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Please help me identify a story. It involves a magicians apprentice who summons a rain of fish by dancing incorrectly while casting a spell. His master had a cold or something and could not use magic at the time. There was something about summoning or trying to summon butterflies too.

I read it in the 90s. It had other funny stuff in it, like a Robert Asprin story, but probably not by Asprin based on what I've read recently in the Myth series. Probably not Xanth series as the characters in Xanth all seem to have one and only one power. Pretty sure it was a novel or novella, not a novelette.

marked as duplicate by eshier, Edlothiad, Mithrandir, fez, FuzzyBoots story-identification Nov 26 '17 at 16:22

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  • While this story is likely uniquely identifiable, can I suggest you look at this guide to see if you can provide some more details? – Edlothiad Nov 25 '17 at 8:38
  • Good suggestion. I've added another small detail I remember. – Lofty Withers Nov 25 '17 at 8:46
  • You're welcome, it's surprising how well the guide works! – Edlothiad Nov 25 '17 at 10:06
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    @FuzzyBoots I was there with you, but that's in the last book. – eshier Nov 25 '17 at 17:18
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    @user14111 - A pit, basically -- "It would be a simple spell, then. I decided I would move the earth with my magic and create a yawning pit in which our pursuers would be trapped. I began making the proper movements with my elbows and left leg, at the same time whistling the first four bars of “The Happy Woodcutter’s Song.”" – K-H-W Nov 25 '17 at 23:03
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Could be Craig Shaw Gardner's A Malady of Magics

When the wizard-killing demon Guxx Unfufadoo fails at ridding the Netherhells of the great Ebenezum, he instead curses the wizard, making Ebenezum allergic to magic. Ebenezum and his hapless apprentice Wuntvor must journey to the City of Forbidden Delights to seek a cure--and avoid such perils as tap-dancing dragons, enchanted chickens, and sinister shrubbery.

6 books in all.

The incidents you mention are essentially the first thing to happen in the book (first 5 pages). Wuntvor and Ebenezum (who has already been cursed) are attacked by warriors in an assassination attempt and Wuntvor tries to open a chasm in front of the approaching warriors using "sign magic". Something goes wrong with his various bodily gyrations, as it always does, and he summons butterflies. Wuntvor muses:

I had spent hours perfecting my elbow flaps. The hop, the skips, the scratch, everything seemed in it's place. Unless I was supposed to lift my right leg rather than my left?

Trying with the right leg brings about your rain of dead haddock.

A Malady of Magics cover from Goodreads

  • Sounds likely, especially the tap dancing dragon. Investigating further. – Lofty Withers Nov 25 '17 at 17:11
  • Confirmation: The OP asked about summoning Fish And Butterflies; he does both in the same scene: " I began making the proper movements with my elbows and left leg, at the same time whistling the first four bars of “The Happy Woodcutter’s Song.” .. "Butterflies! Somehow, I had conjured millions of them." -- "Of course! How stupid of me! I immediately set out to repeat the spell and correct my mistake." ... "I finished my humming and started to blow my nose." ... "This time it rained fish. Dead fish." -- Then, his master: "Though how you managed a rain of butterflies and dead fish is beyond me.” – K-H-W Nov 25 '17 at 19:57

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