The Art of Secret-Keeping: Fictional Devices Used to Convey Information


Conveying secret information has been a problem as old as time. We’ve all heard of classic ways to hide messages, from writing in code to using invisible ink. However, with technological advancement, new ways of keeping secrets have emerged. Creative writers, in particular, have used fictional devices to solve this problem. In this article, we will explore the world of fictional devices in literature and film, uncovering their scientific plausibility, and ethical implications. You too can use this information to create your own secret-keeping device in fiction.

5 Secret Devices in Fictional Worlds: How Authors Use Them to Convey Information

The first notable fictional device has to be the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, which J.K. Rowling uses to convey character movements and secret passageways. The map is an enchanted piece of parchment that shows a detailed layout of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, including every secret passage and individual within the castle. To use the map, one has to say, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” and whisper what they want to see.

Another example is the One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, which is a powerful, corrupting device made to convey messages at the expense of the entire world’s security. The ring bearer has the power to control the entire world and can use it to hide messages or manipulate information. Similarly, The Game of Thrones’ Ravenry system uses specially-trained ravens to carry messages across the vast expanse of the Seven Kingdoms.

Harry Potter’s Daily Prophet’s issues are enchanted with portkeys to ensure that they reach the right reader. When readers touch a particular area of the page, they’re immediately transported to the newsroom, where they can read more articles. Additionally, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series use magical pens that translate ancient languages automatically.

Last but not least is the Mirror of Erised, also from Harry Potter, which Dumbledore explains, “shows us not what we look like, but the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts.” It essentially communicates feelings, dreams, and fears to anyone who knows how to read it.

The Science Behind Fictional Information-Conveying Devices

Some fictional devices, like the “neuralyzer” from Men In Black, have been acknowledged for their scientific plausibility. The neuralyzer is a neural neutralizer that creates a bright flash that deliberately overstimulates the brain’s memory-making process, causing retrograde amnesia. This concept correlates with the scientific theory of implanting false memories, which has taken root in popular culture.

While some fictional devices exist based on scientific explanations, others, like those in Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings, are pure imagination. Contrastingly, some of the imaginary devices fall to the extreme end of the absurdity spectrum, such as the TARDIS from Doctor Who, which is both an inter-dimensional spaceship and a time machine, powered by a black hole. While these are pure imagination, they still aid in telling compelling stories.

The History of Secret Devices Used in Spy Novels

Secret devices used in espionage and spy novels are not a new phenomenon. Neither are they confined to espionage literature only. In Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, the two female protagonists pass notes between each other by hiding them inside burqas.

Classic spy novels, such as Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, have made secret devices synonymous with the genre. Commonplace spy gadgets, such as wristwatches with recording capabilities or poison-tipped pens, were revolutionary at their time of inception, achieving cult-like status from fans.

The modern spy thriller genre takes innovation a notch higher, with newer gadgets like facial disguise kits or DNA-encoding pens taking precedence. Dark Matter, a novel by Blake Crouch, explores the possibility of quantum mechanics in secret-keeping, where the protagonist uses multiverse travel to hide himself and his family from the government.

Top 10 Fictional Devices for Sharing Secret Messages

For those looking to find inspiration to invent their fictional secret-keeping device, we’ve listed some of the top ten fictional devices for sharing secret messages.

  1. Enchanted parchments like the Marauder’s Map or Tom Riddle’s Diary in Harry Potter.
  2. The One Ring in Lord of The Rings
  3. Paired rings in the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke, which allow telepathic communication
  4. Magical tattoos from Cassandra Claire’s Shadowhunters series that convey messages via runes.
  5. Facial disguise kits seen in Mission Impossible
  6. Quantum travel, like that seen in Dark Matter
  7. Virtual communication systems, like that in Ready Player One or Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  8. Chemical and biological methods, as seen in Dan Brown’s novels
  9. Enchanted devices, such as the Ravenry system and games in A Song of Ice and Fire or The Hunger Games, respectively
  10. Music boxes and lockets in movies like Inception and Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively.

The Ethics of Fictional Devices for Conveying Secret Information

While fictional devices provide innovative and creative ways of keeping secrets, they raise ethical concerns. For instance, readers of George Orwell’s 1984 are familiar with surveillance technology, which is used to keep an eye on the population and control their thoughts and behavior.

On the other hand, some fictional devices can have positive implications. Policies such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) arise with questions around personal data, and fictional concepts can help the audience understand the implications of data privacy and surveillance.

Create Your Own Secret-Keeping Device in Fiction: A Beginner’s Guide

With all this knowledge, it’s time to channel emotions and creativity and create one’s fictional device. To do this, one must first know their objectives, like what message to convey and to whom. Next, determine the device’s range and what readers can do with it besides conveying information. Lastly, have fun, test different components and details, and create unique devices that work effectively towards conveying a fictional message.


Fictional devices play an essential role in creative writing and keeping readers engaged while conveying a message effectively. These devices have a rich history, have evolved over time, and are innovative in addressing contemporary issues. However, they raise ethical implications and questions about privacy, which must be explored. To conclude, the most critical lesson learned is the power of imagination and creativity in developing fictional secret-keeping devices.

One thought on “The Art of Secret-Keeping: Fictional Devices Used to Convey Information

  1. Interested in real raw intelligence or espionage, Churchill, Gordievsky, Monty, Ungentlemanly Warfare, John le Carré, the SAS and Philby’s interest therein? Do read the epic fact based spy thriller, Bill Fairclough’s Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone novel of six in TheBurlingtonFiles series. He was one of Pemberton’s People in MI6.

    Beyond Enkription is a fact based book which follows the real life of a real spy, Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington who worked for British Intelligence, the CIA et al. It’s the stuff memorable spy films are made of, raw, realistic yet punchy, pacy and provocative; a super read as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

    For the synopsis of Beyond Enkription see TheBurlingtonFiles website. This thriller is like nothing we have ever come across before. Indeed, we wonder what The Burlington Files would have been like if David Cornwell aka John le Carré had collaborated with Bill Fairclough. They did consider it and even though they didn’t collaborate, Beyond Enkription is still described as ”up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”.

    As for Bill Fairclough, he has even been described as a real life posh Harry Palmer; there are many intriguing bios of him on the web. As for Beyond Enkription, it’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti. To relish in this totally different non-fiction espionage thriller best do some research first. Try reading two brief news articles published on TheBurlingtonFiles website. One is about characters’ identities (September 2021) and the other about Pemberton’s People (October 2022). You’ll soon be immersed in a whole new world! As for TheBurlingtonFiles website, it is like a living espionage museum and as breathtaking as a compelling thriller in its own right.

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