Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by WonderTeam. WonderTeam Wonders, “What is a Macguffin? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, WonderTeam!

Some of our Wonder Friends might dream of hunting down Horcruxes with Harry Potter. Others fantasize about what they’d do with the One Ring. How about you? Would you like to help the Avengers protect the Infinity Stones? Maybe you’d help Indiana Jones find the Holy Grail!

What do all of these items have in common? They’re all important objects in popular books and movies, sure. But they’re also all examples of a useful tool in books and film. Each of these items is an example of a MacGuffin.

A MacGuffin is an object that drives a story forward. The plot revolves around the MacGuffin, but the object itself isn’t all that important to the real story. The term was first used by Alfred Hitchcock. You may have heard of Hitchcock—he’s famous for directing suspenseful works of film. A few of his top hits include “Vertigo” and “Rear Window.”

How about another way to think of the MacGuffin? It’s the thing the characters in a story or film want. But, it doesn’t make much of a difference to the audience. MacGuffins are most common in stories that include adventure, mystery, or suspense. 

Most often, a MacGuffin is a valuable object. It could be a rare diamond, a buried treasure, or a priceless piece of art that’s gone missing. The characters spend much of the story searching for the valuable object. However, the object doesn’t truly impact the story that’s told.

Sometimes, the MacGuffin might be an item of interest, like a secret message in a spy story. It might even be a character. One example of this is Andy in “Toy Story 3.” The toys spend the entire film trying to find Andy. But the character himself doesn’t play much of a part in the story.

Does the idea of a MacGuffin seem pretty complicated? It certainly can be. Luckily, there’s an easy test anyone can use to find a MacGuffin. First, identify the object in question. Then, ask two questions:

  1. Can you change the object without drastically changing the story?

  2. Does the object itself have very little effect on the plot?

If the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” then you’ve found a MacGuffin. As an example, consider a story in which a group of friends is searching for a missing bag. The friends overcome a number of challenges. They meet other characters and learn new lessons. Finally, they find the missing bag. 

Can you change the missing bag without drastically changing the story? Yes. The bag could be a shoe, a necklace, anything. The group of friends could still go on the same adventure to find it. 

Does the bag itself have very little effect on the plot? Yes. The friends only find the bag at the very end of the story. None of their actions directly involve the bag. That means the bag isn’t really needed in order to tell the story of their adventure. In this example, the missing bag is a MacGuffin.

Can you think of any examples of a MacGuffin? They can be fun to search for! The next time you sit down to read a story or watch a movie with a friend or family member, put your new knowledge to the test. What new MacGuffins will you discover?

Standards: CCRA.R.3, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.10

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