Intangible Theft

As a way to prove one's thieving credentials, the best Impossible Theft is to steal something metaphysical.

Stealing a name, so that it cannot be spoken. Stealing a reflection from a mirror, so it only reflects the room you're in. Stealing the scent of every rose, as a Valentine's day gift. These thefts are an attempt to steal from the physical laws of the universe.

It may be considered the inverse to the Sister Trope, Monumental Theft. While a monumental theft describes stealing the moon, it doesn't always deal with the ramifications of gravity on Earth. An Intangible Theft of the moon's gravity would certainly cause tidal problems here on Earth, even if the moon doesn't move. Both tropes are a type of Impossible Theft.

See also Insubstantial Ingredients, where the ingredients collected are as metaphysical as the items stolen here. They might even overlap! Abstract Eater can ingest what would otherwise be stolen. This is a Super Trope to Power Parasite, where one character can take away the abilities of other characters and use those power(s) for themselves.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Carmen Sandiego 
  • As the Trope Codifier for Intangible Theft and a character appearing in Video Games, Live-Action TV and Western Animation, Carmen Sandiego examples go here.
    • Linguistic thefts:
      • The Portuguese language.
      • The English alphabet.
      • The letter ñ in Spanish.
    • The alien henchwoman Kneemoi is responsible for most of the bizarre thefts, particularly of concepts that don't exist in any physical sense, like the following:
      • The Mason-Dixon Line, an imaginary line dividing the north and south of the United States of America.
      • The Portuguese language.
      • Tai chi, a martial art.
    • The Hope Diamond's shine.note 
    • The ABC: A television channel.note 
    • The International Date Line, an imaginary concept that is part of the basis for time.
    • The Internet.
    • Periods of history.
    • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? worked hard to make Carmen Sandiego's seemingly outrageous crimes semi-plausible in their execution. The pilot has her stealing the talent of famous athletes and musicians by using a prototype neural scanner to scramble their nervous systems while overlaying her own with an imprint of their abilities.

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Book 
  • DC Comics:
    • In JLA: Tower of Babel, the Big Bad steals human language, first written, then spoken as well.
    • Trinity has a group of villains perform ever-more elaborate thefts of items as the part of a magical ritual. They steal items related to the Trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman:
      • Included in the more mundane items of their theft is taking the Joker's laugh.
      • Ultimately, the ritual they began allowed them to steal the heroes' status as The Trinity, the three most important people in the world, resulting in history itself changing.
  • Rubel from Thieves & Kings has an uncle, McGi, who has performed feats like retrieving a girl's lost memories.
  • The Twisted Toyfare Theatre story "Hello Kitty" re-envisions Kitty Pryde's tour of the X-Mansion, including her parents. Professor X introduces Storm, briefly mentioning that she used to be a thief. A quick introduction, and Storm leaves. Hilarity Ensues as Storm is accused of stealing Kitty's virginity. (Here you can have a look.)
    Dad: "Hey...my WALLET!"
    Mom: "My PURSE!"
    Kitty: "My VIRGINITY! Wow, she's good."
  • Loki once stole the Ragnarök. Yes. The event. He wanted to survive the end of the world and it's hard to die in it after you stole it... why yes, it is circular. That's Loki logic for you.

    Fan Works 
  • In Glorious Shotgun Princess, Kasumi Goto is a Sidereal Exalted and she steals:
    • A villain's ability to read.
    • Shepard's lack of a lisp, just to prove a point.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Fat Bastard steals Austin Powers' "mojo" (his libido and sexual prowess) for his arch-nemesis Dr. Evil. It's visualized as a red liquid with little male symbols floating in it.
  • Christopher Nolan's Inception features a crew of thieves that steal ideas for a living. Justified, since they do this by reading the subject's mind. In a situation like that, all you can steal are ideas.

