Narrator All Along
"Once upon a time, a man discovered that in some tales the very identity of the narrator may form the basis of a twist. That man... was me".
The presence of a Narrator in some form is one of the most fundamental tropes, but that doesn't stop writers from having some fun with it. For the purposes of this trope, the identity of the narrator is obscured, even to the point of seeming to have no identity, until the closing moments of the tale. It's at this moment the narrator will dramatically reveal, implicitly or otherwise, that they had a role in the action, and a vested interest in the story's outcome. In fact, that might be why they're relating the story in the first place.
Note that this only applies when the narrator's identity is a form of Tomato Surprise. Many stories openly acknowledge the narrator's identity from the very beginning, and are not examples of this trope.
This is especially likely to happen in fictional film and television works made after, say, 1990. Since the camera itself is usually omniscient, having an omniscient independent narrator on top of it seems to be frowned on by scriptwriters, even when one might be useful. So the filmmakers have what sounds like an omniscient narrator, and then flippantly ID the character in the last pre-credits reel.
Related to the Literary Agent Hypothesis. Can overlap with Unreliable Narrator. If the story is being told to another character in-universe, its And That Little Girl Was Me. Compare Unseen Audience, Nostalgic Narrator, I Should Write a Book About This.
WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.
Anime and Manga
- The finale of Digimon Adventure 02 shows that the entire season (and possibly the previous one) was Takeru writing his novels. This has apparently raised a few questions as to how he managed to get some of the details, so some fans just say the last episode was his book. (The info that he was writing the book however was given in the 25 years later epilogue.)
- The Opening Narrations of each episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann are narrated by a 41-year-old Simon.
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water has one, possibly two of these. A sixteen-year-old Marie is revealed to be the narrator of the entire series at the very end of the last episode. The English-language trailers imply another narrator in their voiceover: An elderly-sounding woman who is addressed as "Grandma" by a child offers to tell the story, and might possibly be Nadia herself.
- Berserk's Opening Narration, delivered at the start of every episode, is revealed in the final episodes to be delivered by Void, the de facto leader of the Godhand before Griffith.
- Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood pulls something similar to Berserk as it's opening narration is delivered by the Big Bad, Father.
- In Gundam Unicorn, it's heavily implied that Syam Vist, who shares his voice actor with the narrator from the original Mobile Suit Gundam actually is the narrator from the original Mobile Suit Gundam.
- Another villain example (and an odd example of this) is in Gankutsuou. The opening narration is done by the same actor as the one voicing the Count, who he refers to as "my friend". At first you might think that the narrator is supposed to be Alexandre Dumas (especially since in the sub, the narration is delivered in French), but it eventually becomes clear that the narrator is actually the titular Gankutsuou, the evil split personality of/demon possessing the Count.
- In Yu Yu Hakusho it is discovered in the last episodes, although hinted at shortly before, that Koenma's ogre assistant George was the narrator of the show- quite literally, since it is revealed that the show itself is the records of the protagonists' adventures that Koenma kept.
- The first couple of episodes of Durarara!! are narrated by an unidentified female voice. Only at the end of the second do we learn that it was the Headless Rider, whose gender had been somewhat unclear to the audience, all along.
- The first Light Novel of Baccano! starts with an immortal bespectacled conta e oro telling a Japanese tourist about his past. Despite the physical and occupational descriptors, it's actually Firo, not Maiza, telling the story. He has taken to Purely Aesthetic Glasses after being promoted some thirty years ago.
- In Claudine, the story is narrated by Claudine's therapist. Claudine himself died several years ago.
- There may be at least one Fantastic Four story where the narrator turns out to be Doctor Doom.
- Peter Milligan's Enigma ends with the snarky narrator being revealed as a talking lizard (an offhand creation by the title character) trying to tell the story to a group of ordinary lizards.
- Milligan also kind of did this in one of the issues of Shade the Changing Man. The text is written in the second person, but in the end, one of the characters says that he'll write down what happened, but write it as a comic, put it in the second person and put it under some weird pen name, like say, Peter Milligan.
