"The power was inside you all along…" Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard some version of this heartwarming bit of dialogue. It comes from a plot device called the "magic feather." A hero, sometimes in need of a confidence boost, possesses an object he thinks is the source of his awesome abilities. Then (gulp!) he loses the object, but must carry on without it. And—get this!—he does an fantastic job.
Turns out, the object wasn't really the source of his power. No, he was. Now, we're not saying that Thor's hammer and girdle of might aren't magic. They are. It's just that, as the myth of Thor and the Jotun Geirrod proves, the thunder god doesn't need them to kick some giant butt. Here are some other stories in which the heroes learn that their power comes from within:
Okay, so Gilgamesh actually doesn't discover the power he's seeking—immortality—inside himself, but he does learn that it doesn't exist in an object. An immortal being has told Gilgamesh of a plant that will make him young again, and he finds it, only to quickly lose it to a serpent while he's bathing (and no, we're not sure why he couldn't wait until he got home to take a bath). He's pretty broken up about it. He cries—a lot. But when he gets back to Uruk, he sees the city walls and realizes that these walls—and fame—will live forever, or at least a lot longer than him.
The Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are all searching for things they think they lack. The Tin Man wants a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, and the Lion courage. They believe the Wizard of Oz can give them these qualities. When they find the Wizard, he turns out to be just an ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska. But he gives the three searchers physical representations of what they want, which cause them to believe they do possess these qualities after all. The 1939 film version of the story takes this idea even further, with the "wizard" actually telling the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion that they already possess the qualities they're looking for.
When Timothy Q. Mouse wakes up in a tree next to his elephant companion, he's convinced that the little guy used his enormous ears to fly there. But Dumbo doesn't believe that he can fly. With the help of a group of crows, Timothy convinces him that a "magic feather" (yup, that would be the feather this plot device is named after!) will enable him to fly. But as Dumbo is jumping from a high platform, the feather slips from his trunk, and he begins to fall. Luckily, Timothy (who's perched on his head) confesses that the feather isn't magic after all. Dumbo pulls out of the dive, flies, and becomes the star of the circus.