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When you are a sci-fi/fantasy character, hero or villain, you might be tempted to wear a cape.

Capes are cool. You look cool with a cape, you can hide secret weapons in it, and depending on your author's perception of science, you get more aerodynamic when flying with a cape.

Artists also seem to think that the cape's coolness is directly related to its length, even when that leaves you with Batman basically being dressed up in a black wedding dress train.

Image showing a long tailed wedding dress + black spray leading to a Batman cape

Unfortunately, for all its coolness, your mighty cape might be the premise of your demise, as shown by this shock-campaign PSA:

Well, of course shock-campaigns are extreme. Earlier archives inform us on how even the most common act of walking can put you in uncomfortable situations:

Character trips over cape and face plants

If you are interested in other examples with more context, you can take a look at this webpage established by a committee of people dedicating their lives to list fellow characters who walked into common tropes.

Make no mistake, greater characters than you have been faced with this situation before... but, who was the first? 1


1 No particular media. Comics, novels, short stories, TV shows... are all welcome, as long of course as they're sci-fi/fantasy. Also, death is not mandatory - could just be a chase slowed down by a cape tangled up in branches, such as Snow White (1937), which still seems quite late.

To clarify, I mean "first" by order of publication, not by "age of the character" (a Roman SFF Centurion having his cape stuck in a branch in a 2010 movie won't count, for instance).

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  • 2
    1001 nights will likely mention something and I believe it’s quite fantastical
    – Edlothiad
    Aug 2 '18 at 15:26
  • 1
    Does Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat count? That seems to be a pretty old one!
    – Odin1806
    Aug 2 '18 at 15:56
  • 3
    Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, not his coat
    – Machavity
    Aug 2 '18 at 15:58
  • 1
    In the original Watchmen comic from 1986, mention is made of a character called Dollar Bill whose cape gets stuck in a revolving door when he tries to foil a bank robbery, making him an easy target. Aug 3 '18 at 8:02
  • 2
    The example above of Nomad tripping in his cape is from 1974, thus preceding Watchmen by a dozen years. Aug 3 '18 at 8:09
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The earliest reference I could find was the Celtic folktale "The Buried Moon" reproduced in Edmond Dulac's The Fairy Book from 1916. In the story the moon shines so brightly on a bog when full that it is said to be as bright as day. The moon, hearing of this, decides to attempt the walk herself. Wearing a cloak and hood to hide her identity she attempts to cross the bog only to have her cloak snag by an old tree. She becomes mired in the bog. When a passing man comes to her aid her hood, still snagged by the tree, comes off, revealing her identity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Buried_Moon

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  • Alas, I think this is wrong: gutenberg.org/files/25513/25513-h/25513-h.htm: "Now she reached a jet-black pool, and all too late she saw the stars shining in its depths. Her foot tripped and all she could do was to snatch at an overhanging branch of a snag as she fell forward. To this she clung, but, fast as she gripped it, faster still some tendrils from the bough whipped round her wrists like manacles and held her there a prisoner. She struggled and wrenched and tugged with all her might and main, but the tendrils only tightened and cut into her wrists like steel bands."
    – Ben Bolker
    Jun 15 at 18:01
  • Jacobs gutenberg.org/files/14241/14241-h/14241-h is a slightly earlier version, similar situation: "Just as she came near a big black pool her foot slipped and she was nigh tumbling in. She grabbed with both hands at a snag near by to steady herself with, but as she touched it, it twined itself round her wrists, like a pair of handcuffs, and gript her so that she couldn't move. She pulled and twisted and fought, but it was no good. She was fast, and must stay fast."
    – Ben Bolker
    Jun 15 at 18:03

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