Uninvited Guest
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Blame it all on my roots,
I showed up in boots,
And ruined your black tie affair.

The last one to know,
The last one to show,
I was the last one you thought you'd see there.

Then I saw the surprise,
And the fear in his eyes,
When I took his glass of champange,

(from) Friends in Low Places Garth Brooks

Basic Information

Hospitality is a funny thing … in the pre-modern era (which is still very much in progress in some parts of the planet) a traveller could be reasonably sure of a bed and a meal of some description, even from complete strangers … assuming that he didn't appear to be an obvious mendicant. Entertaining guests, even uninvited ones, was seen as a social duty in most cultures … although most cultures also had a version of the tradition that fish and uninvited guests alike start to offend after three days.

But that's not what this trope is about … this is about guests who have arrived where they are not welcome. To deliberately abuse customs of hospitality by arriving where you were not welcome and inflicting yourself upon a host who dislikes you is a serious social offence … unless, of course, you were a feudal overlord, in which case you may be forcing a vassal to entertain you and your retinue by way of a punishment.

Aside from royal visits, this sort of thing is usually bad news when it happens in a myth - recall the story of Sleeping Beauty - the 'wicked fairy' is snubbed by not being invited to a royal occasion to which all of her peers have been invited. She responds by coming anyway and bringing a suitably poisonous guest-gift.

All too often the arrival of an uninvited and unexpected guest - traditionally out of the night and fog/storm/snow can be the opening to a story, not infrequently about how the hosts recieve their guest and how their good (or bad) deeds are punished or rewarded.

In some ways the story of Gawain and the Green Knight fits this trope very nicely … the Green Knight is an uninvited guest who is nevertheless made welcome and causes disruption. Gawain's behaviour as a guest later in the story also has repercussions.

Note, of course, that traditions of hospitality are so strong in some cultures that some creatures (Vampires for example) cannot enter a home unless invited in by a resident.

Conversely, myths about the refusing of hospitality reasonably requested usually end badly as well…

Note that this is also a traditional euphamism for death, often in the guise of The Grim Reaper - who may even appear as a character, as per The Masque of the Red Death.

Sources

Bibliography
1. Myth: Philemon and Baukis — story about Zeus and Hermes visiting people incognito and rewarding their hospitality — or lack thereof.
2. Theater: The Man Who Came to Dinner by George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Although technically, the guest in question was invited, he most definitey over-stays his welcome. Also a very good film version (1942)

Game and Story Use

  • Remember traditions of hospitality in your world creation … PCs in a reasonably realistic fantasy world might well be entitled to expect not to have to stay at an inn.
  • Once your PCs become landholders, inflict the wicked fairy dilemma on them - when dealing with powers of the land, they should deal with all of them or face the wrath of those they snub. As a subversion, imagine that the wicked fairy had been invited and thus forced to provide a suitable gift. What she might have considered appropriate could be anyone's guess…
  • If they have too much money, inflict a visit from the king (or other feudal overlord) on them.
  • As per the flavour text, having a spurned suitor turn up at a wedding (Walter Scott's Lochinvar would do just as well) or some other black sheep appear at another family gathering can be a useful device. Outcomes can be anything from unexpected fortune to a massacre.
  • The revenant would seem an appropriate sort of critter for this trope.
  • As might faeries - and the fair folk are known to take custom and courtesy deadly seriously. Those that are the worst guests tending to provide some kind of reward for a host that puts up with them (either on their own cognisance, or provided by some senior fae as recompense for its subordinates offences).
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