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Narrator
aka: The Narrator
"With speed and dexterity astonishing for a woman of her advancing years, Mother bastes the turkey, tosses the salad, and mashes the potatoes!"

"How d'you do and hello, I'll be running the show, I'm your host and emcee."
The Cat In The Hat, Seussical, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!'

"Describe Narrator here."

That's what the sign had said, anyway. And so, as if compelled to do so, Stanl- I mean the Troper sat down at his computer screen and began to type...

A character, sometimes part of the story proper and sometimes completely external to it, who acts either as the storyteller or as a framing device. A Narrator by definition breaks the Fourth Wall by addressing the audience to tell them the story. Sometimes, the Narrator is also responsible for presenting An Aesop to the audience at the end of the story (as in The Twilight Zone and its imitators).

To be a Narrator, the individual must directly relate to the story in some way, if only as the person telling it. For example, Alfred Hitchcock was not a Narrator for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, because his footage was independent of and had no bearing on the story or stories it appeared with. Rod Serling was a narrator, because he specifically introduced each story individually, often provided a lead-in to set them up, and provided a closing after the story footage ended; (okay, and in one episode he actually was assumed to be present in-universe, since an in-story character erased him from existence as a closing joke).

Sometimes the Narrator can also take on aspects of a Greek Chorus or be otherwise weird, but a pure Narrator does not offer their own opinion on the action; he just lays it out — and occasionally delivers a punchline or moral. A Narrator is one of the primary ways of providing Exposition.

One way of subverting this trope is to have one or more in-story characters able to hear the narrator (as in most instances, the characters do not hear the narrations), and refuse to do what the narrator describes. Another is to make the narrator a complete liar.

