It May Help You on Your Quest
What, you mean I can't do that with my hands?
Jack: Is the... jar of dirt going to help?
Tia Dalma: If you don't want it, give it back.
Jack: (tentatively) No...
Then it helps.
A character is handed (or idly picks up, or discovers in his possession) a seemingly useless item of junk. This can happen fairly early in the story — in The Hero's Journey
, it's one of the first steps
The item in question later becomes important to resolving some major or minor obstacle moving the characters forward. Or the character thinks it will
, anyway. Or the character, if handed it, cherishes it as a gift
. (Or the character is a pack rat
Items of this sort are a certain form of Chekhov's Gun
Especially common in Adventure Games
from the 90s, from whence the name was derived.
A Plot Tailored to the Party
involving items instead of personality or skillset typically revolves around these.
This is similar to when a character learns a seemingly useless skill or fact
that will be needed later on, see: Someday This Will Come in Handy
. If an item is elevated to Plot Coupon
status, it is because You Will Know What to Do
Popular items include paperclips
and the like, as well as jewelry
, perhaps because of its nominal resale value
. It could be magic beans
, a piece of moldy cheese
, etc. If an item is conspicuously clickable
, compare Notice This
. See also Orphan's Plot Trinket
If your entire starting kit consists of these items, you may be asked to defeat evil With This Herring
Common enough that subversions are notable when the item will in fact turn out to be useless junk
. Or immediately useful.
A Genre Savvy
character may fob off an otherwise useless Clingy MacGuffin
(or just get the hero to take out the trash) by uttering the words "Take this... it may help you on your quest."
On the other end, their genre savvy may lead them to grab everything they can so as to be ready for every conceivable challenge or obstacle.
An unusual variant is when the giving character says, "You'll need this more than I do."
— common amongst elders
who have advanced beyond the need for an item
. Compare Grail in the Garbage
. Not to be confused with Vendor Trash
, which is only valuable in large quantities. If the item turns out to have sentimental value, it is a Memento MacGuffin
When the character's whole objective is to obtain or deliver an item, it is a Plot Coupon
See also Plot Coupon That Does Something
, Starter Equipment
, Sword of Plot Advancement
, Useful Book
It's dangerous to go alone! Take these tropes!
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Anime & Manga
- Definitely Inuyasha. The main character's battle-happy brother Sesshomaru receives a sword that resurrects people. He begrudgingly carries it around and eventually resurrects Rin as a test to see if the sword works. The sword has a catch: it can only resurrect a person once so it can't save the people Sesshoumaru actually wants to save. Rin and Kohaku have died once before so he can't save them and Kagura's death dissolves her body, so he can't save her either. It turns out that he needed Tenseiga and the lessons Tenseiga forced him to learn to be able to finally achieve his desire (a combat sword of his very own that could match his vast power, the idea being that only a compassionate heart should wield great power otherwise that power would be grossly misused).
- In the penultimate episode of Mazinkaiser Boss gives Kouji a resistance bar. Kouji uses it immediately to smack an Iron Mask Soldier. Then in final episode Mazinkaiser's control stick breaks and Kouji uses the bar to replace the broken part, letting him pilot Mazinkaiser again.
- The Orihalcon Statue in the first arc (both novels, anime, and manga), which holds a powerful, magic-enhancing stone fragment. Lina happened to stumble across it on a treasure hunt, but the priest Rezo seeks it to cure his blind eyes. The end result is the resurrection of Shabranigdo, a demonic being that was split into pieces, and Lina and company have to defeat him.
- Later on in the novels, there's the Blast Sword. Because he loses the Sword of Light for good in this version, Gourry needs a new one. He and Lina find a rusty old sword, and during the battle with Dynast Grausherra, it reveals itself as the Blast Sword, which is even more capable of fighting demonic beings than the Sword of Light.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Kaiba gives Yugi his copy of Fiend's Sanctuary before the Final Battle with Marik in Battle City, knowing it's an effective weapon against the Winged Dragon of Ra but leaves it up to him to figure out how to use it; fortunately, he does.
