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.
- As the Trope Codifier for Impossible Theft, Carmen Sandiego has stolen far more than just monuments and famous landmarks in her time. Somehow, she's managed to steal things that are intangible, incorporeal, and even metaphysical.
- Carmen has stolen linguistics before, including the Portuguese language, the English alphabet, and 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, including:
- The Mason-Dixon Line, an imaginary line dividing the north and south of the United States of America.
- Tai chi, a martial art.
- The Hope Diamond's shine.note
- The American Broadcasting Company.note
- The International Date Line, an imaginary concept that is part of the basis for time.
- The steps to the tango.note
- The knowledge of how to make Chicago-style deep dish pizza.
- The Internet.
- Entire 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.
- In Aphorism, the character Izuru Tomonaga steals the main character's heart, while he's still using it with his power.
- King of Bandit Jing: Jing claims to be able to steal anything and that is what he does. He does concede defeat after discovering that one treasure is a landmark. Given that he has succeeded in stealing greed, a dream, and a smile, this is quite an admission. However, each of the three things he stole did have a physical representation that was small enough to carry one-handed.
- In JLA (1997): Tower of Babel, the Big Bad steals human language, first written, then spoken as well.
- In Loki: Agent of Asgard, 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.
- Rubel from Thieves & Kings has an uncle, McGi, who has performed feats like retrieving a girl's lost memories.
- Trinity (2008) 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Discworld crossover Watch! Watch!, sergeant Dobbin "Dobby" steals, among other things, the blame for the bad weather and the name of the city Apple-Moretone, forcing her superior Corporal "Rainbow" M. Dash to make up a new one. She settles on Ponyville.
- In Corporal Nobby's Marvellous Collection of Genders, Nobby Nobbs starts to hoard genders after misinterpreting some advice from Cheery ("If it feels right, [...] that's your gender"). In practice, this involves asking people what their gender is and taking it if he likes it. When Nobby asks Lord Vetinari, who claims to have a gender but doesn't know what it is, Vimes sees Nobby walking away and yells at him to give the Patrician back his gender.
- In The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch creates a vacuum-like device that lets him steal sounds from people and objects. He can either replace them with other sounds, such as when he replaces some birds' singing with burping sounds, or he can leave them be and render them unable to form any sounds at all, as what he does to The Cat in the Hat.
- In The Little Mermaid (1989), Ariel has her voice taken from her by Ursula immediately before being turned into a human. Not her physical tongue as in the original fairy tale, but her actual voice, depicted as a pulsating pin-prick of golden light that appears inside of Ariel's throat when she sings an aria intended to be her very last song...and is still singing on its own when Ursula's phantom-hand snatches it to place inside her swirling shell pendant. The entire sequence is quite eerie.
- In Space Jam, the Nerdlucks steal the talent of basketball superstars Larry Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, and Shawn Bradley.
- The Thief from The Thief and the Cobbler steals the MacGuffin from a collapsing death machine, the words "The End" at the end of the movie and the film from the projector!
- 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.
- In the Isaac Asimov Black Widowers story "The Acquisitive Chuckle," a thief steals a Jerk Ass Victim's peace of mind.
- In The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids, Madame Tarsa's ventriloquist dummies can steal someone's voice and speak with it.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nick Velvet: In "The Theft of Twenty-Nine Minutes", Nick is hired to 'steal' 29 minutes from the guests on a cruise ship.
- 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.
- In the first Time Out Of Time book, "Beyond The Door", when the Greenman comes into Timothy's house, he takes all the light in the room. Not the light bulbs, the actual light.
- 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 the Wayside School book Wayside School Gets A Little Stranger, Mr. Gorf arrives at the school to serve as a substitute teacher to Mrs. Jewls's class and get revenge for his mother Mrs. Gorf. He sucks up the children's voices with the third nostril in his nose, which allows him to use them; he then calls their mothers and says cruel things, destroying their relationships. Miss Mush, the cafeteria lady, eventually saves the day by attacking Mr. Gorf with a Logical Weakness—pepper—that makes him sneeze out the stolen voices.
- 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).
- 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."
- The Fourth Edition Epic Destiny "Thief Of Legend" is all about being a thief so deft, you can steal things like memories, colors, the princess' smile or the sighs of a maiden. At the highest levels, you even gain the ability to steal your own soul from death, allowing you to come Back from the Dead.
- 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.
