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Character A is given a supposed magic MacGuffin that will give them special/exceptional abilities. The character does amazingly well, but then they lose the item. They go back to their Mentors and it's revealed that it was just a useless placebo, and "The magic was inside you all along!" Sometimes the audience knows, or at least suspects, that the character's power is from within, but other times The Reveal is just as much a surprise to them as to the hero.
In comic books, a retooled Super-Hero Origin sometimes shifts a character's gimmicky power to being innate, with lampshading that the famous prop or incantation was simply a focus.
A supertrope of Placebotinum Effect and of course, is the Placebo Effect. A common subversion of the Amulet of Concentrated Awesome. May or may not be a character's Charm Point. Somewhat of a Dead Horse Trope in newer works.
- In this SSX 2012 commercial, a jaded snowboarder is given a sacred amulet that takes him on a crazy adventure. Afterwards:
Shaman: Bro, what are you talking about, man? I was just messing with you. I got this for like 35 cents at a garage sale. The real adventure - was in your heart all along.
- In a first-season episode of Ranma ½, Nabiki gives aspirin to Ryoga in the middle of his first on-screen challenge fight with Ranma, and tells him that they're basically instant steroids. Ryoga, who is not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, believes her and upon taking them gets a psychosomatic boost to his already-monstrous strength, allowing him to pull telephone poles from the ground simply because he thought he was on steroids (which don't even work that way).
- In a much later episode, Happosai, ticked off at Ranma interfering with his undie raids, takes Kuno and offers him "Speed of Light elixir", which he claims will make him superfast. It turns him into a Lethal Joke Character, even upgrading his Razor Wind attacks, but it's implicitly at least as much due to the Training From Hell Happosai put him through (running into occupied women's bathing areas, locker rooms, and other places where they were nude, while trying to evade their attacks and survive being beaten to a pulp). Said "elixir" is revealed to actually be tap water and the scrapings from under Happosai's fingernails.
- Brutally and heartbreakingly subverted in the Vampire Princess Miyu episode "The Red Shoes". The titular shoes are given to Miyu's classmate Miho (a Shrinking Violet and aspiring Idol Singer) by her manager, and stated to magically make her an unparalleled singer. And they actually do just that. But they do so by sucking her Life Energy, and worse yet, once Miyu has defeated the Shinma who gave them to poor Miho, they can never be removed again. Miyu has to bite her friend and exchange blood with her in order to save her life. When last seen, Miho is physically better, but she's confined in an hospital.
- This episode is in reference to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes, which is a semi-common reference in Japanese culture. The titular shoes are cursed and force the wearer to continue dancing forever, and cannot be removed -- the dancer only stops dancing once she has a friendly knight chop off her feet -- and the shoes, with the rotting feet, go dancing off into the wilderness on their own.
- At the end of Digimon Adventure when the Crests are destroyed by the final Big Bad, the kids need to figure out that the traits which powered their Digimon were part of them all along and they didn't need the Crests in the first place.
- Of course, this knowledge doesn't last too long, as they need a God's powers to strengthen their Digimon.
- "AMAZING HEADBAND OF JUSTICE IN PLACE. AMAZING ARMOR OF JUSTICE PROTECT ME." Urahara, you sneaky bastard you. Subverted in that after Ichigo says it to "activate" the protective gear he was wearing, Urahara snickers that "I can't believe he actually said it."
- In all seriousness, Ichigo's Shinigami powers are a great example. After Kuchiki Byakuya removed his Rukia-given powers, it was revealed to him by Zangetsu that he, in fact, already had powers of his own and didn't need Rukia's any more.
- Pretty much the most awesome example ever: in One Piece, for the Luffy vs. Foxy duel, Usopp hands Luffy a giant afro to give him strength...and then the entire crowd goes wild when he appears sporting it. And when he starts to show his Heroic Resolve, it was apparently because "THE AFRO POWER MADE HIM GO BERSERK!". In short, the Magic Feather that everybody (except Nami) believed. Even more confusing is that he effectively won because of the afro or rather the piece of glass that was hidden in it!
- In GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, innocent protagonist Kisaragi was conned into buying what she believed was "God's pencil" from an old lady at a stationary store. Using the pencil on her exams did help her get into the school, but that may have been more due to her practising like hell (enough to completely use up 20 of them) the day before. Either way she was still conned into buying old excess stock. Even after this fact is revealed, she still buys them, at least for sentimental value (since the granny died).
- The stuffed penguin used by Nodoka in Saki is obviously nothing but a psychological crutch to help her focus on her Mahjong playing.
- It's revealed towards the end of Fruits Basket that the head maid of the Sohma household tried to do this for little Akito back when her father Akira died and she was expected to take over leadership of the anti-Ren faction, giving her a black box that the maid claimed contained her father's soul. The maid expected that Akito would realize the truth, but the fact that Akito knew so very little about the outside world's common sense helped destroy her self-confidence even further..
- To make things even worse, Ren (Akito's Evil Matriarch mom) tricked Akito's cousin Isuzu into stealing the box, thinking it had trinkets belonging to Akira. Not only Isuzu fails and is brutalised by an Akito in full Yandere mode, she then confronts Ren with a knife about it. Then the box is opened...and it's empty.
- The lucky crystal necklace Chieri uses in The Cherry Project turns out to be this.
- Luke in Mon Colle Knights once went to find an axe of bravery that would remedy his shyness around his crush. He found it and got his courage during a desperate moment, then lost it the moment the crisis was over and he learned the axe was fake, and he returned to bumbling. In the end, he instead gets over his shyness by confessing, which required a crisis as big as the world ending.
- In Dragon Ball, the Sacred Water in Korin's Tower supposedly gives one super strength. But when Taopaipai goes for it, Korin reveals that it's just regular tap water, and it was just Goku's exertion in climbing the tower and fighting Korin for the jug that made him stronger. He purposefully gives Tao the jug without any hassle and gives him a dark Nimbus for the trip down so that he doesn't become any stronger.
- Later on, he reveals that there really is a magic water in the tower. However, since it kills anyone who isn't a Determinator, Korin doesn't keep it on display.
