Saturday, November 5, 2011

Should alternate endings exist?

Some of you may have seen the news that J.K. Rowling supposedly almost killed off Ron. While this would have definitely made for a stronger ending in my opinion, I can see why she pulled back. You don't want to risk pissing off your fans, unless you're someone like Joss Whedon and killing off Wash in Serenity is apparently no big deal.

This relevation led to a rather interesting discussion with my wife: Is it ever a good idea for authors to divulge the endings they didn't write? Wendy thinks that Rowling does her fans a disservice by revealing what could have been, because Harry Potter fans are so attached to the characters that to suggest the story could have unfolded any other way is to make the whole affair seem somewhat arbitrary.

My first impulse is to disagree, and say that offering a glimpse into the author's decision-making process does no damage to the finished product. But upon further reflection, I'm not sure what purpose it serves to even discuss the different possibilities. An ending is an ending, and you can only pick one. Sure, she could've killed Ron. She could've killed Harry too, or the entire Weasley family, but she didn't. Writing is the process of whittling away all the different story possibilities until you (hopefully) end up with the best one. While I'm on record saying that the Harry Potter series should've ended differently, I respect the author's decision to end it the way she did, and appreciate that she must have been under enormous pressure to deliver a satisfying denoument to those hordes of weird, obsessive fans. That doesn't mean I think it was a good idea for her to open up about what other endings she contemplated. Wendy's right -- it does seem like something of a slap in the face to fans who take this stuff so deadly seriously.

I doubt that Rowling intended any malice with her statement. More likely she just enjoys the attention (Dumbledore is gay, anyone?) or somehow still doesn't fully understand the power her work has had over people. I'll put it this way: If Shakespeare had come out and said that he almost let Romeo and Juliet live, would it have given any of us a deeper appreciation of the actual work?


Wendy McMillan said...

I want to go on record as saying that I too thought her ending would have been better had the entire Weasley clan been killed off, but oh well. Personally I don't care what she reveals because I didn't read the books but I think she should save her "process" for a writer's workshop where it's appropriate for the audience. People like my friend who sobbed and spoke sincerely and directly to the characters during the movie (as if she could still save them from making bad decisions) just can't handle the roller coaster ride of imagining a world without Ron.

Tracie said...

I'm going on record as saying that I love alternate endings. Sometimes I prefer them better than the "real" ones, sometimes not. But I just love pondering the possibilities because I am a curious, inquisitive, and imaginative person by nature. (I often ponder how I would have ended it, or how certain decisions would've changed the outcome, etc.)

Also, I can imagine a world without Ron.

Wendy McMillan said...

I'm not saying they shouldn't exist but they shouldn't be shared with everybody. Of course people with writing ambitions or those of us who don't feel strongly attached to the story may derive enjoyment whilst picturing a thousand ways in which Ron could have been decapitated or dismembered.

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Tracie, from the perspective of a writer, of course I'm interested in the near-infinite possibilities a story can end with. But from the perspective of a fan, I would just rather not know what other outcomes the author may have had in mind. For me, it sort of ruins the magic a little. More to the point, it doesn't add anything to my enjoyment of the author's text. The best-case scenario is "Well, I'm glad they decided not to do that."

Austin said...

I agree with Tracie. (surprise)

I think the alternate ending, or any alternate ending- ESPECIALLY for something like the fans of Harry Potter, is a wonderful idea. Fans are so involved and in love with the stories, especially those of this one, that they (IMHO of course) would love to hear any scrap of information on what could have been, what almost was, and even what kind of slash fiction couple Rowling would most likely pair up together. (My money's on Draco and Snape

True, there's a time and place for everything, and not all stories would it be in the reader's or narrative's best interest to reveal an earlier draft. (If Tolkien revealed that Aragorn died or that Sauron won the ring in an early draft or something, that would probably ruin the story for me.)

Also, I believe Joss Whedon cared a great deal for Wash, he just often thinks what character would it hurt the characters (and the audience) most if they were to die, and in this case, it was Wash.