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First-Person Peripheral Narrator

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"The story that I'm about to tell is the story of our arts troupe. But in this story, I'm not the protagonist."
Xiao Suizi, Youth (2017)

The author has a fascinating character in mind, and a story that is unquestionably that character's, but for one reason or another, getting into their head just wouldn't pan out for the reader. This can be for any number of reasons:

  1. The character is dead at the end of the story.
  2. The author wants to keep the reader wondering what the character is thinking, or the character has a secret the author wants to keep from the audience. (Unspoken Plan Guarantee features heavily.)
  3. The character doesn't understand the events of the story, and the author wants to provide a clear perspective on them.
  4. The character doesn't personally change or grow over the course of the story. In fact, the events of the story are more significant for an observer.
  5. The character's heroic abilities are such that it's hard to show them from his point of view without his coming across as conceited instead of cool.
  6. The author anticipates that the character might be difficult for an audience to relate to, compared with the other characters.
  7. More rarely, it's not clear what the character is, exactly.

Enter the First-Person Peripheral Narrator, a character who is not the main character or protagonist, but is chosen as the narrator because they have an excellent view of the action surrounding the real focal characters. By nature they tend to act as a Decoy Protagonist, unless they explicitly state who the real main character is in the beginning. The real main character is also, by definition, a Non P.O.V. Protagonist. If the story that starts out like this switches to the main character, it's Intro-Only Point of View.

Subtrope of Character Narrator. See also The Watson, whose job it is to merely set up exposition, P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl, where the boy often resembles this, and Tagalong Chronicler, who has the in-story job to create the story of the protagonist. When a Biopic is made in this fashion, it is called a Sidelong Glance Biopic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Nagisa Shiota starts out as this in Assassination Classroom: The actual main character is Korosensei, and the series, at least early on, focuses on his interactions with the E-Class students, giving each one A Day in the Limelight. Since Korosensei's true nature and motives are supposed to be a mystery until fairly late in the series, telling the story from his perspective would give the game away too soon. This changes a bit in Season 2, as the story shifts from a more episodic nature to a plot-driven one, and Nagisa gradually steps up as a driving character, with more focus put on his backstory and Character Development, with him as the one who ultimately assassinates Korosensei.
  • Baccano!:
    • Rachel; we mostly find out about the events aboard the Flying Pussyfoot from her report to the President of the Daily Days.
    • Subverted in The Rolling Bootlegs: while it appears that Maiza is relating the story about his friend and subordinate Firo to a Japanese tourist, it's actually Firo himself telling the tale, and the tourist just assumed otherwise because Firo never properly introduced himself and was wearing glasses like Maiza's.
  • Rock in Black Lagoon. The story is told from his point of view but it's pretty obvious the protagonist is Revy. As if the opening and ending animations being all about her wasn't enough to tip you off. The "Why is he watching her so closely?" angle is played deliberately. Later chapters though are more focused on Rock and he becomes quite an interesting character himself, making him more of a Supporting Protagonist.
  • Souryo Fuyumi's manga Cesare is about a sixteen-year-old Cesare Borgia, his servant Miguel, and the games of Xanatos Speed Chess the two are playing with various historical figures. It's actually told by Angelo, some kid who's at school with them (readers usually hate Angelo, which may or may not be intentional). This is one of those uses where it starts to seem like the Ishmael is a little too fascinated, though this too may be deliberate.
  • Saji Crossroad becomes this during the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00. The main character is obviously Setsuna F. Seiei. Saji also pilots the support machine for Setsuna's eponymous mobile suit which acts as its catalyst.
  • Sakuno Ryuzaki, and the Freshmen Trio from The Prince of Tennis (at least initially). Ryoma Echizen's undeniably the focus of the story, but his personality and development are mostly viewed through other characters due to his aloof nature.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the story of the amazing visionary hero named Kamina, who unites humanity in their fight against the Beastman oppressors, as told through the perspective of his Tagalong Kid sidekick Simon. Or so it would seem. The trope is subverted when Kamina is killed in action, revealing him to be a Decoy Protagonist. The rest of the story is concerned with Simon growing into the hero and leader that Kamina always believed he could be.
  • Metroid: Samus and Joey gives Samus Aran a Kid Sidekick and tells most of the story from his perspective... apparently just so that it can portray Samus as even more of a Living Legend than she is in the games. Once Joey inherits his father's Field Knuckle he becomes surprisingly good at assisting Samus, but his abilities are poorly suited to defeating enemies on his own.
  • The Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan series (A spinoff of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure) does indeed star the eponymous mangaka from Diamond Is Unbreakable as the central focus and framing device, but aside from a select few stories, Rohan does not actively participate in their events. He instead serves as a passive observer and chronicler to said events. This is best exemplified by the series' Japanese title Kishibe Rohan wa Ugokanai, meaning "Rohan Kishibe Does Not Move."
  • In the Death Note prequel novel Another Note, the narrator is Mello, a character introduced in the manga's second half who was not present for any of the story's events and is only writing them down because the characters involved died in the first half. While this does call into question some of the finer details he relates (and at least one huge assumption he makes about the killer), his distance (and decision to focus his narrative on the character he knows the least about) helps to obscure the story's major twist— which he promptly mocks you for falling for.
  • Yuriota ni Yuri wa Gohatto Desu?!: Invoked. Fuyu, the protagonist, is obsessed with yuri, but she has no interest in actually becoming part of a lesbian relationship. She wants to fade into the wallpaper and just watch all the elegant, refined ladies pair off with each other. However, when the presence of a Gyaru Girl threatens all she holds dear, she throws herself in front of the gyaru to distract her and, through a chain of events, inadvertently becomes an actual participant in a yuri relationship.