- Meidou Zangetsuha. Able to master any sword with a single swing or even without touching the blade, Sesshoumaru is finally stumped by Tenseiga's Meidou Zangetsuha which requires a compassionate heart to master instead of skill. Upon mastering it, he learns he's actually not allowed to keep it which sets up the revelation that he's possessed a sword of his very own all along, sleeping within his very soul waiting for the day when he was strong enough and compassionate enough to manifest it, a revelation that helps explain why he had such skill with a blade to begin with.
- The Pokémon episode "True Blue Swablu": Max tricks an injured Swablu into thinkings that the "magic powder" sprinkled on the Pokémon would help it to fly, except that the powder was actually just flour. Later turns into hilarity when Ash and Pikachu start believing in the stuff!
- In the Sakura Wars OVA, Sakura Shingouji attempts to figure out the secret of her father's super special technique and refuses to join the special team she's been recruited to until she learns it. She goes through every possible way to read the scroll it's said to be on before realizing that there is no secret - everyone knows it and it is brought out in their own way.
- In Asterix in Britain, after losing their supplies of magic potion, Asterix finds some herbs that Getafix had given him earlier, and declares that he can make magic potion from them. He boils them up and gives a cup to each of the British fighters, and of course they defeat the Romans. The chief of the Britons reveals that he had guessed that it wasn't proper magic potion, but declares that he will make it their national drink anyway. It later emerges that the herbs were tea-leaves.
- The Molecule Man in Marvel Comics fits the super-power version; he was originally said to be able to control molecules with a wand, but was later said to have the power innately.
- Which fits his character, as Molecule Man's one weakness is he is a high school drop out with the power to rearrange atoms on the sub-atomic level. He has absolutely no clue as to how his powers work, because he doesn't know any of the science behind it.
- He also has major self-confidence issues and a variety of neuroses. He used to see a therapist. And this is one of the most powerful humans in the universe, folks...
- Which fits his character, as Molecule Man's one weakness is he is a high school drop out with the power to rearrange atoms on the sub-atomic level. He has absolutely no clue as to how his powers work, because he doesn't know any of the science behind it.
- The Marvel UK character Captain Britain used a costume and staff which he believed was the source of his powers, but merely focused his innate powers (his daddy was from Another Dimension, so powers kinda run in the family). Later, he was able to do without.
- The Flash once managed to nick Mr. Element's gun, only to find it useless. The bemused Element explained that the gun only focused his powers -- it wasn't the source of them. We've recently learned that the Weather Wizard's powers are also innate, a fact which he himself didn't know (he thought his Weather Wand had the power-- and so did
his originalthe last five decades worth of writers, apparently).
- Though, in Weather Wizard's case, it is at least implied that his power wasn't originally innate. Rather, repeated use of his Weather Wand caused him to internalize its power years ago. He never realized this because he actually did need the thing originally and therefore never tried to use the powers without it until more or less forced to.
- The first Morlun story in Spider-Man had Ezekiel, another man with spider-based powers, explain to Spidey that he didn't get his powers due to the fact that the spider that bit him was radioactive, but that the spider gave Peter superpowers magically and was nearly killed by the radiation in the process. This retcon has since been re-retconned away again.
- Large swathes of the DC Comics universe were retconned with the metagene. Basically, random chemical spills or a radiation zap or looking into the core of an alien warp engine -doesn't- give you superpowers. The metagene, present in most humans, instead does an Instant Evolution bit to save you from the dangers. In short, most people do get crispyfried when zapped with the experiemental magic ray.
- New Spider-Man villain The Extremist was originally thought by our web-headed hero to get his powers from his fancy gun, but it's soon revealed that the power is innately in him and he just uses the gun to help him focus it.
- Similarly, loony supervillain Madcap uses a bubble gun that makes people lose all inhibitions...except the power is actually tied to his gaze, and he just uses the bubble gun as a distraction to get people to look at him.
- In an 80s Daredevil story, DD's mentor Stick reveals that the radiation that gave Matt Murdock his superhumanly acute senses (and also blinded him) had a temporary effect--but that temporary boost taught Murdock to use his normal human senses to their full potential. (Alas, the blindness wasn't temporary. Sorry!)
- Sleepwalker's Friendly Enemy Spectra's rainbow-like energy powers were originally assumed to come from the synthetic diamond she wielded. She later reveals that her body has actually absorbed the powers of the diamond, and she only uses the crystal to help her focus her powers.
- Minor Marvel Universe hero Blue Shield originally needed a micro-circuitry belt to power his super-strength, stamina, and force field projection powers. Eventually the belt altered his genetic structure so he no longer required it.
- In The Olympic Smurfs, Papa Smurf gives to the puny Weakly Smurf a reddish doping jelly to put on his nose, in order to help him compete in the Olympic Games. When he eventually wins, he is about to confess his cheating, but it turns out that the substance was only raspberry jelly, and that Weakly smurf owes his victory only to his newly-acquired self-confidence.
- This same "doping jelly" plot was carried over in an episode of the Hanna-Barbera animated series, where it was used on Weakly Smurf to make him stop thinking he really was weak. He ends up saving the village from a collapsing bridge during a storm and being crowned a hero as a result.
- Some writers have stated that Zatanna's speaking spells backwards routine is just a focusing technique and that she can cast spells without using it (she uses this justification when she takes down the supervillain Magenta while gagged in an issue of Wonder Woman, for instance). However, current canon says the backwards words are necessary, but they need not be spoken (writing them will work, for instance).
Film -- Animated
- The Trope Namer is Dumbo and, of course, its magic crow feather which was claimed that it could make Dumbo fly. Naturally, during the climax, Dumbo discovers that he was able to fly even without the feather.
- Happens in the second Ice Age movie, to an extent: Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, has a fear of water, but he needs to swim to save his friend. Said friend told him earlier that "Most animals can swim as babies," and he uses this to go after him. Once saved, the friend tells him baby tigers can't swim; he left that part out.
- The Dragon Scroll from Kung Fu Panda is stated to grant infinite strength and wisdom to the reader, but turns out to be blank and covered with a golden-colored, reflective material to show the reader that they already have all that's needed to become the Dragon Warrior.
- Parodied in The SpongeBob SquarePants movie, Princess Mindy turns Spongebob and Patrick into "men" with seaweed mustaches with her "mermaid magic", or so che claims, which are then ripped off later by the villain. In typical manner, they still manage to make it through.
