Of Names and MacGuffins by E.J. Russell + Giveaway

of names and macguffins


Thank you so much for helping me celebrate the release of Devouring Flame! At the end of the tour, I’ll be giving away a prize—a $25 Dreamspinner gift card plus one of my backlist titles—to one commenter (chosen at random across all the tour posts), so please be sure to join the conversation!

Devouring Flame is the second book in my series centered around the employees of Enchanted Occasions Event Planning, where the word “enchanted” is quite literally, er, literal. The EO staff are all outcast from their supernatural home realms, most of them because they’re aitchers (short for half-and-half), part human and part other, and discriminated against by Pures of all races. But they’ve found a community with their EO co-workers, and job satisfaction staging magical events for their clients.

Of course, sometimes those events get… complicated. 🙂


Of Names and MacGuffins

Names are important. Our names can be such an integral part of who we are that we don’t even think about what it would mean not to have one—or to alter one that we’ve already got. Will it change our personality too? Is a name so intrinsic to our identity that changing it changes us? Maybe that’s one reason some adults still use nicknames that were given to them as children—with a different name, they become a stranger to themselves.

I didn’t get married until  was thirty-one, and I chose not to change my last name. In part, I’d always known I wouldn’t—I came of age at the dawn of the modern feminist movement, and with so many things that weren’t under my control as a woman, that was one thing that was, and by golly, I was going to hang onto it! I remember getting extremely angry, in about 1977 or so, when I heard the story of a judge who’d refused to grant a man’s petition to change his last name to his wife’s when they married. The judge’s reasoning: “That’s no way to begin a marriage.” Grrrr. It wasn’t the judge’s life, for pity’s sake!

When my Curmudgeonly Husband (then my Curmudgeonly Boyfriend) and I decided to get married, I told him I wasn’t going to change my name. His response: “Why would you want to do that anyway?” (One of the many reasons I married him. In fact, when it came up in conversation at some point later with friends, he said, “I thought about changing my name, but then I decided having two Ellens in the family would be too confusing.”)

Hashim, in Devouring Flame doesn’t know what his name is. “Hashim” is only his working title, as it were, and discovering his true name is one of the drivers of the book’s plot.

You might say that Hashim’s name is Devouring Flame’s MacGuffin.

For those of you not familiar with the term, a MacGuffin, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.”

We could argue that Hashim’s true name is critical to him, but in general, a MacGuffin is more important because of the effect it has on the story’s characters—how it propels them into action, what they’ll sacrifice to obtain it, how they’ll change once they gain possession of it—than because it’s valuable in and of itself.

One of the most well-known MacGuffins (even if it wasn’t called a MacGuffin at the time) is the Holy Grail. I mean, a whole passel of people were after it, from the knights of the Round Table (from Tennyson to Monty Python), through Indiana Jones and his dad.

The Maltese falcon (in the movie of the same name) is another classic MacGuffin. So are the letters of transit in Casablanca. The plans for the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope. The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In books—well, what about the sorcerer’s/philospher’s stone in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philospher’s Stone? Or the talisman ring in Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the authors literally call out the MacGuffins in the books’ titles.)

Heck, what about the One Ring to Rule Them All? Even though everyone knows what the blasted ring is (and more or less who has it at any one time), its effects on everyone, from the time of its creation to its final destruction, are profound–whether they’ve ever seen the dang thing or not.

My absolute favorite MacGuffin, however, is the bishop’s bird stump in Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Ned, the narrator, goes to incredible lengths to find the bishop’s bird stump, but for at least three quarters of the book, we don’t even know what the heck a bird stump is.

Then when Ned (and the reader) finally comes face to face with it (only to lose it again), the descriptions of it range from campy to bizarre to completely outrageous. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is—that’s part of the fun of reading the book!

(BTW, I loaned the book to my father to read when he was visiting once, and about halfway through, he asked me, “What is the bishop’s bird stump?” I wouldn’t tell him either.)

In fact, that’s part of the fun of any MacGuffin. What is it? Where is it? What will people do to get it? Will possessing it change them in some fundamental way?

Those were the questions I asked myself when I was writing Devouring Flame. The way I answered them? Well, as “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” tells us—“that’s the tale.” And you wouldn’t want me to give it away, would you?

Incidentally, the MacGuffin in Sweeney Todd is a person—at least in my opinion: Judge Turpin (or rather, Sweeney’s determination to avenge himself on the judge for his own fate and the fate of his wife and daughter, Johanna). Some might say that Johanna is the MacGuffin, since everybody seems determined to possess her in one way or another until she takes fate—or rather the knife—in her own hands.

So what about you? Do you have any favorite MacGuffins?


Check out Devouring Flame today!





While cutting through the Interstices—the post-creation gap between realms—Smith, half-demon tech specialist for Enchanted Occasions Event Planning, spies the person he yearns for daily but dreads seeing again: the ifrit Hashim of the Windrider clan.

On their one literally smoldering night together, Smith, stupidly besotted, revealed his true name—a demon’s greatest vulnerability. When Hashim didn’t return the favor, then split the next morning with no word? Message received, loud and clear: Thanks, but no thanks.

Although Hashim had burned to return Smith’s trust, it was impossible. The wizard who conjured him holds his true name in secret, and unless Hashim discovers it, he’ll never be free.

When their attraction sparks once more, the two unite to search for Hashim’s hidden name—which would be a hell of a lot easier if they didn’t have to contend with a convention full of food-crazed vampires on the one day out of the century they can consume something other than blood.

But if they fail, Hashim will be doomed to eternal slavery, and their reignited love will collapse in the ashes.

Luckily Smith is the guy who gets shit done. And Hashim is never afraid to heat things up.


Author Bio:

E.J. Russell—certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor—holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she’s spent the last three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business intelligence consultant (as one does). She’s recently abandoned data wrangling, however, and spends her days wrestling words.

E.J. is married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, CH loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).

E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
Newsletter: ejrussell.com/newsletter
Website: ejrussell.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/e.russell.author
Twitter: @ej_russell


    1. Usually the reason for the show might be the MacGuffin–something they need or have to save (like the farm). Of course, the disbelief you have to suspend in those movies is that a halfway decent show could actually be mounted with the resources the kids have at hand!


  1. I had no clue what MacGuffins were and you pretty much wrote about the ones I could think of (Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings) xDDD but it’s an interesting concept and I’ll do an inventory in my books and if I can spot one 🙂


  2. Hey this was really interesting! I had never heard of a macguffin before today. You named all the big ones I can think of, and now I want to go watch Indiana Jones again lol


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