    Comic Books 
  • All-Out Avengers: Zig-zagged, as it's swiftly revealed that the narrator has an in-universe existence and is part of the story (and that they're occasionally inflicting some sort of Laser-Guided Amnesia on the cast), but they seem omniscient and remain The Ghost until the very end of the last issue. The end of that final issue reveals that the narrator is one of Marvel's cosmic entities, the all-powerful Beyonder, and leads into the Sequel Series.
  • Eva Procorpio has become this in Shakara — while Shakara is undoubtedly the protagonist, the story was primarily told through Eva's narration shortly after she was introduced. Then she started getting more screentime than Shakara.
  • Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta — V is certainly the lead character, but the story follows Evey as exposure to V changes her.
  • The Sandman (1989): Sexton Furnival in Death: The High Cost of Living. Death/Didi is the axis around which the story revolves, with Sexton just having been dragged in after her. But he's the one with real Character Development; hanging out with Death for the day renews his interest in living, rather than committing suicide out of sheer ennui like he wanted to do at the beginning.
  • Lois Lane in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
  • Dilios telling the story of 300.
  • Johnny Frost in the graphic novel Joker, a henchman who works for the title character. Also done on occasion with Harley Quinn. As a general rule, one is not allowed to hear the Joker's thoughts in any medium.
  • Dunstan in The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw is a civilian bystander yet narrates the story's events to the best of his knowledge of them.
  • Bone: The perspective of the series might be mostly from Fone Bone's view, but the closest thing to an actual protagonist is Thorn, a farm girl who discovers her past as a princess and is the one who becomes destined to stop the Lord of the Locusts. Appropriately enough, Fone's favorite book is Moby-Dick, which features one of the most famous first-person peripheral narrators in fiction: Ishmael.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Sam The Snowman (a pudgy snowman) in the famous Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Apparently, his only raison d'etre besides telling the audience the story is to sing and perform on the guitar songs that are only tangentially related to the plot. The story's real protagonist, of course, is Rudolph.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: In a subversion of the This Is My Story running gag from the first film, this movie opens with Gwen stating that they'll be doing things a bit differently before loosely recapping the first film and foreshadowing the events of the current one.
  • In Tangled, Flynn claims, in the opening narration, that it's not really his story, it's Rapunzel's.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Stalag 17. The real protagonist of the movie is the Anti-Hero Sefton. The story is narrated and seen through the eyes of his "sidekick" Cookie, a character so bland that his name appears dead last in the IMDb cast list for this movie.
  • The Road Warrior has the Feral Kid revealing himself at the end to be the film's narrator.
  • Paco (Edward James Olmos) in My Family Mi Familia, who spends most of the film in the Navy.
  • Red from The Shawshank Redemption narrates the story, partly because his melancholy introspectiveness offers a more interesting perspective on the stolid, straightforward main character of Andy Dufresne than Dufresne would likely have on himself, and partly to preserve the twist, which is that Dufresne has been slowly chipping away at an escape tunnel from Shawshank prison for decades.
  • Traudl Junge fulfills this role in Downfall in regards to Hitler, which makes sense, since she was one of the few people in Hitler's bunker to survive and tell her story. Dr. Schenck also falls into this to an extent, except in regards to the general chaos and destruction of besieged Berlin.
  • The hospitalized old lady with the diary in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (She turns out to be Benjamin's love interest from long ago, but Benjamin is the main character, of course.)
  • Mr. Hundert in The Emperor's Club — he's the narrator and gets quite a bit of character development in his own scenes, but he spends more time observing Sedgewick Bell than doing anything else.
  • Kim and Peg in Edward Scissorhands. The latter finds the title character, the former (her daughter) is the one he falls for and the narrator in the framing device.
  • Marwood in Withnail and I.
