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The Shadow Knows

Deception is a common tool of the trade, used by both villains and sometimes heroes. Shapeshifting and Invisibility are two common ways to disguise one's true nature or intentions.

But no form of disguise is completely, 100% foolproof. If you know what to look for, you can find the truth out. And sometimes, the truth is right behind you. Everything in the light casts a shadow...

And that's the nature of this trope. As a warning to the viewer (or even other characters), a character casts a shadow that hints at their true form or nature. A common variation with characters who can make fake copies or clones of themselves or another person/object will have the illusory copies cast no shadow at all to signify that they aren't actually real.

Conversely, sometimes invisible stuff still casts a shadow. This can be Hand Waved when the "invisibility" is actually an illusion rather than actual "not stopping light".

Compare Living Shadow, which occasionally overlaps this trope; and The Mirror Shows Your True Self which is the same with reflections. Sub-Trope of Glamour Failure, Super Trope of Casts No Shadow.

This trope is named after the catchphrase of The Shadow, but is otherwise unrelated.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • In MÄR, one of Alvis' opponents has an ARM which clones him infinitely. Alvis figures out where the real one is hiding by the shadow he casts.
  • In Soul Eater, Death the Kid's shadow is occasionally shown as a skull. It doesn't quite reveal anything the audience hasn't already been told, but generally accompanies a violent reminder that he is a death god.
  • In Durarara!!, Celty's Cool Bike is really her horse; it still has a horse's shadow.
    • And a more subtle example in Celty's own shadow being much darker than anyone else's, hinting at her supernatural origins.
  • In the Closing Credits of Freezing, Chiffon's shadow quite accurately reflects her nickname, The Matchless Smiling Monster.
  • In the Black★Rock Shooter anime, Yuu has no shadow, which helps set up The Reveal about her in episode 5.
  • Naruto as a child has been drawn with the Nine-Tails' silhouette instead of his shadow, in reference to the kitsune legend below.
  • Paranoia Agent: During the family planning episode, none of the three main characters have shadows. The Reveal at the ending reveals they've been Dead All Along.
  • Princess Tutu: After the Raven's blood starts to take hold of Mytho, his shadow turns into that of a raven more than once before he actually transforms into one.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion uses this at one point. For just the briefest moment in the opening credits, Homura's shadow morphs into a winged figure, hinting at her eventual transformation into a God of Evil.
  • In Onegai My Melody, Kuromi's shadow doesn't change when she takes human form.
  • In Wolf's Rain there are a couple of scenes where the wolves are wearing their human glamour but still casting wolf shadows.

     Comic Books 
  • In the Dark Phoenix Saga, the man responsible for Jean's timeslips or rather, the elaborate illusion that makes her think she's having them has a different shadow. When he's revealed as Mastermind, we even get an author's note telling you to go back and look at the shadow in one scene (admit it - you didn't notice either.) It was brilliant at the time, though it loses something by this point due to Late-Arrival Spoiler: it's hard to be an X-Men fan and have missed learning Mastermind's real name, which he went by for the first time in this story pre-reveal.
  • Batman's cape and cowl are frequently visible in Bruce Wayne's shadow—the idea being that, unlike, say, Superman and Spider-Man, the true identity is the superhero, not the civilian.
  • Sergio Aragones used to regularly produce cartoons on this theme for MAD, using the trope's name, where people in various situations cast shadows showing what they really thought or wanted.
  • In the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws Simon Amal's shadow in one panel is Crux.

     Fan Fiction 
  • Naruto, from A New World, A New Way sidestory Swarm suffers this. His Illusions cannot hide his shadow. Justified, in that they are Illusions so he's not phsycially changing.
    • Lampshaded by Naruto later in the story:
    Naruto: "Finally someone thinks to look at the shadow! Do you realize how often others realize that the best way to find a Zoroark is to look down? Almost never. I swear, it gets even more annoying when they know a Zoroark is in their midst.”

     Film  
  • As in this poster for The Omen.
  • Star Wars
  • In the opening scenes of Bram Stoker's Dracula Count Dracula's shadow does not mimic his movements, indicating that there's something odd about him.
    • Parodied in Dracula: Dead and Loving It, where the Count's shadow likes to act on its own, including humping Mina's shadow. At the beginning, Dracula falls down the stairs. He gets up as if nothing has happened and walks upstairs. His shadow then gets up and limps upstairs, while clutching its back.
  • In 300, when the Spartans arrive at the destroyed village they are met by a young boy who tells them of the Persian attackers before dying. When he first approaches them, before he is close enough to be clearly visible, his shadow's shape vaguely resembles that of a Persian Immortal.
  • In The Secret of Kells, when Pangur Ban is in spirit-form as he/she's being sent by Aisling to free Brendan you can see him/her casting the shadow of a cat.
  • In Ghost Rider, the scene when Johnny is signing the contract that will enable Mephisto to transform him into the Ghost Rider features a couple lightning flashes that illuminate Mephisto's shadow and offer a brief glimpse at an outline of his true form, which vaguely resembles the appearance of his comic counterpart and is clearly far from human.
  • A non-evil example; the poster for Saving Mr. Banks features Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, with their shadows being Mickey Mouse and Mary Poppins respectively.
  • The poster of Warlock has the good-looking villain sorceror casting a shadow showing him for what he really is: a being of pure evil.

