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Unwitting Pawn / Literature

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Unwitting Pawns in literature.


  • In "Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou", a Robert Westall short story in his anthology Break of Dark, author Peter Wingfield plays into the hands of vengeful ghosts; giving them a conduit to the real world and the energy of his dislike for his old school-mate, Roger.
  • The Dale Brown book Act of War has many characters play into National Security Adviser Robert Chamberlain's hands.
    • Shadow Command sees US President Joseph Gardner playing right into the hands of Russian President Leonid Zevitin. The former's egoistic desperation to control the Chaotic Good protagonists leads him to steadily feed information that should have stayed classified. Fortunately for Gardner, he does not end up outliving his usefulness.
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  • In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat’s Cradle, Angela and Newt Hoenikker are suckered by agents of the American and Russian governments, respectively.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. Lord Foul is a Chess Master and Manipulative Bastard extraordinaire, and his plan to destroy the Land involves not just conquering everything, but continually engineering situations where the protagonists become Unwitting Pawns. Thomas Covenant is saddled with the role of Unwitting Pawn for the entire duration of the first and second trilogies, knowing that Lord Foul's plan hinges on the destructive and harmful actions he takes, but helpless to do otherwise because there are no good alternatives.
  • Subverted in the last book of Counselors and Kings. Kiva has released her former captor and Evil Mentor Akhlaur from his imprisonment with the intention of manipulating him into destroying The Magocracy of Halruaa and its King Zalathorm for her. Said manipulations across most of the book go off without a hitch. Then Kiva tries to convince Akhlaur to destroy his and Zalathorm's shared Soul Jar so they can fight it out evenly — and he all but laughs in her face. Seems for most of the book, Kiva had been "manipulating" Akhlaur into doing things he wanted to do anyway, but he's not about to put his immortality on the line for anything, even his own revenge and certainly not Kiva's, and he's far too powerful for her to do anything about it; Kiva has to go into a mad scramble to salvage something of her plans that doesn't end with Akhlaur on the throne, and she fails to do so. This, people, is why Evil Is Not a Toy.
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  • In the Copper-Colored Cupids short story The Resurrection of the Wellsians, all of the schemes and counter-schemes of the characters turn out to have been furthering the aims of the Wellsians themselves.
  • As Malacoda said to Shroud in Dis Acedia:
    A decent puppeteer can manipulate pawns, yes… but a true master pulls strings on string-pullers themselves.
  • Discworld has Vimes. Oh, dear, poor Vimes. Thud! comes to mind, in which the entire quest he undertakes has been engineered by the very politicians whom he thinks he's going to stop, to give them an excuse to make peace with each other, which is what Vimes wanted all along, except that he's been their unwitting pawn...
    You can't bribe Sam Vimes, but why bother when you can just pull the wool over his eyes?
  • In The Doctrine of Labyrinths, Felix thinks he severed his tie to Malkar years ago, as he continued to climb the Mirador's political ladder. Turns out that Malkar still has enough of a tie to steal Felix's magic for the destruction of the Virtu.
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  • In Dragonvarld, the Sisterhood of Seth play this role. They think that their efforts are keeping Seth free of dragons, but they're actually only repelling all dragons except the one they unknowingly serve and whose predations the "attacking" dragons are trying to end.
  • Spartacus Kilroy in the first Erec Rex book. He thinks he's just trying to help the sick King Piter get better. He doesn't realize that the coffee he's giving the king actually contains the poison keeping him ill.
  • In Flora's Dare, Flora is sent off by Lord Axacaya to Bilskinir House to recover Georgiana Segunda's Diario so as to determine how to free the Loliga. Little does she suspect that his primary reason for sending her was to confirm his suspicions that she's the last Hadraada, and thus have her killed.
  • In the original Foundation trilogy, everybody except for The Mule. And even he doesn't actually succeed in the end. Even the Second Foundation themselves are just pawns in a larger game.
  • In Hunger, the second book of the Gone series, the Gaiaphage does this to Caine and Lana. Caine thinks he's messing with the nuclear power plant for revenge and power, and Lana thinks she's actually trying to destroy the Gaiaphage. It may also be doing this to Brittney in book 3. Drake is corrupt enough that he actually works for it willingly.
  • King James in Harald, who makes war on his father's allies on the advice of his Evil Chancellor, who is in the pay of the real Big Bad.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In the words of the fake Mad-Eye Moody in Goblet of Fire, after having tricked Harry into winning the Triwizard Tournament just to lure him into the whereabouts of Voldemort:
    Decent people are so easy to manipulate.
    • In the same book, we learn that Ludo Bagman was accused of spying for the Death Eaters during the First War; at his trial, he maintains that he was tricked into it and thought that his intel was going to the good guys. He was apparently telling the truth, since his suspicious actions in the present are unrelated to any of this.
    • Ginny Weasley in Chamber of Secrets, though she eventually becomes suspicious and tries unsuccessfully to destroy the diary.