    Literature 
  • Discworld: In Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian asked if an omen was being used by anyone, and when he was told it wasn't, he declared that he'd stolen it.
  • The children's book Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds featured Taking Easy, who could steal anything. Anything. He stole the headache out of Finn's head and claimed to be able to steal the twinkle from his eye.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: Averted Trope when the Grinch tries to steal Christmas by taking away all the material trappings of the holiday, and finds the spirit of Christmas remains intact.
  • Creator Robert A. Heinlein's The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag has a soul stolen. Ted and Cynthia Randall are private detectives who are hired by Jonathan Hoag to find out why he has amnesia about his daily work. The Sons of the Bird steal Cynthia's soul in an attempt to coerce Ted into giving up the investigation, leaving her in a coma.
  • In Momo, the Grey Men trick people into giving them their spare time, and without any time left for leisure, they lose all emotion or purpose in life.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth: The Senses Taker is an Obstructive Bureaucrat who takes away the main character's senses. The one sense he can't take away, however, is their sense of humor.
  • Eugenides, from The Queen's Thief, has stolen time, peace, a queen, the king's seal, a mythical object, and a country. He was only caught once, when he was trying to get arrested. There is nothing he can't steal, except, it is said, himself out of a prison.
  • In The Rithmatist, the Scribbler initially creates a drawing that steals their voices so that they cannot be heard screaming or fighting (or anything) while he's kidnapping them and the crime won't be discovered.
  • A story from a book released in Brazil called O nome roubado (The Stolen Name) is about what the title says. A guy comes to a police station claiming his name was stolen, when the delegate asks his name, he tells he said his name was stolen. An investigator catches the thief and asks his name. The thief says his name is Jorge and the man with the stolen name says that's his name. The delegate orders the thief to give the name back and he agrees. Then the thief is asked his full name and he says it's "Goatling hand". The delegate says he asked the name. He says he doesn't have a name, but then the delegate says he said his name was Jorge, but he says that he stole that name, and then he had to give it back.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Mahou Sentai Magiranger: Gaston the Thief is capable of stealing intangible things, like Kai's courage.
  • Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West, from Once Upon a Time steals three things for her time travel spell: Rumplestiltskin's (metaphorical) brain, Prince Charming's courage, and Regina's heart (or rather, a physical manifestation of her metaphorical heart).

    Tabletop Game 
  • Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition: The legendary thief Andromalius managed to prove his devotion to/prank Olidammara, god of thieves and rogues, by repenting for his crimes on his deathbed, essentially stealing his soul from his own deity. Olidammara was pissed at first, then realized the delicious irony of the deed, but was faced with a conundrum - he'd either have to ruin the joke by accepting Andromalius' soul, or let such a character pass into the realms of another deity. So Olidammara stole the thief's soul from the multiverse, turning him into a Vestige somewhere between life and death, transcending mortality but forever beyond the reach of any god. "Whether Andromalius deemed this result an honor or not remains unclear."
  • Exalted: Charms which allow you to steal intangible things include Thought-Swiping Distraction, which lets you steal people's thoughts; Dream Confiscation Approach, which is used to steal people's dreams; and Name-Pilfering Practice, which allows its user to steal someone's name. As in, everyone in the world (including the victim) immediately forgets the victim's name.
  • In the backstory for In Nomine, the Demon Prince of Theft, Valefor, was promoted to Demon Prince after he apparently stole the Word of Rapine from its previous owner. Words, in this context, being abstract concepts that grant semi-phenomenal, nearly-cosmic power to those bound to them.
  • At high levels of Aspect in Nobilis, there are basically no restrictions on what you can steal; whether something tangibly exists, for example. Want to steal Iolithae Septimian's voice? Go right ahead.
  • Goblin mages in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The Little Waaagh's Lore attribute meant that a goblin who successfully got a spell off had a one in three chance of stealing one of the opponent's Dispel dice and turning it into a Power die. In other words, goblin mages were capable of half-inching game abstractions representing general magical defence, and using them to cast spells, presumably after a quick coat of paint and swearing blind that they'd had the die in question for years.

