Follow TV Tropes


The Unreveal / Literature

Go To

Unreveals in literature.

General Examples

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:
  • Advertisement:
  • The "wealthy and forgettable" god in American Gods whose odd traits (such as having everyone remember that he'd spoken, but nobody remembering what he'd said) never has his name or occupation revealed, despite the fact that such care was taken to describe him.
  • Isaac Asimov's Evidence: Stephen Byerley is suspected of being a robot, but the book never definitely answers the question. According to the collection, I, Robot, he avoided leaving evidence to prove one way or the other even after he died. Dr Calvin believes that he was a robot, which is no different from her saying he was a fundamentally good person.
  • In Glen Cook's The Black Company series, the vast majority of characters are Only Known by Their Nickname, for various reasons (Wizards can have their powers stolen by the invocation of their true name, and members of the Black Company symbolically leave their old lives, including their names, behind when they join up). In the fourth book, Croaker, the narrator, is asked what his real name is. He notes that it takes him a moment to remember it. He does not note what it is.
  • Advertisement:
  • In The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, the narrator never gives details on the insult for which he wants revenge. (It does allow for the idea that the narrator is imagining the insult, though.)
  • Torak's father's name in The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Due to plot-related reasons, it appeared that it was going to be revealed in Ghost Hunter... but instead we just get something along the lines of Torak hearing his father's name, with the reader never finding out.
  • This affects both the protagonist and antagonist of The Chronicles of Prydain. Taran, the protagonist, is an orphan with no family linage in a land where familial descent is everything. It starts weighing on him so much he eventually goes Gene Hunting, but comes up empty. It's finally revealed that even his mentor, Big Good Dallben, has no idea who his real parents are (it had been alluded to previously that Dallben was keeping the information secret, but that turns out to be nothing but unfounded speculation on Taran's part). Meanwhile, Arawn, the antagonist, is notable for being a shapeshifter. One of the key facts of his villain mythology is that only one person has ever seen his true face and lived to tell the tale, setting up a Chekhov's Gun regarding his true appearance. When he's finally defeated, he reverts to his true form, which falls face-down on the ground, but because he's a Load-Bearing Boss, his fortress begins to crumble just as Taran goes to turn him over and see his true face.
  • Harry Potter:
    • While the reader learns that Horcrux is made through killing “which rip apart the soul” the actual process of creating a Hocrux is left unknown and despite there being books on subject. J.K knows but refuses to go into it (even on Pottermore) saying “some things are best left unsaid”.
    • Similarly Voldemort’s Rudimentary body potion i.e how he gained his corporal albeit grotesque baby form in The Goblet of Fire after being destroyed, is never disclosed. We know some of the ingredients: Unicorn blood and Nagini‘s venom but there clearly other steps which like Horcuxes are left in the dark, J.K told her editor who looked like she was gonna throw up after hearing it.
    • Boggarts’s true form, we know it has one, as it rattles around in whatever space it occupies but according to Lupin nobody has ever seen their true form as will instantly change into whatever the viewer fears. In The Order of the Phoenix Mad Eye Moody at one point uses his Magic Eye to spot a Boggart in a desk implying he’s seen it’s real form but Moody gives no description.
    • The Dementors... what the hell are they? We the readers and Harry never really find out. They’re more solid than ghosts but clearly wraith-like, they can produce mist, they can suck your soul out and prolonged contact with them actually depletes a Wizard’s power making them the only Magical Creature capable of doing so. Worse of all they appear to be immortal and according to J.K grow like fungus. It is semi-confirmed the Dementors’s origins are tied to Azkaban's creation and experiments by Dark Wizards but even then those who investigated “refused afterward to talk about it”.
      • In the unfinalized version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Lupin’s dialogue suggests Dementors are actually Wizards and Witches who have had their souls removed, these lines were cut from the final edit perhaps to keep it a mystery.
    • Speaking of mysteries, The Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic contains many magic things most of which aren’t explained. There’s even a room where Wizards study "love" but Harry and co can’t get inside it, so never see the contents. Then there’s The Veil which is likely some kind of archway to the afterlife but it’s never elaborate on, Sirius disappears when he falls into it.
  • At the end of Cold Comfort Farm, Ada Doom explains to Flora Poste the wrong that Amos did her father, and what her "rights" are, but the reader never finds out. Flora follows up with "and did the goat die?", but not even she finds out the answer to that. And we never discover what "something nasty in the woodshed" Aunt Ada saw.
  • Subverted in Danny, the Champion of the World: Danny's father makes a big deal of the big secret to poaching pheasants. The big secret is that pheasants are completely nuts about raisins. Danny is a bit disappointed that this seemingly trivial tidbit of information is the big secret... but the rest of the book showcases exactly how powerful that little tidbit is in the hands of a sufficiently motivated and creative poacher.
