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Wizard: So you see, Dorothy, you had Herpes all along!

Dorothy: But I didn't want Herpes!

Wizard: Oh. Well... you've got it.

The hero is on a quest to find something or someone of great value to him or her. After a long series of adventures, the quest finally ends when the hero is informed -- usually by The Obi-Wan or by the Spirit Advisor who sent them on this long and sprawling quest -- that the object or person they were searching for was in their own possession from the very beginning. The hero's reaction to this news can range anywhere from relief to a forehead-slapping "D'oh!" moment, although it rarely ever involves the hero kicking the crap out of The Obi-Wan or whoever it was who sent them on this wild goose chase. (Mostly because the hero knows they probably made them go for his/her own good.)

This trope can often be justified if the hero needed to reach a specific state of mind/body/spirit that could only be achieved through the efforts taken in during the quest. In essence, the object of the quest truly did not exist until after the hero started wandering though the Big Bad's back yard. (Though one wonders why the mentor didn't mention something along these lines rather than risk it all on a young hero having a convenient epiphany while trying to survive.)

See also Magic Feather, when this is done with a power or skill rather than an object, and Hidden in Plain Sight.

Because this trope typically deals with plot resolution, you shouldn't be surprised that there are spoilers ahead in the examples. After all, the spoiler was there all along...


Examples:

Advertising

  • A vacationer in a car commercial can't find his sunglasses, so backtracks to one tourist site after another, looking in vain for where he left them. In the end, he finds them caught in the hood of the hoodie he's been wearing all through the ad.

Anime

  • Sailor Moon with her search for the Silver Crystal -- more obviously in the manga. It was created from her tears and The Power of Love (and, in the anime, the Rainbow Crystals).
    • At the same time, it's revealed that Usagi is Princess Serenity, whom Luna had been searching for up to that point.
    • Similarly, in the anime version Uranus and Neptune spend a lot of time searching for the three Talismans in other people's heart crystals, resorting to morally dubious means, only to discover that two of the Talismans were in their own heart crystals.
  • Inuyasha: Bakusaiga was this for Sesshoumaru. He spent the entire manga searching for a sword that was powerful enough to be wielded by him. Character Development meant that his entire quest, starting with his father bequeathing him Tensaiga was a The Only Way They Will Learn quest that was designed to reshape his mentality into something that was capable of achieving his full potential. In the moment he achieved his full potential, he pulled Bakusaiga out of his very soul, forged from his own power. As Toutousai point-blank stated, that sword was with him all along - inside him, just waiting for the day when he was wise enough and compassionate enough to unleash it.
  • Darker Than Black: Hei's sister Pai has merged with Hei's body and is actually inside him giving him contractor powers the entire time.
  • In Detective Conan Ran Mouri is constantly looking for her childhood friend Shinichi Kudo, who is with her all along as a little boy named Conan Edogawa. Conan himself Lampshades this at one point. Ran still doesn't realise this fact up to the present manga chapter.
  • Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin: Fumiaki is sent into the past to find Nostradamus' Key. In the final episode, he learns that he is Nostradamus' Key.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed and Al spent most of the series trying to find a way to restore Al's body. In the end, he trades his ability to perform alchemy in order to bring Al back. In theory, he could have done this at pretty much any point in the series, though it took most of the series before he was in the proper emotional state to figure out the solution for himself.
  • The finale of Digimon Adventure has Apocalymon destroy the Crests and Tags of the Chosen Children that represent their virtues, rendering them unable to evolve their partners. They then learn it wasn't that their virtues powered the Crests, but that their virtues themselves were the Crests (which is something slightly infuriating for the audience since they spent half the season looking for the physical objects). Interestingly, however, there seems to be a difference between the physical power the Crests give them and their virtues; Digimon Adventure 02 reveals that despite keeping said virtues, at some point they were forced to surrender the power it gave them to evolve the Digimon.