- In Space Jam, Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan or able to rally the TuneSquad by giving them a bottle said to be filled with a special formula Mike uses. When the Monstars trample them in the last bit, Daffy tries to get more and Jordan tells them they had it in them the whole time. It...doesn't work out as well.
Film -- Live Action
- The Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan movie Space Jam, where Bugs offers his team-mates a bottle filled with "Michael's Secret Stuff" (really just tap water) to help them win the big game.
- How long before Bugs and Jordan are subpoenaed to testify by Congress...?
- Even after learning it was fake, the toons still ask for more.
- The remake of Angels in the Outfield has this too, with the whole crowd at an Angels baseball game making wing flapping gestures to help their pitcher make a strikeout, without the divine intervention they've been relying on these past few months.
- This is a variation, as it turns out that even though they had the ability to win the whole time, they actually had been receiving help.
- Spaceballs: "Forget the ring! The ring was bupkis! I found it in a Crackerjack box! The Schwartz is in you, Lone Starr, it's in you!"
- In the over-the-top Blaxploitation/martial arts parody film The Last Dragon, the "magic amulet" that Bruce Leroy's Trickster Mentor gave him when he began his "great quest" turns out to be a belt buckle.
- It's more than that, when Leroy discovers that the master Sum Dum Goy doesn't even exist, and that The Master he's been searching for is Leroy himself.
- Jack Putter (played by Martin Short) in the film Innerspace believes that Tuck Pendleton (who has been shrunk and is inside Putter's body -- long story) can increase the power of his muscles during a confrontation with an evil henchman. He can't, but that doesn't stop Jack kicking his ass.
- Slight variation in the film Hitch, where the title character eventually comes to realize that he himself is a Magic Feather- he gave clients advice on how to woo their dream girls, and his success rate is very high, but ultimately his advice didn't matter and the ladies all fell for the guys because of things they did naturally, in some cases completely contrary to Hitch's advice. All Hitch really gave them was the confidence to make the first move by believing that with Hitch's help, they actually had a chance.
- Pootie Tang: Pootie's magical belt is eventually revealed to be a completely non-magical item purchased from a Piggly Wiggly for 95 cents.
- Austin had his mojo all along!
- In the Harold Lloyd film, Grandma's Boy (No, not that one.) his grandmother gives him an artifact of great power (complete with a flashback of his grandfather using it to become a One-Man Army during the Civil War). Using the artifact, he single handedly captures the big scary guy who had been terrorizing the town. Then his grandmother reveals that it was actually the handle off her umbrella.
- Played with at the end of Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, when the club owner gives his "the Devil is in all of us" speech, convincing Kage and JB not to worry about the pick breaking. Of course, immediately after we discover the club owner is actually Satan, and just wanted the pick to complete himself.
- Used on a large scale in Kingdom of Heaven, where, in response to the Patriarch of Jerusalem asking him how he plans on defending the city with no knights, Balian of Ibilin immediately knights every peasant and commoner within the sound of his voice.
Patriarch of Jerusalem: [almost crying] "Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?"
Balian of Ibelin: (looks around him and notes the newly determined faces on the brand new knights) "Yes."
- In The Luck of the Irish, the protagonist's grandfather (a leprechaun) is watching the protagonist and his Black Best Friend play basketball against an evil leprechaun. A large part of the plot involves the protagonist losing his lucky coin (stolen by the Big Bad), with his family suffering bad luck since then. At the game, the grandfather sees that their team is losing and throws his grandson's friend a coin, claiming it's lucky. The guy's game immediately improves. The protagonist confronts his grandfather, as he knows the coin is fake. The grandfather invokes this trope, causing the protagonist to realize that he can make his own luck without relying on some coin. Subverted in that the stolen coin is really magical.
- Inverted in the Inspector Gadget movie where Gadget requires a computer chip in order for his cyborg body to function. However, after the chip is taken out and smashed by Claw, it turns out that he can still operate without it.
- Jax's enhanced arms prove to be this in Mortal Kombat Annihilation, and Sonya even tells him straight out that he has a confidence problem. Only by regaining his confidence and ditching the arms is he able to defeat Motaro and help Sonya against the others in the final battle.
- Played dangerously straight in Crash when a character gives his daughter (who is afraid of bullets after a stray one found its way through her bedroom window) an "impenetrable cloak given to him by a fairy". She believes it so much that she runs into his arms to shield him from a man who has him at gunpoint.
- In The Divide, the main character is cured of his illness by a literal feather.
- In Ranger's Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw, Sir Karel uses a blue gemstone to hypnotize and interrogate his prisoner Alyss. The healer Malcolm sends her a 'stellatite' stone, along with instructions for using it to defeat the hypnosis, and she manages to trick him. When she goes to give it back to Malcolm, he revealed that it was an ordinary rock all along.
- Played straight in the novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, wherein Harry tricks Ron Weasley into thinking that he (Harry) has just poured some "Felix Felicis" luck potion into Ron's drink to improve his Quidditch game (which had been suffering due to an extreme case of nerves). Hermione saw Harry do it, and warned Ron not to drink it, as it would be cheating to use a potion in a Quiddich game. Ron drinks it anyway, and his game improves hugely. Then, when Hermione confronts Harry again afterward (once Griffindor has won with over 200 points), Harry shows both of them that he hadn't poured a drop; he faked it. Ron mocks Hermione, who tries to compliment Ron/backpedal, but fails. (Harry had not foreseen his play backfiring...)
- Unlike most examples of this trope, the real potion actually works, as Harry found out when he used it to convince Slughorn into giving him and Dumbledore a memory that contains information vital to defeating Voldemort (it also had the bonus effect of starting a rift between Ginny and Dean). The potion also demonstrates Winds of Destiny Change abilities later on, when several of Harry's friends use it to avoid getting hurt while fighting the Death Eaters invading Hogwarts.
- This is also seen in The Tales of Beedle the Bard during the story "The Fountain of Fair Fortune". In the end, it turns out that the fountain is just an ordinary fountain, but the three witches and the Muggle knight who traveled to reach it have all had their lives changed for the better.
