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11 Famous Works of Art That Were Never Actually Completed

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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.

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Pop Culture
Neil deGrasse Tyson Recruits George R.R. Martin to Work on His New Video Game
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Kevin Winter / Getty Images

George R.R. Martin has been keeping busy with the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, but that doesn’t mean he has no time for side projects. As The Daily Beast reports, the fantasy author is taking a departure from novel-writing to work on a video game helmed by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

DeGrasse Tyson’s game, titled Space Odyssey, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. He envisions an interactive, desktop experience that will allow players to create and explore their own planets while learning about physics at the same time. To do this correctly, he and his team are working with some of the brightest minds in science like Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu. The list of collaborators also includes a few unexpected names—like Martin, the man who gave us Game of Thrones.

Though Martin has more experience writing about dragons in Westeros than robots in outer space, deGrasse Tyson believes his world-building skills will be essential to the project. “For me [with] Game of Thrones ... I like that they’re creating a world that needs to be self-consistent,” deGrasse Tyson told The Daily Beast. “Create any world you want, just make it self-consistent, and base it on something accessible. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s quote: ‘First get your facts straight. Then distort them at your leisure.’”

Other giants from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, including Neil Gaiman and Len Wein (co-creator of Marvel's Wolverine character), have signed on to help with that same part of the process. The campaign for Space Odyssey has until Saturday, July 29 to reach its $314,159 funding goal—of which it has already raised more than $278,000. If the video game gets completed, you can expect it to be the nerdiest Neil deGrasse Tyson project since his audiobook with LeVar Burton.

[h/t The Daily Beast]

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.


"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."


"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."


"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."


"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons


"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."


"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."


"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."


"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."


"Never mistake motion for action."


"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons


"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"


"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."


"All things truly wicked start from innocence."


"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."


"Courage is grace under pressure."


"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons


"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."


"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."


"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."


"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."


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