Those Unsatisfactory Endings

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There is a grasshopper sitting on my dinner-plate dahlia. It seems quite content sitting on that expanse of pink petal, and as I watch it, Aesop’s fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper comes to mind.

You know the one I mean—the Ant toils all year long to fill his home with food while the feckless Grasshopper fritters away his day singing and dancing and making merry. All is well while the sun warms the earth, but then winter comes…

When I first heard the fable, I understood its lesson: work hard and be rewarded; be idle and suffer the consequences. Still, I felt sorry for the Grasshopper and thought that the Ant could have been a little more compassionate and considerably less self righteous.
In fact, I had issues with many things I read— including Hans Christian Andersen’s beautiful stories. The Little Mermaid, for instance, set my teeth on edge. Why, I would demand of my parents, my uncle, and anybody else who was around to listen, did the Prince have to be such an idiot? He should have realized that it was the Little Mermaid that he loved, the Mermaid who would rather die than hurt him. My mother agreed with me and said that life could be cruel, sometimes. My Uncle Harry suggested, “Rewrite the ending.”

I did. I also composed different endings for other stories. In my version, the wolf did NOT devour Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother but was cajoled into eating her good cooking and eventually became a household pet.  Rumplestilskin didn’t tear himself in two (an impossibility, I felt,) but went on a long journey to the moon where he had arguments with the Man In the Moon. The Little Match Girl did not freeze to death but was taken in by a kindly old woman who had no children of her own.

Fiction needs to mirror life, yes, and good fiction must be true and honest. The world can be brutal and evil, and terrible things need to be told and exposed. I know this and admire the writers who can portray such things. They are brave, their vision is keen and true.

But today when I look at this small dash of green against my dahlia, I can’t help rewriting the Aesop fable. In my version, the Ant warns his Grasshopper neighbor of dire and awful consequences if he doesn’t keep his nose to the grindstone. “Work or starve,” says the Ant, and the Grasshopper feels chastened. He has good intentions, and he does try… but he has a poetic soul and look, the world is beautiful! There is the music made by the trees and the song of the birds, and there is the intoxicating scent of spring flowers followed by the liquid gold of the summer sun.

How can anyone work continuously under such circumstances? So the Grasshopper dances with the fireflies at dusk and by day conducts the cicada orchestra. He rejoices in the rain and thrills to rainbows. At night, under a canopy of summer stars he dreams, and perhaps he writes a poem or two in a grasshopper-ish way:

Sun’s warm on my back

            The world is gold  with plenty…

            Joy! Joy! all is well!

Meanwhile, the Ant is toiling every minute of every day. He hasn’t seen the sun for weeks and doesn’t care to. The stars? He has no idea what they are. Songs? Pish! who has time for singing? His back hurts, and he suspects he has lumbago and sciatica, too, and his arches have fallen. Never mind… another grain of sugar, another leg of beetle, another bit of leaf needs to be added to his hoard.

Then comes Autumn, and the Grasshopper watches the leaves blaze and then fall to the ground and sings an ode he has written for the occasion. The world is so beautiful that it almost hurts him to see its loveliness, and he takes it all deep into his small green heart. But then, snow falls…

Now, this is my version, so purists are allowed to sneer. The Grasshopper, stricken with fear and cold, creeps to the Ant’s house and knocks. At first the Ant refuses to open, but then he relents and lets his pitiful neighbor in. And all through that long winter the Ant shares his food and the Grasshopper realizes that his friend does have a point: work is necessary in order to eat. In return for the Ant’s hospitality, the Grasshopper teaches songs and tells stories that enthrall his host. He even teaches the Ant to dance! Both learn to accept and appreciate each other’s different ways of looking at the world, and both learn the value of a real friendship.

Now, really, isn’t that a better ending—and a kinder lesson?

And so we clasp hands…

            Though we do not share each dream,

            We’re forever friends.

 

 

watercolor, “Spring Garden”

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About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

19 responses »

  1. Yes, I like that much better! Now would you kindly go fix THE VELVETEEN RABBIT for me? I’m still traumatized by the thought of a parent burning all a child’s lovies.

    • I know… it sounds brutal! The fear of contagion was very strong then… but to personalize and then burn toys seemed a bit too cruel. A good cleansing? The mother secreting away the toys and giving them, with her own hands, an alcohol bath? The rabbit drawing in the love of that mother and becoming… real?
      I don’t think I can improve on this beautiful story, but I do understand your feelings!

  2. Both my old Aesop’s Fables book and Grimms Fairy Tales could have used your wonderful adaptations. Certainly, I would have been far less frightened by the scary stories they provided. I also change nursery rhymes and popular children’s songs if their content is unacceptable to me when I sing to the little ones. Fran

  3. I wonder why the endings of those tales were so… well, grim. The times in which they lived, maybe? That would make another article idea all on its own! Wouldn’t it be fun if we all chose our favorite story with an unfortunate ending and rewrote that ending?? Thanks for reading, Carole!
    🙂

  4. How true Maureen! Too many today toil from morning til night in order to have more of our 21st century comforts rather than enjoy the beauties that nature has to offer or the friendships we can nurture. Thanks for reminding us of the different roles we can play in life!

  5. Too many NEED to toil from day to dusk… but even they can see the beauty of the sky and enjoy a rainbow.Maybe I’m too much of an idealist… but to be a cynic isn’t any fun, either….
    Thank you for making MY world beautiful, Marilyn!

  6. Spot on, Maureen. I hope you will rewrite it for publication. I, too, have rewritten many endings with my grandmother (she was a great storyteller) for all those “lessony tales” were always a bit too harsh for me. Eileen Spinelli has a wonderful PB about just this theme of song and dance being important: It is Three Pebbles and a Rock.

  7. I never heard of ‘Three Pebbles and a Rock,’ but surely will try and find it now!Thank you for telling me about this, Vijaya! After writing this post, I thought of many other stories that could use different endings. .*The Giving Tree*. could have surely ended in another way, methinks, though the author will hardly agree! 🙂

  8. Your version is much better, Maureen. I grew up afraid of crossing bridges because of potential trolls, I think, and worried that sticks might actually be poisonous snakes thanks to the Babar tales, so I’m all for gentler endings. Sarah

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