- The Talisman, written jointly by Stephen King and Peter Straub, has the novel's resident Magical Negro give the main character a drink that allows him to flip between worlds. After he consumes it all, it turns out that he always had the power; the stuff was just sour wine. It's hard to fault the main character not recognizing it for what it was, seeing as he was just a ten-year-old boy (talk about negligent spiritual guardians...)
- Played straight in Jack Vance's novel Lyonesse - the boy Dhrun is given a talisman to avert fear, which in fact means that whenever he feels afraid, he misinterprets the emotion as anger and is able to be brave. The talisman eventually gets broken and replaced with a regular stone, but it continues to work until he realizes the replacement. The fairy-tale setting makes this an acceptable plot device.
- In Sylvia Louise Engdahl's SF novel Enchantress From the Stars, Elana gives Georyn a stone that she says will give him magical powers. It's intended to give him enough confidence to use his innate psionic abilities.
- In the short story The Fifty-First Dragon, Gawaine, the nervous dragon slayer, was told he would be invincible to dragons upon the utterance of the word "Rumplesnitz". He was quickly able to shed his fear and became remarkably efficient at slaying dragons, but also cocky. After a night of heavy drinking, he faced his fiftieth dragon, and couldn't remember the word when the time came to use it, but was still able to kill the dragon, much to his confusion. When he was told by his headmaster that the word was just a placebo, he fell back into his old nervous ways, and died trying to kill his fifty-first dragon.
- In the Goosebumps book The Blob That Ate Everything, Zackie thought that his reality altering powers came from a magical typewriter, only to find when he couldn't get the typewriter to work was actually within himself.
- In the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's friends possess the qualities that they seek, but insist on getting a Magic Feather from the Wizard anyway.
- The film version provides a variation in that the Wizard instead gives Dorothy's friends various symbols of what they've achieved--a diploma that signifies the Scarecrow getting his brain, a ticking heart watch that reflects the Tin Man's kindness, and a war medal that testifies to the Cowardly Lion's courage.
- And of course, Dorothy had the slippers to get home the ENTIRE time.
- In You can do it Desmond Dragon, an educational children's book about an asthmatic young dragon, Desmond is given a 'magic' satchel to wear during a smoke-blowing contest. Of course, when he opens it after the contest it just holds a note saying he could do it all along if he believed in himself. And used his inhalers...
- The Lenses used by the Lensman are usually your average Applied Phlebotinum, but for the more advanced characters (Kimball Kinnison and his children, among others) they become little more than a Magic Feather.
- They seem to have some function beyond that, as the children know they have the power innately, but they actually [u]create[/u] Lenses at one point to help them in particularly high-powered work.
- In Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, even though Captain Underpants' powers came from alien super power juice (It Makes Sense in Context), he's convinced they come from cottony soft underpants. When Captain Underpants is depowered by spray-on starch, the boys have to come up with a magical feather, so they Retcon a powerful crystal he swallowed as a child on his home planet (even though Captain Underpants is actually the boys' principal).
- A large number of Wild Cards characters require a "psychological focus" to use their powers, most notably The Great And Powerful Turtle's armored Shells, to the point where he eventually becomes so cripplingly dependent on them that he loses his powers entirely when outside them.
- In Eva Ibbotson's book Which Witch, there's an interesting variant and in the end even subversion: Belladonna is a white witch, so good, kind and beautiful that she borders on a Parody Sue, but longs to be a black witch and do evil deeds -- partly because that means the other witches might accept her as one of their own, and partly because she's in love with a dark wizard. However, she's utterly incapable of doing even the slightest dark magic, until she meets a young, orphaned boy with a pet earthworm that both of them think are magical. As long as the boy and his earthworm are present, Belladonna is capable of doing black magic stronger than anyone else. When the worm, unknowingly to Belladonna, disappears, she still manages to perform black magic -- but instead of the normal "all you needed was confidence" story, it turns out that while the earthworm is a completely normal, unmagical earthworn, the boy is without knowing it a powerful dark wizard, and it was his presence that gave Belladonna the dark powers, not the worm's.
- In The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle the white explorers encounter a Native American tribe menaced by ape people. The Native Americans ask the explorers to use their modern weaponry to help fight the ape people. The explorers agree, but when the actual battle comes around they barely get to fire a shot. The extra confidence their presence gave the Native Americans allowed them to defeat the ape people on their own. Since there were only actually three explorers with guns that was probably for the best.
- In 'The Valor of Cappen Varra' by Poul Anderson the eponymous hero is able to face down a troll because he has a charm that negates magic and so renders him immune to her super strength. At the end he is told that trolls are just naturally very strong so the charm was worthless
- Terry Pratchett uses several of these in his Discworld Novels.
- Headology, the main branch of Witch magic relies mostly on the application of common sense with a light sprinkling of Magic Feathers, once handily supplied by the patient himself.
- In Thief of Time, Lobsang is wearing a portable procrastinator to enable him to continue walking around after time has been stopped. He panics after Susan tells him it stopped a while ago. Not a standard magic feather as the device would work as described, it just turns out that Lobsang doesn't need it, as he's the son of (or rather half of the son of) the anthropomorphic personification of Time.
- In Lords and Ladies Magrat finds the ancient armor of Queen Ynci the Short-Tempered, and believes that her spirit is with her and gives her an extra capacity for violence and determination. As it turns out, Ynci was completely made up, and her armor had been made a few decades ago to give the royal house a little more color.
- In On A Pale Horse, while fighting Satan, Death realizes that he doesn't actually need his scythe and cloak to use his powers, reasoning that if that had been true, Satan would have attacked him earlier while he was off duty.
- Subverted in Mistborn, where the Magic Feather given to Yeden's army by Kelsier (a promise that his mistborn abilities could be channeled into others) leads Yeden to send out his still unprepared army prematurely out on a raid because of overconfidence, killing them all. Kelseir gets a serious What the Hell, Hero? by his entire crew for his efforts.
- * Played pretty much straight by The Way of Kings, though: Shallan tracks down Jasnah with intent to steal her Soulcaster and replace it with a nonfunctional duplica, which she does. Then she has to figure out how to use it... which eventually, she also does. Through the whole book, Jasnah never notices the swap, totally confusing Shallan. At the end, she realizes that Jasnah's original was also a fake, that Jasnah used so people wouldn't learn that she can Soulcast without a focus. Which means Shallan figured out how to Soulcast without a focus, too.
