A character or entity that is implied to be, but never explicitly described or defined as, an angelic being or divine messenger. Sometimes revealed as such in the end of the story, but not always, leaving open the question of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. All in all, a good reason to be nice to your guests, and Beware the Nice Ones. If the characters Gave Up Too Soon, only the audience will know.
See also God Was My Co-Pilot, where the supernatural aspect is revealed after a long period of appearing normal.
Anime / Manga
- The Big O. Subverted in that while she's called Angel and even has two scars on her back where there were once wings, she's not exactly an angel.
- El Cazador de la Bruja. In the middle of Mexico/South of Mexico, there is an inn run by an old man; he stops the villains chasing the heroines for a day or two so that they can have some character development. This includes a Tyke Bomb and witch with magic powers, who he stops simply by looking at them. Apparently is really the Hopi Fertility Deity Kokopelli. He takes the form of a white author who died 3 years prior to the plot.
- In a somewhat... different example of this trope, Rei Ayanami of Neon Genesis Evangelion is implied - but never outright stated - to be a somewhat different breed of "Angel". And while you are chewing on that and that infamous ending and movie sequel, somehow Anno manages to sneak in a little piece of information that everybody is an angel, since humanity descended from the second angel, Lilith, just like all the other angels descend from Adam.
- The "dangerous lady" in the film version of A Prairie Home Companion.
- In Love Actually, Rowan Atkinson's character is a angel, though it was more explicit in the original script. The only thing that was altered in his 'storyline' is a shot of him fading away as he walks off at the end.
- In Van Helsing the title character is implied to be one of these. He is in the service of God, is apparently immortal (he remembers fighting Romans at Masada, and was Dracula's murderer hundreds of years prior to the movie), and in the novelization he is said to have two scars on his back where wings may have been. Furthermore, Dracula refers to him as "Gabriel."
- The hospitaller in Kingdom of Heaven is implied to be this; according to the DVD Commentary, he may even be God himself. There are a number of hints throughout the movie, such a bush catching on fire just as he appears, and telling Balian that if God has purpose for him, he will keep him safe—right after which Balian is the only one to survive a shipwreck. It's never explicitly stated, and the filmmakers even kept it secret from the actor who portrayed him, although they admit he probably figured it out anyway.
- The Man In White in Pirates of the Great Salt Lake. He's assumed to be a Magical Native American, at least until Fridge Brilliance sets in.
- Almost An Angel: Terry Dean is either this or merely a misguided human being deceived by his own beliefs.
- Mary Poppins: She's seen putting her makeup on while sitting waist-deep in a cloudbank, for heaven's sake.
- The titular character in The Legend of Bagger Vance is subtly hinted to be one of these. The most overt example is when he says there's a storm coming on a perfectly clear day, which later develops a storm that prevents the hero from running out of town.
- Pale Rider: The "Preacher" rides out of the mountains on a pale horse as Megan prays for help against Lahood's men, and there are heavy implications that he is a dead gunfighter sent back to Earth.
- Lani, from What Happened to Lani Garver is a Magical Queer come to help the protagonist sort out her life, and who may or may not actually be an angel.
- The wizards in The Lord of the Rings fit this trope. They appear to be Men, but have magical powers and are very, very old and mysterious. Pippin at one point wonders just what Gandalf is, but gets distracted. Digging through the appendices and the Silmarillion, the dedicated reader can find that the five "Wizards" (the Istari) are a group of Maiar sent to help the peoples of Middle-earth - essentially angels of the same order as Sauron. Two are never named: the other three are Gandalf, Radagast, and Saruman.
- And of course, Tolkien directly compared them to angels in his letters.
- The unnamed ones are named in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth: Alatar and Pallando (or Morinehtar and Romest, as in the History of Middle Earth?), the Blue Wizards that disappeared into the east of Middle-earth to combat Sauron by encouraging uprising and rebellion against him.
- In The Dresden Files, a literal angel in human form (specifically, the Archangel Uriel) makes a brief appearance.
- And that literal angel's own words imply that Mouse is also this trope, albeit in dogasaurus-form rather than human.
- The eponymous Skellig is definitely some sort of Winged Humanoid, but what exactly he is is ambiguous.
- Mr. Jingles from The Green Mile. The narrator doesn't think so, but there's definitely room for doubt.
- The Raven's Knot by Robin Jarvis has a man who believed himself to have been saved by angels in WWII, but realizes eventually that he is one, trapped in human form since he descended. Oh, and angels look like giant two-headed dragons that breathe holy light.
- Michael Valentine Smith from Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is strongly implied to be The Archangel Michael of the Bible. (It's never quite stated outright, but the particular way in which we never see both at the same time—with the angel Michael being mysteriously absent from what we see of Heaven for most of the book—strongly suggests the connection. Or else a suspiciously plot-convenient coincidence, of course.)
- Reorx often walks Krynn disguised as a rather fashionable dwarf named Dugan Redhammer, often revealing himself at the end of the story.
