In a previous post, “Beginnings: How Would You Finish the Story?,” we reminded you that a story, after presenting background information, begins with an inciting moment--an incident that sparks the action that follows (the story proper). Following this moment, the story’s conflict is complicated as increasingly difficult obstacles are thrown into the protagonist’s path until a turning point is reached and the story starts in the opposite direction, ending in a resolution (comedy) or a catastrophe (tragedy). Then, we provided summaries of the way that three well-known horror stories begin and invited you to create your own middles and endings for these stories, alternative to the actual ones that the writers of these stories wrote. We suggested that you then consult an Internet source to see how the actual stories developed their middles and endings. The stories are Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Stephen King’s Needful Things, and The Thing From Another World. In “Middles: How Would You Finish the Story?,” we summarized the ways in which the writers of these stories actually did develop the stories’ middle portions. In this post, we summarize how these writers ended their stories and offer a few comments concerning these endings. We invite you to consider how you might have ended them, reminding you that alternate endings actually are filmed for some motion pictures, which shows that there is more than one effective way to bring one’s narrative to a close.
The end of the story explains the bizarre incidents which have taken place in the middle of the story. After Sam disarms Norman, he is arrested. A psychiatrist, having examined Norman, explains that he has a split personality, and that the dominant one, that of his deceased mother, Norma, has taken over completely. Besides the murder of Marion and the detective who came to the Bates Motel in search of her, Norman is likely responsible for the murders of two additional missing women. His identity crisis began, the doctor says, ten years ago. Norman was already seriously disturbed. When his father died, he was left alone with only his mother. They two developed an unusually close relationship. When Norma met another man, Norman felt as if she had rejected him in favor of her newfound suitor. He reacted by killing them both. His guilt at having killed his mother caused him to resurrect her, first by stealing her body from its grave and using his knowledge of taxidermy to preserve it as much as possible and by transforming himself--or part of himself--into her. He also assumed that his mother was as jealous of him as she was of her. He forbade himself from becoming intimate with any other woman, and, when he was attracted to Marion, his mother killed her. Norman covered up his mother’s crime.
The film ends with Norma, thinking her private thoughts. She had no alternative, she tells herself, except to tell the truth about her son’s murder of the women and the
detective. She thinks that the police and psychiatrist may still suspect her of having killed the victims, so she intends to sit quietly, even after a fly lands on her nose. That way, they will see that she is incapable of hurting even a fly.
As she thinks these thoughts, her smile becomes the grin of his mother’s corpse and Marion’s car, containing Marion’s corpse and other incriminating evidence, is pulled from the swamp.
In their final confrontation, Alan forces Leland to leave town, much as the frontier marshal often compels gunfighters to do, Leland’s car transforming itself into a nineteenth-century wagon, such as those that snake oil salesmen used in traveling from one Western town to another. On the side of the wagon, the cautionary declaration as that which was displayed in Leleand’s shop warns, “Caveat Emptor."
At the outset of the novel, a first-person narrator welcomed the reader, as a newcomer, to Castle Rock, Maine, drawing his or her attention to a new store, Needful Things. Now, far away from Castle Rock, Maine, in Junction City, Iowa, the narrator, again welcoming a new resident, points out a store that has just opened--Answered Prayers. Leland has apparently opened a new shop, in a new location, under a new name. One suspects, however, that he will conduct business as usual.:
In the middle of The Thing From Another World, a scientist, Dr. Carrington, suggested that the vegetative humanoid creature they’d recovered from a block of ice near their arctic research laboratory was able to communicate with them. The Air Force personnel at the outpost disagreed. Having escaped from the greenhouse in which it had been trapped, the thing from another world, attacking the compound, now puts these conflicting theories to the test as the story comes to an end:
The scientists and airmen lured the creature into the facility’s generator shack, where they ambush it with high-voltage electricity. Twice, Dr. Carrington tries to save the creature. First, he turns of the electricity. When the current is restored, he rushes forward, trying to reason with the monster. The creature knocks him aside, but it--and the seedlings that grow from its body--are electrocuted. The journalist among the team wires the story, warning radio listeners to “watch the skies!”
Xenophobia reigns, with foreigners (represented by the humanoid plant-thing) are hostile and intent upon murder and mayhem. Only by banding together can society (represented by the scientists--Dr. Carrington excepted--and airmen) triumph against an invasion from beyond. As we pointed out in the previous post, the isolation of the remote arctic outpost cuts the team off from society at large, from civilization, and from culture, forcing them to act on their own in the interest of their survival. It’s up to them, and them alone, whether they live or die. The impulse to communicate, to reach out, to establish a relationship of some kind with the stranger is shown to be counterproductive; it could have been the deaths of all concerned. “Watch the skies!” the reporter warns the movie’s 1950’s audience. A threat--perhaps in the form of Soviet missiles, armed with nuclear warheads rather than flying saucers manned with extraterrestrial plant-creatures--might appear at any time. The monster seems to have been a stand-in for Americans’ real fear of the Soviet Union and its ongoing, ever-present threat of the annihilation of society, civilization, and culture. This story ends in the same way that King’s Needful Things concludes, by suggesting more strongly the theme.