The Kind of Necromancy that Never Pays

List of books and stories in which necromancy doesn't pay

Spoiler: it’s most kinds. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of necromancy:

1. (a) The art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment.
1. (b): fig. and in extended use. Something resembling necromancy in nature or effect.
2. As a count noun: an act of necromancy; (more generally) a spell.
3. With capital initial. A name formerly given to the part of the Odyssey (Book 11) describing Odysseus’ visit to Hades.

And here’s my narrower definition:

The kind of necromancy that doesn’t pay consists of trying to communicate with the dead—especially with the intent of trying to find out something about what it’s like after death--or attempting to bring the dead back to life. I don’t differentiate between different kinds of life after death (zombies, vampires, etc.) but include any kind of resurrection in which a living person remembers life before dying and then experiences a changed life.

1. The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain)

The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander
Arawn raises dead warriors from a black cauldron so they can fight for him.

2. A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, Book 1)

Xanth series, Piers Anthony
Jonathan, a King of Xanth, re-animates the dead.

3. Ruin and Rising (The Grisha Trilogy)

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
Characters with powers called “Grisha” try to discover the secrets of an early Grisha named Morozova without uncovering the forbidden mysteries that led to his destruction.

4. The Somnambulist: A Novel

The Somnambulist, Jonathan Barnes
Samuel Taylor Coleridge preserved in some kind of steampunk apparatus and then reanimated is briefly amusing, until he begins to lose body parts and spew green poisonous liquid.

5. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt)

The House With a Clock in its Walls, John Bellairs
At a crucial moment, Lewis remembers what he’s read in magic books and is able to destroy the person he brought back from the dead, along with her doomsday device

6. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt)

The House With a Clock in its Walls, John Bellairs
At a crucial moment, Lewis remembers what he’s read in magic books and is able to destroy the person he brought back from the dead, along with her doomsday device.

7. The Elementals: A Novel

The Elementals, Francisca Lia Block
Ariel is asked to join with other characters in a necromancy scheme. And then it is revealed that their purpose was (gasp!) nefarious all along.

8. The Purple Emperor

The Purple Emperor, Herbie Brennan
Pyrgus, the crown prince of Faerie, is about to be crowned as Purple Emperor. But Pyrgus’s father, the murdered Purple Emperor, has just been raised from the dead.

9. The Necromancer's House

The Necromancer’s House Christopher Buehlman
What is the price for trying to communicate with the dead? Staying trapped in the past is the price Christopher Beuhlman’s fictional necromancer, Andrew, pays.

10. Devil's Kiss

Devil's Kiss, Sarwat Chadda
This novel mixes necromancy, Arthurian legend, and Templar mythology and tosses in a handful or two from Paradise Lost, with just a pinch of the Crusades.

11. A Good and Useful Hurt

A Good and Useful Hurt, Aric Davis
Getting a tattoo with a dead person’s ashes in the ink allows these characters to dream about their dead loved ones as if they were still alive. When the main character ends up with a dead loved one, he goes to extraordinary lengths to get some of her ashes and make himself a tattoo. And that’s when he realizes that he also has to tattoo the ashes of everyone else her killer has killed onto himself, so the dead women in his dreams can help him find their killer.

12. American Gods: A Novel

American Gods, Neil Gaiman
One character is martyred and then resurrected by a god named “Easter,” and another comes back to a diminished life by means of unintential necromancy with leprechaun gold.

13. Requiem in La Paz

Requiem in La Paz, Jonna Gjevre
Isobel, a concert violinist with a cursed instrument, thinks that Paulsen, a necromancer, “sees the devil as he really is” but she is wrong. Paulsen is out of his depth, trying to influence forces that he cannot possibly control.

14. The Odyssey

The Odyssey, Homer
Odysseus must travel to the underworld and raise the spirits of the dead through the use of spells in order to find his way home.

15. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Jonathan L. Howard
It’s the juxtaposition of Johannes Cabal’s dark obsession with regaining his own soul and bringing the dead back to life for his own purposes with his acute sense of morality and the ridiculousness of the situations he finds himself in that gives this novel the tension that makes it worth reading.

16. The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw, W.W. Jacobs
A wife asks her husband to use a magical object to wish their son back to life. Soon afterwards they hear a knock at the door and he is afraid to open it, realizing that their son’s body has been buried for more than a week. He suddenly understands that the thing outside is not the son they knew and loved and makes another wish so that when the door is finally opened, there is no one there.

17. Pet Sematary: A Novel

Pet Sematary, Stephen King
A man’s cat and then his two-year-old son and his wife return from the dead as monstrous versions of their former selves.

18. Revival: A Novel

Revival, Stephen King
What Jamie sees and hears when a preacher’s electrical device is successful at raising the dead is horrifying. It kills the preacher and brings Jamie himself to the edge of sanity, where he totters, off-balance for the rest of his days, afraid to die and find out that the horrifying glimpse he had of life beyond death is all that there is.

19. A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle)

Ged is a magician in Earthsea. When he was young he dared to try a powerful necromantic spell and let an undead shadow loose upon the world. He must cross the threshold of death in order to restore balance

20. The Farthest Shore (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 3)

In The Farthest Shore, Cob, a dark mage Ged defeated many years before, has learned how to cheat death and live forever, which is sucking all the life out of the world. Ged finally manages to defeat Cob by sacrificing his own magic powers.

21. Herbert West: Reanimator

Herbert West—Reanimator, H.P. Lovecraft
Each of Herbert West’s attempts to restart bodies after death produces results more horrifying than the last, until one of the reanimated bodies leads the others in an assault on West in revenge, and they tear him apart.

22. The Thing on the Doorstep

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft
"The thing” revealed at the end of the story is the narrator’s friend trapped inside his wife’s putrefying corpse, after the demonic character who possessed her has thrown it off.

23. Gil's All Fright Diner

Gil's All Fright Diner, A. Lee Martinez
A necromancer plans to rip open a hole in the fabric of space so old gods can emerge, destroy the world, and give her powers. Her portal is in Gil’s Diner.

24. Dr. Faustus (Dover Thrift Editions)

Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
Dr. Faustus rejects the advice of a good angel; he takes the advice of an evil angel who lures him by promising him god-like powers from the practice of necromancy.

25. The Abhorsen Trilogy Box Set (Old Kingdom)

The Abhorsen Trilogy, Garth Nix
The necromancer's bells are used by the Abhorsen and the Necromancers, and can either bind or raise the dead, but there are unintended consequences if the user is improperly trained.

26. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5)

The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan
Hades calls warriors back from the dead to fight Percy Jackson.

27. Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Acts of necromancy in this series include the reanimation of Voldemort and the ability to speak with the dead using the “resurrection stone” which was formerly owned by one of the three brothers who performed necromancy.

28. Frankenstein

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Nothing good happens when a man experiments with the reanimation of dead tissue.

29. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (the Hobbit / the Fellowshi

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
In The Hobbit, the evil force is called the “necromancer.” In The Lord of the Rings, he has become Sauron.

30. The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel (P.S.)

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
The Jinni gives a speech against necromancy to a little boy whose mother has just died when the boy comes to him saying “bring her back!”

31. I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver)

I am not a Serial Killer, Dan Wells
When John discovers a demon keeping himself alive with body parts he takes from his victims, he resolves to bring him to justice.
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