The plot where the object that everyone is looking for
turns out to have been transformed into a girl
(with the occasional variation of being a Robot Girl
). It's usually (but not always) a girl, and is usually associated with several of the following tropes or plot elements:
- The girl (again, it usually is a girl) initially has no memory or knowledge of what she really is.
- This leads to the Tomato in the Mirror trope.
- The hero gets to know her as a person first before discovering what she really is.
- There is conflict among the good guys over whether to keep the girl or return her to her natural state as a MacGuffin. Some see it as killing her; others don't.
- Alternately, the good guys all agree to keep her human, but the decision is out of their hands; so they angst over the girl not being able to keep her brief life.
- The story ends with either a self sacrifice (if the object is vitally important) or with the girl staying a girl (if the object only needs to be used once or is only wanted by the villains).
Compare Spaceship Girl
, which could lead to similar stories, but in practice almost never does, and Barrier Maiden
who is often just as objectified while being wholly human. Likewise, characters who are being sought after merely because they are a lost princess
, or an escaped lab experiment
, etc., are generally not treated this way, but as The President's Daughter
. Though the princess may be, if her Royal Blood
has magical properties.
See Save This Person, Save the World
for when the character isn't anything particuarly special, you just have to ensure that they don't die. A Living MacGuffin
is someone not in danger, but still desirable - like the beautiful princess you want to impress and marry. See also Phlebotinum Girl
Please do not include characters who are titled like objects (light, key, hope, etc.) but are not objects.
Listing examples for this trope is inherently full of spoilers
. Be warned
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Anime & Manga
Films — Animation
- In the animated Disney film Tangled, Mother Gothel kidnapped baby Rapunzel because Rapunzel's mother (the Queen) drank a potion made from a magic flower while she was still pregnant; the flower was formerly the only thing keeping Mother Gothel alive — now Rapunzel's hair is.
Films — Live-Action
- Aversion: Leeloo in The Fifth Element may sound a bit like this since we associate elements with objects, but she's never called an object or shown as one (and is in fact the perfect being). There's no confusion or angst over not being human or having to end her existence, and while she does need to be used in a ritual, it is, shall we say, nondamaging.
- Men In Black II has a similar aversion. Laura Vasquez is "the Light of Zartha", which sounds like an object, but there's no sign that she actually is one. It was probably just figurative. She does seem to be the heir.
- The female lead in Stardust, Yvaine, is actually a star in human form, sought by several people for various reasons. Since stars in Fairyland are people and stars in the mortal world are just dust, if she crosses the border she will turn into stardust and die.
- The protagonist's love interest in D-War is the key to helping the good dragon attain his full powers. She sacrifices herself to give him his powers and let him beat the evil dragon.
- Yvaine from Stardust is the fallen star that the potential heirs to the throne, the witch trio, and the protagonist all need to retrieve. Of course, we know she's a star right from her introduction, and so does everybody else. The hero was a little slow on the uptake.
- A variation occurs in Terry Brooks' novel The Elfstones of Shannara, where everyone knows that The Chosen One, Amberle, is the MacGuffin, but they (and specifically the protagonist) don't know that she will turn into the Ellcrys tree, satisfying the rest of the trope along the way.
- This is reused in The Druid of Shannara with Quickening, who is a Magical Girlfriend to boot. Although she knows that she'll be killed by the assassin Pe Ell and her death will cause a release of positive, happy energies in the surrounding lands, it comes as a bit of a shock to everyone else, including Pe Ell, who seems to be broken by the fact that he killed someone who wanted it.
- Taking this trope to weird extremes, the female dog Waif in House of Many Ways is actually the Elfgift, the magical protection given by the elves to the Royal Family.
- In Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, the eponymous unicorn is transformed into a human girl, somewhat by accident, about midway through the book. Plot-wise she's very much a MacGuffin, but averts most of the subtropes: for instance, she remembers her origins at first, and only later begins to forget.
- In Small Favor, Dresden realizes at the last minute that Ivy (the Archive) is one of these for the Denarians.
- An unusual twist on the trope appears in Meredith Ann Pierce's Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood. The MacGuffin (a living cutting, taken by the antagonist, from the Wise Tree who turns out to be the Big Good of the story) is Hannah, the protagonist. In this case, being functionally near-human is unexpected, irreversible, and works in her favor.
