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MacGuffin
#1  pwalker8 10-11-2020, 03:46 PM
MacGuffin is a term of art which refers to a plot device where something is of importance to moving the plot along, but isn't actually important itself. For example, the Maltese Falcon was a famous MacGuffine. The term has been used in a variety of different situations and the definition has expanded a bit from the original usage.

One of the more extreme cases was in the first book in Elliot Kay's Poor Man's War (recommended btw). In the that book, the point of view switches back and forth between the protagonist and a pirate. While the reader learns a lot about the pirates via the pirate's view point, at the end of the story, it turns out that the pirate character's main purpose was to provide the protagonist had a key piece of equipment that allowed him to survive the final battle.

Having recently re-read the book, I started to think what other books have similar plot devices, i.e. a character or device whose only real purpose is to fill a plot hole or to get the protagonist past a particular difficulty. If one were to stretch the idea quite a bit, then a lot of books have them. One could argue that the Elves that Frodo mets leaving the Shire is such, but I'm more interested in a more narrow case, the situation where it's not just a couple of pages throw away. An example from movies was from a slightly obscure western - Hannie Caulder - where a character called The Preacher appears a couple of times, but ultimately his only purpose is to set up a fair gun fight between the heroine and the last villain.

So, that's the question I would throw out, what books can you think of that has such a character?
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#2  Uncle Robin 10-11-2020, 03:55 PM
Quote pwalker8

So, that's the question I would throw out, what books can you think of that has such a character?
Your mention of LotR got me thinking of the Kalevala, on which Tolkien based his work. I only learnt recently that the object of the Quest in the Kalevala (the "Ring") is undefined - that's got be a pretty good example of a McGuffin
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#3  Quoth 10-12-2020, 10:39 AM
The other famous thing about The Maltese Falcon, is the total misdirection. Really the mystery the detective is trying to solve is "Who killed his partner?". Few readers will keep sight of that. So though the Black Bird is a MacGuffin (a word maybe invented later by Hitchcock?) it's ultimately not even the goal!

The book is available, PD, along with many others by Dashiell Hammet.

I'd have to think a bit about Catalyst Characters that only exist to jump start a story.
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#4  Deskisamess 10-12-2020, 11:10 AM
I like this description: "the thing that the characters on the screen worry about but the audience doesn't care about."
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#5  Pulpmeister 10-17-2020, 10:51 PM
I think the word is is an early Hithcock invention, back in the 30s. Think of North by Northwest. The Mcguffin is a microfilm, but who cares about that. Incidentally, I used to wonder about the title of that movie, until the visual pun dropped.

There is a scene at an airport; Cary Grant is getting an airline ticket, and being briefed by Leo G Carroll. He is going to fly north to Mt Rushmore; the airline is Northwest.
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#6  4691mls 10-19-2020, 10:33 AM
Quote Deskisamess
I like this description: "the thing that the characters on the screen worry about but the audience doesn't care about."
That's pretty much how I felt about the plot of the James Bond movies that used to be shown on network TV when I was a kid (the Sean Connery and Roger Moore era). There was always some evil genius trying to do something nefarious, but as far as I could tell the reason to watch was to see Bond repeatedly use crazy technology to escape from some bad situation.
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#7  pwalker8 10-19-2020, 01:44 PM
Quote 4691mls
That's pretty much how I felt about the plot of the James Bond movies that used to be shown on network TV when I was a kid (the Sean Connery and Roger Moore era). There was always some evil genius trying to do something nefarious, but as far as I could tell the reason to watch was to see Bond repeatedly use crazy technology to escape from some bad situation.
And the Bond girls, don't forget the Bond girls.
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#8  4691mls 10-19-2020, 03:36 PM
Quote pwalker8
And the Bond girls, don't forget the Bond girls.
Well, as a heterosexual female, they didn't do anything for me
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#9  DNSB 10-19-2020, 03:54 PM
Quote 4691mls
Well, as a heterosexual female, they didn't do anything for me
Hmm... One recent comic my daughter was reading had her wondering why the male characters wore combat suits that resembled the hydrocephalic gorilla used by RAH to describe the powered suits in Starship Troopers while the female characters wore outfits that appears to have been spray painted on and could not stop anything heavier than a gnat (or a teenage boy... )
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#10  issybird 10-19-2020, 04:54 PM
Quote DNSB
Hmm... One recent comic my daughter was reading had her wondering why the male characters wore combat suits that resembled the hydrocephalic gorilla used by RAH to describe the powered suits in Starship Troopers while the female characters wore outfits that appears to have been spray painted on and could not stop anything heavier than a gnat (or a teenage boy... )
I’d have liked to think that we’d got beyond Bond girls. This doesn’t strike me as ok, frankly.
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