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Many stories feature powers or abilities that are inherent to an individual, whether fantastic, pseudo-scientific, or perhaps even actually scientific. But sometimes they are not so inherent. Sometimes, another character can take those powers, which may or may not deprive the first character of their use. For example

  • In X-Men, Rogue can steal the powers of another mutant (and occasionally those of non-mutant characters).
  • In Mistborn and other Cosmere novels, Hemalurgy can be used to rip away a thread of spiritual "DNA" and staple it to someone else.
  • On the TV show Heroes, Peter Petrelli can permanently (later, temporarily) acquire any power possessed by someone he touches.
  • In the Kirby series of video games, Kirby can use a version of an enemy's power by eating it.

What is the earliest instance of this sort of "power theft" in fiction? It could be from mythology, fantasy, comic books, or pretty much anything else.


What doesn't qualify:

  • Shapeshifting into someone else, and gaining their powers as a result.
  • Taking back a power one originally possessed, after giving it to someone (e.g. Coyote on Gunnerkrig Court).
  • Reading someone's mind and using their knowledge to become good at some mundane activity.
  • 1
    Does eating the heart of your enemy count?! – user31178 Apr 17 '16 at 3:59
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    @CreationEdge - You want to go Aztec? Might work. I was thinking of stealing supernatural powers, but I won't turn my nose up at stealing ordinary abilities with magic. Go ahead and write an answer! (And upvote the question...) – Adamant Apr 17 '16 at 4:05
  • I was thinking along those lines, but I'm not sure there's a specific "character" that demonstrated it. I'm not too familiar with Aztec mythology. – user31178 Apr 17 '16 at 4:09
  • You don't really need a character. With the Hemalurgy example, it's more of a magical process that anyone can use. An example would definitely help, though. – Adamant Apr 17 '16 at 4:10
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    To be fair, Peter 'copied' their powers rather than 'stole' them. Now Sylar on the other hand... – iMerchant Apr 17 '16 at 17:36
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These may not qualify, but have historical value.

Early mythology has accounts of power being stolen from others, typically by way of artifacts.

In earliest known written "fiction", The Epic of Gilgamesh, we see Inanna steal power from Enki, the god of wisdom. She gets him drunk, and literally steals his power. In some tellings, this is by stealing the Mes, or tablets with his knowledge of civilization. Other versions have him drunkenly confer all his knowledge and power to her, leaving him with nothing.

Greek myth also has some examples, outside of Prometheus. Heracles killed the Nemean Lion and used its impenetrable hide as armor. Perseus slayed Medusa and used her head to gain her power.

Other cultures, such as the Maori from New Zealand, have likely-ancient beliefs that eating an enemy can allow you to gain strength. Although this may be considered religion and not SF&F, it helps show that the idea is ancient. Certain tales of succubi and vampires seem to correspond to stealing life, if not power.

  • I like this, but I would like to see at least one example of someone actually stealing magic or powers (even if it is a whole lot latter than Gilgamesh). No doubt these are the antecedents, though. – Adamant Apr 19 '16 at 7:27
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I think cannibalism is the oldest example, as some tribes around the world would eat human or animal organs hoping to gain affinity in what the organ was associated for. Brains for cunning, hearts for courage, etc. Which makes it as old as dirt.

A similar system is the Blue Magic system in Final Fantasy games, but that sort of 'photocopy's' a power, not stealing it (either temporarily or permanently).

I just remember Dragon Ball. Goku being a Saiyan means he learns techniques (physical or energy) instantly just from witnessing it (or maybe it's being hit by it, I'm fuzzy on the details). Dragon Ball is definitely older than Final Fantasy though, and it's based on Monkey Magic.

Also, for a mythological example, I'd cite Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and taught humans. (Unless I'm thinking of some other guy)

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    You're right, it was Prometheus who stole fire from the gods. However he couldn't fence it, it was too hot :p Sorry, I couldn't help myself – Binary Worrier Apr 17 '16 at 10:08
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Since you are counting unlawful copying as theft, the answer is in Genesis 3:5. The trope evolved from Adam & Eve's designs on intelligence.

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

See also 3:22

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.

  • I like this way of thinking about it, but Adam and Eve didn't really absorb moral culpability from God, did they? They gained it from another source. – Adamant Apr 18 '16 at 6:18

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