Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Golden Key
“In the winter time, when deep snow lay on the ground, a poor boy was forced to go out on a sledge to fetch wood.”
159 words later, The Golden Key ends, without so much as a slight attachment to the character, and with a cliffhanger: an almost opened box, that would have been opened (probably?) if the Grimm brothers decided to continue the tale.
What the Grimm brothers did decide to include is a poor boy who goes to fetch wood, becomes too cold to journey on, thus decides to build a fire to get warmed up. In the snow, he finds a gold key, and with a bit of searching, finds a chest. After locating the lock, the boy turns the key and then we are left to wonder about the “wonderful things…lying in that box.” Now, my original analysis was like this one: with work, perseverance and optimism, we can unlock the treasure chest that holds anything we can imagine. On the other side of that, opening the treasure chest may unleash evil and more hardship (Pandora’s box), teaching the negative possibility of curiosity. Or, my favorite conclusion: the lack of resolution is meant to mildly infuriate the reader and stick it to novels/stories/prose that work towards a complete ending.
This omission of a denouement got me thinking about other possible pieces of literature in which the author purposely leaves an open ended story for the reader to mull over [for years]. Unfortunately, my research is coming up quite incomplete, although there are many examples of famous works of writing with a resolution. Have you read anything lately (or ever) where you were left hanging at the end? Or, can there be a cliffhanger with a more complete resolution than the one in The Golden Key?
The Fox and the Geese, tale number 54 in my edition, apparently also lacks a resolution, and is about the same [short] length as The Golden Key. But for now, I move to number 6, Sharing Joy and Sorrow, which isn’t really a fairy tale for children, in my opinion. Anyway, share the literature you’ve read that lacks a conclusion, or just what you’re reading, and stay tuned for more on Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales.
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – The site I’ve used that classifies all of these fairy tales does not have this particular one listed. According to the University of Pittsburgh’s website (where you can find and read Grimm’s fairy tales), The Golden Key is type 2260, which gives it the logical classification of FORMULA TALES and Catch Tales.
- Differences between the first and final versions
- Glossary of Fiction Terms
- All about Resolution from Literary Terms
The Lady or the Tiger springs to mind as the obvious example… on further reflection, <Waiting for Godot kind of has the same thing going on but not really. It’s not a common device because writers like knowing things and like for people to know that they know things, and leaving a story “unfinished” like that feels like admitting that sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing.
Thank you for those examples! I’m kind of attracted to an admission like that, although if on-purpose, conscious open endings existed more commonly, I would probably be more furious when reading. Not to mention less likely to trust the author(s).