Original image

11 Famous Works of Art That Were Never Actually Completed

Original image

Artists and writers can't always bring their works to grandiose completion. Sometimes they plan too big. Sometimes life just gets in the way. But just because creators' plans fall short doesn't mean that audiences mind—or even notice. Here are the stories behind 11 classics that left us hanging. 

1. Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) by Franz Schubert (1822)

Schubert probably died of syphilis, and was nicknamed “Little Mushroom.” But don’t hold those things against him. His music has proved tuneful and long-lasting, with one of his most enduring works being this unfinished symphony. In truth, as critic Brian Newbould said, it’s more of a "finished half-symphony"—it consists of two complete, fully orchestrated movements. Most classical symphonies have four. No one quite knows why Schubert stopped working on the piece, and a friend of his kept it secret until nearly 40 years after the composer’s death.

2. The Thief and the Cobbler by Richard Williams (1992)

British animation genius Williams is best-known these days for his contributions to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But he also worked for an astonishing three decades on this animated adaptation of Arabian Nights legends. It turned heads in the animation community (some of its plot points and character designs magically popped up in Disney’s Aladdin) but Williams ultimately lost control of the film to his financiers—with about 15 minutes of animation left to complete. It was reworked, re-animated and entirely botched in a theatrical release. Fans have responded in recent years with a “re-cobbled” version, based on Williams’s original intentions.

3. Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington (1796)

This iconic, square-jawed image is the basis for Washington's portrait on the dollar bill and innumerable reproductions. Our image of the man who could not tell a lie comes largely from this single painting, nicknamed The Athenaeum. But political portraitist Stuart never finished his image of the nation's first president. Instead, he kept the canvas—the head and shoulders are finished, but not much else—and used it as a source to paint more than 100 duplicates, which he sold for tidy sums. (The original was no picnic to paint, either—Washington’s new pair of false teeth made his mouth all bulgy.) 

4. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (1977)

After the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1954 and 1955, fantasy fans waited breathlessly for the next big book from Anglo-Saxon-scholar-turned-fantasy-author J.R.R. Tolkien. While he turned out a few short pieces, it wasn’t until after his 1973 death that The Silmarillion finally emerged. The book had started as far back as 1914, and Tolkien kept whittling away at it into the ’70s. His son, Christopher, finally put his father’s papers in order, and the collection of legends about Middle Earth raced to the top of the bestseller list.

5., 6., and 7. The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927) by Franz Kafka

In these three books, Bohemian Franz Kafka (he was actually born in the country of Bohemia) attempted to stretch his short story genius into book-length form. He never quite made it, abandoning his three books in various states of disarray (“The Castle” can’t even finish its last sentence). Kafka died in 1924, at the age of 40. In his will, he instructed his friend Max Brod to destroy all of his unpublished work. Brod promptly published it all instead, cementing Kafka’s literary reputation in the process.

8. Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)

Mythology is thick around Mozart’s last composition, which was commissioned anonymously and obsessed the composer on his deathbed. What we know for sure is that Mozart completed only the first two movements. He sketched out the next several parts, but expired before finishing the piece. Mozart’s widow, Constanze, then drafted in one of the composer's students, Franz Xaver Süssmayer, to ghost-write the last couple of sections. However the piece came together, it’s regarded as an imposing classic today— and a tempting target for modern composers who have created their own “complete” versions. 

9. and 10. Don Quixote (1969) and The Other Side of the Wind (1976) by Orson Welles

Filmmaker Welles left a legacy of partially completed and abandoned projects. Don Quixote was filmed over some 15 years and left in disarray (the death of the actor playing Don didn't help). Surviving fragments of the film were edited into a somewhat confusing 1992 release.

The Other Side of the Wind was different, though. Welles's last full, non-documentary film was nearly done, and filmed from start to finish. It just had the misfortune of being partially funded by a relative of the shah of Iran. After the Iranian revolution, ownership of the film was thrown into question, and Welles never edited it all together. Director and author Peter Bogdanovich has labored mightily to do so, but those pesky rights issues have kept the movie out of bounds for now. Well, except for the YouTube leaks.

11. Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Coleridge meant for his now-classic poem to be 200 or 300 lines long. The whole work came to him in a hallucinatory dream, and after waking up he started writing it down. But Coleridge was then interrupted by a "person on business from Porlock" and forgot the rest of the poem. "A person from Porlock" has thus become literary shorthand for an intruder who breaks a writer's train of thought. Nabokov and Heinlein, among others, have made the reference. And Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams used the incident as a major plot point in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Original image
Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.
10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
Original image
Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.


Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."


Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.


You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"


King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."


Theo Wargo/Getty Images

King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.


King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.


A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.


Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.


King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.


A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

Original image
Kyle Ely
Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
Original image
Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.


More from mental floss studios