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Man Behind The Man / Literature

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People secretly controlling others in literature.

  • Allegiant reveals that the Bureau gave Erudite the attack simulation used to kill members of Abnegation in Divergent.
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, Troy faces Kyger for most of the work. After Kyger's murder, and some adventure, he's taken prisoner, to Dragur. In hindsight, Dragur's actual fascination with his marine animals means that the animal shop was a perfect cover for their dealings.
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  • In the Catteni series, the Catteni are interstellar conquerors who have subjugated the human race, but it turns out that the Catteni are themselves being ordered around by another alien race, the Eosi.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian:
    • In the Back Story of "A Witch Shall Be Born", the man who raised Salome intended this trope, but decided she wasn't good enough for a front man.
      He would have made me queen of the world and ruled the nations through me, he said, but I was only a harlot of darkness.
    • In "Shadows In Zamboula", it is rumored that the mistress of the ruler is the true ruler.
  • Glen Cook does this constantly in all his major works. Played straightest in Dread Empire where the titular empire, Shinsan, is controlled by its emperor who wins the succession struggle halfway through the series, O Shing. But he is really being controlled by a cabal of sorcerer-generals, the Tervola, who are actually being controlled by a conspiracy of 9 individuals at the highest places in society from across the globe/continent, who are actually being controlled by an immortal demigod (the Star Rider), who is being controlled by an ill defined higher, extra-dimensional power. That's where it stops, but probably not.
  • The Cosmere:
    • Ruin wasn't controlling all of the other villains in Mistborn, but he was (directly or indirectly) the cause of most of their actions, as well as being the driving force behind a good portion of history and the entire prophecy of the Hero of Ages.
    • The Stormlight Archive: Despite Dalinar's attempts to allow his nephew, the king, to rule, he repeatedly ends up taking power himself. By the end of the second book, pretty much everyone has accepted that Dalinar is king in all but name. It's to the point that during the climax the king is left behind in his palace to drink himself into a coma while Dalinar goes and wins the war.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords:
    • Falk is set up as a villain from the start, but it quickly becomes apparent that his supposed servant Bergdahl is manipulating him, and he's in fact the one who planned it all.
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    • In the epilogue, it turns out that Raguel, a Grey Angel, has been manipulating the events before they even begun.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Turn Coat, Harry deduces that an extremely mysterious group he dubs the Black Council has been behind most of the villains, stretching all the way back to book one. They screw over and manipulate heroes and villains alike.
    • In Cold Days an entity called Nemesis is revealed to possibly be the Man Behind The Man to the Black Council. It is an Outsider that can infect people's minds, and is responsible for pretty much everything that's transpired so far, much of which Harry had previously attributed to the Black Council. The exact relationship between Nemesis and the Black Council remains unclear; it could be an organization that has been influenced by Nemesis, or they could be attempting to use it to further their own ends, or there may not even be a Black Council as such.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Quirrell being the Big Bad was the main reveal but Voldemort being a literal man behind the man was also pretty big.
    • Inverted in Goblet of Fire, where it's pretty obvious all along that the Man Behind the Man is going to be Voldemort, but who the Man himself is isn't clear. The most obvious suspect is Karkaroff, and others considered at various times include Snape, Viktor Krum, Ludo Bagman and Barty Crouch Sr.. The Man turns out to be who no-one expected - Barty Crouch Jr. (who was believed dead) disguised as Mad-Eye Moody.
  • The Heroes of Olympus: In the first book, The Lost Hero, it seems that Porphyrion, the king of the giants, is the one responsible for what's been going on. It turns out he just works for his mother Gaia, goddess of the Earth, who is plotting to resurrect all of the giants and overthrow the gods.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy we meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy. We later find out that the purpose of the president of the galaxy is to distract the people from the real powers that be with his insane antics. In "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", we finally meet the real ruler of the galaxy, who is a hermit who lives in a small hut near the sea with his cat. He likes fish. And he's not just the ruler of this galaxy but, it is implied, the entire universe — this galaxy is just where the Frogstar inhabitants placed him for safekeeping, but he receives other visitors from "far away, so far away" on a regular basis.
