Created By: marjojo on July 27, 2009 Last Edited By: Worldmaker on October 25, 2010
Troped

Mac Guffin Title

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A work appears has a title that refers to a specific object. Because the object is so specific in the title, you know without knowing anything else about the story, that, obviously, the heroes will have to quest to find, or protect from the bad guys, or recover from the forces of evil, or destroy somehow. or recover before the forces of evil. Often leads to a Title Drop.

Something of a pet trope for fantasy novels and video games, (especially those with Mad Lib Fantasy Titles, but can occur elsewhere. Sometimes results in an Artifact Title if the series moves on. Can involve a Character Name and the Noun Phrase title, especially if the Noun Phrase in question is nothing more than a MacGuffin itself.

A Subtrope of Mad Lib Fantasy Title and Super Trope of Character Name and the Noun Phrase.

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Examples:
  • The Maltese Falcon says almst nothing about the movie, but we kinda know what it's talking about.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark, along with most of the Indiana Jones films.
  • Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials is a trilogy of MacGuffin titles. The Subtle Knife is a particularly good case of this.
  • Crops up in The Wheel of Time. The first book is definitely one, but the best example is A Crown of Swords for combining this with Prophecy Twist - even some of the TitleDrops seem to be symbolic.
  • The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers references not one but two Mac Guffins.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia has The Silver Chair, which doesn't turn up until quite late in the book, but still counts.
  • Harry Potter includes the titular Philosopher's Stone, Goblet of Fire, and Deathly Hallows. Crossover with Character Name and the Noun Phrase.
  • The Sword in the Stone, though You Should Know This Already.
  • The Legend of Zelda is full of this trope. Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, The Minish Cap, and Four Swords to various extents.
  • If I recall correctly, the entire Fire Emblem series is a case of this.
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • June 19, 2009
    random surfer
    You Should Know This Already now, but if you think about it the title The Maltese Falcon doesn't really tell you anything about anything.
  • June 19, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Pedantic note: except in Britain, where the first book was called "Northern Lights". They renamed it later to fit in with the other two.
  • June 19, 2009
    CaptainCrowbar
    Tim Powers' novel The Drawing of the Dark is a perfect example. The title sound like the usual vaguely portentous generic fantasy title, but turns out to refer very specifically and literally to not just one but two different plot Macguffins.
  • June 19, 2009
    Callix
    @unknown troper: Being Australian, I have only read the European version. While a bit less Word Salad Title than "The Golden Compass", the Northern Lights are, in fact, something of a Mac Guffin.
  • June 19, 2009
    BassBlues
    • Some other Zelda examples: Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, The Minish Cap, and Four Swords.
  • June 19, 2009
    MetaFour
    • The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Silver Chair, although the actual silver chair isn't mentioned until the book is two-thirds over.
  • June 19, 2009
    Lullabee
  • June 19, 2009
    Jack Butler
    Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    The Sword of Shannara.
  • June 19, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    LOTR?
  • June 19, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    Raiders of the Lost Ark isn't an example because everyone already knows what the Ark of the Covenant is. It's not a Mac Guffin because it has external meaning.

    I don't feel like The Sword Of Sharnnara is an example either - it's a fantasy book about a sword, which makes the meaning kind of obvious.
  • June 19, 2009
    Callix
    I'm not sure the Indiana Jones/Harry Potter examples fit here... they feel more like Character Name And The Noun Phrase. Then again, they could be both.
  • June 20, 2009
    Jack Butler
    In the film's story, the Ark of the Covenent was the Mc Guffin by any definition of the word. The "meaning" is irrelevant.

    And yes, they are both.
  • June 20, 2009
    johnnye
    The Sword In The Stone
  • June 20, 2009
    Arilou
    Memory Sorrow And Thorn does this recursively: Not only does the series-name refer to the three macguffins, but the titles for individual books (The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower) all refers to various important objects.

    Maggie Furey's Artifacts Of Power series has titles like "The Harp of Winds" and "The Sword of Flame"

  • June 20, 2009
    Arivne
    The Mac Guffin page says "...it won't actually do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance."

    At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant kills all of the Nazis, allowing Indy and Marion to escape. Since it does something rather spectacular, it isn't a Mac Guffin.

    The page also says that something is a Mac Guffin if you can easily interchange it with another item without changing the plot. Since replacing the Ark with (for example) the Mona Lisa would totally change the ending, it isn't a Mac Guffin for that reason as well.
  • June 20, 2009
    Jack Butler
    "A Mac Guffin (sometimes Mc Guffin) is 'a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction.' Sometimes, the specific nature of the Mac Guffin is not important to the plot such that anything that serves as a motivation serves its purpose. The Mac Guffin can sometimes be ambiguous, completely undefined, generic or left open to interpretation."

