December 2, 2005

Never-Ending Stories

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Unlike most children, when I was younger, I hated the movie The Never-Ending Story. It terrified me. The thought of going on forever, of finding no resolution or rest to the terrors that pervaded that film created a physical fear in my five year-old self that I’m not even sure I have felt in the subsequent 14 years I’ve lived. It was a deep, pit of my stomach fear, and I refused to watch the movie ever again.

This may seem ironic, since I have been known to tell a few drawn out stories myself, but at least I admit my mistakes and add a thrilling ending with the simple words, “and then I found 20 dollars!” But anyway, back to what I was writing.

This Thanksgiving, my childhood nightmare appeared to be coming true. My grandfather, a prolific storyteller, has begun to let himself get carried away. His stories have always been long. This Thanksgiving, however, they were lethal. Instead of taking an awkwardly long time to reach a culmination, say, a solid half an hour at the dinner table, they took upwards of an hour with no end in sight. And even better, they were about such scintillating as topics Civil War generals and publishing his book, which is in the continual process of being rejected.

At first, caught off guard, I attempted to concentrate and listen, giving him my full attention and appreciating his wisdom and story telling ability. And then I realized it was more like in Alice and Wonderland, where the animals dry off by listening to a dry speech given by the field mouse. I was way beyond dry. I was dehydrated. And yet, the story continued! I soon realized that I had to come up with a strategy to extricate myself or revert back to the terrified child I once was and cover my ears with a piercing wail. (I felt that extrication would be more appropriate and draw less attention from concerned relatives). And I left only to return later and find that the story had continued in my absence with another innocent victim who did not have the sense to save himself. His sheer stamina boggled my mind.

And so the question becomes, how does one get out of situations like this? I would like to offer a few simple solutions. There is always the somewhat obvious, “You know I haven’t gone to the bathroom all day and I just finished my 6th glass of water. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to excuse myself.” Another good excuse: “I am expecting a call in the next 48 hours that I just can’t miss. I’m going to go wait by my phone.” For some added sincerity, “But great story! I can’t wait to hear the rest!” And of course, never underestimate the power of breaking into a dead run, no explanation needed.

Finally, the king of all excuses: “My flying dog seems to have escaped, and now I must find him so I can go on a quest to save the imaginary world where I’m the hero.” How can any story compete with that? I bet that’s what director, Wolfgang Peterson, was thinking before he decided to terrify small children with harrowing and inescapable tale of fantasy worlds.

Archived article by Becky Wolozin
Sun Staff Writer