"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."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. Often used to underscore the importance of Sacred Hospitality, as in the Trope Naming page quote. Sub-Trope of Secret Identity. Super Trope to God Was My Copilot and Louis Cypher. Compare Damsel Errant, King Incognito, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Old Beggar Test. Contrast with I Am Who? if the angel is unaware that they are an angel. See also God Was My Copilot, where the supernatural aspect is revealed after a long period of appearing normal.
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Anime and 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.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- In a somewhat... different example of this trope, Rei Ayanami 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.
- In the Director's Cut version of Episode 24, Kaworu Nagisa spills the beans more explicitly. He states that Rei Ayanami is the same as him, and that they have "both taken the forms of the Lilin (humans) on this planet". Kaworu is revealed to be the 17th Angel, and the SEELE monoliths state that he is the vessel of the soul of Adam, the first Angel. Misato in End of Evangelion finds out that human life comes from an Angel called Lilith, just like Adam. Putting two and two together, Rei, the only one of her series of clones to have a soul, was an Angel with Lilith's soul.
- Black Butler: Angela Blanc turns out to be this. So is Ash Landers. They are also both very evil and perverse.
- Chrono Crusade: Ewan Remington eventually confesses he's one of these. In the English dub, he doesn't outright say it, but hints are still there.
- The "dangerous lady" in the film version of A Prairie Home Companion.
- In Love Actually, Rowan Atkinson's character is an 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 novelisation of the film he is said to have two scars on his back where wings may have once been. Furthermore, Dracula repeatedly refers to him as "Gabriel" and "The Left Hand of God".
- The hospitaller in Kingdom of Heaven is implied to be this in the extended cut. 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 a 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 character is also a mouthpiece for a more modern and tolerant depiction of Christianity than the bloodthirsty bigots that make up most of the cast, including much that would have been considered hugely heretical at the time.
- 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.
- In Almost An Angel, former bank robber Terry Dean is convinced that he's died and been sent back to earth as an angel. Most of the other characters think he's just a eccentric, but accept him since he's a pretty nice guy despite the crazy. The last few minutes of the movie reveal that, indeed, he's an angel for real.
- 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.
- John Coffey in The Green Mile may or may not be an angel (if he isn't Christ).
- Constantine provides some backstory about the rules of the cold war between Heaven and Hell. Neither side is able to set foot in the real world, but "half breeds" on either side can. They don't do much directly, instead influencing mortals to act on their behalf. With a whispered word they could give someone endless Heroic Resolve, or drive them straight over the Despair Event Horizon. The Stinger implies that Chaz was one all along.
- The DTV movies "Call Me Mrs. Miracle" and "Mrs. Miracle In Manhattan" don't say it, but the sweet old lady who fixes people's problems with common sense and sensitivity and just a tiny bit of magic is called Mrs. Miracle, and at the end of both movies she walks into the distance, fades, and we look up and see a star twinkle in the sky.
- Lani, from What Happened to Lani Garver is a Magical Queer come to help the protagonist sort out her life, and may or may not actually be an angel.
- The Lord of the Rings The Wizards 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. In fact, according to the appendices and various posthumously-published writings of Tolkien's, the Wizards are Maiar (angelic beings of the same order as Sauron) sent from the West to help defend the people of Middle-earth against their fallen brother.
- Gandalf in particular liked taking on this role even before he came to Middle-earth: the Silmarillion recounts that when he lived in Valinor he often took on the form of an Elf in order to walk among the Elves incognito, helping and inspiring them without revealing his true nature.
- In The Dresden Files, a literal angel in human form (specifically, the Archangel Uriel) makes a brief appearance as Jake the janitor.
- And that literal angel's own words imply that Mouse is also this trope, albeit in dogasaurus-form rather than human and an Asian version, namely a foo dog.
- Apparently, Halloween was an attempt to prevent mortals dying during a particularly powerful time of the year magically, when immortals come to feed. But, if everyone is wearing a mask, there's a strong possibility that you're about to try and eat someone your own psychic size. Hilarious!
- 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.
- Valentine Michael 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.)
- In Heinlein's Magic, Inc. it gradually becomes clearer and clearer that the witch in the story is no mere witch but the Earth Mother/Gaia herself.
- Reorx often walks Krynn disguised as a rather fashionable dwarf named Dugan Redhammer, often revealing himself at the end of the story.
- There is a short story by Isaac Asimov, where 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 the 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.