  • David Cronenberg is fond of this trope, often telling his stories from the perspective of the romantic interest of the real lead.
    • Frank Carveth in The Brood. The actor, Art Hindle, isn't even mentioned on the cover, while Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed (who were both bigger-name actors and play more interesting characters) get top billing.
    • Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) in The Fly (1986), a good Audience Surrogate in being as equally weirded out by what happens to her boyfriend Seth Brundle.
  • Thomas, Marquis d'Apcher in Brotherhood of the Wolf is only a minor character in the film but takes the role of the narrator. The Book Ends reveal that the whole story is a letter he's writing during the French Revolution, before his imminent demise.
  • 300 has Dilios as the narrator, despite the main character being Leonidas, so that the narrator can be present for the framing device of a storyteller passing down (an exaggerated version of) the tale to a younger generation, since Leonidas dies in a Heroic Sacrifice during the events of the film.
  • Sucker Punch plays with it, as Babydoll is the character driving the plot, deciding to concoct an escape plan - until she "realizes" that Sweet Pea is the true protagonist of the story, while she was only the means to help her escape the asylum.
  • A subversion in Fight Club: the film seems to be about Tyler Durden, and The Narrator just tells his story. But it turns out they're the same person.
  • It Could Happen to You is narrated by Angel Dupree, a reporter and photographer working undercover as a homeless man and writing about the main characters. It's actually something of a twist that there is a first person narrator rather than a third person omniscient one - Angel Dupree doesn't get introduced as a character until near the end of the film, and he never refers to himself in his narration prior to The Reveal.
  • Robert the Bruce in Braveheart, a minor secondary character throughout the movie, reveals himself at the narrator as the end and informs us that he ultimately carries on William Wallace's mission by defeating the English.
  • 42: Wendell Smith, an African-American sportswriter hired to accompany Jackie Robinson, is a recurring character in the movie and provides bookends for the beginning and end.
  • In The Usual Suspects, the story that Verbal Kint tells has Dean Keaton as the main character, who Agent Kujan is convinced was behind a recent harbor shootout.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: Gustave is the main character, but the story is told by Zero.
  • The Castle: Dale Kerrigan claims it's his story, but his eccentric father Darryl is the one who gets the most screentime, and he does things that are actually plot-relevant while Dale is just kind of there. Probably deliberate, given that Dale is consistently portrayed as, put bluntly, so generally clueless you could run him over with a Toyota and he wouldn't notice for several days.
  • In The White Ribbon, the story is told from the view point of a secondary character (the school teacher). He admits that many details he only knows by hearsay.
  • I Remember Mama is told through Katrin's eyes but the protagonist is her mother.
  • In The Legend of Bagger Vance, Hardy Greaves is this as well as a Nostalgic Narrator; he's a young boy who assists the title character and narrates the story as an old man.
  • Jasminum is narrated by Eugenia, a five-year old daughter of one protagonist and friend of the other. Since the plot deals mainly with Love Hurts, this is to be expected (although even little girls feel sad to leave their friends).
  • According to the DVD Commentary, Serenity is actually the story of Cloudcuckoolander River Tam as delivered by Malcolm Reynolds, indicated by the fact that Joss Whedon deliberately planned the cinematography of the movie to start from her memory/dream sequence, jolt to her perspective, move to her rescue, introduce her pursuer, then cut to Mal interacting with the rest of the cast, before handing the perspective ball to her brother, who then hands it back to her, and she then hands it again back to Mal.
  • In the film Hoffa, Danny Devito plays the narrative character who observes famous union leader Jimmy Hoffa's rise and becomes his most trusted friend, who sticks by him until the end.
  • Youth (2017): Suizi narrates the movie, but is more of an observer in events than a participant. She says in the introduction that the stars are Liu Feng and Xiaoping.
    Suizi: The story that I'm about to tell is the story of our arts troupe. But in this story, I'm not the protagonist.

