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The Mirror Shows Your True Self
The Lich's Mirror shows not what you are but what you were.

Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreju has to face his true self.
Falkor: 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!

This is a trope for all the times a character's reflection in a mirror is different from what others (viewer included) see with the naked eye. In fiction, mirrors are treated as able to cause Glamour Failure in supernatural creatures, reveal Mind Control, and if the mirror is magical, reveal a character's true nature. The most common uses are revealing the true form of a Shapeshifter, that a character is a vampire or soulless, and if a character is under Mind Control.

In the first case, the mirror is acting the same way for the viewer as for the characters. We're being shown the monster's true form. In Mind Control cases (specifically the Freaky Friday, Sharing a Body, Demonic Possession and Split Personality) we're being shown what the characters are seeing that we aren't. The mirror shows the physical body of the character, while the camera shows the character controlling the body. The characters in the show will see the mirror image, i.e. the controlled person all the time. Directors can use this to create a sense of tension by showing only the viewer a monster's reflection, and keeping the other characters in the dark.

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. Conversely, it can reveal the Reluctant Monster or balefully polymorphed character to be noble and good.

A subtrope of Glamour Failure and Lie to the Beholder. Compare The Shadow Knows.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Read or Die: The Mirror Man, an agent of the British Library, has the ability to appear as someone else, but a mirror reveals his true form.
  • Daisuke Niiwa from D.N.Angel can see Dark Mousy in the mirror, standing beside him or in the corner. They regularly have conversations this way. In one of the late chapters of the manga, a magical mirror enables Dark's reflection to be seen by other people.
  • In the Dragon Half manga, Rufa is given a magic mirror that reveals her true nature. She quickly breaks it accidentally on purpose.
  • Rosario + Vampire: the Lilith Mirror does this, and even reverts the viewer back into his/her/its original form.
  • Ulysses31 has the main characters encounter a Sphinx who was in possession of a mirror showing the true personality of people reflected in it. He was Genre Savvy enough to keep his daughter away from it.
  • In Death Note, as Light Yagami is walking through a hall of mirrors supposedly mourning L, who he was responsible for killing, his reflection shows him smirking evilly with glowing red eyes, indicating his inner glee at L's death. This doesn't actually seem to have anything supernatural behind it, it is just a good way of showing Light's inner Kira while he is acting the part of mourner/friend/son whatever.
  • In The World God Only Knows, having an independent reflection who can talk is the first revealing stage of possession by a goddess.
  • In Sword Art Online, the players are all given mirrors, which force their avatars to change to the players' real faces.
  • In Inuyasha, Seeshomoru uses a youkai known as The Nothing Woman (Unmother in the English translation) to trick Inuyasha into thinking he's kidnapped his mother's spirit. It works but Kagome notices in the nearby lake's reflection that she doesn't have a face.
  • In the prologue of Vamp, a shape-shifter's reflection in a window is used to deduce his true form.

    Art 

     Comic Books 
  • The way The Hood found out the source of his powers was Dread Dormammu was when the demon suddenly replaced his reflection in the mirror. Later Dormammu's preferred way of communication with Parker was to replace half of his reflection in the mirror, as a metaphor of their connection.
  • When he first showed up, Dodge from Locke & Key showed up as a corpse in mirrors. This doesn't seem to be a problem once he's out of the well, though.
  • In a Disney Adventures comic of TaleSpin, the heroes discover a mirror that apparently reveals their souls. Readers do not get to see this, which may be just as well when Don Karnage peeks at it and freaks out.
  • On the cover of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Henry Jekyll's reflection is Edward Hyde.
  • Inverted in Justice League of America's Vibe. Vibe's powers also make him appear as a blur in any photographs or recordings of him, concealing his identity from cameras.