See Narrator Tropes for specific types of narrators.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Dragon Ball series. Recaps the previous episodes. And closes the final scene. On occasion, he narrates in the middle of episodes. The Funimation Texas dub narrators are infamous for gravely voiced, "Last time, on Dragon Ball Z!". The Japanese dub sounds like an elder man telling a story.
    • In the Japanese version, Joji Yanami is the narrator for all of the series. In the Funimation dub, Brice Armstrong narrates DB, Kyle Hebert does DBZ, Andy Chandler does DBGT and Doc Morgan does DBZ Kai.
  • Detective Manzou (a.k.a. "The Saw"), in Samurai Champloo. Oddly enough, his narration has a tendency to transcend time, as he has narrated about future events which he could not feasibly be alive long enough to be knowledgeable of, like Vincent van Gogh, modern Japan's feeling regarding same-sex relationships ("getting back to the Edo period"), the Zen movement in the 1960s, and the cross-cultural popularity of baseball in Japan and America.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi gives us Kyon, who gives us an on-the-fly narration in his head... perhaps. The title character sometimes responds to his narrations. It's never really made certain as to whether he's saying much of the narration out loud, or just to himself. Haruhi's own nature further confuses things.
    • In the original novels, what Kyon says out loud is often (but not always) typeset as narration, which intentionally confuses the reader as to when he is speaking and when he is thinking.
  • Digimon had an interesting variation on this: in the first two seasons, most episodes began with the previous one being recapped by a character and ended with narration by a generic narrator. However, the third season begins a new-year-is-new-universe format similar to Super Sentai, and from then on, episodes are narrated by one of the previous year's characters!
    • Of course, this is just for the dub...which is somewhat abandoned in Savers in favor of a next episode preview. One of the characters still recap the previous episode, but only when it's needed.
    • For Adventure and 02 the generic narrator (who does more of the narration in the original like the recaps, which makes more sense as sometimes the characters end up talking about things they can't possibly know about) is in the epilogue revealed to be Takeru (TK in the dub) who's become a novelist writing about their adventures in the digital world
  • The unnamed Narrator from Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo frequently acts as goofy and strange as the rest of the characters, such as when he decides to speak in a bad western accent for an entire episode or when he's forced by the producers to say everything in rhyme. Due to the No Fourth Wall nature of the show, both he and the characters sometimes get on each others' nerves.
  • Who could forget the narrator from Speed Racer? Unknown to Speed, Racer X is secretly his older brother, Rex, who ran away from home years ago!
  • Princess Tutu begins every show with a Narrator telling the audience a fairytale. Sometimes it's from the (fictional) fairytale that one of the characters is from, sometimes it concerns a character's backstory, and sometimes it's a story that's somehow related to the episode. Drosselmeyer also serves as an odd narrator in some scenes, appearing on-screen to question details about the characters and the scene, and to occasionally tell the characters (who can rarely hear him) what they should do. Considering he's actually writing the story, it makes sense for him to be the narrator.
  • Judging by sharing voice actors the narrator for the openings of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann may possibly be Simon at the age in the epilogue.
    • He is.
  • Alphonse Elric in the 2003 anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist. In Brotherhood, it's implied to be Father.
  • Kaiji has a particularly popular narrator, due to his overly serious tone and use of overblown metaphors to describe what's going on.
  • Shin Mazinger's Narrator may be THE MOST HOT BLOODED Narrator. EVER! Oh, and he's also a Large Ham as well.
  • The GaoGaiGar Narrator explains all the scientific Keys to Victory without really letting emotion into it. He doesn't need to - explaining how the Monster of the Week will be getting its ass(es) handed to it in through what is basically the Japanese version of Morgan Freeman is enough.
  • Ookami-san has Shirai Kuroko as a Lemony Narrator who also makes frequent observations about the main heroines' lack of endowments.
  • The narrator of Keroro Gunsou is a typical narrator, usually summing up the episode with a little piece of wisdom at the end of each segment. However, everyone is aware of his existence. He even appears on screen (wearing a mask) and is sometimes called upon by the characters. He's offered Natsumi fashion advice, tried to keep a stranded Keroro company, and even provided his voice for a fake invasion video.
    • He's only a typical narrator in the Japanese version. In the dub, he openly hates his job and tries to separate himself from the insanity. In one episode, he actually quit his job because the series recycled a plotline too many times, and a new British narrator replaces him until he comes back at the end. He also only does the show because he's deep in gambling debts, apparently.
  • Kimba the White Lion sometimes uses a narrator who would set up the premise of the episode or go over plot points that the audience may have missed from previous episodes.
  • One Piece uses one occasionally. Especially notable once in the Skypiea arc, where they each managed to individually go in entirely different directions than they were supposed to, he gave up on them.
  • Murasakiiro No Qualia has Hatou narrating every now and again, increasingly so after a certain point when she is the only person who can observe the story being told.
  • The narrator in Attack on Titan appears to be Armin, based on also being voiced by Marina Inoue. He primarily narrates the opening to an episode, recounting important past events or narrating important pieces of information.

    Comicbooks 
  • Kingdom Come has a dramatic subversion of this. Norman McKay has been chosen by the Spectre, embodiment of God's vengeance, to be the one who witnesses the downfall of the world. As they look, separate from reality but able to observe it, upon the members of the Justice League debating the ethics of what they've done, suddenly the Flash, who exists on all dimensional levels at once, turns around and plucks a very surprised Norman McKay out of the air.
  • Invincible usually doesn't use a narrator, but sometimes makes an exception. A perfect and funny example was when two characters were going to have sex, and the story jumped to another person, with a narrator explaining that they deserved a little bit of privacy.
  • The Sandman would occasionally make use of narration. Sometimes it would be by one of the series’ characters and other times it would be anonymous but fairly poetic.
  • One of Frank Miller’s signature tropes is his usually hard boiled style narration.
  • Nextwave has some fairly odd narration.
    • “Nextwave is in your room and touching you stuff”
  • For the Frankenstein segments of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers the narrator was also a Large Ham.
  • One of Stan Lee's key tropes, True Believers!
  • Virtually all of Kurt Busiek's stories use narration, sometimes by a character in the story and sometimes by an omniscient narrator.

