Here is a mountain steeped in legend—centuries ago, it is whispered, ferocious dragons lived there. To this mountain come two friends and one of them decides to explore the mysterious mountains. By accident he stumbles into a deep hole, and while he is desperately trying to climb out he turns around and sees a pair of crimson eyes glowing in the dark watching him…
And that is the end of “DragonMountain”* which I wrote some time ago. This unfinished story leaves the ending to the reader’s imagination. Would the eyes that glowed so fiercely in the dark belong to a real dragon? A cougar? A mutant bat? Oh, the frustration of not knowing, but oh, the joy of being able to write and ending to the yarn!
Haven’t you ever wished you could change how a story ended? I have, many times. If only the hero had some brains! I have often muttered to myself. Or—oh, for pity’s sake! Can’t they see what’s going on? So there really seems to be a place for the Unfinished Story.
It’s no original concept, either. Remember “The Lady And The Tiger,” the tale of a proud princess in love with a handsome man who has been sentenced to an unusual fate? In that story he is fated to walk into an arena and confront two doors. Behind one is a beautiful maiden whom he will immediately marry; behind the other paces a snarling tiger who hasn’t eaten for a week! Before he opens the door he looks up at the princess who nods to the left. And he opens the door…
But, we say, the princess loves the man. She won’t let him get eaten by a tiger! Still, she is proud, used to get her own way, and does she really want to see the love of her life joyously embracing another woman? So… which door?
We will never know. There are other stories, too, like the “The Golden Key” written by those brothers Grimm. In it a poor boy finds a chest and takes it home imagining all sorts of riches that might be found within it. Then he opens it and…? and…? but again, we are left hanging. The purpose, I have read, is to show that there can be no final word to folktales.
There are several examples of these incomplete works of fiction, and adding to the list by writing one’s own open-ended yarn is actually fun. One gets to pick a hero, concoct a gripping conflict, set up a soul-shattering climax and then walk away chuckling. No need for us to figure out how the poor main character gets out of his or her mess . No need to worry about piecing together loose ends! But… and of course there is always a ‘but’… there has to be a plausible conclusion to even the most maddening of unfinished stories. Otherwise nobody would bother reading it.
Even when a story or a book is finished, there is very often a question mark at the end. What happens next? We ask ourselves when we close the book and stare into space. Gone With The Wind has such an ending. So does M.M. Kaye’s Far Pavilions—a book that I loved and never wanted to see end. And, yes, I have written the next chapter of that novel in my mind, shading, altering, watching the beloved characters move into another epoch in their lives.
As for “DragonMountain,” my grand daughter has already come up with an ending. “The eyes belong to a friendly dragon,” she has decided. “It carries him to the surface, and he’s fine.”
But there are a hundred ways to finish an Unfinished Story, and I’m told that many such are coming in…
When the tale ended
We sat by the fire and dreamed
Of what could have been.
* you can read DRAGON MOUNTAIN at http://bookzone.boyslife.org/you-be-the-writer-contest/