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Cool Key
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The keys we use every day are small metal objects with little grooves on them. Accustomed as we are to their use, it's hard to imagine something less tropeworthy than a humble key. Yet consider the symbolism of this tiny object- it opens that which is closed, changes barriers into passageways (or vice versa). A key in the wrong hands can be disastrous. And possession of a key can be a sign of authority and responsibility, from a housewife's key ring that indicated she alone could disburse food and drink to a lord's master key giving him the run of his domain.

A Cool Key is one that is intended to reflect these values. It may simply be ornate and fancy, or it may have some special attributes that are unusual, most commonly the power to Open And Shut. The most common type is the Skeleton Key, which in addition to just being cool, is associated with the ability to open any lock for historical reasons: skeleton keys were used in antiquity to pass warded locks, which is why warded locks aren't very popular anymore. There are also master keys, which are designed to open any lock in a given set, allowing its possessor unlimited access to the household or area associated with the locks.

A Cool Key typically goes hand in hand (so to speak) with an equally elaborate lock or possibly a Cool Gate. In speculative settings, the key to a particular mechanism may not resemble a normal key at all.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Sailor Pluto, guardian of the time gate in Sailor Moon, uses a giant key as her weapon. It's so big that when she stands on a floor with it, it reaches her neck.
  • In Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Hatenko uses the Fist Of Keys as a weapon to lock his opponents up.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon's Core Drill not only activates his mini-mech, it also functions as a drill, albeit a very small one. He uses it to drill through Lordgenome at the end of the first Story Arc. In the Compilation Movie he also uses it to escape from a prison and climb a mech that is holding Nia hostage.

Comic Books
  • The key to Superman's Fortress of Solitude is a huge thing that only he can lift; it's also used as an aircraft path marker.
    • In All-Star Superman, he replaces it with a small but super-dense key that supposedly weighs half a million tonnes. Whether or not he's exaggerating, only someone with his abilities can lift it.
  • The Key to Hell that Lucifer passes to Dream of the Endless in Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
  • The Magical Keys (seen above) from Locke & Key.
  • The Justice League of America villain called The Key uses key-shaped gadgets.

Film
  • In Coraline, the key to opening the door to the other world has a button-shaped bow.
  • The Keymaker in The Matrix Reloaded could make keys to open any door or lock in the Matrix, or keys to make any door go to a particular destination.
  • The key to the elements chamber in The Fifth Element.
  • The blue key in Mulholland Drive.
  • "PansLabyrinth"'s Ofelia is given a key by the faun as part of the magical second task. The same ornate key is reflected in the real world as Vidal removes it from Mercedes so that he is the only one with access to the store room

Literature
  • In Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom books, there are seven keys, each signifying control over a part of the The House, and which each do different things (such as being able to transform into weapons or gloves).
  • In Neverwhere, the key kept by the Black Friars is the main Plot Device. It is the key to a gate to heaven as well as "to all reality", as the abbot says. The full limitations of this are not explained.
  • James Butler Hickok Stark, aka Sandman Slim stole the key to The Room of Thirteen Doors, which is the only way to Earth from Hell (unless you're Lucifer himself). We don't know what the key looks like as Stark buried it in his body, but he doesn't need to actually fit it into a lock for it to work, either.
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the key to get through one of the obstacles guarding said stone has wings and tries to escape from anyone who comes near. It's made even more difficult to catch by filling the room with hundreds of other flying keys, all of which would be pretty cool if they actually opened anything.

Live-Action TV
  • In Smallville, the key to Kal-El's space ship is a metallic octagonal disc. You heard me.
    • The keys to unlock a very deadly artifact guarded by a powerful secret society... has only one tooth. Try using a lock pick next time, Lex.
  • The Key (note capitalisation) in The Lost Room has the ability to make any door (within certain specifications) lead into the Room, which has powers of its own. It's one of the most desired Objects in the show.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The keys to the TARDIS look perfectly ordinary, but are given to companions as a sign that they've been fully accepted by the Doctor. More in line with the trope, they've been shown to glow when the TARDIS is active, and been retrofitted to make people ignore the person wearing them.
      • The TARDIS key may look ordinary now (and in The Sixties), but back in The Seventies it looked like this, and in The Eighties like this.
      • Part of the coolness factor is the fact that it looks like a normal everyday key. You expect a device that allows you into the ship that can take you anywhere and anywhen and is bigger on the inside to be fancy and alienesque and Star Trekkian. That it's oh-so-innocuous is awesome.
    • Doctor Who also had the Key to Time, which when assembled looked like a metal cube.
    • The sonic screwdriver also often acts like a skeleton key.
    • The Osterhagen Key is considered quite cool just because of what it does.
  • In season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a mystical key to alternate dimensions is transformed into human form, and the timeline is altered to place her into reality as Buffy's younger sister, Dawn.
  • The Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger have keys based on their many, many predecessors, allowing them to mimic their powers (basically, keys are to Gokaiger what cards are to Kamen Rider Decade).

Role-Playing Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons had at least 20 standard types of magical keys, each with its own powers.
    • Adventure X2 Castle Amber: The Cool Gate "The Gate of the Silver Keys" can be opened only by three silver keys found at various places in the Castle.
    • In Adventure C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness, to enter the title tower, the Player Characters must find and assemble a four-part key.
  • The "Skeleton Key" is a character template in Big Eyes, Small Mouth third edition; they have the power to open the portals between worlds.