  • Old Mortality: The first chapter is narrated by Jedediah Cleishbotham and is set years after the main plot. From then the narration switches to the third person to follow Henry.
  • The Way Of All Flesh is presented as the reminiscences of Overton, a minor character. The story begins before the birth of Ernest Pontifex, the protagonist. Also, Overton and thus the reader have information that, according to the plot, must long be withheld from Ernest.
  • The Song of Achilles: Patroclus is the narrator in this book and retains his relatively minor role in the Iliad.
  • Johnny is this in A Prayer for Owen Meany.
  • Ishmael in Moby-Dick. He stops participating in any of the events in the story entirely half way through the book, describing scenes that he couldn't possibly have been present to witness, and only becomes involved with things again in the book's epilogue, as the sole survivor of the Pequod.
  • Sane man Duncan Idaho acts as a First Person Peripheral Narrator to the title character in God-Emperor of Dune.
  • The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway does little in the story except get invited to social events with the main characters and observe what they do.
  • Dr. Watson is First Person Peripheral Narrator to Sherlock Holmes, in addition to being - appropriately enough - The Watson. Most of them, at any rate. The few with Holmes himself as narrator show the "appear conceited" problem in great splendor.
  • Erast Fandorin is a Russian detective clearly modeled on Sherlock Holmes, but only one Fandorin novel uses this trope. The Coronation is narrated by Afanasii Zuikin, a butler in the Tsar's household who doesn't like Fandorin and is usually mystified by the moves Fandorin makes as Fandorin investigates the kidnapping of a young Romanov prince. (Most of the rest of the Fandorin series uses peripheral third-person POV characters instead of actual narrators.)
  • SG Night's Three Acts of Penance is narrated by Saccarri Vorture, a penitent demon and former majiski who records the story of Racath Thanjel several years after the fact. Saccarri has his own role in the tale, but makes it clear from the beginning that it is Racath's story, not his. The majority of the novel follows Racath, which Saccarri narrates from the third person (occasionally interjecting his own first-person commentary). Whenever Saccarri himself appears in the plot, he speaks from a first-person perspective.
  • Dostoyevsky
    • The Posessed (a.k.a Devils) has an unnamed narrator who has a minor role in the events, but he knows everyone and described a lot of scenes he hasn't witnessed... ahem.
    • The Brothers Karamazov uses the same shtick, with an unnamed narrator implied to just be someone who has lived in the town for many many years and knows all the local gossip, but for all intents and purposes is effectively omniscient.
  • Weirdly, Lockwood and Nelly in Wuthering Heights. The main story (about Cathy, Heathcliff, Edgar and that lot) is being told to Lockwood - an outsider to the area - by Nelly, a servant whose active role in the story varies a lot. Even more weirdly in the same novel, by Isabella, who writes a note about her time with Heathcliff later found by Nelly and recited from memory to Lockwood. Also, the contents of the entire novel are really Lockwood's diary. That's right — the reader reads a diary of a man who faithfully records lengthy monologues by a character who in turn faithfully relates a pages-long letter she herself read years ago. Lampshade Hanging?
  • There are two main viewpoint characters in Guards! Guards!; neither of them is the real protagonist of the story, Carrot. Originally Carrot was going to be the viewpoint character, but then Pratchett decided it would be more interesting to leave his thoughts out of the narrative, and shifted the viewpoint to Vimes. This ended up having very interesting results. In fact, in the entire series, there is exactly one page written from Carrot's point of view, even if the story is revolving around him. Sometimes the book spends some time on other characters' thoughts on what Carrot is thinking, because he's like a well: both extremely simple, and extremely deep.
  • The Name of the Rose is narrated by the apprentice of the protagonist and investigator.
  • Robert Graves's historical novel, Count Belisarius is narrated by a servant of Belisarius's wife.
  • Arthur Hastings usually serves as the narrator who chronicles the adventures of Hercule Poirot whenever he's featured.
  • The vicar in The Murder at the Vicarage, where one of the three superficially similar, gossiping old ladies in the congregation solved the case. Miss Marple had a few other First Person Peripheral Narrators over her career.
  • The Horrible Harry series of books are narrated by the main character's best friend, Doug, who acts as a foil to a lot of the characters.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: "Chief" Bromden is nearly catatonic and takes almost no action throughout the book. He simply observes McMurphy's story as it unfolds in front of him. However, because of his mental illness, the action is filtered through his warped perceptions of reality, which highlight the symbolism.
  • Some of John Wyndham's works use this, most notably The Midwich Cuckoos, which is told by a fairly uninspiring and relatively uninvolved observer. If the book can be said to have a protagonist, it would have to be Zellaby.
  • Jenny in Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade. While we get to relate to some of her own life problems and situations, the story is really mostly about Elsie, the overweight girl with significant life problems, whose life gradually improves (via Jenny). Jenny's Character Development is largely based around her relationship with Elsie.
  • Subverted in the first Arsčne Lupin story. It begins as a very traditional example of a mystery story using this trope, where a nondescript male narrator is describing Lupin he is actually Lupin himself, and has been spreading to the police inaccurate descriptions of his appearance.
  • The nameless sailor listening to Marlowe tell the story of Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Marlowe himself is also an example, as his main role is just to witness Kurtz.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and its film version (simply called Fried Green Tomatoes) has two perspectives; a woman visiting a nursing home, and the old lady who tells the woman her story. The old lady's stories are mostly about her adoptive sister and her relationship with another girl.
