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August 2014

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Connie Willis

It's why I started reading in the first place: to find out what happened to Cinderella and to Peter Pan, to find out whether the twelve dancing princesses got caught, and whether Peter Rabbit made it out from under Mr. McGregor's flowerpot, and whether the prince was able to break the spell.

And it's still the reason I read, and I think the reason everybody reads. Forget subtext and symbolism and lofty, existential thees. We want to know - what happens to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and Frodo and Sam and Scout and the Yearling... We've got to know.

Why is it such a powerful desire, to know what happened? And what is it we really want to know? Is it what's going to happen to Frodo and Sam? Or what's going to happen to us?

Characters in stories grow up and go off on quests and fall in love and find out terrible things about their parents and even worse things about themselves and explore strange planets and travel through time and lose battles and win wars and give way to despair and solve mysteries and figure out what matters and find love and save the kingdom - and in the process they tell us about themselves. They show us what matters and what doesn't. They teach us what it means to be human. And tell us how our own stories might turn out...

In Blackout and All Clear, the elderly Shakespearean actor Sir Godfrey asks the time-traveler Polly, "Did we win the war?" and when she says yes, meaning far more than just the war they're in at that moment, he asks, "Was it a comedy or a tragedy?" I think that's what we really want to know in the end. Is is a comedy? Or a tragedy? Or, horrible though, a TV show that gets canceled before it has a chance to wrap things up properly? Literature is the only thing that can tell us...

And no single book knows the whole answer... Every book we read... has a piece of the answer.

...That's why I read, and why I write, adding my own fragment to the tangle of clues, and will go on doing both until I can't anymore. To find out what happens. To find out what kind of story we're in.

Comments

Oh. My. God.

I love her. She is amazing.

I really can't explain on how many levels this makes me happy.

I might not be coherent.

(But before I go, can we talk briefly about how well this characterizes why modern fiction that refuses to provide an ending makes me crazy? I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.)
Philip Pullman actually said something similar! He was specifically talking about writing for children, and the difference between children's and adult lit.

(YES. I don't like cliffhangers OR ~thematic, stylistic non-endings.)

You know what's funny? I don't agree with everything she says here. But I love that she says it.
Interesting, although Philip Pullman is not my favourite author. (I didn't ever get through The Amber Spyglass.)

(Book cliffhangers can be super annoying. Like, WHY? I know why, obviously. But still.)

What don't you agree with, out of curiosity?
It was an awesome speech. It's in my archives somewhere.

Messaging you about this!
Augh, this is a gorgeous speech. And true. :)