Created By: Jonti on September 21, 2010 Last Edited By: Jonti on September 24, 2010
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The Mirror Shows Your True Self

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"It shows not what you are but what you were."

This is a trope for all the times that the viewer or characters see something different in a mirror. The two most common uses are Vampires and Mind Control. In the Vampire case the mirror is acting the same way for the viewer as for the characters. We're being shown that vampires don't case reflections. In Mind Control cases, we're being show what the characters are seeing that we aren't. The mirror show the Mind Controled person, while the camera show the person controlling the mind. The characters in the show will see the mirror image, i.e. the controlled person all the time.

Another common variation is for the mirror to show an aspect of a person's personality. The nasty, spiteful, cruel, but beautiful girl becomes a hag in the magic mirror.

See Also: Glamour Failure

Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falcor: So what? That won't be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!


Examples:

Film
  • In All of Me, Steve Martin's character sees Lily Tomlin's character, with whom he is Sharing A Body anytime he looks into a reflective surface.
  • Inception: Within a dream, Eames can copy other people's appearances, but always has his own reflection.
  • The NeverEnding Story. Played with, Bastian and Atreyu aren't the same person, but the do see each other in the magic mirror and Atreyu is in many ways Bastian's Avatar inside Fantasia.
    • Plus the whole magic mirror gate part, see the page quote.

TV
  • 30Rock had an HD camera in one episode which shows the real you. Liz Lemmon shows up as an old hag, Kenneth the page shows up as a muppet, and Jack Donaghy looked 20 years younger.
  • Quantum Leap No one sees Sam, they see who-ever he's leaped into.
  • Stargate Universe: Most common in the latest branch of the franchise, it's been used elsewhere. Ancient tech allows too people to switch minds. The controler is who we see. The controled person is visible to the other characters, and in mirrors, tv feeds, photographs etc.
  • Ultraviolet: The British Too Good to Last TV Show. Vampires have no reflection, and also no tv image or anything like that.
  • X Files: The episode "Dreamland" is a "Freaky Friday" Flip in which Mulder switches places with M.I.B. Morris Fletcher. As in the Quantum Leap example, the audience continues to see Mulder as Mulder, but his reflection reveals that everyone else sees him as Fletcher, and vice versa.

Western Animation
  • Aladdin, Al has to find a magic mirror in a room full of regular mirrors. He finds it when he notices that his reflection is wearing his "street rat" clothes instead of the princely robes he has on.
  • The Little Mermaid: Scuttle discovers that Vanessa, the woman Prince Eric is going to marry, is really Ursula when he sees her look into a mirror and the refection is Ursula's.

Literature
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Played with. The mirror of Erised shows the viewer's fondest desire and definately NOT anything subjectively true
  • Used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in at least two short stories, "Dr. Heidigger's Experiment" and "Feathertop."
  • This is Played With in Brothers in Arms: Miles is on a subway transport, and sees his reflection in the glass. He's currently wearing his mercenary uniform, but the Miles in the mirror has on his ImpSec uniform, reflecting his inner turmoil about his split personalities diverging. Turns out it wasn't Miles, it was his clone, and they were going to attempt a switch, they just had the wrong uniform. Miles passes it off as being a hallucination while on heavy medication.

Video Games
  • Dragon Quest/Warrior 3, to get Orochi to reveal it's true form, there's a magic mirror of some sort you need to use on it's disguised form.

Tabletop RPG
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Dragon Magazine #50 had the magical artifact Barlithian's Mirror. Anyone who looked into it saw their true self, regardless of any illusions, creature powers (such as a vampire's invisibility to mirrors) or shapechanged form. In addition, a lycanthrope would see its alter ego (e.g. a werewolf in wolf form would see a human and one in human form would see a wolf).
Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • July 18, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in at least two short stories, "Dr. Heidigger's Experiment" and "Feathertop."

    • In the former, a number of rejuvenated old people are seen in their wrinkly true selves in the mirror.
    • In the latter, a handsome young cavalier is seen in the mirror in his true form of a dilapidated scarecrow.
  • July 18, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • In All Of Me, Steve Martin's character sees Lily Tomlin's character, with whom he is Sharing A Body anytime he looks into a reflective surface.
  • July 18, 2010
    TJ
    Not to be confused with Tomato In The Mirror.
  • July 18, 2010
    SweetMadness
    I think there's a few examples of this on Glamour Failure. We can split this trope from that page if there's enough.

  • July 18, 2010
    JAF1970
    The Never Ending Story. Bastian = Atreyu
  • July 18, 2010
    3oct1111
    The Jersy
  • July 18, 2010
    neoYTPism
    "When will my reflection show who I am inside?"
    - Mulan, from... well, Mulan

    I'd recommend this for a page quote, despite that my reaction to it is typically something like "reflections don't work that way."
  • July 18, 2010
    DorianMode
    I think in Dragon Quest/Warrior 3, to get (I believe it was) Orochi to reveal it's true form, there's a magic mirror of some sort you need to use on it's disguised form.
  • July 19, 2010
    Quatic
    30Rock had an HD camera in one episode which shows the real you. Liz Lemmon shows up as an old hag, Kenneth the page shows up as a muppet, and Jack Donaghy looked 20 years younger.
  • July 19, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    • On an episode of Aladdin, Al has to find a magic mirror in a room full of regular mirrors. He finds it when he notices that his reflection is wearing his "street rat" clothes instead of the princely robes he has on.
    • The Little Mermaid: Scuttle discovers that Vanessa, the woman Prince Eric is going to marry, is really Ursula when he sees her look into a mirror and the refection is Ursula's.
  • July 19, 2010
    Warlock
    This is Played With in Brothers in Arms: Miles is on a subway transport, and sees his reflection in the glass. He's currently wearing his mercenary uniform, but the Miles in the mirror has on his ImpSec uniform, reflecting his inner turmoil about his split personalities diverging. Turns out it wasn't Miles, it was his clone, and they were going to attempt a switch, they just had the wrong uniform. Miles passes it off as being a hallucination while on heavy medication.
  • July 19, 2010
    Earnest
    "It shows not what you are but what you were."

