Of all the parts within a book, the ending is most sacred.

You're kidding me! They end up together after all that? Photo: AP

For the reader it’s the ultimate reward for perseverance. A gift for linking the sub-plots, visualising the setting, believing in the characters and piecing it all together.

While for the writer, the ending of a book is consummate power. The end of months, even years of work, and surely the most satisfying part of the whole writing process.

You’d like to think that a good ending, done right, helps an author sleep at night. Mess with it and you’ve ruined a crucial part of somebody else’s creative experience and changed its meaning.

So it was nothing less than shocking to read this week that several great books have actually had their endings re-written to placate the whims of an audience, or better fit the directions of fussy film producers. According to The Daily Beast, at least ten real, great and classic books have their endings altered by novelists and Hollywood producers who decided the original versions just weren’t up to scratch.

First up, the revised edition of Ernest Hemmingway’s 1929 A Farewell to Arms, that’s due to hit American bookstores next week with 39 different endings. Ok, so most of these re-writes are believed to be Hemmingway’s draft editions, but even still, the man decided on the ending of that classic love story for a reason, leave it be!

Next, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Apparently the ending with which we’re all familiar was actually the directive of his friend, the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He said Dickens’ original ending, where the lovers remained estranged, was too depressing and insisted that Pip and Estella end up together.

Producers of the film adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, decided leading man, the debonair Cary Grant, would not be a believable wife murderer, so they blurred the ending enough to leave a question mark over the once gruesome final scene.

And in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster adaption of Titanic, the older Rose character was intercepted before dropping her Heart of the Ocean necklace overboard. This differs from the original version, which had her clambering over the great ship’s rail and chucking it straight in. 

So what, some particularly one-dimensional people will say: if the book, or film adaption of a book entertains, then it’s a job well done.

But not me, uh, uh, no way. Changing the ending of other people’s books should never be allowed. Ever. Write your own book if you want to control another person’s story, and preferably with your own idea. Otherwise, stay the hell away.

As the author Gideon Haigh wrote this week, writing the ending of a book is like a love affair, a journey of obsession, depression, fascination, fear, longing, anger and lust. In other words, a deeply personal experience that shouldn’t be messed with:

“Did I ever lose the urge to continue? No: the guilt would have been too profound, and the pre-existing investment too great to write off. Besides, I’m a journalist, and journalists are conditioned to regarding publication as integral to the writing process and deadlines as much a matter of life and death as the word implies. Towards the end, nonetheless, I was experiencing feelings equal but opposite to those I had experienced at the beginning, like symptoms of depression that envelop you at the end of a soured relationship: sleeplessness, lethargy, loss of appetite, sensations of worthlessness, anxiety, agitation… Where was that note? Who was that bloke?  I grew, quite frankly, to hate everything I had done to the point that I could barely look at it… As the book neared publication, I could feel only a vague sense of relief seasoned with regret and anticlimax. Rumer Godden was right to observe that ‘for a dyed-in-the-wool author nothing is so dead as a book once it is written’.

Follow me on Twitter: @lucyjk

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    • Bertrand says:

      06:35am | 14/07/12

      I’m not sure what your point is regarding Great Expectations… that Dickens shouldn’t have changed the ending in response to his friend’s criticism, or that we shouldn’t be able to access the alternate ending that he was originally going to use?

      I’d be interested to read the version where Pip and Estelle don’t get together. It sounds less formulaic and more realistic. As the website you linked to mentioned, it’s a sad book that perhaps doesn’t deserve a happy ending.

      Likewise, with A Farewell to Arms, I would be interested to see the process Hemingway went through to get to his final ending.

      What annoys me is how Enid Blyton has been completely revamped for this generation of kids. I could deal with the removal of racist stereotypes, but it seems they are changing the entire language because apparently kids don’t want to read stories written with archaic words in them. They have also changed other things, like Julian ordering the girls to make him sandwiches. I remember reading Enid Blyton stories as a kid and enjoying the difference in language. And I think kids are smart enough that reading an Enid Blyton story isn’t going to term them into unthinking sexists.