- In the short story "The Last Trump" by Isaac Asimov, a character is revealed to be the Devil in the end - and it is unclear whether he is aware of that.
- Inverted in John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos: the protagonist is this to a minor character who gives her a lift. She and her friends later repay the favor by curing his Driven to Madness relative.
- Implied with Scylla from The Darksword Trilogy. She says she's a secret agent, but always flashes her ID card too fast for anyone to see exactly which agency she's an agent of. Later, it is said that the only ones who can use Time magic, as Scylla has done in the story, are Agents of God. (Or the Almin, as the series' God is known).
- Inverted in the most disturbing way in Cthulhu Mythos. A recurring character, Nyarlathotep, often appears as a likeable (if somewhat... off) stranger to the main characters. The problem is that Nyarlathotep is an Eldritch Abomination (more powerful than Cthulhu, at that), and his hobby is "screwing with people's lives".
- All through Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, A Bettik, the last surviving android in the galaxy is ordered about by every human in the series. It's only at the end of the final book that he is revealed to be an observer created by the entities who had been driving events from their home in hyperspace.
- Occurs in one of the stories in the children's book The Ten Tales Of Shellover - an old man finds a starving cat in the snow and takes her in. She eats all his bread, milk and meat, and makes him use up all his logs, but he doesn't throw her out. In the end, she leaves, and his milk, bread, meat and logs never run out from that day forth. Interestingly, he may suspect that she isn't an ordinary cat when she asks him why he doesn't drive her away and leaves no footprints.
Live Action Television
- Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.
- Battlestar Galactica implies that hallucinations by multiple characters may actually be something like this. Starbuck turned out to be a corporeal version.
- Well, they all seem to be visible to whoever they want and corporeal whenever they want. Remember the Virtual Six that picked Baltar up from the floor. In the end, as Virtual Six and Virtual Baltar talk, Six says they work for God and Baltar says the entity they work for does not care for that name. Which basically means it's either the/a god with a sense of humor, or a sufficiently advanced alien being/machine/whatever that some of these "virtual beings" deify.
- The show Touched By an Angel centered around this trope, taking the point of view of the angels who are Walking the Earth helping people. The finale, however, cranks it Up to Eleven when it's revealed that Monica has been helping Jesus unawares.
- Highway to Heaven uses the same premise, only it's one male angel (played by Michael Landon) instead of two female angels. He's been sent to Earth to do enough good to "earn his wings"
- Supernatural: Archangel Gabriel, who had been hiding as The Trickster since seasons prior. (Bonus Almighty Janitor since that was the cover the Winchesters first encountered him under.) He has been hiding on Earth for millenia and done such a good job of it that other magical beings and even non-Christian gods do not realize that he is an angel and not one of them. Also the season 5 finale: Chuck finishes writing his story and vanishes with a knowing smile on his face. Debate is raging in the fandom about whether this means the writer was literally God.
- Castiel (pictured above) and Anna also fit this trope; their human vessels spent some time in mental institutions as schizophrenic patients.
- Canon has not declared Castiel's vessel Jimmy to have been institutionalized, merely to have been taking medication, which is implied to be for a mental disorder; though a coming episode in season 7 seems to be heading in that direction for an amnesiac Castiel. As stated below, Jimmy's wife did insist he "take his pills" just before he gave himself to Castiel.
- Considering Anna a vessel is debatable as she fell to become human, was born as a baby and grew up, then regained her own grace.
- Any interactions Cas had with humans not involved in the Apocalypse while he was on Earth counts for them. That hooker, for example.
- That only applies to Anna. Castiel's vessel (Jimmy) was an ordinary guy. Though, admittedly, when Castiel started talking to him (which only he could hear) his wife did think he was losing it.
- Castiel (pictured above) and Anna also fit this trope; their human vessels spent some time in mental institutions as schizophrenic patients.
- The homeless girl in the episode "So-Called Angels" of My So-Called Life. Probably.
- In the finale of Ashes to Ashes, Gene Hunt is revealed as a deceased human who, although having no conscious knowledge of it, has acted as a guide to the other cops stumbling across him in cop purgatory.
- There's a recurring homeless woman who might be this in Sons of Anarchy if she's not just crazy.
- Bones had an episode where Brennan talks, late at night while alone in the lab, with a janitor named Micah. Considering that this character never appeared on the show before or after, no one seemed to see him except Brennan, and the name does refer to a Biblical prophet, there was some speculation about him.
- The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster's song "I Could be an Angle" is based on the misspelled sign of a beggar who was trying to invoke this trope.
- This idea is the main theme of Michael W. Smith's "Angels Unaware," undoubtedly inspired by the Trope Namer:
Maybe there is more than meets the eye
Who's that stranger there beside you?
Don't be smug and don't be cruel
Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware.
Mythology and Religion
- In Norse Mythology, Odin was known to wander around as an old traveler. He tended to wear a blue cloak and a hat that was pulled down to hide his missing eye. This avatar, Grimnir, is often considered to be the origin of the classic image of the wizard.