    Film 
  • Parodied until the break of dawn by the George of the Jungle movie. The narrator not only narrates the action, he talks to the audience (at one point assuring them "Nobody dies in this movie... they just get really big boo-boos"), corrects the actors when they mishear his description and at one point gets into an argument with one of the Mooks over how he's describing him, even rewinding the movie just to give him a hard time.
    • The narrator was also parodied with in the old George of the Jungle cartoons, including one point where he made a character in the cartoon crash his plane into the top of the mountain with the warning, "Let that be a lesson to you: never monkey around with a narrator."
  • 300. At the end of the film, the Narrator turns out to have been relating the entire tale to his fellow Spartans.
  • The Adam Sandler flick Eight Crazy Nights had narration as well.
  • Little Children plays this oddly straight, with a narrator explicitly saying what the characters are thinking at a given moment. It's surprisingly effective, though frequent PBS viewers will be rather weirded out, as the narrator they use is Will Lyman, the voice of Frontline and many an episode of Nova.
    • And then for the football game near the end, it turns into an Affectionate Parody of NFL Films, with Lyman doing a great impression of the late John Facenda, who narrated just about everything they put out while he was alive.
  • Stranger Than Fiction is very meta about this: the narrator is an author writing about the main character. The character can hear the narrator, and most of the film is spent trying to find out who she is. They meet.
  • In the vein of that film is Click, in which the main character's life becomes a DVD of sorts. The narrator is James Earl Jones.
  • Pick a character played by Morgan Freeman. Any character played by Morgan Freeman.
  • The Wizard in Conan the Barbarian (1982) explains much of the story while it's happening on screen. Then again, it's Mako's voice, so it's not that bad.
  • A Christmas Story is narrated by the adult Ralphie.
  • The Neverending Story suddenly sprouts a narrator only at the very, very end. It would be all too easy to construct a lofty critical reason for this, such as, "It's to emphasize thematically that the real story is only beginning etc..." but in all likelihood it was just because of earlier scenes being cut or a sloppy mistake in the film's writing or editing.
  • (500) Days of Summer features a particularly citrusy one.
  • The Criminologist fulfills this role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
    • "I would like (You would, wouldn't you?), if I may (No, you may not), to take you on a strange journey (So strange they made a movie out of it!)."
  • The Hallelujah Trail: Veteran western character actor John Dehner provides an ongoing commentary on the supposed historical context surrounding events, sometimes including maps and arrows to help the viewer keep track of just where everyone is.
  • RocknRolla makes use of this by having the genre-savvy dragon Archy explain to the audience how his boss and London's underworld works.
  • It's entirely possible to just listen to Casino from another room and understand almost everything that's going on because of the detailed narration.
  • The first two movies of Lars von Trier's American trilogy, Dogville and Manderlay, feature John Hurt as the narrator.