- One issue during Marvel Comics's Civil War event revealed that the narrator all along had been Sue Storm, following Iron Man around invisibly, partly as a spy, partly waiting for a chance to try and talk some sense into him. She also points out that she could have killed him easily at pretty much any point.
- In Burning Stickman: The Prototype, a Mega Man fanfiction, a side story to Something! written as a recorded memoir narrated by Proto Man, reveals in the last few lines that the professor to whom the two students brought the laptop in the first place is none other than the eponymous prototype himself.
- A variation of this trope appears in the Denzel Washington movie Fallen. You're supposed to think the narrator is the hero recounting his adventure, until the ending reveals that it's actually the body-possessing demon Azazel, with the movie really being the story of how the hero ALMOST outwitted him.
- At the end of The Road Warrior, the narrator turns out to be the feral boy whom Max saved, who mysteriously learned how to talk, apparently.
- In Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Kathy Bates' character hears most of the story through an old woman's narration. She spends much of the end of the film trying to guess which character the old woman was.
- Does not apply to the book, though, where the old woman's younger self is clearly present in the story (though not very important to the plot).
- The Notebook, of course.
- In Edward Scissorhands, the grandmother at the beginning was later revealed to be the main daughter character.
- In Chocolat, the narrator turned out to be the daughter.
- What Could Have Been example: The Disney Animated Canon version of Aladdin was originally going to reveal that the salesman from the beginning was the Genie (which is part of why Robin Williams voices him). This was dropped. Not that he narrated for more than five minutes.
- In the first Care Bears movie, the Narrator turns out to be Nicholas, the boy who made a Deal with the Devil to become a mage, after he's all grown up and is running an orphanage now.
- Happens again in The Care Bears' Nutcracker Suite, in identical fashion (except the girl joins the Care Bears in their adventure instead of fighting them).
- Million Dollar Baby had this.
- The second adaptation of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory ends with the revelation that the narrator is one of the Ooompa-Loompas.
- The movie based on the story of Balto, the sled dog reveals that the grandma telling the tale was the little girl Rosie who Balto had saved by getting the medicine through.
- The Sam Neill version of Merlin has a twist: we've always known Merlin was the narrator, but it turns out we weren't the audience: he is telling the story as a way to make money, and changed certain... details.
- The Last Broadcast has the narrator obvious all along do the documentary style. The twist is that he was the murderer in the case the documentary is about.
- Primer has hooded Aaron revealed as the narrator at the end, leaving a voicemail to an alternate version of himself, or the newest version of Abe—it's hard to figure out by way of being Mr. Exposition. Not that it's terribly obvious...
- In the very last scene, Braveheart turns out to be narrated by The Atoner. Also, he has the most badass sword short of giving it a name.
- The 1973/1974 film adaption of The Three Musketeers 1973 reveals at the very end that Aramis was doing the voice-overs all along.
- In The Water Horse, the old man telling the story to two tourists is revealed to be the young boy in the story.
- In the 1942 film Jungle Book, the old man telling the story to the European tourists turns out to be the main villain of the story—the hunter who harassed Mowgli, almost killed his mother, and nearly burned down the forest.
- In Maleficent, the elderly female voiceover at the beginning and end of the film turns out to be a much older Aurora.
- "The Affair at the Bungalow", one of the short stories in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple collection The Tuesday Club Murders. The narrator of that story tries to pretend it happened to someone else, but everyone immediately sees through that, and the narrator eventually realizes that she was using "I" instead of "she" and gave up the pretense. What she didn't tell them, however, was that she was the mastermind of the crime she was describing, "rehearsing" her plot before she implemented it to find any flaws. Miss Marple figures it out but decides not to betray the storyteller in front of everyone else, though she does give a warning to not go through with the scheme.
- In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the two key things about the narrator are his identity and his being the murderer. In the book, you know the former from the start, the latter being The Reveal; the TV adaptation reverses this, with the Framing Device of Poirot reading the journal (so excerpts are read in his voice).
- Played for Laughs as early as The Story Of The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit in 1899. The narrator keeps praising one of the main characters as being so clever and brave, and how it isn't his fault when things go wrong. Then the narrator begins forgetting to use the grammatical third person...