  • Deryni: In The Quest for Saint Camber, after an apparition appears to Kelson during his duel with Conall and does a Godly Sidestep, Kelson and Dhugal meet a cowled man on the beach near Castle Coroth. The man still won't give his name or admit appearing to Duncan years before, but he does draw a sigil in the sand that shows them a vision of Camber on his bier. Though there's no clue as to where or when the vision actually happened, Kelson finds a tiny shiral crystal bead (like those sewn into Camber's netted shroud) in the sand.
  • Older Than Radio: The opening to Frank Stockton's "The Discourager of Hesitancy", the sequel to "The Lady or the Tiger", is set up with the apparent intention of finally revealing what happened in the No Ending of the previous work. Instead it presents a similar problem without answering what happened in the last one.
  • Doctrine of Labyrinths has a couple of these. Is Stephen able to rescue Hallam? Why was the Khloidanikos created? We'll never know.
  • Effi Briest:
    • The author repeatedly evades revealing details of the story of the ghost of the Chinese man. In one scene, Rosawitha sits down with Frau Kruse and asks her to tell the story; as Frau Kruse begins to speak, the narration follows another character out into the courtyard, then Rosawitha comes into the courtyard and says, "I must say that story about the Chinaman is very queer."
    • Later, one character asks another about it, and gets the answer, "An extraordinary story, but not for now. We've other things on our minds." That's it! The reader never learns more.
  • Stephen Carter's The Emperor of Ocean Park ends this way. After protagonist Talcott Garland almost died twice in the book trying to figure out the conspiracy that might have been responsible for his father's death, he obtains a floppy disc that contains the names of corrupt Supreme Court members (keep in mind that the book takes place during the late 1990s). Instead of looking inside the floppy disc, or even storing the device for later use, he simply tosses it into the fireplace to be destroyed. Depending on the reader's perspective, this is either a poignant metaphor for letting the past go to move on with your life, or a frustrating cop-out ending after teasing readers for 600+ pages, which ultimately goes nowhere.
  • The Brothers Grimm story "The Golden Key" describes a boy who discovers a golden key and a small box in the snow. The boy imagines what wondrous things might be in the box, and searches it for a keyhole. He finally finds it, and inserts the key into the keyhole... but the reader will have to wait for him to unlock the box before finding out what's inside. The end.
    • Considering most Grimm stories can be read in an entirely different way, guess what Key and Keyhole could symbolize.
  • In Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar novels (Thus Was Adonis Murdered, The Shortest Way to Hades, The Sirens Sang of Murder and The Sibyl in her Grave), narrated by Professor Hilary Tamar, Hilary's sex is never indicated.
  • In James P. Blaylock's Homunculus, a strange mechanical gadget called a Marseilles Pinkle is left at the site of a kidnapping. A worldly character implies that it has some perverse erotic function, but the viewpoint-character is too naive even to guess what that might be, and the Pinkle's description certainly doesn't sound like a sex toy, leaving the reader in the dark as well.
  • The Hottest Dishes Of The Tartar Cuisine: The identity of Aminat's father is never revealed.
  • House of the Scorpion is set sometime in the future, but the exact year is never revealed. Matt reads a book that would have at least given a rough estimate, but he stops reading the book just before it says what year the book's author received a Nobel Peace Prize.
  • The Hunger Games: It is never stated if Portia is on the rebels' side or not.
  • In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos saga, we never get a full explanation of The Shrike's true origin and purpose. In fact, a lot of things are left less than fully explained in the end.
  • In Invisible Man, when the protagonist is lying in the hospital and is asked what his name is, he narrates that he realized then he no longer knew his own name. When he later gets a new name from the Brotherhood handed to him on a slip of paper, he avoids stating exactly what name was written on it.
  • In Donna Tartt's The Little Friend it's never revealed who killed Robin. Throughout most of the book, Harriet was certain who had done it only to realise at the very end that she had absolutely no reason to trust her theory (due to lack of evidence) and that she was utterly wrong anyway.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen: In Reaper's Gale, Rhulad's consort writes a single phrase on a confession paper before she is brutally murdered. Based on the reaction of the two men to subsequently read it, the phrase would have been truly damning to her murderers, which could mean a wide array of things considering their actions. Yet what was written is never revealed; the paper itself is destroyed and both men to read it die without ever revealing the contents.
  • Near the end of the second book in The Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth Salander figures out a simpler proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. In the third book, thanks to being shot in the head, she no longer remembers what it was.
  • In Neuromancer, the character Molly has mirrored sunglass lenses surgically embedded over her eyes. Late in the novel, one of the lenses is broken in a fight, and the characters responsible comment that they'll be able to see the colour of her eyes once she wakes up. They do, but by the time the main character (and thus the reader) get there, she's already been bandaged up.
  • Parker: The name of the amateur who soured Parker's score in The Seventh. The police discover his identity, and at several points the reader almost learns his name, but something always interrupts the action before it is revealed on the page. The novel ends without the reader (or Parker) ever learning who he actually was.