  • In Death: This happens a few times. Immortal In Death reveals that Casto did the actual murdering. Betrayal In Death reveals that Naples hired Sylvester Yost in the first place. Divided In Death reveals that Sparrow, assistant director of Homeland Security Organization, put Blair Bissel up to murdering people.
  • In Iron Gold: Publicly, the Ash Lord is recognized as leader of the Society Remnant. But at the end of the book, it's revealed that he was poisoned during the Time Skip after the end of the Red Rising trilogy, and he's been slowly dying while his daughter Atalantia takes the reigns, meaning that all of the actions attributed to him throughout the first book of the Sequel Series were actually his daughter's handiwork.
  • Journey to Chaos: The Big Bad of A Mage's Power is not the mysterious and powerful gang leader that orcastrates Kasile's kidnapping. He's just The Brute for the real Big Bad Duke Selen Esrah. His end goal was to become this for the country of Ataidar. The goal of his first plan was to become the queen's most trusted advisor and the prince consort's father, and thereby rule Ataidar from behind the scenes.
  • The Kane Chronicles: In The Red Pyramid, it turns out that Set was being manipulated by Apophis, the Chaos serpent, the entire time.
  • The Kingdom and the Crown has a council behind the council. The Great Sanhedrin is the official governing power in Jerusalem, but there is a smaller, more elite council where the real power lies. "The power behind the throne," as the Romans call it.
  • Kitty Norville, in every last book. Often played multiple ways. The rundown:
    • Book 1: Who's responsible for the serial-killing werewolf? Primarily Meg, who infected him with lycanthropy in a plan to unseat Carl as pack alpha, but in a strange example also Kitty herself, whose encouragement gave James the confidence to become a serial killer. An epic Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!. The former was also responsible for Cormac's attack on Kitty.
    • Book 2: Four major villains all turn out to be connected: Senator Duke is the overt Big Bad, but he winds up in cahoots with Dr. Paul Fleming, Roger Stockton, and Leo, each of whom are pursuing their own agendas. Additionally, Leo, who seems to be playing the other three, is implied to be taking orders from the Department of Defense and/or someone else that even vampires are afraid of.
    • Book 3 gets tricky due to a Kudzu Plot. The curse on Kitty's cabin was cast by the Not-So-Harmless Villain Alice and Corrupt Hick Sheriff Marks, but the cattle mutilations were the work of a skinwalker that had been attracted by the evil energies of the curse, and the latter was also the sister of the werewolf that infected Ben. So ultimately, everything traces back to the skinwalker's grandfather, who also taught her what she knew. Who, after all that, proves to be an Anticlimax Boss since neither he nor the heroes can hurt each other, and killing him won't get the heroes what they want anyway.
    • Book 4: Who's the real bad guy in the vampiric civil war; Anti-Villain Arturo, or Rick? Neither. Mercedes was playing them both off each other for her own purposes.
    • Book 5: By this point, Kitty's getting smart to it, so when Ben gets kidnapped, she suspects Balthasar. It turns out that Balthasar's show is a front for a cult led by his showgirl, who is the real vampire master of Las Vegas. However, in a Meta Twist, they had nothing to do with Ben's disappearance — that was the two-bit criminal the police suspected all along.
    • Book 6: The Band of Tiamat has to be behind the mysterious force stalking Kitty, right? Yes, but both they and Dom are pawns of Roman, who is implied to also have been pulling Leo's strings back in book two. Bonus points for being Chekhov's Gunman, having appeared previously as an unnamed bodyguard in Book 5 (Though that last might be a Retcon.)
  • Satan, to no one's surprise, is the man behind Nicolae Carpathia's rise to power, and the source of Nicolae's power (particularly when he indwells Nicolae at his "resurrection") in the Left Behind book series.