- The Claw of the Conciliator.
- In the children's book The Good Luck Pony, the main character is nervous about her horse-back riding lessons until her mother gives her a horse necklace that she says will bring her good luck while riding. The girl is told at the end that the necklace just gave her confidence, and that was all she needed to succeed.
- A theme from the ancient Sumerian tale The Epic of Gilgamesh can be seen as a predecessor to this trope. Gilgamesh goes on this elaborate quest for immortality, eventually laying hands on a magical coral flower with the power to extend his life. A snake steals the flower when he's not looking and Gilgamesh is crushed, but in the end he realizes he had immortality all along -- through the legacy of his contributions to the enduring power of his city, Uruk.
- In Teresa Frohock's Miserere an Autumn Tale, Lucian tells Lindsey that the Psalter is magical; later, when he says it helped her focus and the power was hers, she was annoyed.
- Used in the J. T. Edson short story "Dusty Fog's Gun" when Waco gives a young deputy a gun and tells him it once belonged to Dusty Fog, giving him the confidence to win an upcoming gunfight.
Live Action TV
- Unsurprisingly for the series, Power Rangers SPD has an example in "Samurai".
- On M* A* S* H, Hawk and B.J. give placebos to a shy, nebbish soldier, telling him they're Confidence Pills. They also give the same pills to Klinger, telling him they're a new drug that will help keep him cool -- later, during a boiling hot day, he walks around in a fur coat, warning everyone else that they would freeze to death.
- More seriously, when the camp runs out of morphine, they pass the pills off as painkillers via psychology, telling the current batch of wounded soldiers they can only have one each of these "super-powerful" new wonder drugs. The scene is subverted on a somber note as the doctors discuss the results, noting that it didn't work for everyone.
- Played relatively straight in Heroes, with Hiro, who believes he needs a particular sword to recover his abilities. Of course, it turns out (and the viewing public finds out long before Hiro does) he never lost his abilities in the first place.
- In an episode of Myth Busters where the team is testing cures to seasickness, Grant, one of the guinea pigs, is given a supposed "wonder drug" that helps to combat seasickness greatly. It works outstandingly, and after the experiment the "wonder drug" is revealed to be a vitamin B12 pill.
- Which might be a subversion, as B12 might actually help with sea-sickness. But it was meant as a placebo.
- The TV show, Smart Guy, had TJ giving his idiot friend, Mo, sugar pills to make him smarter. When he found out that it was a placebo, Mo got his own sugar pills to continue replicating the effect.
- Inverted in News Radio, which showed Matthew being given a homemade "Smart Drink" by Joe and becoming super intelligent. Smatthew (for "Smart Matthew") later begins to lose his intelligence, but upon being urged to consume more of Joe's smart drink, concluded the drink was a placebo and only worked because stupid Matthew was so dumb he believed it would. He loses his newfound intelligence permanently.
- Parodied hilariously in the live action version of The Tick, when the The Tick walks up to a stranger, hands him a hub cap and tells him "Remember, it was not a magic hub cap. The magic was within you all along."
- In one episode of My Wife and Kids, Michael pulls this on his son Junior, using grandson Junior Jr. as the "magic baby" and saying that holding him will make Junior smarter. Eventually, when Junior drifts into annoying territory, Mike lets him in on the truth, saying that his own father pulled the "magic baby" trick on him, using Junior.
- Flight of the Conchords did this with hair gel which supposedly made the boys look cool. When the hair gel is all used up, they can't bear to even leave the house, and Murray, their manager, tells them that the gel didn't make them cool, it just gave them the confidence to show everyone how cool they really were. Inspired by his words, they go to perform their gig sans gel, only for the entire crowd to walk away once they start playing. Murray concedes that yes, it really was the hair gel that made them cool.
- In the episode of the original Star Trek "Mudd's Women", three women are supposedly given a "Venus drug" which made them irresistibly beautiful, but it revealed at the end that they didn't need the drug to make themselves beautiful - it was self-confidence all along.
- The on-screen moral being: apparently self-confidence can give you an actual makeover -- complete with makeup and a new hairdo!
- In the big crossover between Hannah Montana and The Suite Life On Deck, Hannah's anklet acts like this. It's a keepsake of her mothers, and when she loses it everything goes wrong until Robbie Ray tells her that her mother is always with her, regardless of the anklet.
- This was brought up by Ruby in Supernatural when she tells Sam that his powers are not the result of the demon blood he'd been drinking, but they'd just been a tool to addict him and alienate him from the people who told him hanging out with Ruby was a bad idea.
- Wimzie's House has an episode called "The Lucky Pin" in which Rousso gives Jonas a special star pin to celebrate his dedication in practicing basketball. Afterwards, Jonas completes a tricky shot for the first time and is convinced that he's been given a "lucky pin." He then experiences a crisis of self-confidence after losing it, until Wimzie gives him another pin that she made herself, but tells him that it's the one he lost. He makes five basketball shots in a row, but another of the characters tells him it's not the original pin. He loses his self-confidence again until Wimzie points out that he made the shots even without his lucky pin. He realizes that his "luck" is all due to practice and he doesn't need a lucky pin.
- One episode of Wonder Showzen, one of the puppets trips out on what is ostensibly 'liquid imagination', but is later revealed to be just water.
- Played completely straight in Glee when Brittany gets "paralyzed with fear" at the thought of having to dance prominently at sectionals. Artie gives her his magic comb and tells her if she combs her hair with it she can't lose. She loses it and causes Artie think she's cheating on him (It Makes Sense in Context). Artie finally revealed that he picked the comb off the floor and was on his way to throw it out when he ran into her.
Brittany: And you let me comb my hair with it?
- The Suite Life On Deck: Bailey uses a placebo to raise London's intelligence. Subverted in that after realizing that it's a placebo, London returns to normal. Then she takes another placebo.
- Modern Family: In "Treehouse," Mitchell gives Jay a little pill that supposedly will loosen him up and help him dance. That pill? Turns out to be chewable baby aspirin.
