New Endings to Classic Books
Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was “satisfied” with the book’s final tragic conclusion. The ending of a book is so significant it can alter the reader’s entire perception of the work. It’s the final farewell to the now familiar characters and some endings have left readers disappointed or wanting more. A book’s conclusion even caused consternation to a character in John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. “Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something,” he pleads to Hazel. “Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book.”
So which book failed your expectations for a satisfying ending? How would you have wanted it to end? Should it have all been just “a curious dream,” at the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Maybe Rhett should not have turned his back on Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.
We asked our Learning Liftoff editors, K12 writers and other staff to suggest alternate endings to a classic book of their choice. Below are some of their suggestions (warning: there are some spoilers, but don’t worry, they’re all familiar classics). Read these and then tell us how you’d suggest a popular book or movie should have ended in the comments section below. And next time you are reading a book to your child, or discussing a book with an older child, encourage them to think about how they would rewrite the ending. It’s a creative exercise that may spark some hidden literary talents!
by E. B. White
The classic book Stuart Little by E.B. White (author of the beloved Charlotte’s Web) ends with Stuart, a talking mouse, driving off in his tiny car to find his friend and protector, the bird Margalo. Some like the ending because it makes you wonder what might happen. Others, like me, have never been satisfied with the ending because it doesn’t really end in a satisfying way. If I could redo it, I’d keep Stuart’s adventures going as he searches for Margalo. I’d have Stuart get into big trouble and be mysteriously saved by Margalo (or he thinks it must be Margalo) even though he never sees the bird again. And, even though it’s a little corny, I’d love Stuart to be reunited with his family at the end of the book. Because, after all, there’s no place like home!
— Michael Solow, Learning Liftoff Consulting Editor
by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim’s concession to how, when, and why he will die is poetic and illustrative of our unavoidable mortality. However, I think it would be interesting if Billy chose to avoid the bullet that ended his life, and instead, prolonged his travels in space and time.
— Sarah Mills, K12 Social Media Coordinator
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It’s one of the most famous lines in American literature—the last line of the poignant ending to one of my favorite books. So I hesitate to say that I would change the ending of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Still, the fact that Tom and Daisy, in Fitzgerald’s words “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” The injustice of it all still appalls me. If I had my way, George would have had his revenge on the right people, Tom and Daisy, instead of the (admittedly misguided) Jay Gatsby paying the price.
—Ashley MacQuarrie, Learning Liftoff Associate Editor
by George Orwell
In 1984 Winston Smith rebels against the mindset of “groupthink” and the acceptance of everything the government dictates to the people. Through his personal rebellion both he and his love interest, Julia, are kidnapped and ultimately brainwashed into “loving Big Brother.” In the epilogue of the book, we would see a disgruntled Emmanuel Goldstein regretting that he was unable to reach Winston Smith and Julia before Big Brother could get his claws on him.
—Peter Spain, Learning Liftoff Assistant Editor
by E. B. White
In my new ending, Charlotte doesn’t die for a very long time, and she and Wilbur get to grow old together. Wilbur, meanwhile, meets a fun-loving girl pig, and before you know it, there are lots of adorable piglets and baby spiders running around—but never too many that they become a problem.
—Anne Watt, K12 Senior Copywriter & Editor
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
While I would like to change Tom Robinson’s conviction into an acquittal after Atticus presents irrefutable evidence to the jury, I know that would ruin the tragic realism of the book (it’s still so timely as even today racism often impedes justice). But I’d still like to stop Tom from dying in an escape attempt and instead have Atticus find a clever way to get him released on a technicality. Oh, and instead of never seeing Boo again, he and Scout become lifelong friends. (Maybe there is still time to make that change in Harper Lee’s upcoming sequel!)
—Elizabeth Street, Learning Liftoff Writer
Othello, Hamlet and King Lear
by William Shakespeare
It’s hard to improve upon a classic and sometimes the heart-wrenching ending of a beloved book is what makes that work so good. The Greeks called it catharsis – the process of purging of emotion to provide relief. However, if I could create the sliding-door moment for a beloved character, to choose to allow them to walk out of their story and walk into another, I would love to provide doors for the heroines of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I would love for Desdemona, Ophelia, Cordelia and others to walk out on the unreasonable men in their lives and thus change their own story, if not the hero’s tragedy. I would provide the exit from the spiraling tragedy that the author does not allow for them. But, far be it from me to suggest that I could improve upon the Bard’s plan, because their deaths are actually part of what makes their stories so tragic.
—Beth Zemble, K12 Content and Product Development
Clearly it’s hard to imagine our favorite books ending with anything but their classic conclusions, and most would agree that is as it should be. After all, many authors wrote their books with the ending in mind. “I usually begin with endings,” said novelist John Irving, “with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue.” But just for a moment, give it some thought and let us know in the comments below how you would change your favorite book or if you agree with any of alternate endings above! And as a bonus, tell us the best book ending you’ve ever read!
Elizabeth Street is a writer and managing editor for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.