    Film 
  • In All of Me, Steve Martin's character sees Lily Tomlin's character, with whom he is Sharing a Body, any time he looks into a reflective surface.
  • Inception:
    • Within a dream, Eames can copy other people's appearances some reflections showed his true face, others reflected his disguise. Which mirrors reflected his true face and which reflected his disguise changed (almost certainly deliberately) between cuts.
    • Supposedly, when Ariadne did the double-mirror thing in her test dreams, only Cobb's reflection appeared.
      • When Ariadne is setting up the double-mirror, both her reflection and Cobb's appear, but once the infinite reflection is set up, the scene is shot such that Ariadne's reflections beyond the first are hidden behind Cobb's.
    • This is actually Truth In Television, according to lucid dreamers. One of the distinguishing features of lucid dreams is that inside them, mirrors don't work 'correctly' (i.e., they don't reflect, or reflect something else, or are distorted).
  • Sleepwalkers: Despite having human forms, the cat creatures' true forms are shown if they're in view of a mirror.
  • Source Code: The viewer see Coulter running around trying to save the day, the reflection in the window and presumably everyone on the train sees Sean Fentress.
  • Reversed in the The Fearless Vampire Killers, it was used as a trap to indicate who was human during the vampire ball. Since vampires cast no reflection.
  • Used at the very end of 2011's Thor to show that Dr. Selvig is being controlled by Loki
  • The 10th Kingdom used an inversion. The Queen used a hypnotic mirror which showed her merely standing behind Virginia, when in fact she was strangling her. It wasn't until Virginia glanced to the side and saw the truth in another mirror that she was able to break free.
  • Subverted in a Richard Creena movie where he's playing a cop who brings the female suspect a large rectangular-wrapped parcel which he says is her 'true self'. She just laughs and says he's obviously got a mirror. He removes the wrapping and she's shocked to see a rather uncomplimentary painting of her by a former friend.
  • In Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason's true hockey-masked self shows in reflective surfaces when he is possessing someone else. Cue a Quizzical Tilt when he finds this out himself.
  • In ''The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jekyll talks to Hyde, whom he alone can see looking back at him from a mirror.
    • It later shows the inverse when Hyde saves the Nautilus; Jekyll congratulates Hyde from the mirror.