    • Harry Potter himself in Order of the Phoenix, when Voldemort tricks him into going to the Department of Mysteries by making him believe falsely that Sirius Black was in danger. Especially notable given that he tells Snape (who at this point he believes loyal to Dumbledore) that he'd had the vision of Sirius in danger there, and still rushes in to do the Dark Lord's dirty work for him (in fact, Sirius dies because he goes there to aid Harry and is killed by Bellatrix).
    • Ultimately, almost every major character in the series is revealed to be, to some extent, pawns for either Dumbledore or Voldemort (or both). It's ultimately revealed that their decades-long game of wits to destroy each other is effectively the central keystone of the series. Harry himself is the ultimate piece in the game, being played by both sides at various points. Snape, however, is a willing pawn for Dumbledore.
    • Horace Slughorn is the main reason Dumbledore needed to come up with such a complex plan to defeat Voldemort in the first place. Voldemort, a student at the time, played up his "eager young star student" act to goad Slughorn into revealing some crucial knowledge of how Horcruxes are made. Horace actually realized later in life that he had been a pawn and that he was thus indirectly responsible for a great deal of harm, and edited his own memories out of shame.
    • For the kind that helps without any prompting from the villain, see Cornelius Fudge and everyone else who was complicit in denying that Voldemort had returned.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The People's Republic of Haven under the Legislaturalists, who were secretly Mesan alpha lines. The Mesans set up the entire inefficient government, and before the coup effectively controlled the PRH's policies. It's hinted that the majority of the Legislaturalists were unaware of the Alignment's existence, by the way.
    • The entire Solarian League and its navy. The Mesan Alignment has several well placed naval officers in its pocket, up to and including the fleet admiral, allowing them to basically send whoever they want wherever they want. They use this power to set up a war between the League and the Star Empire of Manticore. Standout among their pawns is Admiral Josef Byng. Where every other Solarian officer they used was at least being bribed and/or blackmailed, Byng was just useful as an anti-Manticore bigot. They put him into position and let his personality do the rest.
  • In Death: William from Rapture In Death doesn't even know that his wife, Reanna The Sociopath, has manipulated him in more ways than one to help her commit murder.
  • In several works by Stephen King, Randall Flagg, aka the man in black, sets forth plans of conquest almost completely dependent on the efforts of Unwitting Pawns.
  • Amara in Knowledge Of Angels- even though the orchestrator of the plot is not the villain, the plan does end up causing the death of a main character, as Amara has technically proven his guilt in rejecting God.
  • In Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, this role is amply filled by King Elias. From the start, Evil Sorcerer Pryrates tricks and manipulates him via promises: first, to communicate with his dead wife, and later, to grant him Immortality, all while turning him into a vessel for the return of the Big Bad Storm King.
    • Ironically enough, Pryrates is an even bigger Sucker. The Storm King manipulated him with the promise that Pryrates would be the "first among men" when The Storm King returned. And he was the first...to die.
    • The entire cast of protagonists are suckers, by the classic definition, as the most basic element of the Storm King's Evil Plan is to trick them into bringing him the Three Swords. It works perfectly.
  • The Mental State: Zack enlists several of these over the course of the story. His most noteworthy examples are Charlie, who is used to threaten the inmates who have children, and the entire rapist population of the prison, who are tricked into doing hard labour and then have the crap beaten out of them for their efforts.
  • Mistborn: In the original trilogy, everyone is an Unwitting Pawn for Ruin and its plan for complete... ruin. And in true Chess Master spirit, that's not even the end of it it, since Preservation made a Unwitting Pawn out of Ruin by making humans in ITS plan for offing Ruin. DANG. For the record, "everyone" includes the Big Bad and The Chessmaster. No mind goes unscrewed.
  • A heroic case in Noob. Big Bad Tabris was initially created by scientists from the Empire, but rebelled against them. However, upon his creation, certain objectives were implanted into him. They includes fiding more rosaphir, the limited resource that the Empire needs to fuel its technology instead of the abundant but not completely reliable magic. In the fourth novel, his biggest move had the side effect of doing just that, indicating he's still guided by these objectives to an extent.
  • The Pendragon Adventure: Poor Mark and Courtney. Every time they try to help out Bobby and his friends, they usually just end up playing into Saint Dane's hands.
  • Kronos does this to everyone in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Furthermore, especially in the second book of the new series, The Heroes of Olympus, many characters, among which the Big Bad herself, state that Percy will be Gaia's pawn, and that he'll bring about the destruction of the gods.
  • In the Robert Ludlum novel The Prometheus Deception, Nick Bryson is an operative for the Directorate, a top-secret division of the U.S. government. Five years after his forced retirement, he's tracked down by the FBI director who informs him of the truth: The Directorate was founded by the KGB, Bryson's parents were killed to set him on this path, his foster "uncle" an enemy operative and even his beloved girlfriend was in on it. Every single mission he risked his life for and felt proud of actually was working against U.S. interests and thus his entire life has been one grand lie to be used by the enemy.
