Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Plot Coupons

Term coined by UK critic Nick Lowe (1956-    ), who identified "collect-the-coupons" plotting as characteristic of uninventive Fantasyland narratives: the coupons are typically magical items (Amulets, Rings, Swords, etc.) all of which the characters must collect before, in Lowe's phrase, they can send off to the author for the ending. Scattered PCs are a too-convenient means of motivating a Cook's Tour (> Plot Devices) of the Map; fresh ones may be introduced en route, making the story indefinitely extensible. PCs are most pernicious when used to decouple cause and effect – e.g., when they grant their holder disproportionate power, or when a Dark Lord is defeated solely through the manipulation of PCs, leaving a sense of unearned Healing. Lowe cites Lin Carter's The Black Star (1973), whose eponymous jewel controls the outcome for no reason other than a whim of the Gods'; i.e., of the author's. Other PCs include the Three arbitrary magic places which the protagonist must visit to regain himself – for a PC may also be a fulfilled task or Ritual – in Fletcher Pratt's and L Sprague de Camp's Land of Unreason (1942); the bull, spear, oak, ram, sword and stallion in Michael Moorcock's The Chronicles of Corum; the swords of Fred Saberhagen's Swords series, whose vast powers overshadow mere human characters; and the Destiny Stone in Robert Vardeman's and Victor Milán's The War of Powers sequence, whose power to generate wild improbabilities and reversals of fortune allows the authors to manipulate their plot with less than the usual pretence of plausibility. Further examples abound. PCs are particularly prevalent, for obvious reasons, in multiple-choice Games.

But in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), the One Ring is more than a PC: it has symbolic weight, its bearers suffer arduous Night Journeys, and painful battles must still be fought; and in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (1973) the gathering of six Signs does not so much assemble a PC deus ex machina as form a kinetic Rite of Passage for the young protagonist. It is when Quest objects dwindle from the stature of Grail or Ring to nothing more than narrative conveniences that the term PC may be pejoratively used. [DRL]

see also: McGuffin.

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.