  • The definitive early science fiction series Lensman by E. E. “Doc” Smith, when read in publication order, is a classic example of this; one Man Behind The Man per book is revealed for three books running... The drug runners lead to the military force, which leads to the eternal force of darkness in the universe. Lampshaded by a comment from Kimball Kinnison to his wife about continually finding that the person or race he thought was the head of the villains was not the top level after all:
    Kinnison: I'm beginning to think there is no top!
  • In The Machineries of Empire, it's an open secret among the higher echelons of the Hexarchate that hexarch Nirai Faian - as well as his precedessors - is just a puppet to the immortal Nirai Kujen.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • The Pannion Seer from Memories of Ice is first made out to be the big bad, then it turns out he is one of the Jaghut children from the prologue and was compelled to his actions by the Crippled God.
    • In Midnight Tides The Crippled God strikes again, backing Rhulad and also making sure he stays in line. Just like have seen in Memories Of Ice. He is, in fact, backing several people throughout the Malazan Book of the Fallen, because that is the only way he can influence the world around him at all.
  • Scott Meyer's Master of Formalities reveals that this 'verse's Feudal Future is secretly run by the Arbiters via their Masters of Formalities, who act as advisers to the various Lords and Ladies. Officially, the job of a Master of Formalities involves simply advising his or her Lord/Lady on the proper forms and precedents regarding interstellar diplomacy to prevent chaos due to cultural clashes (he/she also oversees the palace staff). What most Masters of Formalities don't know (unless they figure it out for themselves) is that the Arbiters deliberately create "paths of least resistance" for the nobles to follow in order to accomplish their goals, which aren't actually bad. For instance, it was the Arbiters who caused the centuries-long war/stalemate between the Hahn and the Apiosans, since their military forces were the largest in their respective sectors and needed to be kept in check. The greatest offense a Master of Formalities can do is to tell a member of a noble house that he or she cannot do something (as opposed to should not), as it threatens to unravel the delicate system set up by the Arbiters. The nobles must always believe themselves to be in charge, or else they may stop listening to their Masters of Formalities out of spite.
  • The Bright Cross Disaster Prevention Foundation is set up as the main antagonist for the first two volumes of My Vampire Older Sister and Zombie Little Sister. After its true nature is revealed to the world, it turns out that it was no more than a cover for the Absolute Noah project.
  • In T.J. English's Paddy Whacked, the Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster, the "man behind the man" was the Irish gangster who controlled and funded the campaign of the politician he supported. The biggest example given was Michael "King Mike" McDonald, a late 19th century Irish American mob boss from Chicago. McDonald used the connections he had to guarantee Carter Harrison Sr's election as Mayor of Chicago.
  • It's already known from the beginning that Tarkan in Phenomena is the one causing the Mortok chieftain to be so hateful and keeping the elves as his slaves. It's not known however that the power-hungry king from a land in the north is controlling him again until later...
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, because of their youth and the odd pattern of their attacks, the heroes believe that someone is directing The Inscrutable Machine, when in fact they're just attacking randomly. Played straight later when Spider blackmails them into helping her.
  • Raymond E. Feist is in love with this one. Across The Riftwar Cycle, the first real villains (the first book was more Grey and Grey Morality) were the dark elves, who then turned out to be manipulated by the Pantathian priests, who were in turn pawns for the Valheru. Later installments revealed that the Valheru themselves were being influenced by Nalar, and the final books revealed that he was just a Red Herring for the real Big Bad, the Dread. Among the side villains, the Dark God was manipulating the Dasati for centuries before taking its place as their ruler, and the demon legions currently trying to invade the mortal world are on the run from even worse demons back home. Both the Dark God and the aforementioned demons were eventually revealed as manifestations of the Dread as well.
  • Safehold: The later books of the series imply that Maruyama Chihiro, the Assistant Administrator of Operation Ark, may have been manipulating the leaders, Administrator Eric Langhorne and Dr. Adorée Bédard, as part of their God Guise. It's even hinted that Chihiro may have manipulated the series of events in which Langhorne and Bédard murdered Dr. Pei Shan-wei, the leader of the faction opposing their twisting of Ark's original mission plan, which led to her husband Kau-yung murdering them in return, leaving Chihiro in charge. In fact, the tenth book ends with a hologram of the other surviving "Archangel", Androcles Schueler, explicitly denouncing Chihiro as a liar.
