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chrispayne's avatar

Do you know much about fables and/or films?

Asked by chrispayne (22 points ) December 29th, 2009

In the science fiction film Paycheck with Ben Affleck, he discovers that ‘worthless’ objects given to him by his future self turn out to be incredibly useful at certain points in the film as it unfolds. What myth or fable or other film has a character who is given something that appears useless at first but later in the film turns out to be life-saving?

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14 Answers

scotsbloke's avatar

DARN! I actually dont know the answer…..............but I’m sure there are some, kind of got a wee idea fluttering about in my head about a pocket watch…............. you know that’s gonna boil my head all night now! lol
I’ll be back…

antimatter's avatar

Uhh I don’t have an answer…

EmpressPixie's avatar

There are fairy tales where kindness to a hag on the side of the road ultimately rewards someone with a gift that appears to be useless or at the least, mundane, but is of course magical and story-saving.

fundevogel's avatar

It’s common in folktales with a mysterious helper/friendly witch or wizard/mentor figure at the beginning. There is a variant when the hero cheats the mysterious helper/friendly witch or wizard/mentor figure to obtain the unexpectedly useful object. For some reason I remember those more readily. I’m thinking the Tinder-Box.

I love that one because some of the translations start with the old woman greeting the protagonist saying, “I can tell you’re a soldier by your sword and your sack.”

Gotta love Hans Christian Anderson.

Jeruba's avatar

In any fairy tale or folk tale, whatever is given to the main character will be essential before the story is over. Also any act of kindness, whether to a hag or a puppy or a hunted animal or a child or anyone, will turn out to be rewarded later, usually in a desperate moment.

I also remember a science fiction novel, or maybe more than one, in which the main character is helped along by messages that he left for himself before his memory was wiped clean. There is also an entertaining segment in an old computerized RPG in which your character must hand a piece of crucial information to a stranger. Later it turns out that that stranger was your future self, and if you don’t hand it to him, you won’t have it in that later phase and can’t win the game.

BTW, it’s Andersen, with an e.

fundevogel's avatar

@Jeruba it isn’t in the case of the Goose Girl. The princess promptly loses her magical gift which functions as a sort of prohibition/violation set up. Her mother the queen tells her to take the hankerchief with the blood drops on it and the action of losing it is presented as the reason for the princess’s troubles.

Obedience is paramount in many fairy tales, but disobedience is the inevitable whenever it it is.

Jeruba's avatar

@fundevogel, is that the one with the horse’s head (Falada?) and the refrain “Ah, and if your mother knew it,/ Sadly, sadly would she rue it?” It’s been a long time—decades—and I don’t remember all the particulars. But if losing the token has dire consequences, that is the same thing even if in reverse: the gift is still essential to the story. My point is that in the old traditional tales there are no extraneous elements. They are so spare that everything that remains is highly polished and germane.

Could you please restate your comment about disobedience? It wasn’t clear to me.

fundevogel's avatar

@Jeruba That’s the one.

I was thinking of the usefulness of the object it terms of aiding the protagonist. If it’s essential use was simply that it was part of the plot you could say any character, place or object in a well constructed story served an essential purpose. While technically true, it isn’t essential in the way the asker meant.

The importance of obedience in fairy tales is the core of the prohibition/violation set up. The protagonist is warned that under no circumstance should they do something. With this set up the protagonist always ends up violating the one prohibition they have been given. Their failure to take advice or obey their elders, betters or whatever is the cause of the trouble they face. Therefore reinforcing that obedience is good and disobedience is dangerous.

The emphasis on obedience and use of prohibition/violation set ups are more common with female protagonists than male. It’s Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Blackbeard’s Bride and so on. Male characters’ acts of outright trickery and deceit on the other hand frequently bring them fame, fortune and the king’s daughter (Puss in Boots, the soldier in the Tinder-Box, the Valient Taylor and so on).

Personally I like the ones with clever girls, though even my favorite, Sweetheart Roland, kinda drops the ball at the end. It works out better if you chop off the end and transplant the end of Fundevogel (which is awesome). The stories have a common ancestor so they patch together rather effortlessly making a story better than either was on its own imho.

I have to agree the the economy of fairy tales is delightful. Aimee Bender replicates it in her collection Willful Creatures.

filmfann's avatar

I recall a Twilight Zone episode that involved someone giving people things they need, though they don’t know it until later, and each time it saved their lives.

Jeruba's avatar

@fundevogel, thanks for elaborating. I see we have a common interest.

I was asking for help with this line: disobedience is the inevitable whenever it it is

fundevogel's avatar

@Jeruba Damn my sentence structure and shoddy editing. This should make more sense:

Disobedience is inevitable whenever obedience is demanded.

Within the context of fairy tales of course.

We are of ilk nature it seems. Maria Tatar writes interesting books analyzing the history, politics, structure and intent of fairy tales if you’re interested in that.

Jeruba's avatar

@fundevogel, I’m surprised you missed this question. It’s not too late.

fundevogel's avatar

@Jeruba It looks you asked it just before I got here…

kruger_d's avatar

Does information count? In Signs Mel Gibson’s character is told by his dying wife to tell his brother to swing away. Also his son survives because of his asthma and they defeat the invading aliens because of his daughter’s odd habit of leaving glasses of water all over the house.

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