As I was writing yesterday, I was struck by the fact that my primary antagonist doesn't actually arrive 'onstage' until very late in the book. They are 'present' throughout (in flashbacks, through their influence on events, or through proxies acting on their behalf) but we don't actually meet them in the flesh until almost the climax of the book.
I idly wondered if there was a case to be made for completing this 'separation' by experimenting with changing the end of the book to remove their physical presence completely, and whether this would weaken or strengthen their role. In the end, I decided it wouldn't work - both the protagonist and the reader (I think) need that face-to-face confrontation for cathartic purposes - but it made me think about other fiction (book, movie, play, whatever) where a major character simply isn't there. Not where they physically arrive late in the story (like Boo Radley in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' for example) but where they are literally never actually present.
Two that I can think of off the top of my head are Sauron, the primary antagonist in 'The Lord Of The Rings', and Ellie, the protagonist's adored wife in Pixar's 'Up', who we see in the opening 'lifetime' montage but who dies before the story proper begins. In both these cases, although never actually present at any time, these are still crucial, primary characters who deeply affect the plot and the actions of the other characters throughout the story.
As a fun exercise, can anyone think of any others? 😀 Remember the rules:
1) Must be a major character who has a direct influence on the main plot
2) Must never actually be physically present in any way at any time during the entire course of the plot
(Can be any role - doesn't have to be an antagonist. In fact... extra brownie points if you can come up with a situation where it's the protagonist! Flashbacks, dreams, reportage etc. allowed, as are proxies)