    Literature 
  • Chaucer's narrator in the The Canterbury Tales.
  • Lemony Snicket, the narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events, is essentially omniscient, yet remains a distinct character. He never plays a direct role in the action, but is clearly intertwined with the events: his two siblings are major characters, his picture appears once, and he loved the protagonists' mother, before she married their father. He also appears, unidentified, in The Penultimate Peril, though the character in question is referred to in the third person.
  • To some extent, Mike Hanlon in Stephen King's It. Between every section of the book there is an interlude where Mike narrates the history of It in the form of a documentary journal.
  • Every adventure in the Hank the Cowdog series is told by Hank himself.
  • Professor Mmaa's Lecture is written down by an "impartial chronicler" who supposedly has witnessed all events first-hand, which doesn't explain how could he know the characters' private thoughts, or know what happened in places where the characters were explicitly alone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone.
  • Ron Howard's voiceovers in Arrested Development.
  • Richard Dean Anderson would sometimes serve as a narrator in MacGyver, either to reveal a chunk of backstory or to describe the principles of his Bamboo Technology.
  • Waylon Jennings as the Balladeer in The Dukes of Hazzard, though his narration was usually restricted to a Quip to Black along the lines of, "Them Duke boys are in a whole heap of trouble."
    • Or "In case you're wondering what's going on, So. Am. I."
  • Likewise George, of Dead Like Me, who narrates from a distance, sometimes showing omniscience and talking directly to the audience, and sometimes just within her head.
  • Classic example: The Untouchables was narrated by famous columnist/political commentator Walter Winchell. His distinctive, urgent, sharply voiced, melodramatic announcements became a television icon, selling corny set up lines similar to this: "As Al Capone and his henchmen talked of murder over steaks and bootleg champagne, Eliot NESS and his UNTOUCHABLES made plans to topple his empire of crime!"
  • Doctor Who episode "The End Of Time" has a character known as The Narrator, who even helpfully fills us in on the plot so far in the middle of the first half. He's also known as Lord President Rassilon, possibly using an alias.
  • Jim Dale in Pushing Daisies.
  • JD of Scrubs narrates his own life in his head, as well as the lives of nearly everyone he has regular contact with, so he is essentially the narrator of the show. Lucy Bennett takes over this role in the last season.
  • Future-Ted Mosby (from the year 2030) in How I Met Your Mother, like JD above, is practically omniscient from the viewers' perspective, so he qualifies as a narrator too.
  • Most Super Sentai series have a narrator to handle recaps of previous episodes and Opening Narration, but Dekaranger's deserves an honorable mention. Anything, from the mechanics of the Transformation Sequence to Jasmine's Psychic Powers and Sen's thinking pose would be explained every time. Up to and including The Movie and the Grand Finale. Most probably tuned him out around the middle of the series.
    • The most notable example for Dekarangers is probably the Judgment system. Every time the judgment system is activated, the narrator explains how it works, even in the finale and special movies.
  • Earl Hamner Jr. as the voice of the older John-Boy Walton in The Waltons.
  • Burn Notice has its main character, Michael, narrate a lot of the story. Most likely this was to allow him to explain the clever tricks he was doing without the need of a Watson hanging around all the time. It also serves as the gimmick of the show.
  • Main character Zack Morris did this at least once in every episode of Saved by the Bell.
  • William Conrad's omniscient narrator on The Fugitive.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine: The Narrator is the only voice on the show and provides all the voices for all the characters.
  • Mary Alice Young (an omnipresent dead character), on Desperate Housewives.
  • Stefan Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries. Although Elena is the central character and protagonist, Stefan is the one who is telling the story about Elena and the other characters through his eyes and his point of view. This was established in the series Pilot.
  • Lucas Scott of One Tree Hill. He would always begin and end each episode with a literary reference.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Peter Jones.
  • Several M*A*S*H episodes feature a character narrating a letter to someone back in the States.

    Music 

    Pinball 

    Radio 
  • Chris, of Adventures in Odyssey fame. In the early days of the show, she had a good deal more air-time and personality, and occasionally interacted with the characters as well as introducing the story and setting the scene. By now, though, she has spent the better part of the series briefly introducing the show, then showing up at the end to explicitly state the moral of the day and relevant Bible verses before moving on to the credits.
  • The gangster parody Dickie Dick Dickens has two narrators who tell the story in tandem, with the one often adding additional tidbits to the other's stated information. Occasionally they'll disagree with one another about what's relevant to the narrative, or contradict each other on minor details, but both tend to over-dramatize the events and nearly worship the titular character.
  • Garrison Keillor provides the narration for most of the segments on A Prairie Home Companion, including Guy Noir's Private Eye Monologue, and the show's signature "News from Lake Wobegon".

