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Lost In The Mail


(permanent link) added: 2011-03-05 10:53:53 sponsor: Puck edited by: Westrim (last reply: 2014-06-01 18:03:35)

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Redirect title: Lost Letter, for Added Alliterative Appeal

Alice writes Bob a letter containing important information, but the letter goes astray in the mail. Alice may assume that Bob has received her letter and is a) acting on the information in it, or b) ignoring or rejecting her by not responding or acting on it. Meanwhile, Bob has no idea that the letter even exists.

Bonus points if the letter turns up much later, especially if it provides the story's Big Reveal and/or the realization that We Could Have Avoided All This. This trope also covers situations in which a long-lost letter resolves a major plot point (even if Alice's reactions or assumptions were never an issue).

Also, the answer to "Why Didnt You Just Say So?" ("It was all there in the letter!" "What letter?")

The most common variant involves a love letter (or, for extra drama, a marriage proposal): Alice takes the lack of response as rejection, and Bob is left wondering why he doesn't seem to have a chance with her anymore. When he asks, she is likely to respond with, "You Know What You Did." Especially poignant if the letter contains sentiments Alice is too shy to tell Bob in person.

This is closely related to Lost In Transmission, but in that trope Bob is usually aware that there was a message but unsure of its contents. (He may be missing crucial details at the critical moment, but at least he knows to ask Alice about them the next time he sees her to avoid any long term misunderstandings.)

Note that neither character ever correctly assumes that a letter was lost in the mail. In fact, the phrase, "It must have been lost in the mail," is usually a good sign that the speaker is a) making a lame excuse for not sending something (often an invitation or a check) which he never actually intended to send, or b) irrationally holding out hope that something (often an award or a valentine) was sent to him.

Subtrope of Poor Communication Kills. Often overlaps with Love Letter Lunacy. See also, Impeded Messenger. The polar opposite of Unstoppable Mailman (who never lets this happen on his watch).

Examples:

Film:
  • The tragedy in the French film Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon des Sources could have been averted if Cesar Soubeyran had only received a certain letter from Florette telling him she was pregnant with his child.
  • Played with in Amélie: Amelie forges a lost letter from her neighbor's late, estranged husband to make it appear that he had always loved his wife and had intended to return to her. It is, of course, a total fabrication, but it seems to help the woman get on with her life.

Literature:
  • In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry believes that Keiko has forgotten him. Really, Henry's father was stopping their letters from ever reaching each other.
  • In the Discworld novel Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, the hero delivers a love letter that had been in the post office's dead letter room for half a century. He is a little worried about how the recipient will react, since he knows that dredging up an old love affair could easily turn awkward. It turns out both the elderly recipient and his erstwhile sweetheart are long since widowed, and the letter inspires them to finally reunite and get married.
    • In Carpe Jugulum, Granny Weatherwax is sent into a tailspin of self-doubt after her shiny invitation to a ball is stolen by a magpie.
  • The novel Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese centers on the mysterious death in childbirth of an apparently virginal young woman. At the very end of the novel, the woman's son finds an unopened letter that his mother intended to leave for his father in the event of her death, which finally reveals the circumstances of his conception.

Live Action TV:
  • The backstory of the Brit Com As Time Goes By is this trope- a soldier and a nurse meet and fall in love before he's sent to Korea. A letter he writes her never arrives, and they both assume the other are treating their romance as a fling. Thirty-eight years later, they meet, and, after some mutual animosity, everything gets explained, and, slowly, the old feelings come back. (It's funnier with Judi Dench and Geoffery Palmer.)

Theater:
  • In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo never receives Friar Lawrence's letter explaining the plan to reunite him with Juliet. Unfortunately, Friar Lawrence doesn't realize his message has gone astray until the plan is already in motion, with (obviously) tragic results.

Western Animation:
  • The Simpsons: an ice melt reveals a mailman who had been frozen while on his route. Letters include one to Mona Simpson (Homer's mom) from her lover, saying that if she replied to his letter he'd take it that she chose him, but if she doesn't reply that means she's decided to stay with her husband.

Real Life:
  • During the "I Love You" virus outbreak, which propagated through emails with the subject "I Love You," some servers started blocking all emails with that subject. This may have had tragic consequences at least once.
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