“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.

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  • Sharing Joy and Sorrow
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