    Theatre 
  • The Narrator from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Though the play would be fine without her (with her lines distributed to the other characters), it seems that ALW wanted to have at least one woman in the show who actually had a part.
    • Except that the original narrator was actually portrayed by a man until it premiered on Broadway more than decade after Weber ALW and Tim Rice wrote it.
  • The Stage Manager of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, who routinely addresses the audience and offers commentary on the characters' actions.
  • The Narrator of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods becomes a more tangible character in the second act and gets sacrificed to the giant's wife.
  • The Narrator of Passing Strange, who is meant to be the grown-up version of the Youth the story revolves around, and who was originally played on Broadway by one of the show's co-writers, Stew.
  • The Cat in the Hat in Seussical
  • In One Slight Hitch, PB Coleman, Courtney's younger sister, serves as the narrator in the opening and closing scenes.

    Videogames 
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time put an interesting twist on this, that the Prince himself was the narrator, and at save points would say, "Would you like to take a break for now?" and if he got killed would say, "Wait, no, that's not how it happened..." In the end, It's revealed that he's telling the story to Farah, his love interest from the game, after undoing the game's events via time travel. Naturally, she doesn't believe a word of it. Later, in The Two Thrones, after having prevented any of the events of the first game by changing the flow of time in the second (bear with me here...), the game ends with the Prince, once more with Farah, beginning the same narration that opens The Sands of Time.
  • A very similar conceit is used in Sacrifice where the wizard Eldred is telling the story of why the world is ending to the seer Mithras.
  • Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant featured an active narrator describing the game world to the party, frequently offering a cynical view of what the party's uncovered.
  • Tidus is technically the narrator of the entirety of Final Fantasy X; the introduction actually takes place near the end of the game, and Tidus tells us "his story".
    • Yuna narrates the sequel.
  • Marquis Ondore narrates, via his memoirs, several key points in Final Fantasy XII.
  • Alazlam is technically the narrator of Final Fantasy Tactics. Though he doesn't get involved in the actual story scenes, his "Brave Story" menu allows you to replay any of them, and gives his description of what happens. Plus, he has the final words in the ending, not counting the last "bonus" scene. Daravon, who runs the Tutorial menu, appears sneakily in the game via the Mediator skill "Mimic Daravon" — which puts enemies to sleep!
    • It's also implied Alazlam Durai is getting this information from the "Durai Reports", written by his ancestor Olan Durai (who hangs around at the periphery of the plot through much of the game, only actually appearing in battle once)
  • In the 2004 version of The Bard's Tale, the events of the game are narrated by the man who's reading the tale (as voiced by the late Tony Jay). He and the eponymous Bard (as voiced by Cary Elwes) frequently bicker throughout the game, discussing issues like the morality of claiming items from chests for one's self, or the absurdity of finding money or sellable goods from killing various creatures.
  • The Framing Device of Dragon Age II features The Narrator, Varric Tethras, being interrogated by a person who is after the true story of Hawke, the Player Character and Varric's old friend/rival. Notably, every now and then Varric lapses into Tall Tales, making the interrogator interrupt him and demand to return back to the truth. How much more exaggeration Varric manages to sneak in without her noticing remains open.
  • Bastion has Rucks, an old man who narrates your adventures as you go through the game. The ending subverts this, as it turns out that Rucks's narration is him telling the story to Zia, and at the very end he doesn't know what the Kid will decide to do.
  • The Stanley Parable is narrated like a novel, and said narrator describes the actions and choices of the player before they even happen. If you don't do whatever it is he is narrating, he gets increasingly irate.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue had Donut narrate his play to explain how the Reds and Blues would up in the future. He calls his role as "a faceless voice used by poor writers".
  • RWBY: The pilot episode kicks off the story and the setting with a female narrator giving a brief overview of the history of humanity and the world, ending on a dark, bitter, pessimistic note that foreshadows a coming darkness. Her speech is concluded by a male narrator who strongly implies her bitterness is connected to a fall from grace and that the solution to the coming darkness can be found in a 'smaller, more honest soul'. The male narrator is quickly revealed to be Professor Ozpin; the female narrator takes much longer to be revealed.
  • Internet Example: the "Flash animation "It's Dr. Tran" (NSFW for language) has a a movie trailer narrator harass and fluster a small child.