     Literature  

  • According to Jorge Luis Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, the Peryton is a mythological monster said to come from Atlantis, that resembles a stag with the wings and hindparts of an eagle, but casts the shadow of a man.
  • In I Capture the Castle, when the family first meets Simon, Cassandra notes that from the angle where she stands, his shadow looks like a devil. She references this incident later when she has misgivings about him.
  • In David Eddings' Sparhawk series (specifically, The Tamuli), the Delphae — AKA The Shining Ones — are capable of using their mastery of light to make themselves perfectly invisible. It's only one of several invisibility-techniques in that world (others involve messing with minds and messing with time), and like all of them, it has a drawback — their shadows are still visible, and can be spotted. It never actually comes up anywhere outside of an initial warning, though. Despite the Delphaic companion of the main cast doing lots of invisible scouting, nobody ever notices her shadow. Ah well.
  • An especially creepy case appears in ''Tick Tock''. There is one scene where Tommy is running from the monster, and when they pass under a street light, he sees that the creature is casting three distinctly different human shadows. This is creepy enough until you realize that those are the shadows of the three men it just ate.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth books, The One Ring makes its wearer invisible, but in bright light their shadow can still be seen. That's how the goblins almost recapture Bilbo in The Hobbit.
  • In the Stravaganza series, if you are in a world that is not your own, you will be marked by a lack of shadow. If you see your shadow has returned, your sleeping body in the other world is dead.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Rand, Mat and Perrin are approached by a man named Mordeth who lead them to a treasure trove he's discovered. After his name fails to set alarm bells ringing, it eventually dawns on Rand that something's amiss when he notices that Mordeth casts no shadow.
  • Similar to the above, it's been stated that "The Dark Casts no Shadow".
  • There is a short story titled The Shadow and the Flash which tells of two rival scientists who both invent invisibility simultaneously by different means, each of which still gives off a subtle hint as to the user's location. One of them, the titular "shadow", invents a paint so black that anything it covers doesn't even register visually... but still casts a shadow.
  • In the fourth book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Khaba's shadow not matching the sun, or indeed Khaba's movements, gives Bartimaeus the hint there may be more at work than meets the eye.
  • Cat Sith in The Dresden Files is noted as having a disproportionately large shadow, indicating how much more powerful he is than the other Malks (who are plenty dangerous enough themselves). However, unlike Nicodemus, there is no indication that Sith has a full-blown Living Shadow.
  • A dragon in human form in Dragonlance Chronicles reveals her true identity by pointing out the shape of her shadow.
  • Aimians (and, apparently, Elsecaller Radiants) in The Stormlight Archive cast shadows the wrong way around (towards light instead of away from it).

     Live-Action TV  
  • In a poster of Smallville, Clark casts a caped shadow.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Identity Crisis", a shadow in a video recording from a mission reveals that there was a camouflaged character in the shot.
  • In the Doctor Who two-part story beginning with "Silence In The Library", the Vashta Nerada are flesh-eating nano-swarms that resemble shadows, and use this fact for camouflage. As such, anyone they're stalking appears to have an extra shadow that lacks a light source.
  • Supernatural: Castiel does this on purpose to reveal his true nature.
  • In The X-Files episode "All Souls", Scully is tipped off as to the true nature and intentions of a child protection agent by the fact that his shadow has horns.
  • In Teen Wolf, Scott temporarily sees his shadow transforming into a werewolf after he helps power up the Nemeton, the consequence of which is opening a door to darkness inside his, Stiles', and Allison's minds.

     Magazines  

  • MAD had a series of features titled "The Shadow Knows" depicting people in a normal setting, while the shadows cast on the wall depict what they (or at least one or more of the people shown) really want to do in that situation, such as beating the crap out of their domineering boss.
    • There was also a old MAD that depicted various B-list superheroes who were parodies of existing ones, one of whom was a Shadow-parody whose only ability was to cloud his own mind.

     Mythology  

  • An inversion occurs in Classical Mythology: the Peryton, monstruous winged deers, had their shadows as those of men (at least until they killed someone).
  • Kitsune in Japanese Mythology and folklore retain their fox-shaped shadows even while in human form. Seen here.

     Radio 

  • The Trope Namer is of course The Shadow, who happens to be a good example, as his Shadow is still visible when he clouds the minds of his enemies to hide from their sight.

