One favorite trope I always love to think about is delivery of a letter from the past to a point of accidental (and one-way) time travel.

Precise definition:

  1. There are two people (A & B) at present (can be generalized to a group of people).

  2. B got accidentally transported to the past (same timeline).

  3. At present, B is already dead after living his/her full life, but he/she dispatched a letter to A at precise date, time and place of his/her disappearance.

  4. At present, A gets letter from B just after B's disappearance.

There are two examples of this trope in my mind at this time:

  • In the end of the Back to the Future 2 (1989) movie, Doc got transported to the past because of an accidental lightning strike on his time machine. Moments later, Marty got 70 years old letter from Doc.

  • In the Doctor Who (2005) episode Blink (2007), Sally's friend got transported back to the past by a Weeping Angel and moments later Sally got a letter from her disappeared friend in which she explained where she ended up and how she seduced a man.

Which Sci-Fi work introduce this idea?

  • 1
    TVTropes calls this concept "Write Back to the Future."
    – notovny
    Dec 22, 2020 at 22:16

2 Answers 2


I think the idea was first introduced by H.P. Lovecraft in the 1934 story "The Shadow out of Time," which describes the events and resolution of an ill-fated archaeological expedition. The story ends thusly:

I have said that the awful truth behind my tortured years of dreaming hinges absolutely upon the actuality of what I thought I saw in those Cyclopean buried ruins. It has been hard for me literally to set down the crucial revelation, though no reader can have failed to guess it. Of course it lay in that book within the metal case—the case which I pried out of its forgotten lair amidst the undisturbed dust of a million centuries. No eye had seen, no hand had touched that book since the advent of man to this planet. And yet, when I flashed my torch upon it in that frightful megalithic abyss, I saw that the queerly pigmented letters on the brittle, aeon-browned cellulose pages were not indeed any nameless hieroglyphs of earth’s youth. They were, instead, the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language in my own handwriting.

  • 1
    I thought the question was about letters that were meant to be delivered by some sort of mail carrier to a specific time and place, as opposed to records of a time traveler that were just found lying somewhere. Also the question is about a time traveler stuck in the past who "is already dead after living his/her full life" when the letter arrives, whereas in the Lovecraft story the protagonist returns to the present.
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 23, 2020 at 17:15

I, Clarence, must write it for him. He proposed that we two go out and see if any help could be accorded the wounded.

Mark Twain's 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is structured as a piece of "found footage", a manuscript written mostly by the title character during his stay in the 6th Century, but finished by his loyal follower Clarence. The Yankee, a shop foreman at a 19th Century gun factory, is sent back to 6th Century Arthurian England when one of his underlings strikes him in the head with a crowbar. Now back in the present, The Yankee gives Twain the manuscript to read.

At the end of the climactic battle in the 6th Century, Sir Boss is wounded but expected to live. The few dozen surviving members of his army, led by Clarence, are struck down by illness. The woman tending Sir Boss turns out to be an impostor, placing a spell on him:

“Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered! These others are perishing—you also. Ye shall all die in this place—every one—except him . He sleepeth now—and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am Merlin!”

The Boss isn't transported back to the 19th Century: He has to lay sleeping all that time, an echo of the legend that King Arthur is only sleeping until he is needed.

As for the rest of us—well, it is agreed that if any one of us ever escapes alive from this place, he will write the fact here, and loyally hide this Manuscript with The Boss, our dear good chief, whose property it is, be he alive or dead.

So the manuscript stays with the Yankee throughout his long sleep, making it especially the postscript by Clarence, the "letter" sent to the future you're looking for.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.