- An example occurs in the two-part episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX where Judai duels Asuka (who is Brainwashed and Crazy due to the Society of Light). Both Fubuki and Manjyome give him cards before the duel starts, thinking that they might help him get through to her. When he first uses them, however, neither works at all. However, he is later able to use both to bypass Asuka's lockdown strategy and summon a monster that lets him destroy the White Veil card (a vital factor in the cult's hold over her) so the two cards do end up being useful... Just not in the way they were originally intended.
- In Astérix in Britain, before setting out on the journey to Britain, Asterix takes some herbs from the Druid Getafix who says "Take some if you like." These herbs are eventually found out to be tea, which works as a Magic Feather for the British village they were out to save in their battle with the Romans.
- Not long after Final Crisis, it's revealed that Darkseid cloned Batman several times. When the clones went crazy, they were all killed, except for one, just in the off chance that Darkseid ever needed a spare Batman corpse. Which he later used to fool the world into thinking Batman was dead.
- In Star Wars: Legacy, Cade Skywalker is handed R2-D2. He is not impressed.
- The beans from Jack and the Beanstalk. He traded a cow for them, though.
- Found in a Norwegian folktale about a princess who always had to have the last word. Three brothers are off to try their hand at winning the princess; the youngest is mocked for carrying around every piece of junk he finds. Youngest brother manages to stun the princess into silence by using the junk as props ([brother holds out goat horn] "I've never seen the like!" [brother gets out other goat horn] "Here you see the like, Princess.") and they live happily ever after.
- In Mercer Mayer's version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the heroine meets a Plant Person of the forest, a Giant Fish of the ocean, and the North Wind, each of whom gives them a gift which she needs to use in order to defeat the Troll Princess: a bow and arrow from the king of the forest, a fish scale, and a tinderbox. In the last case, she needs to free her prince from a block of ice. The tinderbox burns the drapes, melting the ice, which douses the flames.
- Mario and Sonic: Heroes Unite!
- Before storming Bowser's Castle, Mario receives an Item Bag. His comeback was from the last item in said Item Bag.
- Sonic receives a Power Star just before going back to his world. That same Power Star is used to power the Star Fighter the heroes use as transportation.
- From the Pirates of the Caribbean example, a Stupid Statement Dance Mix:
- From Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Dumbledore with great ceremony gives Harry... his father's rock and tells him to keep it with him at all times. It's just a big rock which is not special at all. The fact that it actually does come in useful, and the circumstances where it does, are seen as so suspicious in-universe that it completely changes the state of political alliances by bringing the Malfoys in under Harry's personal banner.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
Tia Dalma: Land is where you are safe, Jack Sparrow. And so you will carry land wit' you.
Jack: ...this is a jar of dirt.
Tia Dalma: Yes...
Jack: Is it special dirt?
Tia Dalma: If you don't want it, give it back.
Tia Dalma: Then it helps.
- The Nine Pieces of Eight. The Pirate Lords were, to a man, skint broke.
Pintel: "Those are nine pieces of junk!"
- Bootstrap's grungy knife as well. It seems an odd gift, but Bootstrap gives it to Will as if he knows he will need it and may never see him again. Will assumes he needs it to stab the heart. Ironic in hindsight.
- The everyday items in Paycheck. Rare film example of a plot setup involving the character collecting otherwise useless everyday items, justified in that the character knew exactly what was going to happen in the future and when. Although why such a security conscious company would allow him, with their knowledge, to take a key card with him is anybody's guess.
- In the short story its based on, its revealed that the machine wasn't just a viewer, it allowed one to extend a mechanical grasping arm through time to obtain objects. The protagonist uses it to grab the final MacGuffin out of the villain's hand at the climax, then his future-self pulls it out of his pocket.
- In the Ewok Adventure TV movie, Mace is given a seemingly useless rock by Chief Chirpa. He discards it, but Wicket picks it up and gives it back to him, to Mace's dismay. Later when the group is trying to find the entrance to the Gorax's cave, Mace tries to use his blaster to make an opening, but it fails to destroy the rock. However, when he breaks open the little innocuous rock given to him by Chief Chirpa, a little arrowhead falls out and zips under a nearby boulder, which is revealed to be a secret entrance to the cave.