  • Professor Arronax from Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He is placed in the position of the First Person Peripheral Narrator against his will by the main character (Captain Nemo) and escapes in the end.
  • The Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley. Charlie serves as the narrator and sixth member of the eponymous group, but we know little about him. The other members have easily discernable characteristics (Jeff is the pragmatic leader, Henry is the brilliant thinker, etc.), but it takes a close read of the series to even tease out the narrator's name.
  • Captain Alatriste's squire Íñigo de Balboa, although Íñigo sometimes furthers some plots himself.
  • Richard MacDuff in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, whose main purpose is to be completely bewildered by title-character Dirk. In the second book, this device is abandoned, and it turns out Dirk himself is a lot more bewildered than he lets on.
  • Susie, the narrator of The Lovely Bones, is dead and in heaven. Most of the book is her following her friends and family as they deal with her death and move on, as well as the man who raped and killed her.
  • Leo Borlock, the narrator of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, is a First Person Peripheral Narrator for the title character.
  • All four narrators of The Sound and the Fury are intended to be this, as William Faulkner always said the book was really about Caddy. However, it's an unusual example of this trope because Caddy's barely there to be seen even through the eyes of the other characters — it's mostly about the impact her actions have had on the family.
  • Nanapush and Pauline takes turns narrating Louise Erdrich's Tracks, but the story revolves around Fleur Pillager.
  • Richard Papen from Donna Tartt's The Secret History. The story is unquestionably about the other students in Professor Julian Morrow's clique, all of whom are far more sinister and have way more secrets, but Richard is our narrator.
  • Lemony Snicket, the narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events, does not actively participate in the main story, and any attempt from other characters to mention him is cut off. In the final book, it is revealed that a deceased woman he constantly mourns over the course of the books is actually the protagonists' mother who married another man after believing Snicket to be dead. In the penultimate episode of the TV show, he encounters the protagonists as a taxi driver, and in the final episode encounters his niece who was adopted by them.
  • Fanny, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, tells the stories of Linda, Polly and Cedric and only mentions concurrent events in her own life - such as her marriage and the birth of her children - in passing.
  • Damien Vryce is the main viewpoint character of the Coldfire Trilogy, but for much of the series he functions as the First Person Peripheral Narrator to The Hunter / Garald Tarrant.
  • The Everworld series has four. The primary four protagonists,(David, Christopher, April, and Jalil) are only protagonists at all, or indeed, in Everworld in the first place, because of they are all associated (in different ways) with the witch who binds all of the story and character arcs together, as well as the rest of the two universes. Averted later in the series when the witch in question finally narrates a book, and Subverted in the eleventh when the author Drops A Bridge On Her and focuses on the four First Person Peripheral Narrator in the twelfth book entirely, instead.
  • Phineas is the First Person Peripheral Narrator in John Halifax, Gentleman, a Victorian novel by Dinah Craik.
  • In The Master of Ballantrae, the story is told after all the important characters are dead by Mr. McKellar, the steward of the Durrisdeer estate, because he wants to set the record straight and clear the reputation of the late Lord Durrisdeer. McKelllar narrates the events he was present at in the first person, and his actions have some influence on the course of events, but he's not central.
  • Tim Wynne Jones's short story "Save the Moon for Kerdy Dickus" begins with the line "This is Ky's story." — Ky being a friend of the young narrator, and her story being about a Stranger who came to Ky's family's house one evening and thought that they were aliens. The friend telling the story was not there for the main events of the story at all. The First Person Peripheral Narrator perspective is effective here because, as the narrator says flat out in the first paragraph, "In this story, the way things look is really important," and the fact that the narrator is neither as familiar with those things as Ky nor as unfamiliar with them as the Stranger emphasizes the fact that this story is all about the perspective from which it's told.
  • Just about all of H. G. Wells' books use this trope:
    • The so-called "protagonist" of The Island of Doctor Moreau does nothing but get thrown overboard, land on an island, and watch more interesting people do experiments; Moreau and his experiments are the actual protagonists. The various film versions tend to give him a more active role, sometimes as Moreau's final experiment (and success).
    • The Time Machine is set up as a frame tale narrated by another, who relates what the time traveler has told him about his adventures.
    • Similarly to the above, Wells' short story "The Door in the Wall" is told by someone whose friend is seeking the eponymous door.
    • Perhaps the only novel of his to avert this is The War of the Worlds (1898), in which the unnamed narrator is the protagonist by default because no other major characters last for more than a handful of chapters or have any real motives or character development.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird has Scout watching her father's heroic attempt to save Tom Robinson's life. Scout does have her own adventures, but Atticus is the real man of action.
  • The protagonist and titular character of The Book Thief is Liesel, but Death, who admits that he only met her three times. The story is him narrating about a memoir Liesel wrote.
  • Elmore Leonard's "Hombre": mainly for reason #2, as a big part of the point is John Russell's unwillingness to let anyone else see what he's thinking, or who he really is.
  • The Hyperion Cantos novel Endymion has Raul as the First Person Peripheral Narrator to Aenea. Although Raul participates more than many examples, the story is ultimately Aenea's.
