Living MacGuffin

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I'm not the only girl on Earth ya know.
"She could have been a briefcase and nothing would have changed in this movie."
Miles Antwiler, discussing Rayne's role in Bloodrayne: The Third Reich.

They say Helen of Troy had a face that could launch a thousand ships, well, the Living MacGuffin has a similar ability to launch a thousand quests in search of them. The Living MacGuffin isn't an inanimate MacGuffin made flesh (that's MacGuffin Girl), or a kidnapped Damsel in Distress or President's Daughter; what the Living MacGuffin is is a character who is quite free, in little to no danger, desperately sought after and out of the hero's reach. She may be a heart wrenchingly beautiful princess whose hand can only be won with miraculous feats, a long lost (or left) parent, sibling, close friend or Love Interest, or some variation of The Chosen One who is needed for some greater purpose. (But remember, if that person serves another purpose later in the story, they're Chekhov's Gunman.)

In terms of traits, they are usually "desirable" or "questable" for any of a hundred reasons. Common ones include: great beauty, great goodness, kindness and loving or being loved by the hero, being royalty, knowing the answer to an urgent problem, etc. Alternately, they may carry the negative trait of having kicked the hero's dog at one point, and so they want to find them (or a way close to them) for Revenge.

Examples of Living MacGuffin include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Nunnally from Code Geass gets a role as a living MacGuffin. This is partially because she's the protagonist's little sister, partially because she's so sweet and seemingly helpless that most characters want to protect her, and partially because she's a princess.
    • C.C. also gets used as a living MacGuffin, as evidenced by the existence of a special canister designed to contain her. In Code Geass R2, she has this role because she has a special power that is needed in order for The Emperor's master plan to work.
    • Lelouch in early R2 also qualifies, before he gets his memories back.
  • Saint Seiya: Next Dimension: Saori becomes one after she is transformed into a baby.
    • In the original series, Seiya's sister Seika was played up as this, despite only turning up at the end of the series and not appearing in the sequel, yet.
  • Kagura in Speed Grapher, the daughter of a supermodel-turned-financial-superpower, can also turn people's fantasies to real superpowers with her kiss. The entire series is about rescuing her from her family.
  • While it's debatable whether the torches in Shakugan no Shana are "alive", Yuuji Sakai is generally treated as living by the main characters. That's partially because unlike other torches, he isn't going to just go out one day. But it's also because he's managed to validate his humanity, even before he found out he wasn't going to become Ret-Gone.
  • Insane Casca during the Retribution arc in Berserk. Not only does Guts, who has a right to her being her protector, want her, but everybody is taking Casca in this arc, primarily the pagans who want to make her their queen and the Holy See who want to burn her at the stake.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Yorick in Y: The Last Man is a male example; various factions want him, mostly alive, some dead.
    • Yorick has a Living MacGuffin of his own in his girlfriend Beth.
  • Ramona Flowers in the Scott Pilgrim books (YMMV, of course): the protagonist must go through several obstacles to be with her, but we are shown very little about the relationship, or even Ramona Flowers herself, except that we are assured of her awesomeness.
  • Linkara refers to Ray Palmer (The Atom) in the trainwreck DC crossover event Countdown to Final Crisis as "The Mini-MacGuffin".

Fairy Tales[edit | hide]

  • Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and many other fairy tale heroines were Living MacGuffins.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Troy is actually a subversion- its established early on that Agammemnon is only using Helen as an excuse to wage war on the city. At one point Helen says she would give herself up to prevent further violence, but Hector makes it clear that even if she did, it would not end anything.
  • In The Darjeeling Limited, the brothers use a trip to find their long left mother to tell her about their father's death and try to bond with each other.
    • Another long lost mother variation of the living MacGuffin is Mike's mother in My Own Private Idaho, who he never finds.
  • Doug from The Hangover, who is given all the characterization of a very Nice Guy to both his friends and brother in law. So much so that you can honestly believe these guys would shake down all of Las Vegas to find him.
  • In Kill Bill, finding Bill so she could kill him is the entire focus of the Bride's Roaring Rampage of Revenge... well, that and revenging herself on the people who could lead her to him.
  • The Searchers: John Wayne & Co. spend years searching for his niece, abducted by Injuns.
  • The monster in Cloverfield. The movie is mostly uninterested in the monster itself, and more in its effects.
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Zuzu Petals in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Everyone Ford meets in the first act tells him to find her, and that's his motivation until he does, at which point it becomes clear she's not even involved in what's going on. After that she's more of an Escort Mission, albeit one attended begrudgingly.

Ford: Don't worry. If you fall, I'll make it.

  • Kee in Children of Men.
  • Tron: Legacy: Quorra is The Last ISO.
  • Apocalypse Now is centered entirely around Willard's mission to travel to the compound of an insane colonel and to kill him. He becomes even more determined to find and confront the colonel as he learns more about him from previous military reports.
  • The hobo in Mystery Team.
  • In El Dorado, the evil rancher Bart Jason.
  • The 2007 film version of Sweeney Todd portrayed Johanna Barker as this, especially as they cut most of her songs and speaking parts from the original musical.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Older Than Feudalism: Helen of Troy from The Iliad is a prime example. Helen wasn't attacked by Paris or the Trojans during the whole war, and in fact went willingly because she fell in love with Paris. Or was made to, by Aphrodite.
  • Queen Guinevere is also not in distress, as most versions have her go willingly with Lancelot. The whole kingdom goes down because the vassals have to choose sides, help Arthur get her back, or help Lancelot keep her.
    • Most of the variations this troper has encountered have the vassals torn between personal loyalty to Arthur (who would pardon his beloved and his best friend, despite the pain they have caused him) and loyalty to the law itself which demands she and Lancelot be tried for treason against their king (with the lawful side being spear-headed/manipulated by one enemy or another of Arthur's).
  • The French chef Anatole in PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories; the universal desire to lay claim to his peerless talents led to the hatching of many a Zany Scheme.
    • Jeeves himself is highly sought-after; Bertie notes that plenty of his friends want to steal him and make him their valet, and this is borne out in Thank You, Jeeves when Jeeves quits and Bertie's pal Chuffy snatches him up almost instantly. Later in the book, Jeeves goes to work for American multimillionaire J. Washburn Stoker, who offers him a position, before returning to Chuffy and finally settling down with Bertie again.
  • A few crop up during the course of the Prydain Chronicles—Hen Wen the pig in The Book of Three, Princess Eilonwy in The Castle of Llyr, and Taran's long-lost parents in Taran Wanderer.
  • In Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain, Oaxyctl is looking for John deBrun because he wants to torture "the code" to a spaceship out of him. We later find out that John is the code—he has to be bodily present (and alive) to open the spaceship.
  • It could be argued that The White Rabbit is one. The entire reason Alice ends up in Wonderland is her curiosity about the Rabbit. And it's often the Rabbit, constantly hurrying from one place to the next, which brings her from scene to scene.
  • The plot of the film Poetic Justice has four friends go on a road-trip from Los Angeles to Oakland, California to visit Lucky's cousin, Kalil. They find out he's been shot and killed once they arrive.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Towards the end of Maddigan's Quest, it's revealed that Jewel, not the talisman, is what gives Eden his powers.
  • Poor John Crichton. By the end of the series, half the Galaxy which he's close to blowing up with his knowledge of Wormholes is after him. He's close to a Ginger Snaps moment.
  • Mr. Big in Sex and the City, to the point that they don't even bother to give him a real name. You find yourself wondering what is wrong with Carrie Bradshaw and then you remember ... oh yeah, she's Carrie Bradshaw.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in Red Dead Redemption where in a co-op mission you must rescue the daughter of "Farmer MacGuffin."
  • Here's a negative version of the Living MacGuffin: Sephiroth during the first half of Final Fantasy VII. Both Cloud's party and Shin-Ra was hell-bent to find the guy. It Got Worse.
  • Princess Peach (Toadstool), of course, in the original Super Mario Bros. and a number of sequels.
  • In Yoshi's Island DS, seven stars fell and were resting inside the hearts of certain babies. These babies are called star children, and they're said to contain an extraordinary amount of power. Bowser came from the future to take these stars and take over the universe. He was eventually foiled by the Yoshis, and he leaves. The star children turn out to be Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Baby Peach, Baby Donkey Kong Country, Baby Wario Land, Baby Bowser, and Baby Yoshi (the latter hatching at the very end of the credits).
  • The Princesses of Heart in Kingdom Hearts.
    • Ventus in Master Xehanort's first attempt to snag Kingdom Hearts.
  • In the Neverwinter Nights fan-made module "The Bastard of Kosigan," Alex is a mix of this and Damsel in Distress. And a Chekhov's Gunman at the end. Annoyingly, despite being one of the coolest characters in the series (as evinced by her cunning plan to take over Kosigan by killing the entire ruling family), if you didn't choose to kill her at the end of the second module she dies near the end of the fourth.
  • Ragna the Bloodedge is treated this way in BlazBlue Calamity Trigger since he supposedly wields the Azure Grimoire. In the sequel Continuum Shift Noel gets this treatment after it's revealed that she is the true wielder of the Azure Grimoire and Ragna's Grimoire is a flawed imitation.
  • Happens sometimes in the Zelda games.
  • A variant occurs in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Layton knows that he needs to find the Golden Apple of Baron Reinhold. What he doesn't know is that the Golden Apple is really Flora, the Baron's daughter.
  • BioShock (series) 2 is centered around the quest of the player, a Big Daddy bonded to a Little Sister, to find that Little Sister, who happens to be Big Bad Sophia Lamb's daughter and the messianic figure of the religion she founded. Subverted near the end, when she becomes a Big Sister and helps you fight your way out of the city, and is incredibly powerful.
  • Prince Alexander is a sucker for this one. In his first game, he spends half of it trying to find a way to off his Bad Boss before Bad Boss offs him. The second half of the game comes when the Oracle tells him that he's got a twin sister that's soon to meet her end as a Human Sacrifice. In his second game, he's trying to reach the Princess he's fallen for before the Grand Vizier pulls a scheme to marry her, kill her, and take the throne for himself. Runs in the family, as that's how his dad went looking for his mom...
  • Similar to the Tron: Legacy example above, Tron 2.0 had this in the form of Ma3a, who carried the correction algorithims needed for Jet and Alan to get back to the analog world. However, the terrible trio from F-Con were also seeking those algorithims in order to digitize an army into Cyberspace and Take Over the World.
  • Ryu from Street Fighter is treated this way for most of his plot involvement. Bison is after him in Street Fighter Alpha to use him as a new host body while Seth wants to use his Satsui no Hadou to complete his bio weapon.
  • The Destined Children from Romancing SaGa 3 The Abyss Lords want them to open the gate to the Abyss so they can escape. Both also serve to summon the Destroyer to end existence if both are in the abyss at once. Abyss Lords used the Devil King for them to rule the world for 3 centuries before the Holy King sent them packing.

Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • Charlie in Shikkoku no Sharnoth serves largely as comatose Macguffin to make Mary go through the plot. Except in the end, when she's actually an opponent.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • In A Moment of Peace, the subject of one of the gods' quests is a glowing entity named Gloria on the Mountain.