- Inverted in the Xanth novel The Source of Magic, which featured a hunt for Millie the Ghost's body, or more accurately, the object into which it had been transformed. It was found, but the reason for the transformation wasn't explained until the next book, Castle Roogna, in which another character (who wasn't present for the original search) travels back in time (sort of). He even ends up unknowingly transporting the object to its final resting place.
- Played straight in Archon by Sabrina Benulis, where Sophia is eventually revealed to be the Book of Raziel, the keystone to triggering the apocalypse. In a slight deviation, in this case, the girl in question is fully aware of her MacGuffin Girl status, even if she isn't completely thrilled about it.
- Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code is the Holy Grail; she carries the holy blood line.
- Sword of Truth
- Confessors are very powerful magical artifacts sustained by their bloodline. Richard learns who Kahlan is before he learns what she is, and she comments that he's her only friend as a result. It makes her affection more than a little weird.
- Female Rahls also qualify, as all Rahls are shaped by spells imbued in their family 3000 years ago
- Adventure Hunters: Regina is sought after because her ancestor turned all of his descendents into human-shaped instruction manuals for building war golems. She is also the "ignition key", so to speak, because she needs to step into the Lampda Driver to activate the golems.
- Dawn Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is actually the transformed Key.
- Doctor Who:
- Princess Astra in the story "The Armageddon Factor" is the sixth segment of the Key to Time. The similarity was widely commented on when the aforementioned Buffy episode came out.
- "The Doctor's Wife", in series 6 of the new series, turns the TARDIS into the MacGuffin Girl. The episode follows the trope's usual pattern to a tee, with the only divergence being that she knows who she is from the start; she just doesn't explain it right away. Though it wasn't for lack of trying; she just didn't have the language yet.
- Batman TV series: A meta example, this blog explains that the first few episodes (like "Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin's a Jinx") were lifted directly from the comics. Those episode’s story was taken from a February 1965 Penguin comic. The only marked difference was that Penguin attempts to steal the giant jeweled meteorite that is only mentioned in the show. Dawn Robbins does not appear in the comic story. It was easier and cheaper to kidnap the girl than create a meteorite for television, so the writers introduced Dawn Robbins.
- Luvbi in Super Paper Mario is a Pure Heart who has been transformed into a Nimbi princess.
- In Beyond Good & Evil, it is eventually revealed that the protagonist Jade is a living vessel for the Life Energy of the evil alien race, which their leader has been chasing across the galaxy for centuries. It doesn't makes sense in context, but hopefully that will be explained in the sequel!
- Evolution Series/Evolution Worlds:
- Linear Cannon (yes, that's her name) is a Robot Girl who is Really 700 Years Old, and she's the superweapon that everyone is after, Evolutia, the ultimate Cyframe. As it turns out, she can become something of the trueform of the item at her own will. And she does so to resurrect Mag Launcher, after he's killed by the first Big Bad, Eugene Leopold.
- There's another Evolutia, and he's a guy called Yurka, who happens to be the Big Bad of the second game/second half of the composite game on the GameCube.His whole point is to turn himself and her into the true form of the superweapon, the Ulticannon. His plan is foiled when Linear's sheer love for the hero causes her to escape the body of the Ulticannon just in time, leaving you to deal with Yurka's Painful Transformation and That One Boss.
- Mega Man Battle Network has its own MacGuffin Girl in the sixth game, where it turns out that Iris is really a Navi, whose special ability is controlling electronics. She's hunted by WWW so that she can control the Cybeasts.
- Anveena from World of Warcraft is the Sunwell in human form, a font of magical power strong enough to sustain the elven people's magic addiction. She falls in love with Kalecgos in the Sunwell Trilogy manga (see above), but in the Glory of the Sunwell content patch, she sacrifices herself to weaken Kil'jaeden enough for him to be banished from the Sunwell. However, his defeat allows the Sunwell to be restored.
- In BlazBlue we have Dimensional Boundary Contact Medium number 12 (μ-12 for short). You may know her better as Noel Vermillion. She spends many of her endings struggling and failing to retain her human memories and personality, before finally succeeding in the true ending. Then the sequel happened...wherein she's turned all the way into a Murakumo unit brainwashed by Hazama and is saved by Ragna sacrificing his arm (he's then saved by her "sister" unit Lambda-11, who replaces it. The other Murakumo units probably count too.