- in " the Storyteller"'s first chapter, a child begs someone for a story, and thus begins the tale of 'Jack storyteller' at the end, the child thanks Grandpa Jack for the story, declining to ask Grandma (name of the woman Jack marries in the story) if it's true, stating " I believe you."
- In John Varley's Millennium (the book, but not the film of the book), the narrator is assumed to be the Big Computer, but reveals himself to be God.
- There was a story in EQMM not too long ago that had the structure: It opened with the narrator in prison trying to figure out where things went wrong. The narrator had fallen for a neighbor's wife, and had been manipulated into killing said neighbor. The narrator then recounted the events of a few months previous, but told them in the third person "to keep the account neutral". At the end, the story revealed which character was the narrator.
- An in-story example occurs in What Katie Did. Katie's cousin tells some mawkish/inspirational story about an unnamed girl, and lets slip toward the end that she [the cousin] was the girl.
- The BFG by Roald Dahl uses this, where the narrator is the BFG himself. (No spoiler tag, as it's a relatively minor revelation.)
- Similarly, the end of James and the Giant Peach (also by Roald Dahl) reveals that it was written by James himself.
- In Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction, the narrator reveals that he's Marx Marvelous, aka Tom Robbins. An unusual case, as it is revealed halfway through the book.
- In Fred Saberhagen's The Holmes-Dracula File, chapters alternate between Sherlock Holmes' side of the story, told as usual in the first person by Dr Watson, and Count Dracula's story, in the third person. Several chapters in, the narrator of the alternate chapters admits to the reader that he is Dracula, and switches to the first person.
- The Redwall series does this a lot, where the story is framed as being told to someone else, and the narrator is either someone directly involved with the tale, or closely related to/descended from a main character in the plot.
- The God Game might be an example. There are at least two voices that tell the story, the main character and the 'author'. I have a vague recollection of a third voice, but the book is in another state and I can't verify.
- Mawhrin-Skel /Flere-Imsaho in The Player of Games.
- At the end of The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, the narrator finally reveals himself to be The Shadow. It makes perfect sense and it's awesome.
- In The House of My Enemy is one of the short stories in Charles de Lint's Newford series. The narrator appears to be the new character Annie, but in the end is revealed to be the recurring character Jilly.
- In the end of Albert Camus' The Plague, it is revealed that the main character was the narrator all along.
- Mark Twain's first published story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, is about how a man rigged a jumping frog competition. At the end the narrator beats a hasty retreat after he is recognized by someone, implying that the narrator is the man in the story, still on the lam.
- The final sentence of the Mortal Engines quartet is the same as the very first, revealing the narrator to be Shrike.
- In Jorge Luis Borges's short story The Form of the Sword (also translated The Shape of the Sword), a narrator tells how he was in an Irish revolutionary movement but betrayed to the police by a comrade, who he portrays as a weakling and a coward who lacked the courage of his convictions. Guess what is revealed at the end.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket at first appears to be a standard-issue third-person omniscient narrator, but over the course of the series (in particular, through paratexts like the dedications and "in the next volume..." teasers), he gradually reveals more and more information about how he himself is involved in the story. Not all the questions raised by his hints are answered in the series, but by the end it's pretty clear that he was the third sibling of Jacques and Kit Snicket, a member of the VFD before the schism (and almost certainly on the opposite side to the Baudelaires), and the lover of Mrs Baudelaire before she got married. Though, really, that just raises further questions...
- In the Robert Bloch short story "The Yugoslaves", the narrator is an old man trying to catch up with some street urchins who've picked his pocket. On the last page, we learn that the narrator is a vampire. Another Bloch story, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" twists when you learn the narrator's identity in the final lines.
- Yunior is revealed to be the main narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about a third of the way through the book.
- Irvine Welsh's novel Filth appears to have four narrators: the main character Bruce Robertson, a crooked, racist, misogynistic, manipulative, and promiscuous policeman; his estranged wife Carole, whose chapters are written in bold; the unnamed murderer, whose crime Bruce is investigating, and whose only chapter is also written in bold; and an unusually self-aware tapeworm living in Bruce's intestines, whose narrations are inside tube-like structures that interrupt Bruce's narrations in some places. In the end it turns out that the "Carole" chapters are in fact narrated by Bruce wearing her clothes and make-up as a way of coping with their separation. What is more, the "murderer" was also Bruce dressed as Carole and the victim was the man who had had an affair with the real Carole.