Toys
  • BIONICLE: the Keystone, which is made of many components each containing instructions on how to awaken Mata Nui. Once all piece were retrieved, it was used to deactivate the barrier surrounding the Codrex. As a bonus, its united form was a miniature Mata Nui sculpture.

Video Games
  • The Yatagarasu's Key in Ace Attorney Investigations. Not only is it very ornately designed, it also has a built-in knife blade!
    • And the blade is also a key.
  • Nethack: Rogues eventually get the Master Key of Thievery, an artifact that reduces physical damage by half and lets you control where you land after being teleported, in addition to being able to open any lock with 100% success. SLASH'EM adds three additional artifact keys (one for each alignment) that, while easier to get, only offer the 100% success on lock opening.
  • The Keyblades of Kingdom Hearts'. Giant magical key-swords that allow you to travel between worlds and dimensions, open any lock and, as of the latest games, shape-shift into anything from a hovercraft to a cannon. They don't get much cooler than that.
  • Zelda's Boss Keys or Big Keys usually have horns on the back, or horns as the teeth of the key. The Cel Shading games added an eye on the back of the key.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess' Boss Key has a more crystalline shape.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's Boss Keys are 3-dimensional golden sculptures that have to be turned the right way before inserting them. Their shape is also thematically related to the dungeon they are found in; the one in the Ancient Cistern resembles the dungeon's central Buddha-like statue, while the Sand Ship's resembles a squid.
    • In the NES games, Link can collect the Magical Key, an imposing lion-faced key in gold that can open infinite doors.
  • Darksiders has a Beholder's Key that is basically a dagger. This is used to unlock "doors", which are actually forcefields with an eye in the middle. War takes the key and stabs it in the eye, lowering the force field.
  • Wario Land 4: Keyzer, a ghost with a key for a nose.
  • The old ZX Spectrum game Atic Atac had the Golden Key of ACG, a key with an ornate head and the letters ACG for the teeth (as a shout-out to the game's creators, Ashby Computers and Graphics). It was scattered around the game in three pieces; rebuilding it (in the right order) and using it to escape the castle was the whole goal of the game. (There were also regular keys for the four colour-coded locked doors.)
  • A.B.A. of Guilty Gear uses a giant key that is also an axe as a weapon. Its name is Paracelsus, and it has googly eyes and a stitched-up mouth, and is larger than A.B.A. herself. Guilty Gear is that kind of game.
  • The Skeleton Key from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the power to open anything from doors to abstract things like hidden potential inside a person. The Skeleton Key is actually a lockpick, but it comes close enough. Unfortunately when the player character tries to use it, all the Key does is function as an unbreakable lockpick (which is pretty handy), but you only get the key for a little while unless you decide to not complete the quest to turn it in.

Web Original
  • In Red vs. Blue, Tucker's sword, a legendary binding artifact, has the second function of being the key to the hangar of a cool spaceship.
    Church: So it's a sword. It just happens to function like a key in very specific situations.
    Caboose: Or it's a key all the time, and when you stick it in people, it unlocks their death.
  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the villainous Locksmith had a large, elaborate, and rather baroque-looking key that he uses to open any lock, and create "doorways"... dimensional tunnels from one location to another... by way of opening random door. When the heroes captured this "dimensional key", they discovered it was just a prop, and it was the man who had the power all along.
  • The Lock Legion has the Key of Glorton.
  • In Problem Sleuth, keys are sometimes weapons. The key is a pistol, the ring of keys is a machine gun, and the Megaton Key (a particularly cool key in its own right) is a set of brass knuckles.
  • The SCP Foundation has SCP-005, a key that can open any lock in the world, provided the user can find and identify the lock.

Western Animation
  • In the Adventure Time episode "The Enchiridion", the key to opening the gates to get the MacGuffin is literally the Gate Keeper, whose hat looks (and functions) just like a giant key.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender : The Air and Fire temples are both locked with mechanisms which can only opened by the appropriate bending discipline being used on the doors.
  • Early on in Detentionaire, Lee is given an octagonal key with retractable spikes. The spikes are what open things, as the locks the key is meant to open are also octagonal and have holes to the spikes to grab. The key opens several doors throughout the underground passageways beneath the school, and Season 3 reveals that it's one of two identical keys that are meant to be used to open the mysterious pyramid, also located under the school.

Real Life
  • The occupational badge (optionally) worn by US Air Force personnel in Intel career fields is a key superimposed over a globe.
  • The Key to the City, an award occasionally bestowed on folks who do particularly good things for a city (such as being the Big Damn Heroes), is a tradition hearkening back to the days when cities were protected by walls with gates that they would lock at night to keep outsiders out. If you had a key to the city, you could come and go as you pleased.
  • In 19th C. household, when a man brought his new bride home there was a little ceremony in which his mother, unmarried sister, grown-up daughter, or whoever had been mistress of the household, handed over the keys to the house to the new wife.
  • Key Guns, which are exactly what they sound like. Supposedly intended for use by prison guards, enabling them to quell a rowdy prisoner without opening the door by firing through the lock, most were probably not functional as keys and were probably intended as a disguised holdout firearm or just a gimmicky conversation piece.

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