    Literature 
  • In the children's fantasy book The Castle in the Attic, one of the primary weapons of the evil wizard Alastor is a Magic Mirror with this power. It eventually gets turned around on the villain himself, with fairly satisfying results.
    • When turned on The Hero, all he sees in the mirror is himself.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Played with. The mirror of Erised shows the viewer's fondest desire at that moment and definitely NOT anything objectively true.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Discworld: Witches are well aware that mirrors don't show your true self. They can show your opposite a billion times, which can be problematic when there's only one soul to go around. Instead, on Discworld it is your eyes that reveal your true self, and no amount of magic or power can disguise eyes as part of a broader transformation.
  • In L. Frank Baum's Queen Zixi Of Ix, the title queen can only make herself look beautiful to others because of this trope.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's The Black Swan (a retelling of Swan Lake), the sorceress Odile tells Odette that Baron von Rothbart won't have any mirrors in his house because "mirrors show the truth." When he asks Queen Clothilde to cover or hide all the mirrors in her ballroom, you know something's up.
  • The Neverending Story. Played with; Bastian and Atreyu aren't the same person, but they do see each other in the magic mirror and Atreyu is in many ways Bastian's Avatar inside Fantastica. Atreyu is merely confused by it, but when Bastian reads it he freaks the hell out.
  • In the Spellsinger novel "Time of the Transference," the group finds this kind of mirror. The results are ambiguous for everyone but Cautious, whose reflection is unchanged.
    Cautious: I am what you see. Worse things to be.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Smallville, Tomb, Chloe is possessed by a vengeful ghost. Her reflection becomes that of the ghost's.
  • 30 Rock:
    • The show had an HD camera in one episode which shows the real you. Liz Lemon shows up as an old hag, Pete shows up as an old man, Kenneth the page shows up as a Muppet, and Jack Donaghy looks 20 years younger.
    • Kenneth once mentioned that he sees only a white haze when he looks into a mirror.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • Inverted. On-screen, Sam appears as himself. But mirrors and reflective surfaces show the true appearance of whomever he's leaped into. Which startles him in the series finale, when he sees himself in the mirror. With gray hair.
    • There is an episode where he leaps into a man who lives in a castle and thinks he's a vampire. As such, there are no mirrors in sight. At the end, he removes fake fangs off another vampire wannabe and, satisfied, is prepared to leap. Right before leaping, he looks at a metal tray which doesn't reflect him. This was hinted in the previous episode, where the new person in the waiting room revealed vampire fangs.
  • Stargate Universe:
    • Most common in the latest branch of the franchise, it's also been used elsewhere. Ancient tech allows two people to switch minds. The controller is the one whom we see. The controlled person is visible to the other characters, and in mirrors, TV feeds, photographs, etc.
    • That tech originated in Stargate SG-1, with Daniel and Vala looking into a mirror and discovering that they've been transported into other people's bodies.
  • Ultraviolet: Vampires have no reflection, and also no TV image or anything like that.
  • The X-Files:
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had a villain called Primitor who could assume the form of any of the Rangers. The one weakness in this power is that seeing his reflection renders Primitor unable to maintain the altered shape. It should be noted that it doesn't always force him back into his original form. (In one instance it caused the helmet of his altered form to change color.)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel:
    • Vampires didn't show up in mirrors, although they could be captured in photos and video.
    • This was toyed with when Wesley was impersonating Angel, where he screamed at the sight of a mirror and insisted it be covered while the people around him stood bemused and pointed out that they already knew he was a vampire.
    • When Angel suffered from phlebotinum-induced amnesia and didn't know he was a vampire. Then he looks in a mirror...
      Angel: I'm invisible!
      Cordelia: No you're not.
  • The true face of several monsters in Supernatural that can pass for humans (like wraiths, changelings and sirens) are revealed by mirrors.
  • Averted in Moonlight, where vampires only appear as blurs in old films due to silver emulsion but show up perfectly fine on digital cameras. This is actually a problem, as a blurry photo only revealed that the photographer was incompetent, while a clear digital picture of a vampire with a Game Face feeding on someone is compromising evidence. It is not mentioned if the image is blurred in regular silver mirrors (which are still widely used).
  • An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation starts with LaForge walking around. he then looks at a reflective surface, and we are shown a cylinder hovering in the reflection instead of the engineer. It turns out Geordi was using a telepresence system to move as if he was the drone. In this case, the mirror reveal is for the audience.
  • Twin Peaks, in two of the scariest scenes in the series. In this case it's actually showing the malevolent entity possessing the person in question, but the idea is the same.
  • Played with in Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. General Xaviax approaches potential Riders disguised as a human, but when he glances at his reflection, his true form is revealed.
  • The Latinoamerican soap opera La Mujer En El Espejo (The Woman In The Mirror) has an interesting variation: a magic mirror that "contains" the image of a beautiful woman. It can be used by women to take on her looks, but regular mirrors will still reflect their true appearance.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?:
    • The episode "The Tale of the Mystical Mirror", the antagonist is an old witch/beauty shop owner who uses illusions to maintain the appearance of youth, but mirrors reveal her true age. When the protagonist investigates the witch's house after her friends who work at the shop go missing, she realizes something is wrong when she can't find any mirrors in the house.
    • In "The Tale of the Captured Souls", Peter avoids mirrors or getting his picture taken by a camera. Danny (the heroine) soon finds out through the mirror monitors in his secret laboratory that he is really 100 years old and that he has killed off vistors by Rapid Aging using the laboratory's Vampiric Draining mechanism.
  • In Dead Like Me, similar to Quantum Leap, the camera sees the main characters (who are all grim reapers who died in an accident or a murder) as they were in life; mirrors show how they look to the other characters. This change in appearance is to keep anyone who knew them in life from catching on.
  • Babylon 5: As John Sheridan prepares to leave for Z'ha'dum, there's an odd scene where he recalls in flashback (or is it a flashback?) the words of Kosh, who warned him against going. As the words are heard again, Kosh appears in the mirror over Sheridan's shoulder. Of course, had already been established that Sheriden had been Touched by Vorlons.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the serial The Power of the Daleks, Patrick Troughton's Doctor looks into a mirror and sees William Hartnell; a reassurance to an audience who've never seen a regeneration before that he is the same man.
    • In the new series, the Saturnyns don't show up in mirrors. It is explained that the perception filter they use to appear human "manipulates the brainwaves of the person looking at you, but seeing one of you for the first time in, say, a mirror, the brain doesn't know what to fill the gap with, so leaves it blank... hence no reflection."
    • The Doctor also has a mirror that can identify various species, a gift from his godmother that has been sitting in the TARDIS junk-drawer for over a millennium. He quickly tests it on himself to see if it still works, leading it to bring up the First and Second Doctor before he puts it down satisfied with this field-test.
    • At the end of "Amy's Choice", the Doctor sees the Dream Lord, really the Doctor's dark side reflected in the glass of the TARDIS console.
  • In the series premiere of Merlin, Mary Collins' true form (evil old hag) is revealed in mirrors. This is also applied to every illusion magic in the series.
  • On MythQuest, whenever Alex or Cleo go into a myth they see themselves and each other as they are, but the rest of the world and anything reflective show them as the characters within the myth that they replace.
  • Most Forever Knight vampires don't appear in mirrors, but Nick having a reflection was handwaved as being because of his progress toward humanity. In reality, budget issues prevented the editing out of every reflection.
  • In the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Protean Challenge", the shape-shifter Proteus is revealed in mirrors.