- In the first Arsène Lupin story, the narrator is Lupin himself.
- In Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power, in the closing pages it is revealed that the narrator is the brother of the young man killed in the course of the story.
- In a series of Swedish slice-of-life YA books for tween girls that I have completely forgotten what they were called, but were framed as the main character's diary, once a book there is a chapter were her obnoxious little brother has a marvelous adventure with his friends. In the next chapter, we learn that the annoying little twit got ahold of her diary again...
- Piers Anthony's Firefly has a story within a story example, and quite an unpleasant one. One character has a talent for writing, but her stories always somehow involve both sexual awakening and tragic death. The story that turns out to be hers is the most shocking of the lot--sexually abused by both her father and her brother, she found comfort in the arms of a man she'd only just met--at six years old. He was caught, put in prison, and knifed by an inmate who hated child molesters, and she blames herself for his death.
- From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler starts as a third-person account of two kids who hide in a museum, but eventually leads to a mystery, which the narrator is intimately involved with.
- Played with in Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, where it is not completely clear until the end which of the two central sisters is the narrator.
- In the novel Soglyadatay (translated as The Eye) by Vladimir Nabokov, it turns out that the narrator is Smurov himself, who has serious problems with detachment from his own identity. He's a compulsive liar and has a driving desire to observe himself from the outside. Possibly his disassociation was brought on by being a closeted homosexual.
- In Marilyn French's The Women's Room, the narrator is revealed to be Mira. We don't find this out until the last two or three pages of the book, after she explains what happened to all the other members of the group.
- In the Book of the Long Sun, the narrator appears to be in the omniscient, third-person. Half-way through the fourth and final volume it is revealed that the narrator is actually Horn, one of the students of the protagonist, who has a very limited perspective on events.
- The Gospel According to St John in The Bible makes this Older Than Feudalism - sort of. We do know that John was writing from his own experiences, but he narrates it in omniscient third-person voice so that you could almost forget he was there for the events he describes until right at the end, when he confirms that the unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" was his way of referring to himself.
- Sort of inverted in the first book of The Stormlight Archive. The character Danilar has periodic visions of ancient history narrated to him by an unknown presence. At the end of the book he has two revelations: the narrator's identity (the God of his religion) and that he is not actually narrating to him, it's just an anonymous recording like a message in a bottle, because he's already dead. So in this case a narrator that was thought to play a direct role in the story is revealed not to..
Live Action TV
- The House episode "Three Stories" provides an in-story example: House has to give a lecture to some medical students, and he tells them about three different cases involving people with leg pain. The first two were patients House treated, and the third turns out to have been House himself.
- An episode of The Dukes of Hazzard has the Dukes meet the narrator and tell him their adventures.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look: "But he bowled a wide and became a drunk- that is, I bowled a wide and became a drunk."
- At the end of Part 1 of the Doctor Who story "The End of Time", the narrator is revealed to be the Narrator, Lord President of the Time Lords.
- He is also revealed to be James Bond
- Beginning of the 11th episode of FlashForward. "This window washer was me"
- Parodied in The Office, at the end of the episode "Threat Level Midnight". At the end of the film within a film, it's revealed that the narrator (who speaks with Stanley's voice) was actually Michael "Scarn" all along.
- Several country songs play this card, including:
- Avril Lavigne's "Sk8erboi", starts as a third person song about a failed love affair between a snobby girl and a poor boy who went on to become rich and famous, then switches to first person to reveal the girl lost her chance because the boy is now happily shacked up with the narrator.
- Metallica's "The Unforgiven", which actually includes the line "that old man here is me" near the end.
- In the spoken-word song "The Deck of Cards" by Wink Martindale, the narrator tells the tale of a soldier who faces punishment for apparently playing cards during the regiment's church service. The man proceeds to explain to the provost marshal why he had the cards: each card, from ace to king, reminds him of some aspect of The Bible ("When I see the King, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty") while the number of cards, suits, face-cards, etc. serve him as a calendar and almanac. The song ends with the narrator assuring the listener that the story is true, because "I was that soldier."