    Video Game 
  • Alice Mare: The Cheshire Cat's a thief capable of stealing away things like emotions.
  • In Arcanum, the background material mentions Bolo, halfling god of thievery, who tried to show off by stealing the shadow off his stepfather Progo, god of storms. He was found out, and Progo cut off Bolo's arm. In revenge, Bolo stole Progo's soul, and tore it in half, killing the god instantly.
  • In the post-game of Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, a mysterious thief steals Salvatore's "womanliness," a "space and letter A" from Master Big Star (turning him into Master Bigster), Prism Red's friends, Laharl's height and his screen time in the new game, Axel's stardom, Marona's "pure heart", and a game in which Asagi (a Running Gag N1 character) is the main character. When Salvatore shows up in DLC for Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, her character description claims her "womanliness" is still missing. The mysterious thief is Overlord Baal in his incarnation as an insanely overpowered yet cutesy mushroom. He says he doesn't remember all of the things listed, meaning some might be just insurance fraud.
    • Rogue classes can cheerfully steal an opponent's precious memories, hope or whatever (the exact item appears to be determined randomly)... then convert whatever it is into a stat boost.
  • Final Fantasy:
  • In Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kingdom Hearts I: the Queen of Hearts accuses Alice of stealing her heart. The real culprit was a Heartless. In this game series, the "heart" is the emotional seat of characters, usually represented by a glowing pink/gold heart-shape. Instead of Alice, it was stolen by a heartless, who go around trying to take the hearts from people.
    • In Chain of Memories, this plot is reprised, only her memories were stolen instead of her heart. Which explains why she couldn't identify the thief (her memory of the theft itself had been altered), which Alice uses to "prove" hers and Sora's innocence of the crime.
    • Kingdom Hearts II: During the prologue, the Dusks steal every photo of Roxas along with the word "photo" itself. The prologue takes place in a computer simulation. The Dusks' actions altered the code so the word "photo" was left undefined.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, at one point, a particular ghost in Chapter 4 places a curse on Mario that can only be lifted by saying the ghost's name. In case Mario already knows his name (and to prevent Sequence Breaking by players who already know), the ghost somehow removes the letter "P" from Mario's vocabulary, which is in the ghost's name (Doopliss) and thus physically preventing Mario from saying it until Mario finds where he hid the "P."
  • In Touhou Perfect Cherry Blossom, the plot revolves around the fact that someone has stolen spring, causing winter to drag on much longer than it should. No explanation is given for how it is possible to steal a season, but it is implied that it is contained within the cherry petals you've been collecting throughout the game.

    Webcomic 
  • 8-Bit Theater: Thief claims he can steal anything that isn't both nailed down and on fire.
    • While fighting Lich, the Light Warriors realize Lich is immortal unless his soul is returned to his body. Luckily, the Light Warriors have his soul, but it is contained within the Earth Orb. Thief is charged with removing the soul from the orb and placing it back into Lich. While Thief is plotting how to do this, he notes that he has stolen non-existent items and the soul is neither nailed down or on fire. Thief successfully returns Lich's soul by suing Lich for polluting public property (The Earth Orb) when Lich placed his soul in it.
    "I've stolen things that weren't even there. This soul exists, so that helps."
    • When asked at the Temple of Fiends to steal his opponents' resolve, he considers it easily done. However, he never actually is seen doing it, due to Black Mage's interference.
    • He also knew Black Mage's secret fear that he was going to steal all their souls because, "I steal souls and secrets."
  • Fallen London: Many of his visits have Mr Sacks offering to take emotions and feelings away from you, instead of material objects. He never takes them forcibly.
  • Homestuck: The entire Rogue and Thief classes are based around stealing entire concepts.
    • Roxy, the Rogue of Void, has the potential to steal the essence of nothingness from concepts, which basically means she can pull objects out of thin air, even if they don't exist, because she stole the fact that they don't exist.
    • Vriska's ability to steal luck.

    Western Animation 
  • Dragon Tales: In "Wheezie's Last Laugh", the antagonist Mr. Pops steals Wheezie's laugh through a special device of his. He does this with all sorts of critters, loving to take the sounds home and mess around with them. At the end of the episode, his own laugh is stolen and so he's forced to give back all the sounds.
  • Family Guy: In 'Farmer Guy', the Griffins find that their house has been robbed, and Peter comments that the robbers even stole his sense of wonder. This cues a Cutaway Gag where Peter watches a rainbow and says "Nope".

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/IntangibleTheft