  • One of the popular criticisms of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is that the frame narrator Gilbert Markham should be this trope, but instead, he eventually becomes the protagonist Helen's love interest. Note Gilbert was created by the sister of Lockwood's creator.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River," Balthus — until he gets killed near the end. Many of the stories introduce Conan with such a character, who often lasts a long time into the story before we get Conan's POV.
  • In Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, Silk is the protagonist but two of his pupils, Horn and Nettle, turn out to be the narrators.
  • Although Michael is the title character, Beau Geste is told from the perspective of his younger brother because that's the only one of the three brothers to survive the entire story.
  • Barbara Robinson's three Best novels (most famously The Best Christmas Pageant Ever) are all about the Herdmans, a group of misbehaved siblings with a difficult home life, as they interact with their town's other children. The books are narrated by a girl in their class, however, who relates information about the family and the children's various antics as the plot of each book unfolds.
  • Gil Abad in the Spanish novel series Marijuli & Gil Abad. Despite being one of the eponymous characters, he's a Watson at best. The (few) chapters that aren't written under his point of view are all in a different font, to make this tope even more obvious.
  • Jim Burden, in My Ántonia, has touches of this. His narration speaks mostly of the fascinating people around him than of his own life, though it is clear from some throwaway lines near the end of the book that he has had an interesting one.
  • Dunstan, the narrator of Fifth Business, could be considered this. He himself doesn't really do much, but the accompanying stories of Percy and Paul detail a story of revenge that takes sixty years to conclude. The title even references this; "fifth business" is allegedly a stage term meaning that one character who has no real part to play in the story except for the fact that they know a game breaking fact about the main character. In reality, author Robertson Davies completely made up the term "Fifth Business", and the supposed reference source he quotes for it at the start of the book is utterly phony.
  • Haldeth of The Master of Whitestorm played this role when in Korendir's company. When apart, Korendir's story was always told in third-person.
  • The narrator in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko doesn't even get a name, even though we're clearly supposed to identify her with Behn herself. Either way Behn spends pretty much the entire novella gushing over the enslaved title character's nobility and strength (to the point where the subtext rapidly starts becoming . . . text) and describing events she couldn't possibly have seen (specifically events occurring in West Africa before Oroonoko and his beloved Imoinda were enslaved, and therefore the narrator would have been halfway around the planet from).
  • Umeed in The Ground Beneath Her Feet skates this as he tries to tell the story of his life in the shadow of his friends Vina and Ormus, the world's greatest rock stars.
  • Arthur C. Clarke has "Charles Willis" (an Author Avatar) serve as one of these in Tales from the White Hart: Willis is a science-fiction writer who frequents the White Hart, a pub in Fleet Street, at which he hears barely-believable scientific Tall Tales from a certain Mr Harry Purvis.
  • Oelph is this in the Culture novel Inversions, to the more mysterious character Doctor Vosill. In the other narrative however DeWar is his own viewpoint character (ostensibly the story is being related by someone else, but it has no effect on the presentation).
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koingsberg revolves around two runaways who hide out at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City, but is narrated by the eponymous character, who doesn't show up until the last few chapters of the book.
  • The actress Deirdre is the most important character of No Woman Born, but her perspective is not given because she was recently resurrected in a cybernetic body. Because the central conflict of the story is whether Cybernetics Eat Your Soul, we instead watch from the eyes of her manager John Harris, so we too can be in the dark about whether she's truly there.
  • A few of The Black Company novels come across this way. Raven is at least as important as Croaker in The Black Company and Shadows Linger and definitely outshines Case in The Silver Spike. This was mostly likely done because Raven fakes his death in the first two books and because Case's Distant Finale is more relevant to the series in the last.
  • The Warhammer world's Gotrek & Felix series (created by William King, resumed by Nathan Long for several books, now written by many authors) uses this trope as its foundation. The Dwarf Gotrek Gurnisson is, without doubt, the central protagonist. Gotrek is a slayer - a dwarf who has committed some great shameful act and seeks to atone for this dishonour by dying in battle against worthy foes. The stories are all driven by his obsessive quest to confront the most powerful monsters and villains he can find - encounters which he invariably survives, thanks to being a hugely muscled slab of frustrated dwarfish violence with one of the most powerful magic axes in the world. The stories are not told from Gotrek's perspective, however, but from that of his companion Felix. Felix Jaeger is a veteran adventurer, but still a fairly normal human - a one-time poet and minor political agitator who became caught up in Gotrek's quest when Gotrek saved his life and he swore a drunken oath to record the slayer's doom in an epic poem. As such a lot of Felix's thoughts on their adventures are of the "I can't believe I'm still here" variety, often shading into "yes, but if Gotrek does succeed, then I'm almost certain to die at the hands of whatever killed him". Using Felix as the point-of-view character makes Gotrek far more mysterious, unfathomable and unpredictable, as well as keeping his dark secret - the shame that made him become a slayer in the first place - still secret. Even after decades of adventuring together, Felix still doesn't know what Gotrek's shame really was.
  • The narrator in Devin and the Teacher is not only not the main character but is also (Bonus point!) not even named.