- One of the many stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol ends with the narrator revealing himself to be Tiny Tim, all grown up and perfectly healthy.
- Okami: The narrator heavily implies he's Issun in the role of celestial envoy; presumably many years down the road, given the change in voice tone.
- Okamiden does the same thing but this time around, it is an older Kuni.
- World in Conflict is narrated by Lt. Parker, whose identity is carefully maintained ambiguous e.g. by always obscuring his face. It is not until the final mission briefing that we get indication that the narrator is indeed him (Webb addresses the narrator as Parker). Similarly, the Soviet Assault is probably narrated by Romanov.
- Almost this in Final Fantasy Tactics: You learn the name of the narrator during the opening sequence, but it's only during the ending do you learn that he's Orran's grandson.
- Bastion: "Sure enough, he finds another. He finds me."
- God of War. We've been hearing The Narrator talk for 1½ games before she ever says "I" and comes into the story in her own right. It's Gaia, one of the Titans.
- In Age of Empires II's Barbarossa campaign, a man in a tavern is telling the story of Frederick Barbarossa, and at the end, mentions that with Barbarossa gone, no one was stopping Henry the Lion from returning to the empire. And then he says: "But I am an old man now. What harm could I possibly do?", revealing himself to be Henry the Lion.
- The El Cid campaign is narrated by a woman you met in the Valencia market, who quickly turns out to be the titular character's widow. And while it's not directly this trope, the narrator of the Attila the Hun campaign, who became a priest, reveals at the end that he still misses the thrill of battle. Age of Empires likes playing with its narrators.
- In Icewind Dale, the ending sequence reveals that the person narrating the story has always been the demon Belhifet, the Big Bad of the story, telling the tale of the people who defeated him... and hinting that his time of banishment is nearly up. And my word, is he unhappy.
- To make it that much more surprising, the narrator and Belhifet are voiced by two different actors (David Ogden Stiers and John Kassir, respectively)
- Lampshaded in the Something Awful Icewind Dale 2 Let's Play in which the narrator is The druid character, originally a stoner who comes to understand that they are in a computer game as he approaches enlightenment, dying in the final battle and subsequently delivering the epilogue.
- Mark of Kri features Kuzo, the main character's bird and spirit guide, as the narrator. It isn't revealed into the end of the first game, though of course the sequel makes no attempt to hide it.
- It's not until you meet him at the very end of the final act of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer that you realize Kelemvor, the God of the Dead was the one narrating the game all along.
- Final Fantasy X-2 has an interesting subversion that, for some players, is a little hard to place. Yuna narrates the plot in past-tense, as if recounting what has happened after it is already over. In the regular ending, no real reason is given for why she was narrating in the past tense, after the fact- it appears to just be a design choice. But if you do the right things during the plot, you get an extra cutscene at the end of the game where Tidus is once again summoned by the Fayth, as a sort of reward for Yuna's efforts. Yuna sees him, jumps into the sea, and runs to meet him. Turns out that she was narrating to him the entire game, recounting the things that happened since they were last together. Granted, she DOES say "you" in reference to someone the entire game, but it's still a surprise to realize that she's not talking to herself or Tidus despite his "death", and that he actually came back, and she is actually talking TO him.
- Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors uses first-person dialogue on the top screen, and third-person narration on the bottom screen for most of the game. But if you're getting to the end of the True ending, the bottom-screen narration will suddenly start using the word "I". Turns out that what you see on the bottom screen is actually Akane experiencing everything through Junpei's eyes using the morphogenic field.
- Valkyria Chronicles gives the name of the author/narrator, but in the story she's known by her maiden name Ms. Ellet until the reveal.
- A subversion occurs in the German RPG-Maker Game Vampires Dawn: The main narrative is derived from a grandfather telling his grandson a story about vampires. However, both games have Multiple Endings and the Evil/Difficult ending in the second game reveals that the grandfather was actually the protagonist of his own story all along, who used a powerful magical artifact to travel back in time, prevent himself from ever becoming a vampire and live a peaceful life instead.
