Posted by: Kristen Hicks | April 30, 2010

The Stories that Don’t Get Told

“You’re awake. Good…We’re telling stories.  You just missed a really good one about a man who won November 1937 in a poker game”
The Sandman, World’s Inn

In a volume packed to the brim with stories that take place in all manner of worlds involving characters no one but Neil Gaiman could invent, he throws out the teaser above for a tale the reader never has the privilege of hearing.  Of course, the tantalization of this tale is nothing compared to the library full of books that were dreamed, but never written, that he gives us glimpses of in other moments of the Sandman series.  Many a night I’ve tried to will my dreaming self towards this library–if I’ve ever been successful the experience has left me by morning.

In just about any story that’s been told there exist innumerable stories between the lines that are never spelled out for us.  Just as it’s impossible to understand everything about the world around us, it’s impossible for the brilliant imaginations that weave fictional worlds to show us every detail of the existences they introduce us to.

After watching the film Synecdoche, NY, I couldn’t get the characters of Caden’s first wife and daughter out of my head.  Theirs was a tale we get just enough of a peek of to know that it’s fascinating, but by the end of the film we’re left with more questions than answers about the lives they live once separated from Caden.  The scene (spoiler) where Caden sees his daughter for the first time after many years apart on her death bed was the most powerful and memorable scene of the movie to me, it made me desperately wish there was a companion piece to the film explaining how she got to that point.

The main story of the film is no weaker for leaving gaps in this side story, one of the marks of great art is that it leaves you musing both about what’s clearly spelled out in a story and about all the in-betweens and nuances that are left open ended.

In this particular case, it must be noted that one of the great ironies here is that the movie is based around a character going out of his way to produce a work of art that tells his entire story, without leaving anything out. 

Perhaps these provocative characters were included in the film in part to remind us just how impossible this is.  Caden can’t tell an audience his life story in its entirety, because there are important elements to it he himself does not get to see.

Occasionally, the stories that are left untold in an original work get picked up later by another artist and become the inspiration for something entirely new; as when Tom Stoppard takes on the task of showing us the inner worlds and experiences of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and uses the opportunity to create a work of art entirely distinct from Hamlet, but still clearly tied to the world of the original play.  One story inspires another which then inspires countless stories in the minds of readers and viewers…and everyone wins.



  1. […] tangent, check out this list of massive libraries in popular culture or this post about all those stories we’ll never hear beyond our own […]

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