    • Louie the Fly says:

      08:59am | 14/07/12

      Bertrand.  Re: Enid Blyton.
      I grew up feeling that living in Qld just did not cut the mustard thanks to th lack of caves, cliffs, smugglers and adventures in Southport   I was so jealous of the Famous Five.

    • Wonderfly says:

      10:46am | 14/07/12

      “they’re all about smugglers”. “this one isn’t. The Smugglers of Pirate Cove Its about pirates.”

    • SydneyGirl says:

      10:56am | 14/07/12

      “Correcting” books for sexism/racism. Most ridiculous thing.

      Its one thing to critique it, another to go around changing it to your world view.

      Plus books injected with political views whether they be Ayn Rand or “feminist” novels. Horribly middle class, normally very dull and overall bad writing.

      PS: Re Dickens, its one thing to have a post say on the changed ending for interested readers or on the writing process, another to go around offering the novel in all 6 endings and with every thought the author wrote down in it.

    • Susan says:

      12:02pm | 14/07/12

      @SydneyGirl…I knew it was a doom bell ringing when they changed Noddy.  Publishers rushing to purge the book of ‘gay’ references.  What dreadful overlays and projections adults can put onto kid’s innocent minds.  I read it as a child and had no clue that ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ had another adult meaning.  It was just a lovely comfortable book.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      04:46pm | 14/07/12

      Good God, they changed Noddy?!

      Now I am confused by the post. The revised edition of Hemingway’s book with 39 different endings - like your choice of ice cream flavours - is stupid. But if someone wanted to write a A Farewell to Arms and Vampires and Zombies and lets get back to REALITY (when will that day come!) or filmed the book by setting it in Iraq and changing it completely, that’s fine.

    • Susan says:

      11:46am | 15/07/12

      @SydneyGirl..I know your question wasn’t addressed to me but I actually expect most films based on books to not follow the book plot line precisely.

      In some ways I understand changes because elements of the way a book is written can be sometimes difficult to translate to the screen, however, this said, most of the time I think changes are simply a product of a directors whim or ‘vision’.

      As far as I know, in Shakespeare’s time audiences came to know plotlines inside out and would boo any word error or change but now I think most either assume a change or don’t read enough to know the film is any different from the original work.

      For me, as long as the original work remains in tact, I can accept the changes in a film.  I mightn’t like them and might think the end result weak, but, it is what it is.  That’s why I commented about Of Mice and Men in a different post as it’s the only really close portrayal of the original work that I’ve seen and I admired it for that and felt it a stronger work because of it.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      05:19pm | 15/07/12

      Louie, was your childhood more like Our Man in Panama? Under Joh?

    • SydneyGirl says:

      05:33pm | 15/07/12

      Susan, I don’t mind at all when films are different, even if they offer a wild ride. Most faithful adaptations are dull. I should check Mice and Men though.

      The results of the changes can be dubious of course - like Stephen Fry giving a Waugh book a happy ending (Bright Young Things).  After that Fry seemed like your stuffy but kindly uncle!

    • Audra Blue says:

      08:40am | 16/07/12

      Changing the endings of Enid Blyton’s books should be a hanging offence.

    • Craig says:

      06:54am | 14/07/12

      Elitist quackery.

      Everything changes with time, nothing created by humans is sacrosanct.

      What about the adaptations of classics such as Little Women to feature vampires, or the re-visualization of Romeo and Juliet in modern settings?

      How about derivative works such as Rosenkranz & Guildenstein are dead, or Shakespeare in Love?

      What about the reinterpretations of classics in plays? Or the use of classic characters and settingd in new works as everyone from Heinlein (The land of Oz) to Joss Whedon has done (Dracula)?

      These have enriched our cultural fabric, not damaged it.

      Changing endings due to changing cultural values, or to make us think differently about a work, is highly appropriate an part of the rich tapestry of literature and other cultural works.

    • Susan says:

      10:34am | 14/07/12

      Can’t agree with you at all Craig, and I commented in another post about yours.  However, the ending to your post should really be:

      Changing endings due to changing cultural values, or to make us think differently about a work, is highly inappropriate.