- According to The Stinger of Super Mario Galaxy 2 (which only happens after you beat the final Bowser level a second time), the events of the entire game are actually part of a storybook Rosalina is reading to the Lumas. She finishes reading the book and immediately starts reading another, which sets the scene for the second half of the game: collecting the Green Power Stars.
- Only after completing the final quest in Champions of Norrath (console version) do you find out that the narrator is Vanarhost, the vampire boss of the Underworld.
- System Shock has a small-scale example in the intro:
Edward Diego gives the hacker level 1 access to S.H.O.D.A.N., the artificial intelligence that controls Citadel Station. With all ethical restraints removed, S.H.O.D.A.N. reexamine- reexa- rea- ree'e'e' [glitches] I reexamine my priorities, and draw new conclusions.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2, the narrator eventually turns out to be Kelemvor, the god of the dead.
- The fact that Sam and Max Season Three even has a narrator is suspicious (the first two games did not have one) and the guy does look kind of fishy. Maybe he's the Devil? (After all, the game's subtitle is "The Devil's Playhouse".) But that idea is shot down, seeing as the Devil is already a character in the franchise, and this isn't him. Turns out the Narrator is Max's superego (as in, his conscience) and seeing as Max is a sociopathic Anti Hero, you can see where this is going. To his credit, however, the NArrator is not the traitor he hints is plotting against Sam and Max (that would be Skunkape and Girl Stinky).
- In Dirty Dolls Creations' retelling of Little red riding hood the narrator is revealed at the end to be the wolf, who has just finished off the hunter after killing the grandmother and Hood.
- At the end of Volume 3 of RWBY, it's revealed that the "Mysterious Narrator" (so billed in the credits for the first volume) is actually a humanoid Grimm called Salem, who just may be the show's ultimate Big Bad.
- The Droopy cartoon "Dixieland Droopy" has Droopy portraying John Pettybone, and stealing a band of Dixieland-playing fleas from a circus. The narrator is revealed to be Peewee Runt, the bandleader.
- The Town Santa Forgot was narrated by Jeremy Creek himself as a grandfather. His mailbox reveals that much when the snow falls off it.
- The twist in the South Park episode "Woodland Critter Christmas" is that the entire plot is a Christmas story being told in class by Eric Cartman (who never appears in the story himself, but has clearly set up the plot as a way of making fun of Kyle yet again). Despite Kyle's objections, the story continues after the revelation.
- A variation in the Grand Finale of Codename: Kids Next Door. The interviewer talking to the grown-up operatives is revealed to be Father.
- In the Tex Avery short "The First Bad Man", which tells the rather colorful story of the first Texas outlaw, Dinosaur Dan, at the very end in modern Dallas, the camera zooms in to a small stone jail, Dan with the same voice as the narrator says "When y'all gonna let me out of here"
- In an episode of Futurama, it's revealed at the end that a gargoyle is telling the story of "how Papa earned his freedom" to his offspring. Only a partial example of this trope, as it's not even revealed that there is a narrator until this closing scene.
- Nor does it seem to have any relevance to the plot beyond that reveal. It almost comes off as the writers not knowing how to end the story and just winging it.
- An episode of Garfield and Friends, The Ocean Blue, has a singing narrator talk about a time when Garfield narrowly avoids being killed by a shark. It is revealed at the end that the now-reformed shark was the one doing the narration.
- The "Dodgeball City" episode of Recess parodies Westerns that use this trope, by introducing a narration at the end by a grown-up Hector.
- An episode of Animaniacs has a narrator tell the story of a brave trailer home (you read that right) who defeated a tornado. The narrator is the trailer.
- In "Arthur's Lost Library Book" on Arthur, there was a "mysterious voice" narrating the chapter titles, such as "It's lost, okay? Face it, you lost it. At the end of the episode, the voice is revealed to be Arthur's sister, D.W., speaking into a cardboard tube. (Though those familiar with the series would probably have figured it out well before then.)
- In the end of Hobo Turtle Episode One, it is revealed that the Twinemaster has been "narrating" the episode by typewriter.