- In one episode of Derren Brown's series The Experiments, the magician started a rumour that a statue of a dog in a village park was lucky. Over time, a lot of people in the village came to believe the rumour and started reporting cases of good luck that came after they stroked the dog (some of it planned out in secret by Derren, some just coincidental). The main point of the show was that people who think they are lucky will seize more opportunities, and therefore some of those opportunities will work out for them.
- Played with in Bewitched when Uncle Arthur helps Darrin stand up to Endora - he teaches Darrin an incantation to defeat her and gives him a talisman that is simply a lamp finial. It turns out the incantation is useless gibberish - Arthur is just messing with Darrin for laughs.
- Punky Brewster once got a "magic coin" from Henry.
- In Mage: The Ascension, characters need to focus their magick through various means, but sufficiently high-level characters will realize that the magick comes from them and can cast spells without foci with no penalty. At this point, the mage starts becoming obscenely powerful and even Werewolves and centuries-old Vampires keep their distance.
- Some mages also use 'unique foci' for some of their magic, which if lost render them partially or wholly incapable of casting anything.
- Mutants and Masterminds has a villainous version: Dr Stratos thought he needed his big fancy device to control the weather, until he learned it had been junk all along. He immediately went A God Am I.
- The spirit monk amulet in Jade Empire was just a tool to focus the main character's innate powers. This, though, is probably just a Hand Wave as to how you can still use its functions, even though the plot requires it to be stolen.
- It does have some magic of its own though, since it allows Sun Li to grab more of the Water Dragon's power in a few days than his brother managed to drain in decades.
- It's because he isn't a Spirit Monk, and the amulet acts for him as it did for you early on, as a magical focus. But since your power and focus have grown so much, you no longer need it. It would be like using a flamethrower until you learned how shoot fire from your hands, yeah the flamethrower still works, but you don't really need it anymore do you?
- Inverted in Fable II and Fable III. While the protagonist of Fable III needs gauntlets to use magic, his father, the protagonist of Fable II, did not need gauntlets.
- There's also an in-game book in Fable III about a magician who created a homunculus to protect himself from disease and the ravages of age. At the end of the story, the homunculus is accidentally destroyed, but luckily for the magician nothing happens; turns out he just had a naturally strong constitution all along.
- Final Fantasy Dissidia features a literal Magic Feather in the form of Bartz's good luck charm from his chocobo companion Boko. He gives it to Squall as part of a promise to meet up again - which the feather helps to facilitate. At the end of Bartz's storyline it turns out that the crystal Bartz had been searching for all along was in fact embodied by his Magical Feather.
- One of the characters from Tears to Tiara seduces The Hero using a magical Red String of Fate she bought from the far east. While it did in fact have a functional, working Love Potion power, she tied the string to the wrong finger, meaning the two of them actually made out without its spell in effect.il
- In Episode 4 of Season 3 of Sam & Max, Max has to fight the Big Bad but has no Toys of Power. Then Dr. Norington tells him that he doesn't really need the toys. Max suddenly starts glowing and takes to the sky, now able to use his powers without the aid of the Toys.
- God of War III has Kratos questing to open Pandora's Box a second time in order to obtain the power of Hope and destroy Zeus. When he finally opens the Box, it's empty; Kratos has had Hope within him since opening the box in the first game, without realising it.
- Parodied by the original Team Fortress 2 blog, showering the players with gifts for "Australian 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!
- Much of the early campaign in Battle Realms involves Kenji trying to hunt down his family heirloom, the Serpent's Orb, because of its 'magic power'. In the Dragon campaign, the Dragon eventually reveals to him that the orb itself is little more than a focus and an ancestor of Kenji's who used it to break the world was only able to do so because he (unwittingly) channelled his own Ki power through it because he believed it had power.
- Some stones in The Game of the Ages are magical, but focus stones are magic feathers to boost your confidence.
- In Mana Khemia, one of the characters' familiar spirits doesn't actually do anything and isn't actually magical at all; they're just a psychological crutch for the character, who is magically quite powerful and not human, but doesn't know it.
- One strip from Dinosaur Comics has it all go wrong.
- Cheshire Crossing plays this straight with Dorothy's ruby slippers; however, the slippers do possess some intrinsic power, since other characters can use them normally.
- And this intrinsic power is actually the power to mimic the abilities of the last person to wear them.
- Parodied in the Bandwith Theater internet short entitled Kevin Smith and his Magic Feather. When Kevin Smith bemoans losing his magic feather to his friend Helpful Rat, he assures him that the feather wasn't magic at all, it just helped him to believe in himself. When Kevin then goes on to contemplate shaving his magic beard, Helpful Rat quickly assures him that the beard actually is magic: it makes his wife love him, and keeps the moon from falling. (But it doesn't help with movies; it's just the wife and moon thing.)
- In PvP, Brent Sienna gives up coffee for health reasons. When the magazine is in crisis and desperately needs help, he insists on going back to coffee to give him his "edge." After his all-nighter, his girlfriend reveals that she has been bringing him decaf.
- In Angel Moxie, when Alex's staff was broken, she seemingly lost her magic. Miya tells that staff is only act like focus to get her started, while saying how cliched it is.
- Parodied in The Non Adventures of Wonderella. "See, this is why I don't do pep talks."
- At least for Marten initially, the Worry Hat.
- It gets passed on to Hannelore later on.
- An interesting variation in The Order of the Stick. As part of his/her Deal with the Devil, Vaarsuvius is told that the three evil souls (s)he is now bound to may influence his/her actions if (s)he's not careful. Then (s)he proceeds to commit an act of genocide. The Fiends then reveal that the souls actually have no impact on Vaarsuvius' actions, and that (s)he did that all on his/her own.
- Later, the trope gets a parodying. Just...because.
- It's unclear whether the jester outfit that Maytag wears in Flipside actually causes her to become incredibly outgoing and self-confident, but if it doesn't, it's likely to be this trope.
- Events seem to be heading this way, with Maytag able to go on with her comedy act despite being magically stripped by a rival at the start of it. After a moment's hesitation, she even manages to joke about her situation.
- This Erfworld page heavily implies that Thinkamancy, and to an extent Foolamancy work this way
- Another parody, this time by Cyanide and Happiness.
- Homestuck has the players use various focusing devices before they can fully control their powers. This isn't outrightly stated, but by comparing Aradia's shift from using time-controlling music boxes to freezing Bec Noir in place with her mind, it becomes obvious. Some characters just jump this hurdle entirely though.