  • "The Women Men Don't See" by James Tiptree, Jr., is a Wrong Genre Savvy Unreliable Narrator who (in essence) expects the story to be about him, and is confused when the woman he's accompanying turns out to be the real protagonist.
  • Jean Robinson's The Strange But Wonderful Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon is told by Duffy's best friend.
  • The Other Boleyn Girl is Anne Boleyn's story told from the perspective of her younger sister Mary.
  • The Queen's Fool is about the power struggles between Queen Mary I and Princess Elizabeth. The story is narrated by the fictional Hannah Green, the titular Queen's Fool.
  • In Michel Peyramaure's Les Folies de la Duchesse d'Abrantès, Adèle serves as this, having little of a life beyond serving Laure, the titular Duchess and not having much of an influence on her progressive descent into poverty and isolation.
  • Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany is the rare third-person version. Jewel, a "crystallized Tritovian", which/who basically serves as the story's MacGuffin, does the narration, but, as he (or it) explains at the beginning, "I have a multiplex consciousness, which means I see things from different points of view. [...] So I'll tell a good deal of the story from the point of view called, in literary circles, the omniscient observer."
  • The main character of Cantata in Coral and Ivory is Ikhsior, a former sea captain that unexpectedly inherited a title of nobility. The story is narrated by his scribe, who is not allowed to admit that his new lord acts more like a sea captain than an aristocrat.
  • Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk, is told as a series of interviews of people acquainted with the titular protagonist in various ways. Possibly partially subverted in that one contributor is all but explicitly stated to be a version of the protagonist after time travel and The Slow Path factor in.
  • Most of Damon Runyon's short stories are told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is given no physical description and self-describes as "a guy who is just around". His purpose is to follow around observing the antics of more interesting characters. He does occasionally assist in the events of the stories, but is never the focus, and never kicks off the action. He's just as likely to have the entire story told to him after the fact by someone else.
  • All twelve books of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time are narrated by Powell's Author Avatar, Nick Jenkins, but he spends most of the time observing other people, and rarely participates directly in the story. Powell's choice of the name "Nick" was a Shout-Out to one of the most famous first-person peripheral narrators of all.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Trends": The story is told from the perspective of Cliff McKenny, an assistant to John Harman, who is trying to build the first rocket to space.
  • Zig-zagged in A Fox's Tale. The present day segments are narrated by Marcus Minev, a historian who wants to learn more about Ember Wulf, the protagonist of the series. However, the past scenes are narrated from Ember's first person POV.
  • Wylder's Hand is narrated by Charles de Cresseron, a London-based friend of Mark Wylder's who comes to the village where Wylder lives to attend Wylder's wedding, and thus is present when the plot kicks off. The main characters of the novel are inhabitants of the village, Wylder's family and friends (and enemies), but it's all narrated by de Cresseron, the outsider. Where it gets a bit weird is that he's only in the village for three short visits, at the beginning and end and somewhere around the middle of the novel, so large stretches are narrated in what's effectively omniscient third person, describing events and characters' thoughts that it's unlikely de Cresseron would have known.
  • The narrator of the Al(exandra) the Great series of young adult books from The '70s falls into this. The eponymous Al is the focus of the books, but they're told from the perspective of the girl who becomes her best friend. The narrator is never even given a name.
  • In The Baby-Sitters Club, it's common for the books to have one or two chapters showing what's going on with the rest of the club in which the narrator is peripheral, if not entirely absent.
  • Stephen King does this in two books in the novella collection Different Seasons. The film version The Shawshank Redemption is mentioned above, and its novella counterpart Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is narrated by Red. The final novella, The Breathing Method features a double version of the trope. The main frame story is told by a middle aged lawyer named David, who attends a men's club where they tell stories, and their Christmas storytelling is always a tale of the uncanny. The main story is told as a flashback by Dr. Emlyn McCarron, about a patient he had many decades before. It's really Jane's story, but "It is the tale, not he who tells it" that's important here.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya's titular character is undoubtedly important and her face is everywhere in promotional material for both the original novels and the anime adaptation, but the story is told from the point of view of Unreliable Narrator Kyon. That said, later on he starts regularly engaging in the plot instead of just commenting on it, shifting him into more of a Supporting Protagonist.
  • Yesterday We Saw Mermaids by Esther Friesner is narrated by a nun who has been given the task of chronicling an expedition to unknown lands. She is almost entirely a passive observer, but in the end is the only character who has all the information to understand what happened. There are two plausible candidates for 'character whose story this really is'; both spend the novel hiding secrets that would significantly change the nature of the story if the audience had known them all along, and neither character makes it to the end alive.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Most episodes that introduce a new companion are told from the new companion's perspective as they're introduced to the Doctor and discover his world.
  • The WB/CW teen drama Everwood was narrated by a peripheral character who was involved with the main characters, but was old and wise enough to give the series a grander perspective than any of the core characters could have. There were occasional voice-overs from other characters in the form of letters between characters at times.
  • In Oz, the narrator for the bulk of the show is also a minor character within the show: a crippled con serving time in Oz.