  • In the Shannara series, the Warlock Lord is the Big Bad of the first book (The Sword of Shannara) and its prequel (First King of Shannara), and is considered to have been the Biggest individual Bad in the setting's history. In The Wishsong of Shannara, some of his former minions learn sorcery themselves and turn into creatures called Mord Wraiths, who are collectively the new Big Bad. Except that's not how it works. The Warlock Lord was actually in the thrall of the Ildatch, an ancient, intelligent tome of Black Magic that wants people to use it, and will latch onto anyone with enough magical talent to make use of its spells, only to abandon them when they're defeated and/or someone better comes along. The Warlock Lord had it, and the Mord Wraiths took it after he died, and in both cases those who used the book became little more than husks that existed solely to use its powers. It's implied that the Ildatch has been doing this for millennia. Finally, when Wishsong's heroine Brin Ohmsford arrived to destroy it and the Mord Wraiths, it latched onto her and tried to turn her into a Dark Messiah, which would have worked if her brother hadn't snapped her out of it, at which point Brin used her magic to burn the Ildatch to ash. Good riddance.
  • In The Star of the Guardians, President Peter Robes is initially presented as the Big Bad, though his main Dragon, Warlord Derek Sagan, seeks to supplant him. The entire conflict between the two men gets recast when Sagan, during an apparently private communication with Robes, catches the reflection of another person in the President's water glass; image magnification reveals Abdiel, a mind-rapist believed long-dead, who masterminded Robes's rise to power and had been playing him and Sagan for saps the whole time. Subsequent developments firmly cement Abdiel as having been Big Bad all along, with Robes reduced to an increasingly-irrelevant sideshow.
  • The Orions in the Star Trek Novel Verse. That dancing girl or prostitute is enslaved to a man who is in turn enslaved to a woman of the elite lineages, who in turn owes allegiance to a man who runs an entire branch of a crime syndicate, who is himself a servant of the woman who runs the entire syndicate from behind the throne...
  • Star Wars Legends: In the last book of the New Jedi Order series, Onimi is revealed to have been manipulating Supreme Overlord Shimrra behind the scenes, and therefore is the one responsible for the Yuuzhan Vong's invasion of the galaxy.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The Silmarillion: In the Fall of Númenor, Sauron allows himself to be captured by Ar-Pharazôn, King of Númenor, and soon goes from being prisoner of the King to channeling his power through the King.
    • Sauron's also heavily implied or outright stated to be the man behind Angmar, several barbarian invasions of Gondor, and at least one plague. He did a lot to weaken his enemies before revealing himself openly a few decades prior to The Lord of the Rings.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, it eventually turns out that the two Big Bads are both being manipulated by the dragon Ash, the true villain of the series.
  • Turns out the whole of the conflict in Luskan in Transitions has been initiated by Bregan D'earthe so that they can take control of the city. They use the people of Ship Kurth as a human front for their operations.
  • The Trials of Apollo does this for both of Rick Riordan's previous series based on Greco-Roman mythology, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus. It reveals that a triumvirate of sinister former Roman emperors who gained a certain degree of immortality manipulated the Titans and Giants, taking advantage of the fact that no one knew they existed. Their ultimate aim is to overthrow the Olympians and become true gods themselves. However, since the Titans and Giants were defeated, they've been forced out of the shadows in a way, leading to their existence being discovered by the good guys.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novels, we learn that Dark Apostle Iskavan reports to Warmaster Garand, who in turn reports to Abbadon the Despoiler, while Inquisitor Stele's Chessmastery is still part of Malfallax's greater game.
  • In Watership Down, the antagonist rabbits from Efrafa corner the fierce fighting rabbit Bigwig, and are dismayed as he reveals that he is not the warren leader, but is defending the burrow at the orders of his chief — whom they assume must be even larger and stronger than he is. They're wrong — Hazel came by his authority and Bigwig's loyalty by being wiser, not stronger.


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