  • In The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin, Húrin ends up as one after he is released by Morgoth. Driven mad by 28 years of Mind Rape he ends up unwittingly leading the enemy to the Hidden City of Gondolin, causes a civil war and the ultimate destruction of the last free tribe of Men, and sets events in motion that lead to the fall of the largest kingdom of Elves, all in an attempt to avenge his family's deaths . He only stops when Melian tells him that he's not helping anyone, and effectively acting as a tool of Morgoth's malice. Then he kills himself.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, EVERYONE is this to Petyr Baelish. By various schemes and plots, he deepened the conflict between Stark and Lannister families, which escalated with Ned's execution. This got the North to take arms against the king, which started an entire war for the Seven Kingdoms. That's just in the first book. And he's not even nearly done. Even Tywin Lannister, a Magnificent Bastard through and through, is only another piece in the game.
    • To Littlefinger, or to Varys. Varys pushed Cersei towards paranoia so she would think every competent adviser who dared criticize her bad decisions to be a traitor and plot their demises. All so the Targaryen prince he hid away can reclaim the Iron Throne.
  • In Stephen Marley's book Spirit Mirror, Chia Black Dragon tries very hard to dodge Nyak's plan by taking a third option. She fails, and ends up releasing Nyak from his can. Then in the next book, Mortal Mask, she does it again.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • When Grand Admiral Thrawn from The Thrawn Trilogy is involved, characters become suckers by being so afraid that they play right into his hands through their caution, the best example being that when they need a certain device from one of two locations, they leak info that they will go to one, therefore showing him they are actually going to the other. Some characters in the Hand of Thrawn duology are wary of doing anything lest they be doing what he wants.
    • The Rebel clones in Galaxy of Fear. They're friendly enough, if kind of vacant, and tell our heroes to stay around, their leader is out right now but he'll be back soon and they should meet him. Turns out their leader is an actual Darth Vader Clone. But they have no idea that he should be their enemy—he's the one who gathered the skin and hair samples they were created from, and they have no memories about what being a Rebel means or what the Empire is.
    • In Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, rather than capture the fugitive Jedi quietly, Moff Tarkin allows them to slip past an Imperial checkpoint in their disguised stolen shuttle, so that when they land on Kashyyyk he can accuse the Wookiees of harboring fugitives as a pretext to invade the planet and round up thousands of Wookiee captives—perfect slaves for his Death Star project.
  • Although Ian Irvine has one in every single book, the conclusion to the ThreeWorlds/Well of Echoes series deserves special mention for the sheer scale of it. The main character attempts to stop the Magnificent Bastard from using the most powerful magic in the world to take over said world by destroying the power sources of all magic, thus preventing anybody from using it. Except it turns out that the magic the Magnificent Bastard was using was the only one powered by something else, and what she had actually done was destroyed any and every chance the heroes had of stopping him. Whoops.
  • Jean de Vrailly of The Traitor Son Cycle is trying to save the kingdom of Alba under the advice of his guardian angel. Predictably, the angel is not what it says it is, and it's playing de Vrailly like a fiddle for its own purposes.
  • Under the advice of his dead wife's spirit and Big Good Kil'jaeden, the old orc shaman Ner'zhul in the Warcraft novel Rise of the Horde convinces his people to put away their differences and prepare to defend themselves against the Draenei. Except his wife's ghost was an illusion, Kil'jaeden is The Devil and this book is the Start of Darkness of the orcs that explains how they became the Always Chaotic Evil horde of the first two games. Oops.
  • Most of the Blood Angels in James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novels Deus Encarmine and Deus Sanguinius. Sachiel in particular; Inquisitor Stele thinks how easy he is to manipulate, and when he realizes at last the corruption, Stele kills him, declares the loyal Blood Angels did it, and starts a battle.
  • In the Warrior Cats novel The Forgotten Warrior, Sol shows up in ThunderClan for a visit and Firestar decides to let him stay for a bit, despite his evil acts. Later, when Lionblaze is on patrol, Onestar, leader of WindClan shows up and tells the ThunderClan cats to drive out Sol, which they had already been planning to do. However, since Onestar told them to do it, doing so would make ThunderClan look subserviant to WindClan and weaken it, so they are forced to ally with Sol against Onestar rather than driving Sol out.
  • In the Wheel of Time series:
    • The entire point of Elaida is to further the plans of the Forsaken by either doing what a servant says or just being an idiot.
  • Wolf Hall portrays Sister Elizabeth Barton as a young woman whose desire for attention made her an easy pawn of ecclesiastic and Plantagenet enemies of Henry VIII. She helps them by publicly prophesying against Henry without understanding that she's made herself liable for treason by doing so, and she ends up hanged after Thomas Cromwell exposes all the plotting.


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