    Music 
  • Quadrophenia: The album cover has each of the mirrors on Jimmy's scooter showing a different face (one of each member of The Who, each representing one of his personalities).

    Pinball 
  • The Who's Tommy shows the adult Tommy looking into a mirror, and seeing his innocent childhood self reflected inside.
  • The backglass for Data East Pinball's Tales from the Crypt shows a woman standing before a mirror, where the reflection reveals her to be a zombie.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Dragon Magazine #50 had the magical artifact Barlithian's Mirror. Anyone who looked into it saw his or her 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).
    • The supplement Open Grave uses this trope in one picture - a beautiful noblewoman's reflection reveals her true form as a lich.
  • Vampire: The Requiem: Vampires appear as blurred images in mirrors. The Hollow Mekhet take this a step further, as they have no reflection - the part of their soul it represents has been separated from them, and is now loose in the world.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Lasombra clan weakness was the lack of a reflection.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, silver dispels the glamour of Innistrad's vampires. This means that mirrors (silvered glass) show vampires as they were when they were still human. Since Innistrad vampires regard themselves as a Master Race, this is supremely disturbing to them.

    Video Games 
  • In Brain Dead 13, when Vivi looks in the mirror, she has no reflection (save for her lipstick), revealing that she is a vampire. Not like this wasn't obvious before.
  • Inverted in Darkstone where one of the mirrors shows beautiful to be ugly and ugly to be beautiful.
  • Dragon Quest games:
    • The Mirror of Ra appears in several games. Whenever it appears, it's always used to reveal something's true form.
    • In Dragon Quest II, it's used to break a Baleful Polymorph by revealing that the dog who follows you around in one village is actually the cursed Princess of Moonbrooke.
    • In Dragon Quest III, it reveals the true identity of the Orochi and exposes a Fake King plot.
    • In Dragon Quest V, it's used to Spot the Imposter after the Queen Dowager confronts her doppelganger.
    • In Dragon Quest VI, Ashlynn seeks the Mirror of Ra because she hopes it can break whatever's causing her invisibility.
  • A glitch causes this to happen in Jak II: Renegade. When looking in the mirror behind the bar in the Hip Hog Heaven Saloon, Jak's reflection has the horns of his dark form. They flicker in and out as he moves.
  • In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, there is a mirror with this quality; depending on which path you take, it can be used in one of two different ways. The basic good ending has Alexander using it to Spot the Imposter by forcing a genie to resume his true form. The best ending has him use it against Death himself, forcing him to witness the horror of his own existence, causing him to shed a single tear and lose his wager against Alexander.
  • At one point in Lunar: The Silver Star, your party comes across an item called Althena's Mirror, and uses it soon afterward to expose Xenobia, who had been posing as Lemia, head of the Vane Magic Guild (the real one was captured and imprisoned).
  • In Persona 3, you have to break the mirrors that don't show your reflection in order to get to the Lovers boss chamber.
  • In Quest for Glory II, the Enchantress Aziza uses water magic to reflect the true image of the Hero of Spielburg's pack animal, to reveal that it is actually the missing Emir of Raseir.
  • In Rule of Rose a bathroom mirror on the Airship shows, not the protagonist's "true" form, but the environment's; it shows the orphanage that is the Airship's true face.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, you have to find Mot before you can engage in his battle. He disguises himself as a statue and hides among the other statues. The trick to finding him is that the floor that the statues are on is a reflective surface. Mot is the statue that isn't reflected in the floor.
  • ...and in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, you have to use a magical mirror to unmask Amaterasu, break her out of the illusion she's trapped in, and allow her to return home.
  • In Tales of Phantasia, any character possessed by Dhaos has a Grim Reaper figure floating above their mirror reflection. Early on, Cress exploits this when Rhea and Demitel confront each other to find out who is responsible for destroying Harmel village.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, this is implied (and in the seventh arc stated) to be the reason why Beatrice is repelled by mirrors. Yasu says that he/she hates mirrors because they do not acknowledge his/her make-believe appearance. Thus, in the story, the camera will always show which personality is in control. Yasu's actual image is never seen.
  • BlazBlue:
    • The Ammit Cryas is a truth grimoire in the form of a mirror - its power is to show the true self of its current wielder, but if held too long the wielder may be drawn into it. Three characters are known to have held it. In order:
    • Makoto was completely unaltered in the reflection of the mirror. Presumably, tumultuous origins notwithstanding, she has nothing to hide.
    • Cajun Faycott, one of two Remix Heart characters, is reflected in a lab coat standing alongside Professor Kokonoe, denoting her allegiance to Sector Seven.
    • Mai Natsume, the other Remix Heart character, is reflected as a male shadow - she loses her hold on the mirror before the full truth could be revealed.
    • When Relius uses his Astral Heat on Teruumi we see a mirror standing behind him showing his true ghost form.
  • In Lollipop Chainsaw, Mariska possesses Rosalyn to lure Juliet and Nick into a trap. Mariska appears when "Rosalyn" is in front of their bus' rear-view mirror. This is only for the audience's benefit, because Juliet and Nick don't notice before Mariska gets the drop on them.
  • There's a magic mirror in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals which shows the truth about anyone who looks into it. People use it to find out if their spouses have been faithful to them. When Iris looks into the mirror, she (and the player) sees her true form as Erim.
  • Final Fantasy IV plays with this a bit. The player's character, Cecil travels to Mt. Hobs in order to become a paladin. Upon reaching the summit, he enters a mirrored chamber where he is removed of his dark armor and becomes a paladin. However his reflection in the mirror does not change and he must defeat his Dark Knight self in battle as his trial.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Mirrors reveal that Sweet Synn, a supervillain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe is actually a demonic succubus, regardless of the form she's currently wearing (and she usually looks like whatever you find most attractive in a woman).