- Almost every James Bond movie has Q give 007 a stack of gadgets, which he would use once each in the course of the film. These would usually be unveiled in descending order of firepower and perceived uselessness, with the latter always proving to be the most essential, presumably because his captors wouldn't think to take it from him. Much more advanced and bizarre technology in Q's lab would be pooh-poohed as not ready for prime time.
- Done rather poorly in Troll 2, when Grandpa Seth hands Joshua a double-decker baloney sandwich, saying "take this, and only use it when you really need it". The last 5 minutes of the film may not be a good time to introduce a vital Chekhov's Gun.
- Another iffy example happens in Van Helsing, when the monk-inventor sidekick introduces the hero to a seemingly vulgar stone that can produce a sudden burst of solar-like light. The monk-inventor insists he doesn't know why it could be helpful, despite knowing that they are going to travel to Transylvania to fight vampires who are vulnerable to day light, then says he is going to take it anyway. Three guesses about what specific item they use to escape a palace filled with vampires at night later on.
- The Man Who Would Be King: In the glory days of the British Raj in India, ex-soldier Peachey Carnehan (Michael Caine) steals a pocket watch from a well-dressed white man (Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling) at a train station. Peachey sees the watch fob is a Masonic emblem and, being a Mason himself, "has" to return the watch, hopefully without giving away his thievery. He does (or thinks so) and thus meets Kipling. Later Peachey and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery), also an ex-soldier and Peachey's fellow "gentleman-of-fortune", meet with Kipling and tell him of a grand adventure they are about to embark on. Later still, as they leave for this adventure, in an impulsive gesture Kipling gives the watch fob to Dravot. It later saves their lives.
- That innocent little cookie that the Oracle offers to Neo in The Matrix could not have been so innocuous. If a piece of cake causes great excitement in a young woman in the Merovingian's club in ''The Matrix Reloaded'', then the Oracle can bake a little programming for Neo into her own batch. What are cookies known for in computer jargon, huh?
- Parodied in The Wrong Guy, where Nelson is given two tea bags and a sheet of wax paper and told that you can kill a man with them. When Nelson is attacked by the villain, he ineffectually waves the items around, as he has no idea how to use them.
- Most of the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf books qualify. Lone Wolf and the Fighting Fantasy series Sorcery!, being multi-part series rather than one-offs, are the most worrying with this — certain items might not come in handy for three books. Fighting Fantasy at least usually has no rules on how much you can carry. Lone Wolf is not so lenient.
- To make things worse, Lone Wolf sometimes subverts this with items that look like they fit this trope but which serve no purpose at all, or even a few that are actively harmful. And because it's a gamebook with branching paths, sometimes you'll just miss the path where an item is supposed to be used, carrying it around for dozens of later books with no payoff.
- Quite frequent in GrailQuest, though the items are often rather bizarre. Especially notable in book 3, The Gateway of Doom, which adds a Critical Encumbrance Failure aspect, and has Merlin lampshades the trope in the text:
Pip: Why should I want a gold braid, a joke book or a xylophone?
Merlin: Why should you want a hammer or a saw?
Pip: Because they might come in handy.
Merlin: So might a gold braid, a joke book and a xylophone. Anything might come in handy in an adventure like this.
- Harry Potter
- Galadriel's gifts in The Lord of the Rings.
- Her gift to Sam? A Box of Dirt with a seed in it. Galadriel specifically says it won't help Sam on his quest, but when he gets home. Given his vision in the Mirror, she has a fair idea of how it will be used.
- Galadriel's little phial, too. The movie version implies that Galadriel knows it will be useful against Shelob, but the book, less so.
- The Hobbit: Bilbo finds the One Ring by complete accident.
He crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking: "Certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment."
- In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the eponymous character is given a pen and told only to use it times of great need. It helps. Given that it's a pen that can turn into a sword... He then proceeds to whip it out at any possible time whatsoever, probably because he's a teenage boy who owns a pen that turns into a sword.