    Webcomics 

    Web Originals 
  • A weird example is the Narrator from The Chimera Bazaar's spin-off Nightmare Abyss who is a main character.
  • In Welcome to Night Vale, public radio host Cecil is always the narrator (we rarely even hear other characters speak), often a bystander to events, and occasionally a protagonist in them. And hooboy is he Lemony at times, although he tries to maintain at least the pretence of journalistic distance.

    Western Animation 
  • The narrator in Rocky and Bullwinkle (as well as the two spin-off movies) was not only a narrator but often a character. The cast frequently spoke to him, the characters talked about him, and at one point the villains robbed him.
    • And, in The Movie, being reduced to moving in with his mother and narrating his own life when the show was cancelled, as shown above.
  • The narrator of Powerpuff Girls, starting out every episode with, "The City of Townsville:" and ending every episode with a variation of, "So, once again, the day is saved, thanks to the Powerpuff Girls!" In the Freaky Friday episode, the Narrator ended up sounding like Bubbles at the end.
  • The Storyteller in Dave the Barbarian.
  • In the South Park episode "Woodland Crittr Christmas"
  • Parodied in one episode of The Fairly Oddparents. Timmy wishes for Super Friends, to replace his old boring friends. He then begins to hear a voice over about his new buddies. Wanda promptly explains the Narrator comes with the Super Friends package.
  • Sponge Bob Squarepants has a French-accented narrator inspired by Jacques Cousteau, who seems to be "studying" SpongeBob and friends. He rarely interacts with the characters, save for one memorable moment where, as he was narrating, SpongeBob ran over him.
    • The Fish TV Announcer (Who looks like an actual fish) is mentionable.
  • The narrator of Sheep in the Big City has so little fourth wall that he regularly appears on-camera in a recording studio. He interacts with the characters so often it's more noteworthy when they can't seem to hear him, has been fired, physically attacked...the list goes on.
  • The narrator for the British cartoon Danger Mouse tended to break the fourth wall; sometimes complaining about the direction of the story or making atrocious puns (only to receive a phone call from the show's producers, telling him to cut it out). In "Once Upon A Timeslip" he developed reality warping powers: "It is now 12:15 as they..." (The landscape transforms into medieval England) "Look, I said 12:15 I didn't mean 1215 AD." The remainder of the episode became a Robin Hood parody. Another typical narration line from one episode:
    "Meanwhile... Look, is that all I have to say in this bit, 'meanwhile'? Well, I was on my tea break..."
  • A Family Guy cutaway shows Peter narrating his own life, aloud:
    Peter: I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table. I looked with a grimace at the questionable meal Lois had placed in front of me. Of course I would never tell her how disgusted I was with her cooking, but somehow I think she knew. Lois had always been full of energy and life, but lately I had begun to grow more aware of her aging: the bright exuberant eyes that I had fallen in love with were now beginning to grow dull and listless with the long fatigue of a weary life. (Lois knocks him out) I awoke several hours later in a daze.
  • In WordGirl, other than opening and closing each episode, the disembodied narrator oftentimes interacts with the titular hero to help her and sometimes the villains, also.
  • Kuzco in The Emperor's New Groove. Eventually, the onscreen Kuzco tells him to shut up.
  • Huey Freeman in The Boondocks. Mainly in the first season, though.

And so, on that note of — triumph? ends our description. I hope you'll join me again for our next episode of TV Tropes.
(cue end credits)

Narration EchoNarrator TropesNarrator All Along
The NapoleonCharacters as DeviceNature Spirit
Narrating the ObviousExpositionNewspaper Dating
Rocky and BullwinkleImageSource/Animated FilmsRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

alternative title(s): The Narrator
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