what is a mcguffin?


I was supposed to write a story about a historical event told from the point of view of a young kid. He sees a mob, joins the crowd, kibitz a little, and throw stones at the supposed enemy of the state only to find out later that it was Christ that was being apprehended. It’s not an original angle. A few decades ago, I got hold of a brilliant anthology (actually the book was sitting right in our bookshelf collecting dust) that featured a story about a conflicted young man who has just betrayed a revolutionary named Jesus. The anthology introduced me to the word McGuffin. And since I have totally forgotten what it really means (all I could remember is that it is an important box but when you open it there is nothing inside) I’ve copied an explanation from Wiki:  

“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?", and the other answers, "Oh, that's a McGuffin". The first one asks "What's a McGuffin?" "Well", the other man says, "It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands". The first man says, "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands", and the other one answers, "Well, then that's no McGuffin!" So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”

The quote is from Alfred Hitchcock by the way. After finishing that book, I started reading the next one beside it, which just happens to be Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Great, talk about punishment, what was my crime again? It was a doorstopper. It took me almost a month before I could get through it and I still don’t know if I actually understood the novel (the mere fact that I’m unsure if I got it means that I probably didn’t get it, right?). All I know is that it was about a young man Raskolnikov who believed that those who are intellectually gifted have a right to step on (or in his case, murder) those who are beneath them. He gets sent to a Siberian prison and realizes the power of redemption through suffering. Despite not exactly getting it I still loved Crime and Punishment and so I started reading the book beside it, also by Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. That one I totally didn’t get but I fell in love with the young priest Alyosha. I imagined him to look like Linus Roache in the movie The Priest.

I think I was able to read all the books on that shelf (with the exception of the encyclopedias), which included Anthony Trollope’s The Barchester Towers and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Madame Bovary, one of the earliest shopaholics in literature ruining her financial future even before Carrie got hooked on Manolo Blahniks, introduced me to the word bovaristic.  

Earlier I was reading Pam Pastor’s blog and there was an entry where she writes about her dream of publishing a book (a dream which has already been fulfilled). She also writes about the books she used to read and how for her the National Bookstore was the happiest place in the mall. I used to feel the same way about bookstores (now, the happiest place for me is the one where they serve alcohol). I think I spent my first pay check on an overpriced William Burroughs novel that I bought at Tower Records. It was Naked Lunch and to this day I have not been able to get pass beyond the first page. I rarely visit bookstores these days though and normally when I go I already have a title in mind (Game of Thrones, anyone?). However, I never lost the habit of browsing. I go inside, check out the titles, take out a book or two and read the first paragraph and move on.  I guess it’s the feel of the coarse page on my fingers and the earthy smell of the paper that’s addictive. Or perhaps it’s the romance, the cat and mouse chase of a reader who doggedly searches for new and unread books to discover and devour?  

Nah! Who am I kidding? I simply read because I enjoy reading. I browse because it’s something that amuses me. It kills time effectively. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to fall in love with reading, by the way. And one doesn’t have to have grand illusions of being a great writer to fall in love with books. All one has to do is to be curious. What gruesome things, what wild sex orgies, what deliciously horrible events will follow after the words “Once upon a time”. And if the first few pages turn out to be a bore, do as what you probably do with porn, skip to the money shot and then go back to the start. Well, that’s what I do. With my books. And, well, with boring porn. 

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