If you find yourself the protagonist of a science fiction or fantasy series, besieged by dark magics or insane AIs, you’d better hope you’re lucky. Sometimes a good dose of luck is the only thing standing between you and certain death. On Saint Patrick’s Day, we honor 10 characters who really could use the luck of the Irish.
Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher)
Harry Dresden is a wizard perpetually down on his luck. His parents died while he was young, leaving him in the clutches of an evil mage who wanted to enslave him and use Harry’s magic as his own. Said magic fries electronics and causes Harry no end of problems. As a Chicago detective, Harry gets his teeth kicked in by seemingly every fae, vampire, and demon in the Midwest. He’s also incredibly unlucky in love: most of his relationships end in magical betrayal, vampirism, or death. It’s not easy being Harry.
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Neville Longbottom (The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling)
Some might argue for another Harry here, but we feel for poor Neville Longbottom. Often characterized as a tagalong to the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Neville nevertheless tends to attract his own brand of trouble. He and Harry were born close together, and if fate had gone another way, he may have been revered as the Boy Who Lived. And yeah, that would’ve meant his parents were dead, but was he that much better off, considering they were instead driven insane by the Lestranges? Raised by his pushy grandmother, he’s shy, nervous, and frequently a failure in school. Neville tries so hard. The series often rewards him, but only after humiliating or harming him. Standing up to Harry, Hermoine, and Ron earns him 10 points for Gryffindor, but only after he’s spent the night paralyzed by a spell. The Battle of Hogwarts finally turns Neville into a hero, but his m.o. before that is being bullied, terrified, and generally bad at life.
James Stark (Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey)
James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, is deeply unlucky. He spends several years wrongfully in Hell, fighting in violent gladiator pits, just because he stood in the way of the power grab by someone he thought was his friend. Subsequently driven by revenge (Hell will do that to a guy), Stark attempts to launch a new career as an avenging
angel demon guy, but everything he does seems to go horribly, horribly wrong. He brings chaos everywhere he goes: a brief stint as the devil nearly brings about the end of the world, and he constantly finds himself on the losing side of a fight. It’s even unlucky to even know him, as his friends and lovers are often attacked, poisoned, or threatened with zombification. Currently, Stark has found himself dead again, crowning him the king of unlucky urban fantasy protagonists.
Rincewind (Discworld, by Terry Pratchett)
The long-suffering main character of several classic Pratchett novels, Rincewind is often said to be the worst wizard in all of Discworld. He might also be the unluckiest. Perpetually panicked and afraid, Rincewind spends his time running away from almost everyone he meets. His best magic trick is turning a molehill into a mountain. Everything he touches turns unlucky. He bumbles into situations that would stymie competent wizards (if there are such things in Discworld), and is just as surprised as we are when he ends up surviving his various adventures.
Arthur Dent (The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams)
Forget about Thursdays, Arthur Dent can’t get a hang of any day. From waking up to discover his house is right in the middle of a proposed new space highway, to being subjected to Vogon poetry, to getting abducted by various disreputable characters, Arthur Dent is an incredibly unlucky man stuck wandering the universe in his bathrobe. He reluctantly goes on adventures with Ford Prefect and the crew of the Heart of Gold (because what else can you do when your planet has been demolished?). He gets to see the universe, but can’t find a decent cup of tea. Sometimes not even having a towel will help you.
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The Baudelaire children (A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket)
Orphaned by a freak fire that kills their parents, the Baudelaire children are sent to live with the scheming, conniving, criminal Count Olaf. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were seemingly born unlucky, and they spend the 13 books of this delightfully dark series trying to escape Olaf’s harebrained schemes and live to see another day. They bounce around between caring-yet-clueless guardians, all of whom tend to die or disappear under mysterious circumstances. The Baudelaire children are shipwrecked, nearly murdered multiple times, caught in conspiracies, have numerous homes burn down, and are chased, harried, and generally in fear for their lives for years. I dare you to find a group of children more unlucky than the Baudelaires.
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Peter Parker (Spider-Man comics)
There are many unlucky superheros, but Peter Parker tops the list. Bitten by a radioactive spider, Parker takes on the mantle of Spider-Man and strives to keep New York City safe. He’s not great at it. He indirectly causes the death of his Uncle Ben and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy. There’s the struggle with Venom, his sinister alterego, and the downright bizarre tragedy that is his marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Don’t even get us started on what goes down between Parker and Doctor Octopus. Plus, have you seen Spider-Man 3? Peter Parker, you poor unlucky bastard.
The Elric brothers (Full Metal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa)
Full Metal Alchemist is a manga classic, and a great introduction to the medium for sci-fi and fantasy fans who don’t mind a little tragedy in the mix. Edward and Alphonse Elric are desperate children who try to resurrect their dead mother using alchemy. The spell goes horribly wrong, and Elric loses his left leg. Alphonse loses quite a bit more. Elric further sacrifices his arm to save his brother’s soul, binding it into a suit of armor. And that’s only the beginning of the Elric’s bad luck. They get involved in a plot with evil homunculus and uncover incredible evil and suffering in their quest to find a way to fix themselves and save their friends. Death dogs their every step, and they are helpless to save so many they care about. I won’t tell you how the series ends, but let me just say, their luck doesn’t improve.
The Star Trek Redshirts (Redshirts, by John Scalzi, kinda)
Is there any group in science fiction less lucky than the redshirts from Star Trek? If you’re wearing red on an away mission, condolences to your family—you aren’t coming back alive. This trope is so well known, John Scalzi mined it for a hilarious Hugo Award-winning book about what happens when red shirts fight back. (Spoiler: they’re still incredibly unlucky, and slightly death-prone.)
Everyone (A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin)
Seriously. I mean it. Every single person in A Song of Ice and Fire, from Westeros to the Dothraki Sea. These are perhaps the unluckiest group of people in all of science fiction and fantasy, with nothing to look forward to but death, death, and more death. If you are a character in this series, you are going to die. It is going to be horrible, and probably senseless. And you’re still not one of the unluckiest of the bunch, because at least your suffering is over. If this series is a D&D campaign, every single person involved has rolled a critical miss on their luck check.
What SFF characters do you think were born under a bad sign?