      Because that suits my cultural values.  I don’t want to be challenged by your ending or think outside the box; I want the ending tailored to my [limited] view of the world.  Literature should never make us think, be challenged or remind us that our contemporary world isn’t the be all and end all of what we know.

      Now Craig, I know some may consider my wording there childish but it’s really what you are asking for.  Just changing what we don’t like to suit.  As my own post says, derivative works have always been around.  But if you alter the original, then there is no foundation stone upon which to create derivatives.

      Why even publish a book if anyone can come along and change it.  Of course, what is happening is that publishers are using out of copyright works, however, Lucy, I have to wonder about how foundations or current ownership feels about these changes and whether they find challenge it.  Agatha Christie is a business.  Not sure they would just welcome all her books having their endings mauled.

      Disappointing lack of cultural respect and values (not you Craig, the whole notion of changing endings to suit whims). 

      Let’s have the Man From Snowy River deciding to sell his horses,  joining Peta and opening up a shop selling hemp cloth.  That’s the way to do it.

      Can you imagine the scene in Grapes of Wrath where a desperately starving man is breastfeed to keep him alive being changed to suit the whims of those who are repelled by the thought?  The woman magically finds an old can of baby milk powder behind the seat of the truck.  Yes, a far far better way to manage the critical scene.

    • Wonderfly says:

      11:52am | 14/07/12

      Look its RosenLenny and GuildenCarl.

    • Scotchfinger says:

      01:01pm | 14/07/12

      I would have taken Craig’s post seriously, except that he claims Shakespeare in Love has ‘enriched our cultural fabric’. It then occurred to me that Craig has a particularly bleak sense of humour. This film has enriched our culture the same way that a massacre will enhance our sense of community.

    • Rose says:

      11:07pm | 15/07/12

      Susan, you can’t change the original.Once changed it is no longer original smile

      I say if people want to they should go hell for leather changing whatever bits they like. My only provisos would be that a) they are clearly marked that they have been changed and b) that the original remains available.

    • TimB says:

      08:09am | 14/07/12

      Scarlett: Oh Rhett! Rhett! Where will I go? What will I do?
      Rhett: Frankly my dear, I love you. Let’s remarry! .


    • pheelion says:

      08:35am | 14/07/12

      Another person who thinks that the final line in Gone with the Wind is “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn”.

    • stephen says:

      09:20am | 14/07/12

      Had he already married her ?
      Hell, I fell asleep.

    • JT says:

      10:14am | 14/07/12

      @TimB Nowadays it is more likely he’d admit he was gay and he was about to star in a Broadway musical.

      After all, tomorrow is another day

    • TimB says:

      11:01am | 14/07/12


      Did you not see the bit where it said, ‘edited’?

      More importantly, you clearly missed the reference, and thus the point of the post. But by all means continue being clueless.

    • Wonderfly says:

      11:22am | 14/07/12

      I’m seeing heaps Simpsons quote here already. There’s gold to be mined smile

    • iansand says:

      11:59am | 14/07/12

      It will be a different matter when they start re-editing Simpsons episodes.

    • Mork says:

      04:03pm | 14/07/12

      Didn’t that movie used to have a war in it?

    • TimB says:

      07:58pm | 14/07/12

      Come on, get up Mork. You’ve been warned.

    • pheelion says:

      08:47am | 14/07/12

      I used to get angry when favourite books were massacred on the big screen but then when I thought about it I realised that the movies are made for people who cannot be bothered reading books. If you have read the book you don’t need to see the movie.

    • D says:

      12:08pm | 14/07/12

      I’ve always thought of it as completely different works. I’ll (sometimes) see the movie or tv show if I liked the book/s, but I’m not expecting it to be a rehash in a different format, I’m expecting a new take on the story. You have to remember that the movie/tv show is not the author’s work, simply based on it.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      02:37pm | 14/07/12

      Steven King ....either read the book,or see the movie,never both….