- This is the theme in Leo Tolstoy's short story "Where Love is, There God is Also." Martin, a poor cobbler who lost his son years ago, has a vision one day that he would be visited by Jesus Christ in course of the day. In the course of that day, he is visited by a number of people in unfortunate circumstances whom he treats kindly. At the end of the day, he realizes that he has been visited by Jesus after all.
- Edwin Markham's "How the Great Guest Came," similar to the Tolstoy story, is about a cobbler named Conrad who dreams that Jesus is going to visit him. After performing several kind acts, at the end of the day he asks in disappointment why Jesus never showed up.
"Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!"
- Nathan Ausubel's A Treasury of Jewish Folklore includes an anecdote about Rabbi Meier Primishlaner. According to the rabbi, one day he shooed a ragged-looking traveler out of the local synagogue, only to be told by his father later on that he'd turned away the prophet Elijah.
- In Thick as Thieves, multiple people help Kamet avoid capture in suspiciously specific ways. Given the gods' interest in the affairs of the peninsular countries in previous books, its very likely they're still pulling strings.
- The Archangel Gabriel in The Twilight Zone (1959) (as a mysterious stranger...who plays the trumpet).
- Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003):
- It's implied that the hallucinatory guides of multiple characters are something like this. They are visible to whoever they want and corporeal whenever they want. 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.
- Starbuck turned out to be a corporeal version.
- 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."
- Anna spent some time in mental institutions as a schizophrenic patient. She fell to become human, was born as a baby and grew up, then regained her own grace.
- Archangel Gabriel, who had been hiding as The Trickster since seasons prior. He has been hiding on Earth for millennia 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.
- 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.
- Season 11 reveals that yes, Chuck is God.
- An episode in season 7 reveals an amnesiac Castiel.
- 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 and protector of the other cops stumbling across him in cop purgatory. He fully and knowingly takes up the mantle by series' end.
- 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 Messengers: Vera, Erin, Joshua, Peter and Raul. They themselves don't know this at first.
- Night and Day: In one week of episodes, time itself stops dead, and a mysterious man called Gabriel (played by Clarke Peters of The Wire) questions Thornton Street’s residents about Jane’s disappearance, before reporting back to Jane herself in the graveyard about what he’s learned. The characters have no memory of this when time resumes; but later, two of the characters see a grave with Gabriel’s name on it and think it seems familiar.
- 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.
- The music video for ''Within Temptations's song "Utopia" follows an old man in a suit wandering through a city. As he walks, he encounters prostitution, drug trade, theft and other crimes, but is only a passive witness. Near the end, he stands next to a mother and her child next to a busy street, when the kid drops and then stoops down to pick up a toy. The man grabs him and pulls him up just in time to keep him from being killed by a speeding truck and instantly disappears thereafter.
- In the music video for "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy, a robed and hooded man secretly hands four Roman prisoners each a piece of leather, bits of string, or a small stone, respectively. Forced into public gladiator combat, the prisoners assemble the pieces into a sling, which they use to kill a raging barbarian fighting them. The end of the music video has the man cast off his robe to reveal a pair of angelic wings.
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. Some examples from Old Norse literature:
- In Völsunga saga, Odin in disguise visits Sigurd repeatedly to give him valuable advice.
- In Hrolf Kraki's Saga, a magically skilled, one-eyed Swedish farmer called Hrani gives advice to Hrolf Kraki and his champions that helps them overcome their opponent King Adils. On their way home, Hrani wants to present them weapons, yet they decline. Only afterwards it dawns on them that Hrani was Odin.
- In Classical Mythology, Baucis and Philemon (as told in The Metamorphoses) 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 throwaway 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).
- 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 protect his divine guests when his neighbors want to rape them. Lot refuses to let the mob do so and sends out his own daughters instead, but the mob is relentless. (Genesis 19:1-11) Lot offering his daughters in exchange isn't seen all that favorably by many people.
- Lot is mentioned as living "near the gates" signifying that he was a well known figure in the city, in all likelihood he knew that the people would refuse his daughters.
- See also the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, which involved Tobit's son traveling around with Raphael, one of the archangels. 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's 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.
- Jacob/Israel had a wrestling match with an angel.
- And in the New Testament we have the two men discussing Jesus's death and rumors of his resurrection while walking to Emmaus. A third man joins them and explains the whole deal...guess who he was?
