Show Us What's behind the Door

by Fred on 7-9-2009 Category: Miscellany

Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" has spurned a century of discussion about its ending. Generations of people have mused over what was behind the door.

I'm not interested in presenting my own theory, though. I want to talk about the gimmick itself. I'm not a fan.

I'll give Stockton credit for leaving an impact. I'll even admit that it's an interesting premise. I just prefer stories with less ambiguity.

I was reminded of the story by an episode of Law & Order: SVU that ended right before the jury gave its verdict. I'm not sure if Stockton was the first to do it, but he's probably the most famous. Now, every so often, someone else gives us a story that leaves us to imagine our own endings.

The gimmick's obvious goal is to incite discussion. It might be an effective way to make people talk, but it's not the best way to tell a story. In my opinion, it's better to give us an ending and make the philosophical questions implicit.

A good recent example is Gone Baby Gone. Dennis Lehane gives us an excellent twist ending that's completely satisfying, but still leaves us room to ponder its moral implications.

Besides... come on. It was so obviously the tiger.