    • Mouse says:

      09:45am | 15/07/12

      pa_kelvin that is so true about Stephen King.  As long as you realise that the two shall never be the same it is OK though, maybe too if you do it with much time between. lol
      Some authors copy well to film without much change, King is not one of them obviously! I usually prefer the book to the film when it is a “head” movie (?a thinking man’s) and sometimes the opposite with action/visual ones.  My imagination is pretty wild so my mind movie is usually much better than the film makers.  It is fun comparing though!  lol :o)

    • Audra Blue says:

      09:08am | 16/07/12

      Re: Stephen King.  It beats me why most of his excellent novels/stories were made into crappy movies.  The one that’s the exception I can think of straight away is Secret Window with Johnny Depp.  Not sure what the story was called though.  It’s been a while.

      Very well done.  Depp, as usual was superb in the role.

    • acotrel says:

      08:56am | 14/07/12

      One day Tony Abbott will be gone with wind ! - And ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn ! ”

    • JT says:

      10:41am | 14/07/12

      A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

      It is time you are banned from this site for the same reasons Erick was banned.

    • pheelion says:

      11:18am | 14/07/12

      Tomorrow is another day.

    • Dolly says:

      02:00pm | 14/07/12

      Why?  Why make that type of comment?  Here I was, enjoying a debate about literature with absolutely no political overtones, and you pop up! Now I have a sour taste in my mouth. Please leave the political comments in the political articles. Please

    • acotrel says:

      04:06am | 16/07/12

      Well, treat me with some respect, and keep him off my TV ! He’s like the advertisement for Mortein !

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      11:25am | 16/07/12

      And again, let me remind you that it was Eric who was banned for ‘de-railing’ threads. Derp.

    • Susan says:

      10:23am | 14/07/12

      Film changes I expect. I never presume a film will be close to a book. I think the closest adaption I’ve seen is Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich.  But I don’t expect changes to a canon of literature.  Sorry to any American folk reading but I think your society is overly invested in dumbing everything down for entertainment value and entertainment and the big moguls rule.

      I can’t agree with @Craig at all.  You don’t simply change endings to works because time changes.  Those works are representative of the times they were in - some predicting future events of course like 1984 - and it’s important to a civilisation that we understand our past and our history.

      If you just want to make changes, change the history books and forget we ever came to Australia and stole land. 

      Derivative works like Craig outlines are just that.  We have Shakespeare in Tweets, in 3 minutes, in just about every manner possible. Nothing prevents actors and film producers to do what they like as an extension.  But to actually alter the original works?? Good grief.

    • DocBud says:

      12:28pm | 14/07/12

      1984 was a warning not a prediction.

      It is one thing for an author to change his or her works at someone’s suggestions, lots of authors acknowledge the advice they have received from friends, publishers or experts. In such circumstances one may assume that the writing remains the authors. It is an entirely different thing for someone to come along later and change a book without the author’s permission. I’d not read such a book just as the word “abridged” on the cover is the fastest way of getting me to drop a book back on the pile.

      I find Henry James unreadable but I don’t want someone to come along and make him “more accessible”.

    • Susan says:

      03:14pm | 14/07/12

      @DocBud “1984 was a warning not a prediction.”  True.  I’m sure though you can understand the basis of my error. smile

      Good point re Henry James.  I loved James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ when I read it and found it powerful and evocative.  But Ulysses left me..huh?  I’m not someone who likes stream of consciousness type works, however perhaps one day all will become clear.

      Can you imagine changing the end of Huck Finn?  Just because Disney can make it with squirrels and bunnies, doesn’t mean it needs to be about a well-nourished child (or yogi bear) in middle America who, after becoming disappointed at losing a scholarship, designs a yacht that he and his friends use to win the America’s Cup.  Oh, with the scary person a rather marshmallowy industrial espionage type.  Who collects the My Little Pony series.

    • Ian says:

      11:21am | 14/07/12

      I’ve been reading the ‘Quirk Mashups’ books, and I’ve been loving them. ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ contains 85% of Jane Austin’s original text, and 15% zombies. I think books should contain at least 10% zombies these days, and the ones that don’t should be edited to include them.

    • Penguin says:

      06:33pm | 15/07/12

      I actually found that adaption annoying.  But that, I think, was my expectation.  I expected a silly zombie book that followed the plot of Pride and Prejudice.  I think keeping 85% of the original text was unnessecary because we still have the orignal text.  I wanted it to be something completely new.