  • Cecil, host and narrator of Welcome to Night Vale, reports all the news, gossip, and horrifying calamities going on in town, but rarely does much himself since he's usually in his radio booth when the most... exciting things are happening. This is sometimes a real source of frustration, such as when his beloved Carlos is in danger.

  • The BBC radio drama adaptation of His Dark Materials has the character Balthamos (in this version described as a "recording angel" who observes and describes events as they take place) as the narrator, usually just observing and describing events that takes place, unseen and unheard by all, until he chooses to reveal himself to them and involve himself directly in the events as a character. Whenever he does this, there seems to be a slight gap between Balthamos as a narrator and Balthamos as a character, as if he's somewhat dispassionately continuing the observation and narration in his head — even describing events that take place elsewhere and he's clearly not physically present for — even as he is interacting with the other characters and reacting with much greater emotion outward.

  • In the musical RENT, Mark is an aspiring filmmaker who passively observes the dramas and adventures of the rest of the cast while he films them. His role is to narrate to the audience and reflect on their situations.

    Video Games 
  • The Beetmonger's Journal is told by Aubrey Foil, assistant and chronicler of archaeologist Victor Lapot.
  • Country Tales is narrated by the main character's love interest.
  • Most of the actual story in Diablo II is narrated by Marius, a random person whom the Dark Wanderer (Diablo) takes along to carry his stuff or something. He is eventually given the task to enter Hell itself to destroy Baal's soulstone, ie. to actually do something, but understandably chickens out. What's interesting is that if Marius is seen as First Person Peripheral Narrator, then the main character is Diablo, not the Player Character. But since the latter only runs around killing monsters and misses all the real story, even Marius himself seems more like the protagonist at times.
  • In Dragon Age II, party member Varric is held captive and narrates the story of Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall, to his captor, as Thedas is on the brink of war due to the party's actions and Hawke has gone missing.
  • In Drakengard 3, Zero is undoubtedly the main character. In the larger scheme of things, however, the protagonist is a cyborg girl trying to initiate a Cosmic Retcon. The character makes her first appearance after the credits roll for the first time and keeps getting involved more directly in the subsequent timelines that unfold.
  • Final Fantasy XII: Vaan. The main characters are pretty clearly Ashe, Basch and Balthier, but Vaan is along mostly to serve as viewpoint character.
  • The night guards from the Five Nights at Freddy's series act like this. Yes, the game is about their survival against the killer animatronics, but they really don't have a big impact on the plot or backstory - at best, they can discover it. 3's unnamed Fazbear's Fright guard might have burned down the building, but it's only slightly implied, with no confirmation. Five Nights at Freddy's 4 and Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location avert this, however, with 4's child protagonist - who is substantially more involved in the plot - and Sister Location's enigmatic "Eggs Benedict," who may or not be William Afton or his formerly-dead son, Michael, who seems to be on track to becoming the series' Hero Antagonist.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic IV, the main character of the "The True Blade" campaign is Lord Lysander while the narrator is his squire Sir Milton. At the end of the campaign, Milton even acknowledges that he isn't as important as Lysander.
    Milton: I guess it is also the story of how I met my wife, but as I have said before, I am just a simple man; Milton, husband, father, friend. History will not remember my name.
  • The primary plotline in Gone Home concerns the relationship between Samantha and Yolanda, but the Player Character is Samantha's sister Katie; Samantha and Yolanda themselves never appear onscreen.
  • Innocence Smith in Mars: War Logs. He's the sidekick to player character Roy Temperance for much of the game. After the opening cutscene he doesn't narrate much, but he does recount his and Roy's escapades in his diary. If you screw up and Innocence is sent into exile, though, Roy recovers the war log, starts writing in it, and narrates the final cutscene.
  • While the first and third games are more focused on Shepard, s/he is essentially this for most of Mass Effect 2, which is basically an anthology of 10 different character stories (12 with DLC, and 14 if you include Joker and EDI). The game mainly revolves around the Character Development between these squadmates, with Shepard and the Suicide Mission being the thing that links them all together.
  • The narrator of Narcissu, who is not even given a name in-game, largely serves as a chauffeur and plot-catalyst for the real focus of the story, Setsumi. Justified by reason #1 above. Setsumi herself fits this role to some degree vis-a-vis Himeko in the prequel, but she does at least get quite a bit of character development. This is a bit less so in other adaptations.
  • Issun, the Exposition Fairy, narrates Ōkami. This is appropriate, since he's the Voice for the Voiceless for Amaterasu, a wolf, and also her Celestial Envoy (the one charged to spread the news of her great deeds so people will praise her).
  • The ending to Valkyria Chronicles reveals that the whole thing has essentially been the scrapbook of Ellet, a (somewhat annoying) journalist who had made it her mission to document Squad 7's adventures.

    Web Animation 


    Web Original 
  • The viewpoint character in the archaeology segment of the Interactive Fiction work The Beetmonger's Journal is a textbook First Person Peripheral Narrator; they're largely a complete cipher, and present primarily to chronicle the exploits of the more dynamic Lapot, and the other viewpoint character — the eponymous beetmonger — as dictated to them by Lapot from a journal they discovered.

    Western Animation 
  • Pvt. Robert "Paperboy" Higgins from Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles is a FedNet reporter, basically embedded with the Mobile Infantry (except he's an enlisted man, not a non-combatant). Most of the show's narration is him speaking in the past tense, as though writing his memoirs, and he states in the first episode, regarding his comrade and the obvious male lead Johnny Rico, "I know he doesn't look like much now, but trust me, this guy's gonna be a legend."
  • Several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, such as "The Man Who Killed Batman" or "It's Never Too Late," take place mainly from the viewpoint of a minor or one-shot character.
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoon "Blue Cat Blues", about Tom attempting suicide after a failed romance, is told from Jerry's narrative.

Alternative Title(s): The Ishmael