Comic Books

  • In American Born Chinese, The Monkey King frees himself from being trapped under a mountain of rock by releasing his shape-shifting kung fu and reverting to his original monkey form.

Eastern Animation

  • The Cossacs cartoon series have a short about the protagonists who have to help their Similar Squad alien counterparts with their Flying Saucer. The aliens tell they need "oil". The short is about them getting into a few adventures to get some exotic types of oil, but none work. Then one of the wheels on their cart starts squeaking, and they pull out a bucket of tar to grease it...

Film

  • One very famous example is Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, who spent the vast majority of the story Trapped in Another World, trying to find a way out -- only to learn at the end that she had been wearing the means of her escape (the Ruby Slippers) on her feet the entire time. However, other than ending the movie early, the Witch of the North didn't tell her earlier...

 Glinda: ...because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

    • Parodied in a MadTV skit.
    • In Cheshire Crossing, Dorothy calls Glinda on her bull, accusing her of withholding the information purposefully to get Dorothy to kill the Wicked Witch.
    • Parodied in The Kentucky Fried Movie, where Pennington tells Loo that he can go home by clicking his own ruby slippers--slippers which Loo had not been wearing, and which were obviously simply edited in from The Wizard of Oz.
  • Similarly, in The Neverending Story, the hero needs a human child-who turns out to be the boy reading the story, like in the original book.

 Atreyu: I have failed you, Empress.

Childlike Empress: No, you haven't. You've brought him with you.

Atreyu: Who?

Childlike Empress: The Earthling child. The one who can save us all.

Atreyu: You knew about the Earthling child?

Childlike Empress: Of course. I knew everything.

Atreyu: My horse died, I nearly drowned, and I just barely got away from the Nothing. For what? To find out what you already knew?

Childlike Empress: It was the only way to get in touch with an Earthling.

Atreyu: But I didn't get in touch with an Earthling!

Childlike Empress: Yes, you did. He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you. He's very close. Listening to every word that we say.

  • Transformers: The Movie (1986) plays with this a bit... The Matrix of Leadership looks like it's going to fill this trope, seeming originally to be a merely symbolic token of Autobot command, but which Unicron fears.... And then neither Ultra Magnus or Galvatron manage to use it. In the end, Hot Rod manages to open the Matrix, become Rodimus Prime, and destroy Unicron after reclaiming the Matrix from Galvatron, who had stolen it from Ultra Magnus
  • The Last Dragon sends its hero "Bruce" Leroy on a quest to find a non-existent martial arts master, and is given a "mystic sigil" to help him on his way. By the end of the film, its revealed that the martial arts master is actually a fortune cookie machine, and the mystic sigil is just a belt-buckle. The wisdom he was seeking was within him all the time.
  • The prisoners/subjects of the deathtrap-filled Cube start out in an unnotable cubical room that happens to be the room one door away from the exit (after some shuffling), at the very end.
  • During the climax of The LEGO Movie, Emmet throws off Lord Business' mask to reveal his number one hero, President Business, who is pretending to be the lord so he could take over the Lego universe on Taco Tuesday. Business deeply touched and turns over a new leaf by apoligizing to him for taking him to the Man Upstairs. He joins Emmet's team and helps him destroy the Kragle.
  • In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the characters spend about the first 2/3rds of the film searching for Astoroth's medallion, which contains the words for the Substitutionary Locomotion spell. Even when they get the original medallion, it vanishes from their possession since it was taken from a Magical Land back to their own. It turns out a drawing of the medallion, with all the spell's words, is in a picture book the youngest of the kids has had with him for a substantial part of the film. Even more, he knows the picture is there the whole time, but every time he tries to explain this to the others, he's constantly told to be quiet - it isn't until the spell seems lost and everyone's despaired for a bit that he finally makes himself heard.
  • The Lion King and Simba's father. "He lives in you."
  • In Penelope, Christina Ricci is under a curse that can only broken if she is "loved by one of her own kind." Of course, it doesn't occur to her until she's twenty-five that she is of her own kind, and the curse is broken when she says "I like myself the way I am."
  • Sucker Punch: Baby Doll is told that she needs five things for her escape, and the fifth is a secret. The fifth turns out to be Baby Doll herself.

