What’d Matilda end up doing with her telekinetic powers and superior intellect? Hands-free brain surgery? Did the Hardy Boys retire to host a show on The World Fishing Network? Did Harriet start her own private eye business on the Lower East Side? We rarely get to glimpse what young heroes and heroines become (Anne Shirley is my favorite exception), and even a satisfying epilogue like the one J.K. Rowling gave Harry, Ron, and Hermione leaves black hole–sized gaps in what we know about their fates. So when I needed answers about the futures of classic characters, I had to make a few educated guesses:
In one incarnation or another, bold, clever Nancy Drew has been a detective since the 1930s. So once she emerged from her perpetual youth, what was left for Nancy to do? A Jane Marple-esque life of crime solving didn’t satisfy Nancy. Oh, no, Drew brought her investigative talents to journalism, picking up a Pulitzer or two for reporting on social justice, crime, and gender equality issues. Then, recognizing the dearth of strong cultural influences on a broader scale, she created a cross-media empire—Arianna Huffington meets Sean Combs—cherry-picking passionate writers for her online news site and backing cultural and philanthropic programs around the country.
Pippi became an accidental avant-garde sculptor. When she took Mr. Nilsson and her horse on a trip around the world, a hoity-toity art critic calls Pippi’s house “a large-scale domestic piece, representing the rejection of conformity, and commenting on the relationship between the individual and society.” Pippi explored the world from Addis Ababa to Alabama, leaving “works of art” wherever she stayed. She hired Tommy and Annika as managers and donated most of her earnings, keeping only what she needed to live a life of adventure.
When he’d finally had enough of Tom Sawyer, Huck traveled west with Jim, making it all the way to San Francisco for the ’49 gold rush, where they struck it rich. Jim stayed to open a restaurant, but Huck moved on, leaving his gold with Jim for safekeeping. While providing safe passage to travelers on the Oregon Trail, Huck was mistaken for a bandit and shot in the leg by a beautiful Arapaho woman. During his convalescence, Huck’s wild spirit was finally tamed by love. He returned to California with his bride, collected his riches, and eventually settled in ranch country. Interesting tidbit: Huck’s stories inspired several John Ford westerns.
James Henry Trotter
Dahl paints rosy futures for his characters at the end of James and the Giant Peach—the Glowworm is lighting the Statue of Liberty’s torch (which freaked me out as a kid), the Grasshopper gets to play for the New York Symphony Orchestra, and James is happily installed in the giant peach pit in Central Park, where all of his friends can visit—but the picture is far from complete. As a teen, James roamed Brooklyn and bohemian lower Manhattan, going to rock shows and hanging in circles with Just Kids–era Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Knowing the importance of a supportive social environment, James created “Peachy Homes and Centers” for dispossessed and down-on-their-luck kids all over the city. The pit in the park remained his primary residence.
Cindy Lou Who
The Whos of Whoville have a creepy “Children of the Corn” vibe, and it was my always hope that little Cindy Lou—whose innocent interruption of the Grinch’s scheme may have sown the first seeds of goodness in his two-sizes-too-small heart—would escape the tiny cultish realm and be fostered by the Lorax.
He’s still in Neverland, of course. As Barrie’s famous first line says, “All children, except one, grow up.”
What do you think would become of your favorite children’s book character?