     Other Sites 

     Tabletop Games  

  • While not "shapeshifting" per se, one of the rules of the Mask in Changeling: The Lost is that your shadow always retains features of how you were changed in Arcadia. If you're a mountain goat aspected Beast, your shadow may have horns; if you're an earth-like Elemental, then your shadow may be craggy
  • This is used in the artwork for the Kitsune in Call of Cthulhu: Secrets of Japan. Its visible form is a humanoid fox, the shadow... not so much.

     Theatre  

  • There's a play where a soldier receives a beautiful photograph of his wife and child smiling and waving to him. All he can focus on is the shadow of the photographer on the ground, wondering who he is.

     Toys  

     Video Games  

  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Midna can be seen still on Wolf!Link's back in his shadow, even when she's not there.
    • Also in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, when Link uses the Invisibility Cloak, his shadow is still visible.
    • And then there's the Aganihm lookalike that appeared as a miniboss in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Three of him appeared at once, but when you lit the torches in the middle of the room only one cast a shadow, and guess which the only vulnerable one was? The attacks from the fakes still hurt though...
    • Perhaps played with in the final boss of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. The enemy appears only as a shadow, which imitates all the things you'd expect Link to be scared of (several weak enemies, Agahnim, Ganon, and eventually this weird eyeball spiky wrecking thingy)
  • In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, you sometimes bump into invisible obstacles in your path. Looking at their reflection in the water over a bridge reveals them to be none less than Kecleon.
    • In the spinoff Pokemon Ranger games, some Pokemon create illusions to make themselves difficult to capture. These illusions can be discerned by checking their shadow.
  • In Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry 3, you can unlock an alternate costume of Sparda, the main character's demon father. While he looks like an ordinary (if, very, very pretty) human, the shadow he casts is of his demon form.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the boss Ongyo-ki performs a Doppelgänger Spin, creating three shadow clones, and hits you hard whenever you attack one of them. How do you beat him? If you fight him during a full moon, only the real one casts a shadow.
    • Similarly, in Devil Survivor, when you fight Loki in Yuzu's route, he attacks you with several doppelgangers, but only the real Loki has a shadow.
  • In Ōkami, in order to free a little sparrow from her cage, you must drag an old lady into the light coming out from a hole in the ceiling to reveal her (and her "husband's") true form, evil crow tengu. The light is moonlight. Mrs. Cutter (the disguised old lady) says their kind gets too excited at the time of full moon to go out without exposing themselves.
  • In The Essence Of SaGa Frontier, there's a picture of Red casting a shadow of Alkaiser, with the words "Chang for justice!" beneath it.
  • In Bayonetta, the titular character's shadow is that of the butterfly demon she is in contract with for the double jump ability.
  • In one of the artworks for Garou: Mark of the Wolves, the protagonist Rock Howard casts a shadow of Geese, his father and the antagonist of the first game.
  • Simply for depiction's sake, Valkenhayn R. Hellsing from BlazBlue provides the trope picture. Nothing has actually been shown yet of his shadow being that of his true werewolf form.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as part of the quest "The Black Star" you explore the lair of a dark wizard who did some twisted experiments involving soul gems. You find his skeleton slumped on a throne, but the shadow cast on the wall behind is of a flesh-and-blood man, flanked by a pair of kneeling attendants...
  • In Lucius, whenever you get visited by Lucifer, he appears like a cruelly smiling man in a throne-like easy chair. Point your flashlight at him, and his shadow has horns.

     Webcomics 

     Web Original  

  • Supervillainess Sweet Synn, from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, has the power to appear as whatever it is you want in a woman. Her shadow, on the other hand, reveals the batlike wings and tail of the demon she actually is.

     Western Animation  

  • The Villain Molecu-Lar in SilverHawks could take any form, but was often given away because his shadow was always of his true form.
  • One of the stock magical powers in W.I.T.C.H. is an illusion spell called Glamour that can alter one's appearance but not their shadow. This is used to reveal that the Oracle demanding the return of the Heart of Candracar in I is for Illusion is a disguised Nerissa.
  • In Da Boom Crew one of the Big Bad's lackeys is a shape-shifter that looks any being but she has a shadow that looks like her normal form and it is constantly dancing and making odd gestures. The strange thing is this is not how the heroes recognize her, they only Spot the Imposter because she tried to mimic a person that spoke everything as an Expospeak Gag.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes once has Captain America cast a shadow resembling a giant Skrull.
  • Part of The Reveal in the Batman: The Animated Series episode Almost Got 'Im. In the commentary, the animators admit it makes no sense, but it's such a great visual they kept it in the episode.
  • Used at least once in the Animated Adaptation of Spawn; in the second episode, the fat little midget Clown casts the lanky, eerie shadow of the Violator, his true form.
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Invisible Mouse" had Tom able to spot an invisible Jerry this way.


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