  • In The Plot Against America there is never a definitive answer given as to what happened to Charles Lindbergh that caused him to crash his plane. Was it a legitimate crash or did someone sabotage the plane? If it’s the latter, who did it? Was it the British desperate for an American president who will help them? Was it the Nazis because he wasn’t doing enough? The FBI because they thought he’d enter the war on side the Axis powers? These are all ideas presented in the book without an answer.
  • What was the earth-shattering event that led to the post-apocalyptic scenario in Cormac McCarthy's The Road? We never find out, and since the book is more about keeping hope alive in the face of armageddon than about the actual experience of life after the apocalypse, it doesn't really matter. The journey of the main characters is what counts, not how they got there.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events. Hundreds of plot points are unexplained, after the readers are informed of just how incomprehensible everything is if you don't know what they mean.
    • "The Sugar Bowl" could easily be this trope's name. It is spontaneously revealed that it is very important for some reason during the 10th book, and despite being the MacGuffin for books 11 and 12, we never find out what the sugar bowl contains!
    • Lemony Snicket sometimes takes the above plot points to an extreme of this trope, resulting in a chapter beginning that is poorly related (if ever excused by that) to the following chapter.
    • When Sir is in a sauna, he puts down the cigar whose smoke usually covers his face, but he is covered up again by the steam. In the illustration at the end of the fourth book, we can kind-of see the back of his head, so he may be bald.
    • One of the most prominent examples is, did Count Olaf really burn down the Baudelaire mansion? While he certainly has a motive and it wouldn't be out of character for him to do so, and he doesn't seem surprised when the Baudelaires directly accuse him of doing so, we never get a definite answer or any solid evidence one way or the other. Even Olaf's comments on the matter don't clear anything up. When accused, he just says, "Is that what you think?" It's implied that he may actually have been innocent on that front, but we'll never know for sure — and neither will Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, probably.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Collateral Damage reveals that Elias Cummings never wanted the job as FBI director, but he was blackmailed into taking the job. It is never revealed what he was being blackmailed over, but Judge Cornelia "Nellie" Easter knows what it was, and states she would have done the same thing in his place. Perhaps he committed an act of justifiable murder.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a subversion in A Feast for Crows. The prologue character Pate asks the hooded person that bribed him to commit thievery to reveal his face, and the man obliges. Pate realizes that he doesn't recognize him at all, and the man is not identified. However, astute readers have picked up that his description matches that of another character briefly described two books earlier to make the connection.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Galaxy of Fear: Clones, Tash stumbles upon a cloning facility that can snag a genetic sample and make a grown clone out of it within hours, when all cloning methods she knows about take years to do the same. There are a few ancient droids running the facility, and she asks one about it... and it tells her that it's classified. Later she speculates, but can't come to any good conclusions.
    • The tie-in book The Jedi Path has a three-page essay on the Chosen One prophecy, only the pages are, depending on the edition, torn out or completely marked through, with a note from Luke saying basically, "It was like this when I found it, probably Palpatine's doing."
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Problem of Cell 13", Van Dusen asserts that he had at least two other methods of escaping from the cell if his first plan proved unviable (and his first plan relied on facts he did not know before entering the cell). The reader never learns what these other plans were.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Ahriman: Unchanged, the Changeling of Tzeentch shows its true face to Ahriman after being commanded to spare him. Ahriman is shocked by what he sees, but the Changeling erases his memory of the encounter and disappears before its face can be described.
  • Subverted in The Westing Game. During the reading of the will, Sandy McSouthers makes a joke, cutting off the lawyer before the last word in one of the sections is read. Later it's "revealed" that there was no final word in that section. This is ultimately subverted in the end, as one of the characters figures out what the missing word was.
  • In the Xanth novels, Bink's talent (immunity from magical harm) invokes this trope as part its power. Even if Bink himself tries to tell someone, his talent will intervene and cause an interruption. The talent only works if it remains secret; an enemy who knew about it could simply use a non-magical attack. Magic is so common and easy in Xanth that an unaware enemy would never think to try this.

End of Book Cutoff

  • Nightside: In Just Another Judgement Day, John Taylor and a companion barely manage to outmaneuver a homicidal tyranosaur, in order to reach a secret door inside its cage. After meeting the occupant, they're booted out into the cage, where the tyranosaur awaits. Confronting this peril, John (the narrator) simply comments "Luckily, I thought of something", after which the author cuts to the next chapter, leaving their method of escape unstated.
  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next: In One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, how Thursday escaped Fan Fic. She even tells another character — but not the reader.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: