Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
McGuffin

A variety of Plot Coupon whose prime purpose is to motivate searches, chases and conflicts. The term was invented by Alfred Hitchcock: celebrated movie examples include the Maltese Falcon and, in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981; > Indiana Jones), the Ark of the Covenant. A McGuffin need not be successfully tracked down, need not even exist. The Picaresque action of Michael Shea's In Yana, the Touch of Undying (1985) is driven by the ultimately unattained McGuffin of Immortality; Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1984) effectively entwines a McGuffin hunt – for a ginseng root that has Healing properties – with a gradually realized and far more significant Quest to cure an ancient, cosmic Wrongness. [DRL]

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.