- A slightly more sinister example is Rose's wands. Doc Scratch suggests that the real power was given directly to Rose by the horrorterrors and that the wands are a way to make her think she's working alone while actually doing their bidding.
- Amazing Super Powers shows a case of overdoing this.
- Cracked.com article on Poe's Law: "You didn't even need those cars, Vin. The violence was inside you the whole time."
- In Baman Piderman, the Happy Winter Friends' wish was inside him all along! (Like, literally, inside him. He had a drawer in his chest.)
- Played straight in the most recent Jonny Quest series, where one episode had Hadji's ruby (the one in his turban, which was supposedly a magic charm from his mentor in mysticism) turn out to be red glass.
- Subverted in three different episodes of Futurama:
- "The 30% Iron Chef": After Bender wins a cooking competition using drops from a crystal flask filled with "the essence of pure flavor", Professor Farnsworth runs a chemical analysis and announces the mystery liquid is "Water! Ordinary water!" Immediately after Fry concludes that all Bender needed to cook well was confidence, the professor adds, "Yes, ordinary water, laced with nothing more than a few spoonfuls of LSD."
- "I Second That Emotion", in which Bender is given the emotion chip, so that he feels what Leela feels. At the end of the episode, after Bender saved Nibbler due to his feeling compassion for him, the Professor removes the chip and says "the chip shorted out! That emotion you felt was your own...no, wait, I'm wrong. It was actually running at triple capacity." Bender responds "And I still barely felt anything! So long, meatbags!"
- "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings": Fry loses the robot hands that allowed him to play the holophoner so well. Dr. Zoidberg shouts, "The beauty was in your heart, not your hands!" Fry attempts to continue playing, but does horribly. Dr. Zoidberg shouts, "Your music is bad, and you should feel bad!"
- (And Zoidberg, having little to no social skills even considering his species' culture, is merely saying out loud what the rest of the audience is displaying on their faces.)
- Though it becomes a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming afterwards when Fry turns to leave, but Leela (the only remaining audience member) asks him to play anyway. Though he needed the robot hands to play well, he still had the ability to win the affection of Leela (which is what he wanted in the first place) even without them.
- South Park do this in the episode "Bloody Mary." Randy Marsh is diagnosed as an alcoholic, and is convinced it is a disease that only God can cure. He then goes to a bleeding statue of Mary to cure himself, and it works. However, the Pope reveals the miraculous statue to be fake/having its period, and Randy falls back into alcoholism until his son points out that these events show he has what it takes to beat the addiction himself.
- The Simpsons subverts this to the extreme in the episode Last Tap Dance in Springfield. In it, Lisa is part of a Shirley Temple Expy's tapdancing class, but is extremely clumsy. Professor Frink offers to help out by putting the motors from a sound-activated dancing toy in her shoes. At the recital, she does dance well, but the tremendous applause causes her to do things like Wall Run and even outdance her teacher. After the recital:
Frink: [looking at shoes] Jesus, Mary and glavin! These shoes are in the Off position!
Lisa: You mean I danced all by myself?
Marge: See, honey? All you needed was to believe--
Homer: [taking the shoes] What are you talking about, Professor Frink? They're clearly in the On position. [showing them to Lisa] See? "On".
Frink: I was merely trying to spare the girl's feelings, you insensitive clod.
Homer: Oh - OH! Well, now that I look even closer-
- An interesting subversion occurs in an episode of Kim Possible, in which the titular heroine uses an intelligent driving computer to pass a driving test. When something goes wrong, the computer can't control the car anymore, and Kim needs to drive the car she and Ron are in out of the villain's lair, she protests she can't drive, and the computer tells her that it never did anything - it was her all along. Kim, inspired, drives the car out of the collapsing lair, whereupon the computer tells her it lied - the computer had been doing the driving before, but needed to inspire her.
- Done a second time when Kim feels like she's lost her mojo when her signature costume gets shredded and is discontinued. However it was subverted in that it was less those specific clothes as having a distinct set of mission clothes, and with the help of some criminal fashion designers she's soon back to her ass-kicking ways.
- Played straight in the Powerpuff Girls episode "Cover Up" with Buttercup and a security blanket. Buttercup needs to be thoroughly convinced she can fight without the blankie after it's misplaced. Once she is, she gives it up and the girls' father Professor Utonium snatches it up claiming it had recently helped him create his newest invention.
- Used in an episode of Thundercats, when the mind-controlling villain Alluro acquires an amulet in a box that is supposed to ramp up powers. He then proceeds to easily mesmerize all the heroes except for Snarf, who manages to get the box away from him, and then defeat him, even using the powers of the Sword of Omens, which had previously only activated for its proper wielder. At the end, naturally, the box is opened, revealing that the amulet inside has been broken for some time. Probably a good thing nobody told the bad guy.
- The ThunderCats (2011) episode "The Duelist and the Drifter" Master Swordsman The duelist challenged The Hero Lion-O to a Sword Fight, wagering their swords and Lion-O lost. The Ultimate Blacksmith that made the Duelist's sword made another one for Lion-O and a rematch took place. The Duelist lost despite Lion-O's new sword being broken in half and ended up being humiliated by the blacksmith. The blacksmith explained that the duelist's sword took years to be forged and the new one took just a few hours, so Lion-O had it in himself to defeat the Duelist the whole time.
- Used several times in episodes of the children's animation Dragon Tales.
- Ord believes that he can only do aerial tricks with a lucky stone, but, upon unknowingly losing said stone, still is able to do the tricks. It turns out as expected.
- In a slight variation on the trope, Ord is afraid of a thunder storm until given a cape, which he uses to pretend he's a super hero, causing him to no longer be afraid of the thunder.
- In another slight variation of this trope, Cassie goes to the wishing well to wish for a talent for the talent show. In order to convince the jaded wishing well to help, Cassie helps the wishing well and promises to be her friend. Then Cassie realizes that she already has a talent; helping people. A bit Anvilicious, but still cute.