- Jesus himself used a figurative version of this as An Aesop once: On Judgement Day, he separates the "sheep" (those to be saved) and the "goats" (those to be destroyed). He tells the sheep that they're being saved because they fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, sheltered him when he was homeless, visited him in prison, etc. The sheep, confused, say they never remember doing any of this, and he explains that they did these things for the least of his followers - and as far as he's concerned, that's just as good as doing it for him. The goats get just the opposite; seeing his followers in the same desperate situations and ignoring them is considered just as bad as ignoring Jesus himself in that situation.
- 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, he became Sandalphon, an angel associated with prayer and children.
- In Hawaiian Mythology, Pele tests people on their Sacred Hospitality using this method. She frequently will appear as a hitchhiker on the side of the road (either as an old woman in a white dress or a younger woman in a red dress, and sometimes accompanied by a small dog). If the traveler picks her up, they often will be rewarded somehow...but if they don't, they run into some type of misfortune. She also is said in some stories to go to people's houses disguised as an old woman seeking food or lodging.
- The "Three Nephites" of Mormon religion are this in practice, if not technically.
- Specifically, they are said to be three apostles who were promised by Christ that they'd be allowed to live and remain on earth until the Second Coming. This means you could, at any point, run into any or all of these immortal apostles, without knowing who they are.
- In some variants of the legend of St. George and the Dragon, George kills the dragon after his martyrdom, having been sent back from Heaven for this purpose. In a Muslim interpretation of the same legend, the knight who called himself George was actually Al-Khidr, an angelic immortal who travels the world in disguise and aids good people in need.
- 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.
- The case for a lot of PCs, for that matter.
- In Warhammer 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. Specifically when he's recruting his sons the Primarch's.
- In Dungeons & 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 heavily 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.
- At the end of The Granstream Saga, Arcia turns out to have been a celestial being all along. 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.
- The World Ends with You:
- Joshua 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" in which 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.
John: Damn you!The Strange Man: Yes, many have.
- 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.
- Undead Nightmare has a Hispanic woman who appears as a background extra in many of the game's cutscenes. Since attention is never drawn to her most players don't even notice, or if they do, they chalk it up to a reused model. At the end of the game, however, it's revealed that this woman is actually Ayauhtéotl, an Aztec goddess who has been quietly guiding John towards the source of the undead plague: An ancient mask stolen from it's crypt by Abraham Reyes.
- The Interactive Fiction game Vespers begins with the Biblical quote, and begins as the characters, Medieval monks, grant a place to stay to an almost-dead, beautiful girl that arrives at their gates. It's a subversion: she's a demon.
- It is very heavily implied (though not quite confirmed) that the gravedigger in God of War is Zeus or one of the others gods in disguise.
- The Mysterious Stranger and Miss Fortune in the Fallout series are often interpreted as such.
- An in-universe example occurs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Right up until the moment they absorbed Mirmulnir's soul and gained the ability to use the Thu'um, the Dragonborn spent most of their life believing themselves to be (and actually being) merely a normal person. Even afterwards, they are as much in the dark about their true nature as everyone else until the Greybeards explain it to them.
- A sidequest has you go drinking with a random guy you meet in a pub... and then wake up on the other side of the map and spend several further sidequests finding out what happened on your epic bender with what turns out to be the Daedric Prince of revelry and debauchery.
- 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.
- SCP Foundation:
- Dr. Clef is heavily implied, but never confirmed, to be Satan. Word of God is that he is, but not in the way you think. What exactly this means is unclear.
- SCP-343 claims that he's God, but it's unknown if he really is or if he's just a powerful Reality Warper with a God complex.
- Dr. Clef's SCP-001 is all but outright stated to be the angel tasked with guarding the Garden of Eden.
- A few of the stories on Not Always Hopeless have this as a possible explanation.
- Subverted in the Adventure Time episode "Freak City". Finn secretly hopes a beggar is a disguised wizard or elf, and gives him food. The beggar reveals himself as "Magic Man" and rewards Finn with "a mystical magical favor" — turning him into a giant foot.
- In The Forgotten Toys the old, homeless man Teddy and Annie meet is heavily implied to be Santa Claus.
- The Simpsons plays with this with social worker Gabriel, who Homer is convinced is actually a messenger of a higher power.
- The animated version of Madeline's Christmas features a kindly old woman named Marie who is strongly implied to be an angel. She replaces the stranger, less Christmassy character of the Middle Eastern rug merchant/magician in the original book.
- Moral Orel: In one episode, Orel gets a dog named Bartholomew who is heavily implied to be the Second Coming of Jesus.