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: Al has to find a mirror like this in a room full of magic mirrors which all show something different. He finds it when he notices that his reflection is wearing his "street rat" clothes instead of the princely robes he has on. Then Iago sets off the trap because he thinks the mirror which depicts himself covered in jewelery must be the one.
  • Family Guy: Similar to the 30 Rock example above, a seemingly young and beautiful Fox News anchorwoman was revealed to be old and ugly upon the switch to HD.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures Season 2: whenever Shendu possesses someone, his host can see his face in the mirror.
  • In the Justice League episode "Paradise Lost", when Wonder Woman and Superman find an ancient artifact, they start seeing each other as monsters and fighting, thinking that the "monster" had done something to their friend. Superman is the first to catch on upon seeing Wonder Woman's reflection in a fountain, and stops fighting altogether, allowing Diana, still seeing him as the monster, to mercilessly pummel him. It's not until the "monster" points to a mirror that she looks and sees she was fighting Supes all along.
  • 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 reflection is Ursula's.
  • In an episode of The Pirates of Dark Water Bloth used a magical artifact to swap bodies with Ren, as well as having Konk swap bodies with Niddler. However, while in the other person's body, their reflection still shows who they really are.
  • In the Baby Doll Episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the main antagonist suffers from a condition that kept her from aging. Despite being well over 30, she physically looks like a pre-teen. When the Dark Knight chases her into a house of mirrors, she stumbles across one that reflects what would look like under "normal" circumstances.
  • In ThunderCats, this is true of the shape-shifter Mumm-Ra.
  • In The Snow Queen (2012), Gerda and Kai's father made mirrors like this, and Gerda herself carries one. This is why the Snow Queen is afraid of mirrors; she can't bear to know what she has become.

Mirror ScarePlease Reflect On This IndexMirrors Reflect Everything
Looks Like OrlokVampire TropesMonster Progenitor
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to ReadParanormal TropesMuseum of the Strange and Unusual
Mind RapeImageSource/Tabletop GamesMonster Lord

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