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Alternative Endings

A (Very Short) History of Alternative Endings

There is a long history of retelling familiar stories with alternative endings. Counterfactual histories go back at least as far as Geoffroy-Château’s History of the Universal Monarchy (1836), in which Napoleon defeats Russia and goes on to conquer the world. Works of fiction have also been extensively rewritten.  One well-known example is Wicked, in which the villain from the Wizard of Oz is recast as the hero.

Alternative endings are much less common in the plastic arts, probably because it is harder to tell any kind of story with a single image or object. However, I know of two nineteenth century examples. Both retell classical myths, and both were created by French artists.

The first is by Gustave Doré who illustrated the myth of Perseus and Andromeda several times in the conventional way. He also made two engravings entitled Perseus Comes Too Late, in which the dragon gets his dinner. The images succeed in being simultaneously amusing and horrifying.

Gustave Doré – Perseus Comes Too Late

The second is by an obscure neo-classical sculptor called Alphonse Thabard. In 1889 he made a marble sculpture for the town hall of his native Limoges.  Called Le Vainqueur (The Victor), it appears to show Ganymede getting the best of serial rapist Zeus, who is on the point of having his neck broken. Although in this example the villain gets his come-uppance, the overall effect is quite similar to Doré’s Perseus.

It is intriguing that there are so few examples of this kind of retelling in the visual arts. There must be more contemporary examples in the field of fan art, but are there more examples in mainstream arts and crafts? Any information would be gratefully received!

Alphonse Thabard – Le Vainqueur