On Story Endings, Lumberjacks, & Heresy
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I've been in a book club for years, and I often like to ask how people would change the endings of books. It's fascinating to find out how a book's end can change one's opinion of the entire work. There have been plenty of books where everyone would have changed the ending to some degree. The goal of storytelling isn't necessarily to please all readers—that would be impossible.
Take Dexter as an example.
Spoiler warning: All things Dexter are below, including the new series.
The original series—a consistently good show, by the way—took a hard left turn in the last few minutes of the series finale, and Dexter became a lumberjack. I remember watching that for the first time and thinking that the writers seriously jumped the shark.
There was an alternate ending by the original showrunner where Dexter would have gotten caught, successfully prosecuted, and put to death—with a whole life-flashing-before-his-eyes during execution.
I didn't like either of those.
My spouse and I rewatched the series and then watched Dexter: New Blood. Evidently, the original showrunner who wanted to kill off Dexter was the person who developed the new show. The creator went down the original path that he wanted to do in the first series, and the show ended up with Dexter dead.
While the new series was an excellent recovery from the shark-jumping lumberjack fiasco, I found the ending incredibly unsatisfying. It wasn't the fact that Dexter died, but it was the hard turn into beat-you-over-the-head morality.
The topic of didactic fiction has come up more than a few times in my book club, and it's always an interesting discussion. That type of fiction has never, ever been well-received. As a consumer of fiction, it really pulls me away from the story.
After some thought on it, I agree with the philosophy taken by Zdzisław Beksiński, who insisted that his art didn't mean anything—even in the face of art critics constantly arguing that it did. Or, perhaps even Edgar Allen Poe, who said that didacticism is the worst of heresies in his essay The Poetic Principles.
For me, anything that feels like an intruder to the story just lessens the enjoyment. Didacticism is possibly the worst offender of this type because it feels like the creator paused the story, climbed on top of a soapbox, and resolved to preach until I'm forced to agree, so they shut up, or my eyes and ears bleed.
I'll always take the bleeding eyes and ears, by the way.
- I thought I was feeling a little off this past week. Turns out I was sick. I didn't realize it until my temperature spiked to the point that I felt like I had just jumped into an oven. I'm still recovering, but at least I don't feel like I'm on fire now. As for what took me down, my guess is a raging case of didacticulitis.
- Next Week: An island inhabited only by the corpses of sinners.