Magic Satchel

the luggage

bigger on the inside

Magic satchel is a term often used in reference to role-playing video games. It refers to the use of a character’s inventory in the game, which can often contain more items (or items of too large a size) than is physically possible for the character to carry without any visible means to hold or transport them. The concept is so common in fantasy fiction that it is parodied by the character The Luggage in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, a semi-sentient, bottomless treasure chest that follows its owner around.

The term ‘hammerspace’ describes the seemingly invisible place from which fictional characters, such as cartoon characters, pull out very large objects, such as mallets. Technically the term hammerspace is not used to refer to a magic satchel itself, but rather the area or pocket of space that a magic satchel occupies; a magic satchel is like a door to hammerspace. The ‘bag of holding’ is a similar concept in the role-playing game ‘Dungeons & Dragons.’ A real-world example is the clown car which often is used in the circus, in which numerous clowns clamber out of a tiny automobile.

The concept of a magic satchel was alluded to many years before role-playing or computer and video games. For instance, in the medieval Welsh epic ‘Y Mabinogi,’ Pwyll (a hero of Welsh mythology) is given a magic satchel by the goddess Rhiannon; this satchel can never be filled except by a man putting his body into it. This trick is used to save Rhiannon from an unwanted Otherworld suitor. Greek mythological hero Perseus is given a magic satchel from the goddess Athena, in which he keeps the head of the slain Medusa, among other items.

Typically, a magic satchel can carry almost any number of different items or money. Many computer games have either a limit of 255 units, 65,535 units, or 4,294,967,295 units, the maximum values for an unsigned integer represented by one byte, two bytes, or four bytes, respectively. In many games, none of the objects in the satchel have any weight: One can carry an armory’s worth of swords, several dozen suits of armor, scores of healing items, a small fortune in the local currency, and even a vehicle without any strain. The PC game ‘Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge’ makes a joke about this phenomenon.

This rule is not universal: a few games enforce weight or size restrictions, and many have items that require a certain minimum level of strength, though this is typically the amount of strength required to wield the item rather than that required to carry it alone. In some games, a character’s inventory is limited, and the weight of a character’s inventory imposes limitations, such as how far they can run before needing to rest.

In the comic strip ‘Peanuts,’ the doghouse owned by the Beagle, Snoopy, is described as being much larger on the inside (where it has a pool table and cedar closet) than it appears on the outside (where it looks like a small doghouse).

A running gag in the Marx Brothers films was for Harpo Marx’s character to be carrying any given item at any given time, and to produce it at will. In the 1932 film ‘Horse Feathers,’ for example, he produces a candle burning at both ends, as well as a cup of hot coffee for a passing bum, and in ‘Duck Soup,’ he manages to pull out a functioning blowtorch from his pocket. This gag precedes the creation of the term hammerspace.

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