    • Anthony Mustang says:

      11:42am | 14/07/12

      Although not well known “Down to a Sunless Sea” by David Graham ending was changed. Without giving away the details it was very much like the ending of “On the Beach” which in the case of “Down to a Sunless Sea” was totally unexpected. It was however rewritten in later editions with a “Happy” which destroyed the whole point of the book. First Edition copies with the original ending are much more sort after.

    • Trish says:

      01:59pm | 15/07/12

      This was a smashing read…..how dare they change the ending.

    • Philip Ritchie says:

      12:19pm | 14/07/12

      If you don’t like the way a book reads, burn the book. Or change it to pander to your particular view point, It’s much the same thing.

    • CBB says:

      12:51pm | 14/07/12

      The recent TV adaptions of Agatha Christie books are a great example of this. The number of times I have sat through one only to discover a COMPLETELY different person did it has been so disappointing. And to think that someone believes they are able to improve on Agatha Christie… not possible!

    • Susan says:

      03:18pm | 14/07/12

      But they’re not changing the actual books…which is what these people Lucy is writing about are doing.  I love Agatha Christie by the way…I’ve been musing which actress I think was/is the best Miss Marple.  I’ve seen all four main ones. Some eps I don’t like because they alter something in a way I just find off but…as least the books are still as they were when written.  Except for one title.

    • thruthehaze says:

      01:37pm | 14/07/12

      To my way of thinking, changing the author’s original words/thoughts to suit today’s mores isn’t a world away from book burning.

    • Wotju Torkinbaart says:

      02:20pm | 14/07/12

      Changing great historical works of literature to suit our modern tastes and ‘ethics’ is a crime on a par with the Taliban shelling the huge Bhudda statues for reasons of cultural offense.
      By all means, play with the stories, but leave the originals alone to be appreciated for the historical accounts of their time that they are.

    • Jar-Jar Stinks says:

      02:29pm | 14/07/12

      Don’t mess with the classics.

      Someone should tell George Lucas.

    • Gregg says:

      04:04pm | 14/07/12

      I do not care so much for too many classics but you are just so right Lucy as far as
      ” For the reader it’s the ultimate reward for perseverance. A gift for linking the sub-plots, visualising the setting, believing in the characters and piecing it all together. “

      Many great reads can often seem to be slow starters and wind up with your own involvement as you move on with a kind of an addiction, unable or resisting the putting of the book down.

      And then what separates the great from the greatest is that the ending can be something of a fizzle.

      If anyone wants a good spies story, one with a difference but with plenty of kick and that you will even be able to relate strongly to modern times, you could do far worse than pick up The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, he actually having been in the employ at one stage of MI6.
      A great read just finished and absorbing right through to the end.

      And yes, the ending is as good as you could expect, well nearly!

    • amy says:

      12:36pm | 15/07/12

      I’ll just say…Mass Effect 3


    • Craig says:

      10:58pm | 15/07/12

      There is no ‘original’ in a world where stories are digital.

      There is only ‘first’.

      For everyone who believes original works are sacrosanct, stop reading Shakespeare or the Brothers Grimm. Their stories were rehashes of older (more original?) works.

      In other words, everything is derivative. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      If, due to the first time and place you read a work it was in a particular format and version, you prefer that over later derivations, that’s fine - hold to your version, no-one will stop you.

      However that doesn’t make it the ‘right’ version, perfect or timeless.

      I would like to see more books rebooted in the way movies are being rebooted.

      People can consider all the versions and decide for themselves which they prefer. The level of sales is the guide.

    • averill says:

      02:32am | 16/07/12

      So very sad ! George Orwell said it all in his books. Beware Big Brother is watching you.
      For those who are confused by this I do not mean the big house where strange people live for a short while, and fight with each other; mind you that could apply to two big houses I know of !

    • Jason Todd says:

      12:26pm | 16/07/12

      It is interesting. However there are cases where it has operated in the reverse. The ending of the film “Fight Club” differs significantly to the book to make it more Hollywood friendly. However author Chuck Pahlaniuk admitted that the ending for the movie is better than the one that he wrote.

      Revisions aren’t the worst thing in the world.


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