- In the book Key to Rondo, Mimi's pendant and her lemon candy prove to be what the bad guys want, and the decoy.
- As she leaves for a boat trip, Martine of Dolphin Song is given a plant by the old woman who's been teaching her about bush magic. Everyone teases her about it, until it proves to be the cure (the only cure on hand) for Man o' War stings. The best part is, the woman told her later that she just wanted it out of her garden.
- In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo is given gifts by many of the people he meets, and they all come in handy when he is facing the demons who live in the Mountains of Ignorance.
- The Sirens of Titan features an interesting twist. The main character's son picks up a random piece of scrap metal during a factory tour on Mars. It becomes his lucky piece and he carries it with him everywhere for the rest of the book until they arrive on Titan itself. Turns out, this little piece of scrap is the replacement part the alien observer has been sitting around waiting for since before the dawn of humanity. It seems all of human history was guided (and perhaps even BEGUN) by his species remotely just to bring him this small piece of metal so he could continue his mission (which it turns out is just to say "Hi" to whoever lives on the far side of the universe). It's a bit of a downer realization, until one considers that with this delivery/quest complete, perhaps humanity will be free to pursue its own destiny.
- In Jim Butcher's Spider-Man novel The Darkest Hours, Spider-Man asked Doctor Strange for his assistance in dealing with the Ancients, three malevolent beings related to Morlun (from the J. Michael Straczynski run). Strange refused, stating that doing so would undo the cosmic balance. He did arrange for his manservant Wong to prepare Spider-Man a sack lunch... which contained, along with a ham sandwich, three small stones which could be used to transport someone to an uninhabited dimension. After Spider-Man defeated the Ancients, Strange asked Wong what had happened to the stones, pretending not to know anything about their use.
- Subverted most effectively in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy - Vin's earring, her only memento of her mother which she has been wearing since the start of the first book, turns out to be the way the Big Bad has been influencing her all along.
- Subverted in Katherine MacLean's Missing Man, where a guru gives George (the protagonist) a quarter, saying "I can see into the future a little. In two weeks if you don't have a quarter you'll probably die," and "Tape it to your skin and forget you have it." In fact, the quarter does become (hypothetically) useful... except that George, as instructed, forgets that he has it, and so never uses it.
- In Whispering Nickel Idols, Garrett brings a bucket of kittens to Belinda's mob party, thinking he can get rid of a few by giving them away. (Morley lampshades how unlikely this is to work, but Garrett really doesn't want a bunch of cats in his house.) As it happens, the "kittens" are actually the Luck of A-Lat, whose presence soothes emotions and prevents a bloodbath at the gathering.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Ford Prefect's penchant for towels. He insists to Arthur that they are useful in all kinds of situations.
- Common in live-action adventure games from the Dream Park series. Kevin's gift of a soot-covered rag in The Barsoom Project is a good example.
- In Night Watch, Anton is Genre Savvy enough to know that any amulet Geser gives him will most likely be useful in the near future. Even a low-level Other is able to view his own probability lines. An old and powerful Great Other like Geser can do it a lot better. Why would you need an enchanted SIM card in Uzbekistan? Well, to block GPS tracking on your phone, of course, in case someone decides to cause an avalanche at your location. Why would battle mages like Anton and Alisher need rings that protect against fire, ice, poison, and vacuum when they can just use the Mage's Shield spell? Because those will happen to be the spells that their enemy will use, and the battle mages will have The Load to protect.
- Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez. Mollusk keeps finding superfluous components in cybernetically-controlled organisms sent by the Brain to destroy him. The unusual thing is, all the components are based on his designs. The components eventually assemble into a device that plugs into a machine that shuts down the Brain and his cohorts, as part of a Batman Gambit arranged by Mollusk's future self, who's being held prisoner by the Brain.
- The toolkit Rainbow Dash gets from the rest of the Mane Six for her quest to obtain the Half-Gilded Horseshoe in Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare.
- Estate of Panic: The most successful contestant in the second of three rooms usually received an item that might have helped them in the third. For example, in the first episode a contestant was given a screwdriver, but had to figure out where to use it (on the A/C vents) to earn the extra money.