- In Greek Mythology, Baucis and Philemon received with glad hospitality two weary travellers whom their neighbors had driven off. Since these were Zeus and Hermes, their neighbors' village got transformed into a lake, and them into fish, while Baucis and Philemon received their wish: that they should die at the same moment so neither of them had to live widowed. And their bodies were transformed into two trees with entwined branches.
- You must appreciate exactly how often this sort of thing happens in Greek and Roman tradition. Even the fact that Evander treated Heracles nicely as a stranger was treated as a throw away line in the Aeneid.
- The Bible quote above refers to the hospitality that Abraham offered angels, making this Older Than Feudalism. (Genesis 18:2-16). Unfortunately this is kind of a Broken Aesop - you're told to make your house open to all, but only because of the possible promise of a great reward later.
- According to the Book of Acts, Paul and Silas were taken to be Zeus and Hermes in disguise during their travels. Denying it got them in a LOT of trouble.
- In the story of Lot, two angels visit the city of Sodom and are put up for the night by Lot and his family, who protects his divine guests when his neighbors want to rape them in a mob. Lot refuses to let the mob do so, even offering his own daughters instead, but the mob refuses. (Gen. 19:1-11) Lot offering his daughters in exchange isn't seen all that favourably by many people.
- When he first appears, the Archangel Raphael is disguised as Azarias, the son of the great Ananias, and is seen traveling with Tobias. After traveling a bit, Raphael proceeds to show him how to drive off the demon Asmodeus, who had killed the seven men Tobias' bride Sarah had married before, after which he(Raphael) bound the demon. He also showed Tobias’ how to cure his father’s(Tobit’s) blindness, before revealing himself as the Archangel. It's a cool story.
- Jacob/Israel had a wrestling match with an angel.
- See also the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, which involved him traveling around with Raphael, one of the archangels.
- And in the New Testament we have the two men discussing Jesus' death and rumors of his resurrection while walking to Emmaus. A third man joins them and explains the whole deal...guess who he was?
- Jewish tradition has the prophet Elijah loving to pull this one, going in disguise as a beggar or traveler of some sort. Treat him nice and you'll be rewarded umpteen times over. The Aesop of all the stories is basically "be nice to strangers and help those in need". Good Aesop.
- Jewish tradition also has that Elijah was human back in Biblical days, but according to legend, he never died and ascended to heaven while still alive. To this day, it is believed he turns up on Earth sometimes to deliver unexpected help.
- According to some traditions, be became Sandalphon, an angel associated with prayer and children.
- The Qashmallim, from Promethean: The Created roleplaying game line. Interesting in that these entities, while unquestionably powerful and apparently representatives of a higher power, might not be actual angels as such. Their presentation, however, is very much angelic (often in the more inhuman "wheels with wings and eyes" vein).
- The case for most background NPCs in In Nomine.
- In Warhammer Fantasy Battle both the Brettonian Green Knight and Grombrindal, the White Dwarf could possibly be this; the Green Knight may be the founder of Brettonia, while there are a lot of theories on the White Dwarf, again including the possibility that he's the founder of the Dwarven nation.
- And in 40k, The God Emperor loved doing this to people.
- In Dungeons and Dragons the god Bahamut sometimes walks the material plane in the form of an elderly man who is accompanied by seven trained canaries.
- In some versions, these seven canaries are actually seven ancient gold dragons in disguise. Do not mess with this guy. Even if it looks like he's just been hit and is an easy target.
- In An Inspector Calls it is neavily implied that the inspector is not what he seems, although it is not explicit.
- In Sonic Unleashed, Sonic's amnesiac new friend Chip, is revealed to be Light Gaia, the opposite of the final boss.
- Arcia turns out to have been a celestial being all along at the end of Granstream Saga. Considering that this character is also one of the worst Purity Sues in video game history, this realization probably drove her past the point of likability for many players.
- Joshua in The World Ends With You displays an assortment of clearly divine powers before later being revealed as the Composer.
- And then, once you start getting the secret reports, you learn that Mr. H is literally an Angel. As well as Joshua's boss. Wings and everything, in the secret ending.
- Red Dead Redemption contains the Stranger side-missions "I Know You" where a well dressed stranger from John's past meets up with him three times in each of the game's main locations. (New Austin, Nuevo Paraíso, and West Elizabeth/)The final meeting is the most notable, as John, finally fed up with not getting any answers from this guy, shoots him three times as he's walking away. The bullets apparently pass right through the guy, but leave no evidence that they even touched him. When John looks away for a moment, he's gone.
- The man calls the last place that they meet "a fine spot." That same area is where John, his wife, and Uncle are eventually buried.
John: Damn you!
The Strange Man: Yes, many have.
- In No Rest for The Wicked, the innkeeper asks whether Perrault is the sort of fairy who goes about testing people and rewarding the kind and generous. Perrault thinks it makes it too easy, but assures him that a fairy would never tell in advance.