Literature

  • Older Than Print: The medieval Persian poem The Conference of Birds is about all birds organizing an expedition to find their hidden bird-god, the Simorgh. After many dangers and hardships only thirty birds that are left reach the land of the Simorgh... only to see their own reflection in a pond and realize that the Simorgh is all of them and their union.
  • This is the entire premise of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks. The hero embarks on a quest for mythical information about access to a hypothesized network of interstellar wormholes (which would utterly transform the face of the entire galaxy), and actually ends up using several of them before the end. He finally finds the answer embedded within the picture that he was given as a shibboleth by his Obi-Wan figure at the start of his journey. In a double subversion, the information turns out to be the figure zero, and despite that actually makes sense.
  • In Deltora Quest, after two red herrings (Dain and Jasmine), it turns out that Lief is the Heir of Adin.
  • In The Neverending Story, the boy Bastian is reading the eponymous book, in which the Childlike Empress sends hero Atreyu out on a quest to find a cure for her illness. After a long and horrifying journey he returns to at least tell her the cure, thinking he has failed in also providing it: she needs to be given a new name by a human child from our world. Her answer? She knew the cure all along, but sent him out on an adventure to draw in a human child who could save her - who is currently reading along, and has been since the beginning of the tale.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry needs to gather three artifacts. One has been with him the whole book without him knowing it (the resurrection stone, another has been under his control and technically "his" even if not in his possession since halfway through the book the elder's wand, and the third has been with him for the entire series ( the invisibility cloak).
    • Also in Deathly Hollows, Harry is on a quest to find all of Voldemort's Horcruxes. He discovers that he himself is the final Horcrux.
    • In the Order of Phoenix, a medallion is found in Sirius Black's house, but it doesn't seem important until the seventh book, where it's revelead it is a Horcrux.
  • Land of Oz series:
    • In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy spends the entire book looking for a way home, only to find out at the end that the answer is the silver slippers she's been wearing the whole time. Unlike in the famous film, though, the Good Witch of the North who she meets at the beginning and the Good Witch Glinda who tells her about the slippers at the end are two separate people, so at least there isn't the whole "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" aspect.
    • In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Tip's quest to find the lost Princess Ozma requires, in the end, that they force out of the wicked witch Mombi the information that Tip is Ozma, transformed into a boy.
  • The Dresden Files: In Ghost Story, Harry is sent back to the mortal world to find the person who killed him. At the end, he discovers that he killed himself.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering novel Test of Metal, Tezzeret is sent by Nicol Bolas to find something called "carmot". In the end, Tezzeret discovers that he is the carmot.
  • In the second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the party had what they needed to create a new Staff of Law from the very beginning. The problem was that it required a great sacrifice by one member. The point of the quest was to convince that person that there was no other way.

Live Action TV

  • Stargate SG-1: For just a minute, it seems like this is going on in the Season Seven finale. Jack, while dealing with My Skull Runneth Over, has led the team to a distant planet to find a fabled "lost city" that could save the Earth from the Big Bad. He points them to a holographic map of Earth and drops the name "Atlantis", making them think that the MacGuffin they've been looking for all season long was on Earth all along... but no, he really needed to go to the planet with the map, because it also had a power source he could use to fuel defenses left behind on Earth.
  • There's a clip on an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos where a toddler is searching his house, crying his eyes out, looking for his lost Tigger doll...which he's dragging along his wake in his other hand.
  • A variation occurs on an episode of Seinfeld. Kramer puts Jerry's cuff links in his new lock box and hides the key in a neighbor's birdcage. The bird eats the key and dies with the result being Jerry and Kramer having to dig up the corpse. Before Jerry can unlock the lock box, George opens it casually and reveals that it was never locked to begin with.