    A possible page image, because inverting a trope is fun!
  • July 19, 2010
    Dcoetzee
    Personally I think Atreyu seeing Bastian in the mirror in The Neverending Story is not an example of this - it's clear in both the film and book that they are distinct characters and neither is the other's "true form". Rather this was an early example of Fantasia and the real world interacting.

    However, this is the explicitly stated purpose of the mirror - so explicit that it might make a good page quote:

    Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
    Falcor: So what? That won't be too hard for him.
    Engywook: Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!

  • July 20, 2010
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Dungeons And Dragons. Dragon Magazine #50 had the magical artifact Barlithian's Mirror. Anyone who looked into it saw their true self, regardless of any illusions, creature powers (such as a vampire's invisibility to mirrors) or shapechanged form. In addition, a lycanthrope would see its alter ego (e.g. a werewolf in wolf form would see a human and one in human form would see a wolf).
  • July 20, 2010
    JoeG
    In Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone, the mirror of Erised shows the viewer's fondest desire.
  • July 20, 2010
    randomsurfer
    The Quantum Leap example is actually an inversion, since his "true self" is Sam Beckett but the mirror shows the person he leaped into.
  • July 25, 2010
    Jonti
    Most examples I can think of show it that way around. The mirror shows the viewer what the characters are seeing. So the title's a little bit ambigeous, if anyone has a better title I'm open to suggestions.
  • July 25, 2010
    Starry-Eyed
    Inception: Within a dream, Eames can copy other people's appearances, but always has his own reflection.
  • July 25, 2010
    neoYTPism
    "When will my reflection show who I am inside?"

    How about this for a trope image? Granted, it's technically not quite an example, but it fits the concept well enough...
  • July 25, 2010
    Earnest
    You have to put a page break of four dashes ---- after the image to make the border go to the bottom.
  • July 25, 2010
    neoYTPism
    Got it, thanks.
  • July 25, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    There's also the funhouse mirror variation.

    • The Berenstain Bears has one where Sister Bear is very upset because she thinks she has big ears due to misunderstanding a neighbor's remark. Mother Bear takes her through a funhouse hall of mirrors to show how it all exaggerates. The last mirror shows Sister Bear with huge ears. But by that time, Sister Bear has grasped Mother Bear's lesson.

  • July 25, 2010
    the grene kni3t
    The X Files episode "Dreamland" is a Freaky Friday Flip in which Mulder switches places with MIB Morris Fletcher. As in the Quantum Leap example, the audience continues to see Mulder as Mulder, but his reflection reveals that everyone else sees him as Fletcher, and vice versa.
  • September 21, 2010
    Vree
    Compare The Shadow Knows. A subtrope of Glamour Failure. The lack of reflection, naturally, implies that you have no life that can be reflected.
  • September 21, 2010
    Generality
    The Mirror of Truth in Kings Quest VI, which the Beast keeps as a reminder of his former humanity. It can be used to make Death cry.
  • September 21, 2010
    chihuahua0
    • In ''Batman: The Animated Series, one of the villains, Baby Doll, sees in a maze of mirrors what she would look like if she looked like an adult.
  • September 21, 2010
    the grene kni3t
    In Duck Tales, the characters find the Fountain Of Youth, and discover that its waters don't actually make you younger--instead, they just show you a younger-looking reflection of yourself. Scrooge sees his glory days as a prospector, while Huey, Dewey and Louie see themselves as eggs.
  • September 21, 2010
    SKJAM
    • At least one Superman comic book had a mirror of truth in the Silver Age. In order to cover up the reveal of his Secret Identity, Supes had to put a fake inscription onto the mirror indicating it wasn't reliable.

    • The most recent plotline of Yet Another Fantasy Gaming Comic as of September 2010 has our heroine facing one of these...interestingly, her reflection changes each time she looks into it, as each inner part of her is "true."
  • September 22, 2010
    TBTabby
    Adding to King's Quest VI, you can also use the mirror of truth to reveal that Abdul Alhazred's bride is not Princess Cassima, but Shamir Shamazel in disguise.
  • September 22, 2010
    Arivne
    Film

    Also, Western Animation is an alt title for Animated Shows, so The Little Mermaid film example should be moved under Film.
  • September 22, 2010
    dotchan
    Does the whole "vampires not showing up in mirrors" thing count here?
  • September 24, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Yes, the Vampires thing counts. See the Ultraviolet example. Should the examples be broken into two sections? Mind control vs disuges? As suggested by the main post?
  • September 24, 2010
    Stratadrake
    Pretty sure the vampires/mirrors thing is already covered by Glamour Failure.
  • September 24, 2010
    SeanMurrayI
    Music
    • "Die Monster Die" by The Misfits. "There's a place where the mirrors don't lie, there's a place where the mirrors don't lie."
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