Impeded Messenger

A messenger has an important message/package/etc. for someone, probably the protagonist. Maybe they scheduled a meeting, making it a Doomed Appointment; maybe the protagonist doesn't know there is a messenger. One way or another, the messenger fails to deliver the message, or delivers the message too late. Could become an Unwitting Instigator of Doom.


    open/close all folders 

    Fairy Tales 
  • In the fairy tale The Armless Maiden, the Wicked Sister-in-Law changes letters to and from the titular character and her husband (who's away in a war), by getting the messenger drunk when he stops to rest at her place.

  • Gallipoli has this as the major plot point in the film, where just as the soldiers are about to go over the top to attack the Turks in a futile attempt to gain ground,the order is rescinded. The catch? Mel Gibson doesn't deliver it fast enough and his best bud dies.
  • The entire movie of Kangaroo Jack. Which is probably a good thing, as the money that the protagonists were supposed to deliver is meant to pay the recipient to kill them.
  • In Deep Impact, the astronomer who realizes that the object is a comet on a collision course with Earth, tries to get the information out but dies in a car accident before he can alert the world.
  • The Madness Of King George: Both averted and lampshaded in Thurlow's race to Parliament before the Regency bill passes.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: Attempts to transmit a warning message via radio to the American forces in Hawaii fail due to atmospheric interference. They decide to send the message via commercial telegram, but fail to mark the message as Urgent, meaning it sits in a backlog of messages in Hawaii and isn't delivered to Fort Shafter until after the attack is underway.
    • Further, an American destroyer spots a Japanese submarine trying to enter the harbor and sinks it, but their report of the engagement isn't received until after the air attack starts.
    • Further still, the Japanese send an ultimatum to the Americans, intended to be delivered before the attack as a final justification for the imminent war, but delays in decoding and translating the message into English mean this message isn't delivered until after the attack either. Understandably, the American government is not pleased by the timing of the message.
  • Invoked in Wicker Park where Alex deliberately withholds Lisa's letter that she was supposed to hand over to Matthew in order to sabotage their relationship.

  • Shakespeare:
  • In the Discworld novel Thief of Time, it was mentioned that an Impeded Messenger example was averted when shortly after his horse threw a shoe, the messenger just 'happened' to run into a traveling peasant with a portable forge. This is played with further in that it is only due to the messenger's timely arrival that the dreadful Battle of Five Cities never happened.
    • Terry Pratchett uses a variation of this in Carpe Jugulum as well.
  • In The Andromeda Strain, the electronic version happens: the scientists working on the alien virus in an isolated lab don't get the notification that the president has ordered that an atomic bomb be dropped on the infected site (a very bad idea since the scientists have already discovered the virus is resistant to radiation and large amounts of energy just make it grow faster) because of a mechanical failure in the bell of the teletype machine that was supposed to alert them.

  • Video game variant where the protagonist is the messenger: in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, the character Anthony is given a scroll he's supposed to deliver to Charlemagne, but the scroll proves in fact to be a trap carrying a nasty undead curse—which Anthony discovers by accidentally inflicting it upon himself. Anthony bravely decides to warn Charlemagne of the plot against him, and after battling ghouls, traps, and the curse slowly eating away at his body, reaches his destination to find...that the assassins got sick of waiting, and Charlemagne is already dead.
  • Fallout: New Vegas starts with the player character as a Courier who gets ambushed by a group of thugs led by a man in a suit, who proceeds to take the Platinum Chip that was to be delivered. The main goal of the first half of the game becomes tracking down said man and regaining the chip (completing the delivery is optional after that though).