- In a fourth season story of Franklin, Bear is having trouble at basketball, so Franklin gives him a clover that he tells him is a "lucky" four-leaf clover. Not only do Bear's basketball skills improve, but other lucky things happen to him and he think it's all due to the clover, not knowing that it's really just a regular clover with an extra leaf taped to it. As Bear's luck starts to go to his head, he starts making risky moves and Franklin decides he has to tell him the truth. As soon as he does, Bear experiences a crippling lack of confidence, until Franklin reminds him that it wasn't really a real clover, so all of his luck was his own.
- In a first season story of Arthur, Arthur believes that he has a "lucky pencil" that helps him do well on tests. He seems to realize eventually that he did well because he studied, though that doesn't stop him from whining loudly when D.W. tries to claim the pencil for her own. The story of the pencil became the basis for a song on the original Arthur music album, Arthur And Friends: The First Almost Real Not Live CD.
- On Shelldon, an episode featured a series of flashbacks showing Mayor Yoko giving members of the community trinkets that he claimed were magic, but were really just Magic Feathers. When the community was threatened by an impending catastrophe, Shelldon and his friends traveled to his office to try to get some of his magic, and discovered the truth.
- In "Follow Your Nose," a Very Special Episode of PB and J Otter, Jelly's "Super Jellina Cape of Fearlessness" helped her to be less afraid of the dark.
- An episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had Christopher Robin give Piglet a pair of "magical earmuffs" so that he could ice skate. Piglet loses the earmuffs, and believes that he cannot skate without them...until his friends are in danger. Naturally, Piglet saves the day, even without the "magic."
- On Wonder Showzen, Chauncey chugs a vial of pure liquid imagination and becomes addicted. Later, the revelation that it was regular tap water all along instantly cures him.
- On Xavier: Renegade Angel, when Xavier's mother demands he bring her pills and alcohol, he gives her placebos and apple juice. Years later, her life has spiraled into ruin and she laments her addictions, so Xavier reveals that she'd been using harmless substances all along. She promptly loses her mind.
- Storm Hawks played with this
- That's more of a subversion in that one would build up muscle using it, anyway (since the item in question is really heavy).
- Also due to the fact that they stop your wrists from hurting after punching metal.
- That's more of a subversion in that one would build up muscle using it, anyway (since the item in question is really heavy).
- A unique version was used in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command when XR's Black Sheep brother XL attacked him and stole a component from him called an AFD, which was believed to be the most important part of XR. Naturally, XR felt that without it, he was useless. In the end, however, it was revealed that the AFD was merely an Air Freshening Device and that what XR had in him that made him great was not in a robotic sense.
- In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Splinter performs an impressive feat of magic with three tiny white spheres, shrinking three inflated turtles back to normal. He explains the spheres were given to him by a wise Sensei for use in an emergency, but they aren't made of anything magical:
Michelangelo: Oh, that's awesome stuff! What are those things, Sensei?
Splinter: I believe they are commonly called...mothballs.
Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael: Mothballs?!
Splinter: You were expecting diamonds?
Donatello: But how could they shrink us back to normal?
Splinter: If someone believes in something strongly enough, it just might happen.
Donatello: Yeah, but...with mothballs?
Raphael: Hey! Don't look a gift moth in the mouth!
- In Rekkit Rabbit, Rekkit gives Jake some magical help that makes him a genius(with a giant head) to win a competition. He then loses the effects of the magic, but Rekkit says there WAS no magic and he really IS that smart. So he goes on with the competition...and basically just drools and blabs incoherently. After failing, Rekkit says that unfortunately there really was magic.
- The 'magic' boardshorts in the Stoked! episode "Boardy Brotherhood".
- In Rugrats, Chuckie is outfitted with a super hero "costume" by the other babies, including a towel-for-a-cape, saying that it would give him super powers and be a real hero. However, when he loses the cape and still defeats Angelica, who had stolen away his globe beach ball, the babies realize it was all in him.
- Cow and Chicken: Cow had a security blanket until she grew tired of the taunts and threw it away. She later told Chicken that blanket was Supercow's cape and source of power. Overhearing this, Red Guy started hurting the other kids under the belief no superhero would stop him. Chicken then recovered the blanket and tried to use it on himself and become "Wonder Chicken" but Red easily defeated him. Chicken tried to convince Cow it meant she had the power all along but she just flipped the blanket and Chicken became "Wonder Chicken".
- Casper the Friendly Ghost was given one from Dr. Harvey for a school play.
- Placebos, of course.
- And in a common subversion, this is ignored and they just go buy the "miracle drug".
- It's noteworthy that the placebo effect is probably more indicative of people complaining more about minor aches and pains, given that it has grown strong with the increases in medical science.
- It works on objectively measurable conditions too. It's because it reduces stress and some ailments worsen with stress. That's why it's useless on a broken leg but works great for asthma.
- Definitely doesn't work for genuine conditions like asthma. People have died from not taking asthma medication, thinking that a homeopathic remedy will do just as well, and homeopathy is a psuedoscience - an entire practice based around the placebo effect.
- Placebos are certainly not useless for a broken leg; placebos are very good at easing pain, so much so that it has been shown to override the effects of things which actually worsen pain. However, it is correct to say placebos will do little to speed to rate of healing with a broken leg, though they may have some effect.
- And in a common subversion, this is ignored and they just go buy the "miracle drug".
- Many cures for stage fright or other performance-related issues (and probably for a few...erm...performance-related issues too) as well as artistic remedies: things that get the creative juices flowing (and probably a few...erm...No, no that's not right).
- Some parents do this with little kids to get them to master simple skills. They never seem to think about what the child will learn if he fails even with the maguffin.
- In most of the instances above and the ones I'm aware of happening in real life, Magic Feathers are used for something that the child is either already talented at but lacks the confidence to actually achieve or that the child is capable of doing/learning but is blocked from doing by something like lack of confidence, laziness or similar. So the above comment would only apply if the child wasn't at all capable of the skill in question and I highly doubt that parents would use this in a situation where it wouldn't work.
- There are loads of hiccup cures of the "drink from the wrong side of the cup", "hold your breath and take 7 sips of water" variety that are all just tricks to make you control your breathing.
- There was a psychology experiment where people were given three coloured buttons and asked to figure out what pattern made a light come on. In fact the 'pattern' was just press the blue button then press it again five seconds later (doesn't matter what you do in between). People found some very complicated ways of filling those five seconds.