Music

  • Blanketville by Tom Chapin. The narrator is searching for "The Mayor of Blanketville" so he can go to sleep. At the end of the song, the narrator is revealed to be the Mayor of Blanketville.
  • Used almost verbatim in Survivor's "The Search Is Over". It turns out the girl the singer was looking for is someone he's known most of his life.

Theater

  • In Thom Ryng's version of The King in Yellow, the Yellow Sign was embroided on the Stranger's robes all the time, in the plain sight, but only Camilla could eventually recognise it for what it is.

Video Games

  • In Conkers Bad Fur Day and its remake, Conker realises only at the end, when he's king of everything, that he wants just his actually dead girlfriend. "I may be king, and have all the money in the world, and all the land, and all the stuff. But you know, I don't really think I want it. I just wanna go home, with Berri.".
  • The NES game Magic of Scheherazade twists this trope in an interesting way. The hero spends almost the entire game seeking to rescue his girlfriend, the titular Princess Scheherazade, from the clutches of an evil wizard. Ultimately, the hero learns that the wizard has opened a Sealed Evil in a Can which he cannot control and which he wants the hero to deal with. To earn the hero's goodwill, the wizard reveals the whereabouts of the princess who, it turns out, was the cute animal sidekick/magical guide who had shown up and been helping the hero since the beginning of the quest. (She had a spell cast on her preventing her from telling anyone her true identity). Just why the wizard would do such an odd thing to his enemy is never adequately explained.
  • Planescape: Torment does this to you. You start out not a few feet from the entrance to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Of course, you didn't enter it then, because you didn't know that it existed or that you needed to go there, much less how to open it. To add insult to irony, however, Morte (the first member to join your party) knew this all along, he just didn't choose to tell you because he didn't know if he could trust you (because you've been Ax Crazy more than a few times)
    • In his defence, you couldn't have opened it even if he'd told you, because you didn't have the key and Morte didn't know what it was. The key is a specific rune written in blood on a piece of one's own skin, and a strong feeling of regret from the blood/skin donor. The Nameless One doesn't have much regret at the beginning of the game, because he has no memories at all.
  • In the first game of Kingdom Hearts, Kairi's heart has been with you all along.

 Sora: Hey, Riku? What do you think it was? The Door to the Light?

Riku: This *points to Sora's heart*

Sora: This?

Riku: Yeah. It's always closer than you think.

    • Kingdom Hearts 3D reveals a particularly cruel twist: Nobodies naturally develop a new heart over time, but Bad Boss Xemnas kept this fact from Organization XIII so he could manipulate them towards his own goal.
  • In Tak and the Power of the Pupanunu People's Prophecy states that a Mighty Warrior, trained by the high shaman, will defeat the evil shaman Tlaloc after he turns the rest of the populace into sheep. Jibulba, the High Shaman, says that he has trained such a warrior, Lok. Strange things happen to Lok, though, the strangest of all being him dying. Eventually, it is revealed that the Prophecy isn't talking about Lok at all. the actual "Mighty Warrior" is Tak, Jibulba's errand boy. Apparently, the "training" consists of about six Fetch Quests.
  • Disgaea 2 has a somewhat dark take on this. Adell starts the game using a summoning ritual to summon Overlord Zenon, whom he has sworn to kill, but the summoning ritual screws up and summons his daughter Rozalin instead. As it turns out in the end, the summoning was successful: Rozalin is the reincarnation of Overlord Zenon, and thus Zenon (or at least his soul) has been with Adell all along. Fortunately, the reasons for Adell wanting to kill Zenon turn out to have been on account of someone else's actions, so it works out in the end.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, the hero and partner seek the means to get to the Hidden Land and only discover that you need some sort of proof. It isn't until you see the markings on the wall at Brine Cave that match those on the Relic Fragment that you realise that your partner had the proof all along, and thus, the means to enter the Hidden Land.
  • In Lost Magic, the Sage of Wind is Trista. This is easy to figure out for the player. Isaac just didn't ask, or he just wasn't paying attention - when the truth gets out, she says she said that already. This leads to you getting the Wind Blades spell only after a couple of boss fights which it would be very useful for.
  • Most of God of War III is based around Kratos reopening Pandora's Box and finding a Zeus-killing weapon inside. Turns out said weapon, Hope, had entered Kratos back in the first game, and was the sole reason he was able to destroy the gods. Poor Pandora...
    • However, that weapon Hope was buried under all of Kratos' guilt and regret so it was useless against Zeus. Pandora's sacrifice enabled her to help Kratos get past all of that to unlock the true power of Hope.
  • In Mario Party 3, What you thought was the Millenium Star will reveal he's a fake after going through all those boards and even defeating him. The real Millenium star was living in the head of your host all along.
  • Bartz discovers that the good-luck charm he had given to Squall earlier was the crystal he needed to find at the end of his storyline in Final Fantasy Dissidia.
  • During Beat's chapter in The World Ends With You, Neku and Beat try to find Mitsuki Konishi (the GM for the chapter) and she was in your shadow the entire time.
  • Parodied in this Team Fortress 2 blog post for Christmas.

