He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of "The Magus," was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. "Yes, of course they were," Mr. Fowles replied.
By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of "The Magus." "Why can't you say what you mean, and for God's sake, what happened in the end?" the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter "horrid" but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: "They never saw each other again."
Children's books rarely leave us guessing in this way, although there has been something of a trend for ambiguity in books for teens (see Patty Campbell's "So What Really Happened?" in the July/August 2005 issue of the Horn Book). Lois Lowry kept us guessing for a while there as to whether The Giver's Jonas lived or died, but she apparently later decided to go on the record as allowing that he survived. See, his sled took him deep into the snowy woods where he met a boy with a hatchet . . . . Okay, no he didn't, but with their sequels that aren't really sequels, both Lowry and Gary Paulsen sure do keep a fellow confused.