Some characters first appear with most or all of their identifying traits withheld from the other characters and the audience. They likely won't be greeted by other characters as friend/lover/family/colleague/boss. Their faces and forms are often hidden in shadow
or actual disguise
. Their very presence may go unnoticed by some or all of the other characters. Yet they keep appearing
: the author repeatedly mentions them in the text; the camera focuses on them and follows their actions
. The audience (and perhaps one or more of the characters) is wondering, "Who are you?" That's the point.
Withholding information in this fashion piques the audience's curiosity. Without it, the audience can't form solid expectations about the character. Part of the plot development may also be in doubt, or else solving the mystery of this character becomes the plot. Or one of several.
The audience and the other characters may be let in on the secret in tandem, or the audience may learn the truth first and the characters only find out later
. Then again, some secrets are never revealed
Mysterious Strangers can be a source of surprise for both other characters and the audience, often by displaying an unexpected talent
or triggering a plot twist
. They may be a source of information via an anonymous phone call or a written note
. They may even secretly provide the heroes with material resources
. They may come forward at a key moment
, throwing the villain off guard or giving the hero a much-needed respite.
The precise nature of their secret(s) will determine their role in the story. Subtropes to this include:
- Anonymous Benefactor - A person who provides a gift (often much needed and/or much-desired) to someone else while concealing their identity.
- The Drifter - A wandering stranger who enters a story by coming to a particular town in his travels.
- Enigmatic Minion - A non-Big Bad antagonist whose agenda and motivations are ambiguous, even to the point of assisting the heroes.
- Mysterious Backer - A powerful benefactor of the heroes who helps out for their own reasons, usually by providing information or material assistance.
- Mysterious Employer - A character who hides in the background and employs or somehow directs the heroes, villains or both.
- Mysterious Parent - A parent who abandons their kid(s) and whose absence is important to other events of the story.
- Mysterious Protector - A secretive figure who appears in a moment of need, aids the hero, and then vanishes again; the aid is often overt, such as repelling a physical attack or directly offering a word of advice or encouragement.
- Mysterious Waif - A child who has suffered hardship or loss or is otherwise rendered helpless. Often orphaned or otherwise cut off from family or some other caretaker.
- Mysterious Watcher - An unknown person seen watching the protagonists, usually from the background.
- Mysterious Woman - A woman, usually sexy or otherwise attractive, who knows more than she reveals.
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness - A group of people with hidden goals, generally depicted as powerful and all-knowing.
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- Van of GUN×SWORD, to the point that by the end of the series we still have no idea where he came from. He generally just walks into a town, solves their problem with his giant robot, and walks out.
- Vash the Stampede of Trigun is a bit darker version of this. No one knows who he is or where he comes from, and they are terrified of him—which is unfortunate, because he's really not a bad person.
- In Sailor Moon Tuxedo Mask appears, and leaves Usagi wondering about his identity, and whether he is friend or foe. He's a friend, and they fall in love.
- In Ayashi no Ceres Aya is rescued by a mysterious young man. He helps her out several more times as she is running from the Yagami family, and then, they fall in love.
- Xellos from Slayers Next onwards kind of falls into this. We know he's a monster/demon, but he seems to be an ally to Lina rather than acting against them. He has a happy-go-lucky attitude with Eyes Always Shut. But if he ever opens his eyes...
- The original Scarlet Spider was revealed this way with Ben Reilly gradually on his way to meet Spider-Man during the lead-up to The Clone Saga. Strangely enough, since the promotion for this event was so massive, fans knew exactly who he was even though the issues leading up to The Reveal tried to play it off like a surprise.
- Mr. A. H from The Night Circus. We learn almost nothing about him other than 1) He wears grey suits and, 2) He's eerily good at avoiding death and making it look coincidental. Even Widget's interview of him at the end reveals very little about his history, though much more about his philosophy.
- Marco names himself "Alister" after his instructor, though it's implied the gray suit has many names.
- The aptly-named character Anonemuss in The Avatar Chronicles. All we know for sure about him is that he was exiled for having committed some unknown act of violence (which on New Earth can be as minor as slapping someone), and that he has an "ends justify the means" mentality. His real identity isn't known, and even his game avatar, which is all we see of him, is mysterious (in Epic, it's a dark elf, which is a strange choice since his character wouldn't be allowed in the game's cities). By the end of the trilogy, the other characters, and the reader, trust him, but we still have no idea who he is or what his motivations are.
- Strider first appears in The Fellowship of the Ring as a grungy, creepy, weatherbeaten stranger, cloaked with his face hidden, watching the hobbits from a shadowy corner. It's ambiguous whose side he's on or what he wants, the innkeeper doesn't trust him at all, and it rapidly becomes alarming how much he knows about Frodo's secret business. Frodo can only trust him on a leap of faith. He becomes a main character of the Fellowship, an invaluable ally.
- Mr. Rabbit in Rainbows End. He's hired by the international team attempting to track down the "You Gotta Believe Me" virus, but it's clear from the beginning that he has an agenda of his own. After he makes contact with Robert Gu, Robert actually begins referring to him as Mysterious Stranger.
Live Action TV
- Midway through the first season of Once Upon a Time, a stranger rides into town on a motorcycle. For several episodes we know next to nothing about him, not even his name. He eventually identifies himself as August Booth, and for some reason he knows about the Fairy Tale world. Turns out he's actually from it. He's really Pinocchio.
- Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for the first series or so at least, mysteriously follows her and advises her. It's several episodes before she even finds out he's a vampire. Later on, he occasionally fights against her, too.
- The perk "Mysterious Stranger" in the Fallout series causes a gun-toting Badass (named simply Mysterious Stranger) to appear at random and lend you aid.
- Miss Fortune also counts, although she's pretty much just a female NPC version of Mysterious Stranger with different effects.
- The Master of Whispers in Guild Wars. Is first introduced talking to some other conspirators only, with lots of information kept secret. After a few missions, you find out much more about him.
- In StarCraft: Brood War Samir Duran at first presents himself as a Terran rebelling against the Terran Domion and allies himself with UED. Later on he is shown to working with Kerrigan and the Protoss. The character has fueled many rumors.
- The man in black from the "I Know You" questline in Red Dead Redemption. He knows about things he couldn't possibly have been there to see, some of his dialogue implies that he may be God, Satan, or possibly The Grim Reaper, and your last meeting with him takes place on the hill where John and Abigail are later buried.
- Referenced in Knights of the Old Republic when Ajuur the Hutt makes this your professional name in the duel arena on Taris. The announcer describes you as having no past and no name. Foreshadowing much?