- Played with to a great extent in the Interactive Fiction game Wishbringer: The title stone turns out to be the cat you're supposed to rescue, Chaos. Besides not being human, the "girl" is already in MacGuffin form and you have to make the choice to restore her to life. Also somewhat inverted, as according to the backstory, the wishbringer stone is the heart of princess, turned to stone from being denied love.
- Sophie in Tales of Graces is an Energy Being and the only one who can completely destroy the Big Bad, though she would be destroyed as well. Naturally, the Evil Genius only sees her as a means to get rid of the Big Bad, but the heroes see her as a human being.
- Pandora in God of War 3.
- Cortana, the A.I. hologram-woman in Halo: Combat Evolved. Master Chief has to protect her because of all the information she has, though she functions more like a partner than a plot device. She's mostly like Mission Control, except that she happens to live in his head.
- In Halo 3, her MacGuffin Girl role is expanded upon, as she is kidnapped by the Gravemind
- This trope is played with in the form of Fiona Belli from Haunting Ground. Being a game that explores human sexuality and rape in the most horrific way possible, Fiona is only wanted because of her Azoth, symbolising her purity, that is constantly being hunted down by a villian for some reason. The first villian, Debilitas, is a huge, hulking monster man with the mind of an excitable 5 year old, and he doesn't realise his actions are hurting both Fiona and himself. This is especially ramped up in the second and third villians, Daniella and Riccardo. Daniella wants Fiona's Azoth because she is jealous of her ability to taste, to feel pain, and of course, to make love, and she is driven to the conclusion that tearing Fiona's womb apart will give her the Azoth she needs, by Riccardo, who in turn wants Fiona's Azoth to reincarnate himself. And Fiona, being a scared witless girl fresh from a car crash that took her parents' lives, doesn't want to hand it over. It has a lot of overlap with So Beautiful It's A Curse, and it's used rather intelligently.
- Girl Stinky in Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space is revealed in the final episode to actually be the Cake of the Damned. Season Three shows the cake thing was just an illusion she and Sal used to trick Grandpa Stinky. According to Flint Paper, she's actually a Mermaid!
- Poker Night 2 drops a doozy: Wendy is actually "The Word Made Flesh", which is basically the holy version of the Necronomicon. That's great for Ash! He finally gets a breather! And he also has to kill her to get the superweapon. Getting badass really sucks on Ash's social life.
- All the sisters from Turgor are this. Especially after Aya reveals that they are not souls of people, they are souls of an era of mankind, and who you choose to ascend will directly affect the entirety of the surface world.
- Variation: In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, the Examia crystal that Kyrie is looking for so that she could revive her dying planet turns out to be an important component of the Unbreakable Darkness that she needs to exist. Not that you could remove it from her even if you try. After Lord Dearche re-establishes her role as the Power Limiter of the Unbreakable Darkness and helps the latter remember her former identity as Yuri, Yuri decides to follow Kyrie back to her homeworld so that she could use her now controllable powers to restore her planet.
- In Star Ocean The Last Hope, Sarah serves as this for the bad guys in the Roak story arc. The local cult are trying to summon a demon, and they need her as a Virgin Sacrifice.
- Kingdom Hearts has an example which skirts the line between this and Living MacGuffin: the seven Princesses of Heart, whose hearts are the seven pieces of pure light from the x-blade. Making them clash against thirteen darknesses is another way to forge the blade again; which is exactly what the Big Bad wants.
- Bottle Women in Order of Tales (for, although only one appears in the comic, there have been several before her) fit the trope right from the start. They're made, not born, and the one featured in the story is the Last of Her Kind because her creator, who is now dead, was the last person alive who knew the secret of making them; the story kicks off with the need to keep the Big Bad from getting his hands on her. It's because the thing that gives him his power is an unbreakable sword, and the liquid inside the Bottle Woman that gives her life is the only substance that can break it; if he has her, she can't be used against him.
- Batman: The Animated Series has Annie, an amnesiac whom Robin falls for. It's revealed that she is merely a portion of Clayface, who later "murders" her by re-absorbing her. Tim is barely able to restrain himself from returning the favor.