    Tell me again how the Ark of the Covenant doesn't drive the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I dare you.
  • June 20, 2009
    Jack Butler
    "A Mac Guffin (sometimes Mc Guffin) is 'a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction.' Sometimes, the specific nature of the Mac Guffin is not important to the plot such that anything that serves as a motivation serves its purpose. The Mac Guffin can sometimes be ambiguous, completely undefined, generic or left open to interpretation."

    Tell us all again how the Ark of the Covenant doesn't drive the plot of Raiders. I dare you.

  • June 20, 2009
    MetaFour
    After you explain how you could replace the Ark with some other item and still leave the Nazi-face-melting finale intact.
  • June 20, 2009
    Evalana
  • June 20, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    Dude, by your idiotic interpretation, the villain and the hero are also Mac Guffins.

    Hello, THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE IN THE ARTICLE:

    "Unlike Chekhovs Gun, it actually serves no further purpose — it won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't actually do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be revealed."

    The Mac Guffin isn't "the thing that drives the plot". It's "the thing that drives the plot, when that thing is essentially generic and could easily be interchanged with any other desirable object with no real effect on the narrative."
  • June 20, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    "Hitchcock defined a Mac Guffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but, as to what that object specifically is, he declared, "the audience don't care.""

    Remember, Hitchcock invented the term.
  • June 20, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    Regardless, cases of Character Name And The Noun Phrase shouldn't show up here, because in those cases it's relatively clear what The Noun Phrase is in relation to the plot.
  • June 20, 2009
    Warlock
    Okay, so just replace every reference above to a Mac Guffin with a Plot Coupon. The latter isn't very well defined as the supertrope of Mac Guffin that may have a purpose, or might be one of a number of similar items. That might need to be called out. (If that's not what it is, then we need that supertrope, as it's what's being defined here.)
  • June 21, 2009
    Unknown Troper
  • June 21, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    This isn't that trope at all.
  • June 21, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    "After you explain how you could replace the Ark with some other item and still leave the Nazi-face-melting finale intact. "

    Well you could replace the ark of the covanent with something mythical or made up like the altar of the babylons, or the coffin of Alexander the Great, Book of Merlin, Pandora's box, Draculas box and still have a face melty thing happen at the end when its opened, It's just a box with spirits in, a mcguffin that provides an excuse for a deus ex machina at the end. Ark of the Covanent is just more recognisable as a legendary object that may exist that may do that. ie it has more impact on viewer because many people consider it real. and also has a predefined history outside the film which is useful shorthand for a writer because they don't have to explain it so much as opposed as to something they made out of whole cloth.
  • June 22, 2009
    Callix
    Yeah, Mad Lib Fantasy Title covers it. It's one of 46 subpoints, but it's there.
  • July 14, 2009
    marjojo
    bump
  • July 14, 2009
    AnotherGamer
    Golden Sun, but the meaning of it is only revealed near the end of the second game.
  • July 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    One Piece. Origin of title and vaugely defined goal for the heroes to sail to...eventually.
  • July 28, 2009
    aurora369
    Keeper of the Swords by Nick Perumov is kinda like that. It sounds like a word salad at first, but later you learn that the titular Swords are the Mc Guffin. The first book in this series, Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword plays the trope completely straight.
  • July 29, 2009
    Kuciwalker
    This is a big enough subtrope to split.
  • January 26, 2010
    Vree
    bump
  • January 26, 2010
    duralict
    I just read the whole discussion and I still don't think the first big question has been answered. Is this limited to works titled after a Mac Guffin, which is an object that doesn't actually have any direct function to the plot other than being the Mac Guffin? Or is this for anything titled after an object?
  • September 8, 2010
    SpiritOfSahara
    Bump
  • October 18, 2010
    BlackWolfe
    If it's Mac Guffin specific:

    • The Pink Panther is, in universe, named for the valuable gem in the heist, and not for the cartoon feline that appears in the credits.

    If not, then also:

  • October 19, 2010
    BlackDragon
    The Fire Emblem series USED to be this, but I don't think the actual Fire Emblem has appeared in the last several games at all - and if so, only as some obscure, hidden bonus.
  • October 19, 2010
    BlackWolfe
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=31452oz33y85ab9g3um33vuv