Monday, July 16, 2012

Do we Really Want to Know the Alternate Endings?


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

News that we will finally get to see all of Ernest Hemingway's 47 alternate endings for A Farewell to Arms in print has me conflicted. At some level I am intrigued, as it would provide a unique insight into all the options Hemingway went through until he was (apparently) satisfied. 


On the other hand, though, I don't really want to see those behind the scenes machinations (it seems a little too much like the Great Oz being exposed). At one level, I like the satisfaction that comes from accepting a story for what is (not for what it could have been). 


Although I am sure I would have loved a happier ending to many of my favourite books, it dilutes the power somehow of the ending that was finally chosen, if I know all the other options the author weighed up (especially if some of these options turn out to be really lame!). So all in all, I'm not sure I want to trudge through all of Hemingway's alternate endings just as I wouldn't want to know if Emily Bronte considered a sappy ending to Wuthering Heights that involved Heathcliff and Catherine living happily ever after...


Or would I?


One of the most well-known examples of alternate ending controversies is with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Dickens changed his original ending (one in which Pip returns to hear that Estella has remarried) to the one that exists in most editions (they meet in the grounds of Satis House and in the final line "I saw no shadow of another parting from her" there is the implication that Pip and Estella might end up together). The original ending was much more downbeat and apparently Dickens' friend, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who read the original draft), urged him to change it to be more positive. Now I  probably would not have enjoyed the original, more pessimistic ending so in one sense I am relieved that he changed it - but do I really want to know that this was how Dickens' originally wanted it to end? 


Knowing the alternate endings that famous authors such as Hemingway or Dickens considered provides insight into both the mind of an author as well as the writing process - but I'm still not sure I want to find when I finish a book,  a list of all the other possible endings that had been discarded (which is how I assume Scribner is going to present Hemingway's alternate endings for A Farewell to Arms). It would seem to cloud the enjoyment of the reading experience and make me question the ending that was ultimately decided upon.


But what about you?

  • Would you like to know the alternative endings some of your favourite writers considered and ultimately discarded?
  • Have you ever wanted to go back and change the ending to your own book, after it was published?


15 comments:

  1. Absolutely not. To me . . . ::looks both ways:: . . . books really happened. If I read an alternate ending, that takes away some of the magic.

    Terri

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  2. Terri - I know, I feel as though a big puff of reality would blow through and destroy all the magic if I knew the 'other' endings especially if they were really I'll-formed rotten ones!

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  3. Clare, I can answer best by relating to movies. Many times over the years, I've rented a movie that contained an alternate ending and/or deleted scenes. Once viewed, I've always found it obvious why they were not included. As to my books, my co-writer and I usually draft a proposed ending well in advance and work toward it. If things change drastically, so does the ending. But by the time we get to "The End", that's what it is. Then we're off to the next project and never look back.

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  4. As a writer, I have a keen interest in knowing the process that went into crafting the ending. I can look at the rejected endings and analyze why they didn't make the cut. As a reader, I would also want to see the alternatives, just so I can wallow in the "what if's"! (In particular, I would have loved to have seen alternate endings for GONE WITH THE WIND and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE!)

    I also wouldn't mind seeing the writer's and editor's notes from the original manuscript. But then, I'm obsessed!

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  5. Oh, and yes, I'd like to change an ending in one of my books. In retrospect, one of them ended up with an unsatisfying romantic choice (which I made sure to correct in the next book). I was seeing the series as an arc, but readers of that particular book as a standalone felt she'd made a big mistake.
    Which, in fact, she had.

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  6. I don't want to see alternate endings. In a life that is already messy, I want people to write their books as definitive works. Not wishy-washy "well I might've done this" business.

    Just as with movies, it's best left on the cutting room floor and forgotten. If a writer agonized over 50 endings, that's between them and their computer.

    The feeling I would be left with is that the writer doesn't know his stuff if he can't select an ending and move on and I would probably not be inclined to read further books by that author.

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  7. I just love this post, Clare, because it deals with a topic that I've never really thought about. The answer is...no! No! And no! That's my ending and I'm sticking to it!

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  8. It's kind of like Paranormal Activity, everyone swore up and down it really happened. I even had a minor argument with a friend. He had gone to see it in the theater, i saw it on DVD with the alternate ending. The alternate ending, even knowing that it was there, ruined the whole thing.

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  9. Personally I enjoy alternate endings, both in books and in movies. Maybe I'm just not internalizing the story well enough. I used to love those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. They had as many as 40 different endings in each book.

    Movie wise it can be interesting too. One of my favourite movies, "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam, had major different endings for the US & UK releases. The US ending was a typical Hollywood happy ending, riding off into the sunset with the girl. In the UK release the ending was anything but happy, much more interesting though even though the imagery of it creeped me out for years.

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  10. Okay. Somebody write the Great Do-Over Book. Change all sorts of endings. Just think about it. There are a few history books to which we could change their endings, make things right. So we wouldn't look like schmucks.

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  11. So I guess we have some mixed feelings about alternate endings though now Kathryn mentions alternate endings to Gone with the Wind or The Age of Innocence I am now starting to question my own stance...as I would have loved different ones to those too!

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  12. Kathryn and Clare, I believe in the original first draft of GWTW, the last line was, "Tomorrow will probably pretty much suck, too."

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  13. Clare - resist the urge!!! Just say NO to alternate endings.

    Terri

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  14. I'm so obssessed with Gone With The Wind, Rebecca, Jane Eyre, not that Jane Eyre deserves another ending, it's fine, but as to the other two, like it eats me alive why somebody doesn't make a movie or why somebody doesn't make another book with an alternative, NOT A SEQUEL, though, 'cause I've read some and they suck!!! Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I wish somebody would write a HAPPY good sequel where Maxim is much more sensitive and loving... I'm crazy, I know.

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