  BUT THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL... was inside you all along. It's blood! Turns out you can sell it! See you at the plasma center! Merry Smissmas, everybody!

  • Played like a guide undang it in Kairosoft's Dungeon Village. Anyone who uses a guide to unlock the most powerful weapon tends to get this later because the other most powerful weapon is unlocked differently and in a more obvious and faster manner. The same goes for if you're playing blindly as there are two characters that require being spoiled to the max with gifts and only one of these two characters (the 2nd to last character) holds this item and this character is extremely weak. The game text even lampshades this when you first acquire said item. Even as you acquire it, it's easy to miss the fact that it's the best weapon for Dex users: a stat that's supposed to be for bow casters so it's one of the best at implementing this trope both for reasons of humor, for the double itwaswithyouallalong (not even the player guides mention this weapon's special attribute) and for being both a gameplay and plot example without adding any additional scenes or text. That and it's easy to overlook.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Subverted in the Futurama Series Fauxnale. Fry makes a deal with a devil for a pair of robot hands which give him great talent on the holophone. After losing the hands, Zoidberg assures him that it was never the hands; Fry had the talent within him all along. Fry proceeds, and plays horribly, everyone leaves, and Zoidberg mocks him.

 Hedonism Bot: Less reality, more fantasy. Resume the opera.

Fry: But I can't play anymore.

Dr. Zoidberg: Yes, you can! The music was in your heart, not your hands.

[Fry plays off key, everyone boos]

Dr. Zoidberg: Your music's bad, and you should feel bad!

  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic pulls this in the second episode with the Elements of Harmony turning out to exist within the hearts of the main cast.
  • In Kung Fu Panda, this is the lesson of the Dragon Scroll, which merely shows the reflection of the one 'reading' it. Po gains wisdom and confidence from this. Tai Lung... doesn't.
  • Played with in the Baman Piderman Christmas special. Pumpkin begins to rot and so with the help of the Basement Monsters, Baman and Piderman journey to find a wish to get him back to normal. When they stumbled upon Tuba's dad, he tells Baman how to wish was in him all along. And then, the symbol on Baman's chest opens up like a drawer and they find a magical wand in it (the wish)...
  • In Barbie in the Nutcracker, Clara/Barbie helps the eponymous Nutcracker find the legendary Sugarplum Princess, who they eventually identify as Clara.
  • Bionicle: Mask of Light sends Takua the Chronicler on a search for the Toa of Light, which results in him transforming into the Toa of Light.

Real Life

  • Everyone has a moment in their lives where they search frantically for something they just had and need; only to find they had put it in their pocket, or it was still in their hand, or had brought it along in the car after all, or their eyeglasses were on their forehead or their face...
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