This is the kind of stuff you learn when you’re writing a fantasy novel about magpies.
First, people in England and Scotland are really, really suspicious about them. Or at least those who are the type to get suspicious over things.
When you see a magpie or magpies, better count the number – and then recite the poem to see what the number of magpies foretells:
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a story that remains untold
Eight for heaven
Nine for Hell
And ten for the Devil’s own self.
(There seem to be several variations if Wikipedia is to be believed; for my purposes, I think the one featured here is the most fitting. And since I’m a fantasy author, I can pick the one that fits me best. Neener neener.)
(Peter Max-like art and British cultural rot* brings us this. Eeeeouggghhhh.)
Which led me into this. More evidence that, culturally, the 1960s and 70s were NOT kind to ANYONE on the entire planet. (Also, bear in mind this is a childrens’ program. But enough of that particular rabbit hole.)
Segue: Could I indeed write a science fiction novel set in the 1970s in which aliens bent on destroying the planet arrive and are so shocked and appalled by the poor taste of the 1970s that they leave without destroying anything, figuring the whole planet is just going to rot away by itself? Kind of taking the idea that Indian Love Call=Death to Martians from Mars Attacks! but more better?
So. Lots of stuff to play around with here as I revise (yet again) Doleful Creatures. Certainly, one for sorrow fits Jarrod, bereft and alone, as he is through a good portion of the book. And if I’m remembering right, he and Rebekah have six nestlings – bringing them, at least to heaven – until things invariably go south and leave him in his sorrow.
And that seven line. Well, that’s something fun to play with as well.
And the Devil’s Own Self – now there’s another fun nickname, and a lot more fun to say than Holstein Pheasant. It’s got to be the one said when the sayer really wants to be nasty, so I’m not going to overuse it.
And there’s also this: In a research abstract by Susan Fitzpatrick and Peter Price in which they reveal their study that magpies tend to pair up based on tail quality – those with prettier/longer/undamaged tails tend to mate up, while those with scragglier tails tend to do the same. If I’m reading their research properly, those with the most intact tails more successfully mated as well.
And this is where the good writer decides to lay off research for a while, lest the novel he’s working on descend into magpie ephemera.
Obviously, though, much more usable stuff in the former (sans Peter Max) than the latter.
*Note to any Brits out there reading this. I KNOW the United States has produced its own share of cultural rot on a truly massive scale. You have to agree, though, that pound for pound, the rot you produce usually led to the rot we produce. And your rote is specifically unique to your country. Just see what British television has done to the novels of Terry Pratchett.