- Lethemancers in Magic: The Gathering are a strain of necromancer specialized in the Vampiric Draining of thoughts and memories, which they convert into mana and Life Energy for their own use, leaving their victims insane, amnesiac or both.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Final Fantasy:
- Edge of Final Fantasy IV is able to steal Dark Matter, a hypothetical form of matter largely believed to be both invisible and intangible, from the final boss.
- Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings shows where all the that Level Grinding from XII went, as Vaan can casually steal concepts and attributes from an enemy, up to and including their sense of time, and make use of it himself. He steps it up by Final Fantasy Tactics A2, where he's essentially become the most incredible thief of Ivalice.
- Final Fantasy Tactics: In addition to more mundane thieving skills, the thief class can learn "Steal Exp" and "Steal Heart" (which charms an enemy of the opposite sex).
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance: Thieves can steal any skill that an enemy has learned, so long as the thief is capable of learning it.
- In Kingdom Hearts:
- Kingdom Hearts: the Queen of Hearts accuses Alice of attempting to steal her heart. In this game series, the "heart" is the emotional seat of characters, usually represented by a glowing pink/gold heart-shape. The real culprit in this case wasn't Alice but 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.
- NiGHTS into Dreams & NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams: The Nightmaren's purpose is to steal Ideya (aspects like Wisdom/Growth and Hope in the form of crystal orbs) to aid the goals of Wizeman the Wicked. There's only one that they can't steal, and which the four young kids possess, that is the red Ideya of Courage; which also helps in freeing the titular protagonist of the two games from imprisonment.
- 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." (The capital letter "P" remains, but doesn't work.)
- Persona 5 revolves around a group of Phantom Thieves who forcibly reform corrupt individuals by stealing their hearts. Which in this case means visiting metaphysical 'palaces' in the collective unconsciousness, which hide a 'Treasure' that represents their corrupt desire and is guarded by their Shadow. For example, Madarame's desire is to become famous, and so takes the form of the original Sayuri, the portrait that made him rich (and that he didn't actually paint). Once stolen, Treasures can be taken to the real world, and selling them is a good part of the Phantom Thieves' revenue.
- In Touhou Youyoumu ~ 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.
- In Ace Attorney Investigations, Kay Faraday claims to be the successor to the legendary thief Yatagarasu. Thing is, she's got little misconception about them; while Yatagarasu tried to "steal the truth" by publicizing large organizations' dirty secrets, Kay decided that that means Yatagarasu only steals concepts. As such, she mostly steals things like other characters' lines and screen time.
- In the Nine Series, Miyako Kujo's Power of the Thief takes away a person's memories of a stolen item along with the item itself. The victim gets their memories back when she returns the item, though they will not realize that anything has been stolen unless she admits to the theft. She can also read a person's mind by stealing just the memories themselves.
- 8-Bit Theater: Thief claims he can steal anything that isn't both nailed down and on fire.
"I've stolen things that weren't even there. This soul exists, so that helps."
- 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.
- 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."
- Freefall: Sam claims that in his species' mythology they stole everything from their gods, lands, seas, skies, plagues, even each individual sqid's life.
- The Hazards of Love: The monsters of Bright World can steal anything from memories to names, and do so often enough that they use human intangibles as currency.
- 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.
- In The Last Days of Foxhound, after their trip through Ocelot's memories of the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the members of FOXHOUND who were aware of the Patriots were implanted with a psychic block by Ocelot's subconscious preventing them from referring to the Patriots as such, with the term 'La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo' coming out of their mouths instead. Psycho Mantis was not happy about this.
Mantis: The fuck is wrong with me? Why can't I say that one word?
Liquid: Okay, how many syllables? Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Mantis: Christ, I'm talking about the shadow conspiracy that controls the U.S. government! I'm pretty sure there's only one!
Liquid: Ohhhh, you mean the La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo
Mantis: Wait... Is this what he meant when he said we wouldn't be able to talk about them? That little shit put a mental block on us while we were connected!
Liquid: Who? Who did?
Mantis: That conniving, back-stabbing son of a bitch Santa Claus
- 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".
- The Simpsons: One of Grandpa Simpson's rambling old man monologues involves the German Kaiser stealing the word "twenty", forcing the people of Grandpa's generation to say "dickety" in its stead. This is likely a reference to the anti-German sentiment that compelled Americans to rename several everyday things with roots in that language during World War I, but Grandpa's extreme senility had caused him to misremember things and believe that the word was literally stolen.