- Parodied on Garth Marenghis Darkplace, when ghostly Scots invade Darkplace Hospital: "What's this?" "Something that might come in handy."
- Rather cruelly inverted in an episode of House, where they spend an entire episode looking for a cause for a young boy's ailment, only to discover that a piece of scrap metal used as a fob on his keychain was highly radioactive. Previously unrevealed to the audience, it had been randomly picked up by his father, a scrap dealer, and given to him as a Memento MacGuffin to remind him of his roots.
- Played fairly straight in Merlin, episode "The Eye of the Phoenix", when the Fisher King hands Merlin the waterglobe and says "When all seems lost, this will show you the way."
- Power Rangers Zeo: When Adam Park dreams about Mondo taking over, Rita and Zedd told him about a sorcerer that could vanquish Mondo's forces but needed items Adam needed to pick up along the way.
- Happens on Tracker when Mel finds both her grandmother's diary and the strange triangular object. She finds it a bit odd but dismisses it and nails it up as a decoration, and it's only later that the writing on it is ID'd as Vardian and they learn that it's the key to the underground vault, and that the diary's poetry was another key clue.
- In the first episode of MythQuest, Alex (as Theseus) is given a ball of string to help him navigate the labyrinth of the Minotaur.
- From an episode of The Goon Show:
Grytpype-Thynne: Now, here's a screwdriver, a blindfold and a cucumber.
Neddie Seagoon: Cucumber?
Grytpype-Thynne: You've got to eat, haven't you?
(it's actually a bomb)
- In Richard Wagner's Siegfried, after Siegfried kills Fafner, he can understand the forest bird's song telling him to take the ring and helm. He doesn't know what they really are, but it keeps them out of the hands of Alberich and Mime. (Too bad that the ring is an Artifact of Doom...)
- At the end of Episode 9 of The Mercury Men, Jack Yaeger gives Edward Borman his ray gun, implying he'll need it later.
- Tends to happen a lot in The Questport Chronicles. During Year Two, the heroes find a bunch of junk, including an old spell, while searching for a different Plot Coupon; the spell becomes vitally important to retrieving the next Plot Coupon.
- Subverted in an episode of Family Guy. After Quagmire has an affair with Cleveland's wife, Cleveland's swears revenge. Quagmire hires Mayor Adam West as a guard, but after failing to keep still, West decides to leave while giving Quagmire a banana and telling him "When the time comes, you'll know what to do." Later, when Cleveland is chasing him, Quagmire throws the banana... and it does nothing. The way the scene is set up to invoke the classic banana peel gag to viewers, but Quagmire forgot to peel the banana before throwing it.
- One episode of Darkwing Duck is made up of a long string of characters literally saying "This could come in handy some day." It's an aged Darkwing telling his supposed origin story, and everything from his gas gun to his martial arts skills is given to him with this note from the repeated giver. And damned if they don't all get used in sequence in the course of about a minute.
- As a parody or tribute to James Bond, Totally Spies! uses the exact same "three gadgets that each get used once" shtick.
- Freakazoid!: "The Wrath of Guitierrez" had the eponymous hero needing a McGuffin to detach himself from a device on time to avoid deletion after an enemy sucked him into an Adventure Game. He needed certain items to help through his question, and lampshades the usual pixel-hunting with things like a bowl of soup he finds behind a suit of armor. He also lacks the usual invisible inventory, and towards the end of the game is carrying a huge armload of stuff.
- At the beginning of each episode of the James Bond Jr. animated series, the Gadgeteer Genius would give Bond three very use-specific items. Almost always he would use those three items in the same order they were given...
- In one episode of ReBoot, Season Three, Andr A Ia and Matrix are training a small team of citizens from a rundown system to play Games and win. The game in question is modeled after typical RPG fantasy quest games, and the character who reboots as a wizard finds a feather on the path. He sticks it in his pouch. One other character sarcastically remarks "Great. If we meet the user, you can tickle him to deletion." Later, the feather proves instrumental in getting the team inside the castle, as it allowed the wizard to give himself wings.