly and the conman referred to Ontological Inertia as a "magical half-life", defined as the length of time after a magician's death that a magical working would stand, to convince several very rich people that an extremely valuable bridge constructed by magic was nearing the end of its half-life and that, by paying him a nominal fee of a few thousand, they themselves could profit greatly when it came down.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" describes in great detail how a mansion decays and collapses before the protagonist's eyes after its residents die.
  • Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time describes a One-Hit Kill called balefire that not only instakills the target but undoes their actions for a period of time before their death, depending on the raw magical strength of the caster. It's used tactically at several points and even brings people back from the grave.
  • David Eddings's Elenium trilogy, after Azash is annihilated, the city of Zemoch begins to collapse under its own accumulated age.
  • Averted in James Herbert's The Fog; while the destruction of the fog results in clear blue skies and sunshine, those who succumbed to its effects are still insane. John Holman, the protagonist, even lampshades this.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories:
    • In "Shadows in Zamboula", the death of the Evil Sorcerer causes the cobras he conjured to vanish.
    • In the Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom", killing the Master of Illusion causes them to reappear as half-human, half-snake.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars novel Llana of Gathol, section "The Ancient Dead". When Lum Tar O is killed by John Carter, all of the people he put into hypnotic suspended animation a million years ago wake up at the same time.
  • In The Dresden Files, things from the NeverNever, be they objects or creatures, will evaporate into ectoplasm if the will keeping them intact flags. This can be a big help in maintaining the Masquerade.
  • In the short story "The Most Precious of Treasures" by Desmond Warzel, the protagonists note that a magical construct has in fact outlasted its creator by several millennia; this trope is not only discussed but mentioned by name.
  • In Replica #16, Happy Birthday, Dear Amy, implanted technology causes Amy to age into an adult overnight on her thirteenth birthday, but she somehow turns back into a teenager when the cause of the age-up is destroyed.
  • Dave Duncan's A Man of His Word books feature a system of magic in which one can assume four levels: Occult Genius, Adept, Mage and Sorceror. Mages and Sorcerors can change the world around them, but only Sorcerors' changes remain without the caster having to maintain them. Of course, sometimes this is a distinction without a difference: "I could turn your head into an anvil. It would be a temporary anvil, but you'd be permanently dead."
  • Firebird: As soon as the sorcerer dies, all his magical creations disappear or revert to their former state. The gardens, gone; the palace, back to being a regular, if large, palace; the statues, free; the monsters, people again.
  • Discussed in Too Many Curses, in which the transformed captives of an evil wizard's castle fully expect their curses to end at once if he dies. When they fail to revert after the wizard's accidental death, one of the captives (a defeated rival wizard) explains that, while novice wizards' spells are sustained by their will, the castle's master was capable of crafting self-sustaining curses that'll take years to expire.
  • One story in Anachronauts centers around Oblivion, a cursed/magic revolver whose bullets make whatever they hit Ret Gone. (These "edits" are as unsubtle as you'd expect from using a Hand Cannon to shoot holes in reality.) When the protagonist manages to get the gun to shoot itself, everyone and everything it removed comes back.
  • Subverted in a non-fantastic way at the climax of Homer's The Odyssey. Odysseus slays Antinous, the leader of the suitors of Penelope, and immediately afterward he and Telemachus have to wipe out all the other suitors as well. It strikes the modern reader as odd because Hollywood action movies have conditioned us to expect to see all the henchmen defeated before it's the Big Bad's turn to die, and if the Big Bad is killed right off the bat, it's often expected that his minions will either run off or simply surrender.
  • In Michael Moorcock's multiverse, the Realm of Chaos is by definition exempt from ontological inertia: in its pure form, Chaos is an ever- shifting ever-changing kaleidoscope of air, earth, fire and water. Things pop out of the primal chaos for no reason, may hold their existence for a while, then morph, change and vanish at random. The realm of Law is the opposite: absolute ontological inertia. Pure Law is a flat barren grey place. Absolute greyness. For ever and ever. Amen.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, Phantom's death means that her marks vanish.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Magic spells tend not to last past the mage's death, unless they are powered by a Tayledras Heartstone. Some enchanted objects are also quite durable.
  • In the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the goddess Burn dreams reality into existence, meaning no existence without Burn sleeping, meaning awakening Burn will end everything in one go.
  • Used inconsistently in The Divine Cities; when the Divinities were killed 75 years before the first book, City of Stairs, their miracles and anything they had built stopped working or ceased existing. This included a lot of the Continent's cities and infrastructure, leaving the place extremely devastated. The city of Bulikov, for example, shrunk by several miles inward. Other miracles, however, kept working, and no in-story explanation is known for why some things stopped existing and others didn't. Storywise, this is a major hint that not all the Divinities are dead.
  • At the end of the Divide series, the hero inadvertently utters a powerword that severs the connection between the magical and mundane realms. As a side-effect of this, the collapse also causes him and several of his friends to be divided, with one copy in each world. When the hero discovers that the mundane world is now cut off from magic, he is afraid that his heart condition (which mas magically healed much earlier in the series) will return. The magical copy of him is reassured that there's a difference between "live" magic (which requires ongoing power and is thus subject to this trope) and "dead" magic (which is completed and requires no further power). His mundane copy may be unable to work magic, but his heart will stay healthy.
  • Inverted in one short story about a girl who wants to be a witch. Over her life she tries several spells; making it rain, destroying her aunt, making a man fall in love with her (which ends up killing him) and summoning a demon. Upon meeting a real witch, she learns the secret; a witch cannot have any love in her heart. She concentrates and fills her heart with hatred, willing every ounce of love and goodness out of herself...and then all the spells come true at once. A typhoon comes out of nowhere, her aunt is suddenly reduced to a sizzling grease stain, her dead crush claws his way out of the grave to be with her, and the demon appears. Too bad there's no magic circle there to keep it contained.
  • Discussed and subverted in Monster Hunter International by Earl while explaining in his backstory in Alpha. After he was bitten by a werewolf and turned into one, he remembered an old story/legend that if you kill the werewolf who turned you the curse would be broken. He admits that myth's total bullshit and even the him of back then knew it, but he was so desperate to escape the curse that he was willing to try any potential cure and spent months hunting the werewolf down himself before finally killing it. Sure enough, it didn't work and he contemplated suicide before events made him decide to use his new powers for better causes.
  • The Raven Tower: A god's death nullifies any artifact or contract that relies on its power, although there are rumours that Ancient Ones can lay Curses that persist long after their deaths.

Top

Example of:

/

Feedback