It’s all just a dream

ladder to cloudsTo elaborate a bit on this theme raised in my first post, I hate the “it was all just a dream” ending. Risking vilification, I would say that the classic film of “The Wizard of Oz” is trés disappointing. Think about it. Dorothy gets swept away in a tornado and finds herself in a new world. She meets many people, has dangerous adventures, seems to be about to escape by the skin of her teeth, has her hopes of home dashed, and then is rescued from the whole situation by finding that it was all just a dream. What was the point of showing us all that stuff? What real danger was she ever in? None. It could all happen again the next time she goes to sleep, and the danger would still be no more real. It’s a copout.

Or take Alice in Wonderland. Granted, we know it’s a dream right from the start, but that makes it even worse. She could wake up at any time. Nothing is real, so there are no stakes to play for. At the end she simply skips away.

I know I have come across this ending in other settings, but I can only remember one, and that is second hand because I didn’t see it myself: Dallas. Apparently they had killed off the character of Bobby, and when the producers succeeded in persuading the actor to return to the series they made the entire season he was gone, together with all the threads and subplots, just a dream on the part of Bobby’s wife. A worse example I cannot think of. It must have made all the viewers think they had wasted their time getting into the dream season (while I would have argued watching soaps is a waste of time under any circumstances).

I would be interested to hear of other examples of the dream ending. I know it was often used in english classes when we had to write a story. Some kids would come up with convoluted adventures and have no idea where to go with them, so would would become dreams. Pretty common in that setting, but who can fault them for it?

Stephen Donaldson said that he first imagines the ending he wants, and then writes a story that will lead up to it. That’s what endings are. They make sense of all that has gone before, without cheating. They use internal consistency. A lot of old DC comics end with the superhero revealing that, while the enemy seemed to have got the upper hand, the hero had secretly dealt with the problem in advance, either by chance or cleverness. Once in the Batman tv series, Mr Freeze seemingly kills Batman by (what else?) freezing him. But Batman proves to be okay and defeats Mr Freeze. The reason for Batman’s escape you would never have seen coming — but then you would have had not so much as a hint upon which to build such a guess. That’s the reason it is a bad ending. Endings need to be foreshadowed. The reader needs to have enough information to think, I didn’t see that coming… but I should have. “How are you still alive?” Mr Freeze says. Batman’s reply: “Naturally you didn’t know I was wearing my special super thermal B long underwear… for extreme cold.”

Yes, I know that the title of this post is a little-known Ringo Starr song.

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