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"We will take you on safe paths, through the mist. Come Hobbits come! We move quickly. I found it, I did. A way through the marshes. Orcs don't use it. Orcs don't know it. They go round for miles and miles."—Gollum, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
"I know a secret path through these mountains."—The 300 Spartans (1962 film)
Suppose there's somewhere you need to go, but getting there could be difficult or dangerous. Maybe you have to get into a walled city, castle, or Supervillain Lair, but the entrance is guarded by armed soldiers or a Golem. Maybe you have to cross a minefield or an uncharted deadly swamp where one wrong step could drop you into a pit from which you would never return. Maybe you've gotten into the enemy base and need to go to the control room, but you suspect that the main hallway with signs saying "control room this way" has more security cameras than all the other hallways combined. Maybe there's a range of mountains you need to cross, but your map doesn't show any pass nearby. Maybe you just need to go from one town to another, but you're a widely recognizable fugitive and don't want to be seen by other travelers on the road between them. Whatever the reason, there's somewhere you have to go, and obvious ways to get there either don't exist, would take too long, or would be near-suicide to use. If only there were some special route that's not widely known, one that could get you where you need to go while bypassing many of the obstacles in the way...
What you need is a Secret Path. This is a passageway that not everyone knows about that can be used to get somewhere that is difficult to reach or to go somewhere without being noticed. Sometimes a local guide will be knowledgeable about paths that outsiders are unfamiliar with.
Although these Secret Passages are sometimes lauded as "shortcuts," they can sometimes take longer than more obvious paths, and can be laden with treacherous hazards that make them even more dangerous than the danger they allow travelers to avoid. Expect any secret path through a swamp to be unpleasant, since Swamps Are Evil.
Common types of secret paths include back doors, Bookcase Passages, ventilation shafts, and underground routes such as passages through Absurdly Spacious Sewers. See also Right Under Their Noses, Hidden in Plain Sight. If you make your own secret path, it's called Dungeon Bypass.
- Clue had one.
- Involved in one of the It Was Here, I Swear gags in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
- Prydain Chronicles book The High King. Achren leads the heroes along a hidden path over Mount Dragon into Annuvin, avoiding the dangers of other routes.
- In The Lord of the Rings:
- Gollum leads Sam and Frodo through the Dead Marshes, using a path that the orcs don't know.
- Lord of the Rings also has the path the Rohirrim take to get to Minas Tirith, led by Ghân-buri-Ghân.
- The hidden West-Gate into Moria, effectively a secret passage to everyone but the Dwarves ... and their friend.
- Meanwhile, back in the Shire, young hobbits would occasionally search for hidden passages in Bag End, convinced that Bilbo had concealed his legendary wealth there.
- The Hobbit has a Dwarven door in the Lonely Mountain that foreshadows the later book's Moria gate -- a secret passage into the very heart of the Lonely Mountain whose keyhole only appears on the rarely-occurring Durin's Day and whose key was lost for years.
- In Harry Potter, Much of Hogwarts castle is built with several secret passages that the students use to get around school quickly. The castle has so much and some are so well hidden few people know the exxact locations of each one. The only three plot significant secret passages used in the books are passages leading into Hogsmead Village:
- One leading to the cellar of Honeydukes candy store.
- Underneath The Whomping Willow into the shrieking shack.
- The portrait of Ariana Dumbledore in Aberfroth's home leading to the Room of Requirement. This last didn't exist until "Deathly Hallows", and was created by the Room of Requirement.
- The Castle Canyons are secret passages in the Castle of Septimus Heap. They are used by Jenna, Septimus and Marcellus Pye in Darke to get around while the Castle is swamped by a Darke Domaine.
- A Dungeons and Dragons campaign module included a secret path intended to be the faster exit for the party, which spirals along the main path. The book suggests to prevent finding the outside path, to ensure that the player goes through the hazardous portion.
- Roguelike Omega included secret mountain passes, which cut down on travel time in the wilderness.
- In Skies of Arcadia, there is a passage through Valua's sewer system that leads to the arena in the Coliseum. The sewer system can also be used to travel from Lower City to Upper City, even though free travel from Lower City to Upper City is supposed to be forbidden.
- Sewers are good for this; that's how the Gaang gets back into Omashu in Avatar: The Last Airbender. There's also supposedly a "secret river" (but not secret enough not to be discussed in Fire Nation grade school) that leads to the Fire Lord's palace.
- According to historians like Herodotus, Xerxes gained an advantage in the Battle of Thermopylae when a Greek named Ephialtes told him of a mountain pass around Thermopylae, at which point Xerxes secretly sent 20,000 Immortals under the command of Hydarnes through so that the Persians could have the Greeks surrounded.
- When naval minefields became a common tactic in modern war, the defenders would have pilots (small-craft captains) who could guide friendly shipping through a safe path. Assuming that none of the mines had come loose and drifted into the path you were using.