- Code Lyoko has probably the best example of this, as the Ridiculously Human A.I. Aelita is a MacGuffin to the bad guy, and a girl to the good guys. Of course, she's not really an A.I. Which, in the end, makes it an Inverted Trope: Aelita was a real girl transformed into a MacGuffin by her first virtualization.
- Raven of the Teen Titans TV series is later shown to be the living embodiment of a dimensional gateway called the "Gem" through which her father, the evil Trigan, can pass through to escape imprisonment and resume his Evil Plan to take over all of the known universe. Once learning this, the other Titans go to great lengths to protect her and prevent this from happening, but Raven herself ultimately performs the ritual to become the portal, thinking her friends would all die because of her otherwise. Naturally, she comes back and blasts her dad back into his can.
- In the pilot episode of Rainbow Brite, Wisp is looking for the sphere of light. Turns out it's the baby.
- Mighty Orbots has a variation. OhNo, who is normally a little girl-sized Fem Bot, wants to become human. A conniving alien grants her wish, knowing that her robot form is necessary for the other 'bots to unite into the title Super Robot. She gets changed back to normal in time to save the day. A bit of a subversion, in that her robot form is perfectly sentient, but isn't human and has an electronic key built into her.
Anime & Manga
- The comic book version of W.I.T.C.H. features Caleb, the hero who is actually a Murmurer/Whisperer made human. The Big Bad punishes him by reverting him to a flower. Series Caleb is human, though.
- The Marvelous Land of Oz has a truly weird example: the MacGuffin, Ozma, was a girl to begin with, and she was transformed into the boy Tip.
- Sword of Truth:
- Richard himself is a War Wizard, destined Seeker of Truth, and several other things, all assured by magics brought in and out of their world during the wizards' war.
- All males Rahls are this, due to spells laid on their bloodline to ensure that there would always be wizards in the line, something that's likely but not otherwise guaranteed.
- Dream Walkers are actually weaponized descendants of Dream Casters, a naturally-occurring macguffin tribe in the New World, making Jagang one of these.
- The Mriswith are either a self-perpetuating or immortal variant of this. Seriously, the last of them were corralled three thousand years ago, just so Richard would find them. They've been killing anyone who wasn't Richard ever since.
- Trapped on Draconica: Emperor Gothon makes it clear early on that his reason for conquering Daniar's kingdom was to capture Ben. He thinks its because Ben's soul can save his dying wife, but it's actually because Kazebar wants the boy's latent power to travel between worlds.
- Strangely, in Power Rangers, this person is Always Male. We've had three Humongous Mecha boys and one embodiment-of-nature boy. Longevity varied — oddly for a Never Say "Die" show. Although having them offed in their true forms kind of averted "death". At least, as far as the censors are concerned. In one of the mecha cases, Animus reverts to human child form to give a Final Speech and then dissolve. All onscreen and unambiguous. How did they get away with that one?
- In the Doctor Who story "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood", the Doctor turns himself into a human MacGuffin Guy, complete with false memories, to avoid a group of aliens who want to capture a Time Lord. When the aliens find him anyway and attack, Martha tries to persuade the reluctant human version to turn back into a Time Lord with the know-how to save the villagers. He does, but he continues to pretend to be human until he has set up the aliens' destruction.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons module CM3 Sabre River. The adventure begins when a boy named Erbas asks the PCs for help in stopping a magical curse. Erbas accompanies the PCs throughout the adventure, during which they discover that the only way to stop the curse is to use a magical sabre. Guess who the sabre eventually turns out to be?
- In Red vs. Blue, both Alpha and Epsilon, the two AI incarnates of Private Church, are being pursued by people for various reasons. Wash wants Epsilon's memories as proof of the Director's treachery. The Meta wants Alpha to amplify his powers, but after being Brought Down to Normal, he wants Epsilon just to restore them. Carolina apparently needs Alpha's help to kill the Director, but she finds Epsilon instead, mistaking him for the true Alpha.
- While not technically male, autobot Smokescreen from the series Transformers Prime is apparently one of the relics that is key to reviving the currently dead planet Cybertron. Turns out that he was simply a container for the actual MacGuffin. And Autobots in this series do have gender, so he is a male example. He's just a nonhuman male example.