Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, published in 1967, has sold millions of copies over the past half century. But it’s not the book she submitted to her publisher.
That book had an extra, 18th chapter which, upon the publisher’s urging, Lindsay cut from her manuscript.
The shortened Picnic has captivated five decades of readers with its many, complex mysteries over what happened to three teenage girls and their mathematics teacher when they disappeared during a Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900, school excursion to Hanging Rock, a famous geological formation in the Australian state of Victoria.
Several days after the disappearance, one of the missing girls was found unconscious but was never able to recall what had gone on during the time she was missing. None of the other three was ever seen again.
Generations of readers have been left to wonder and speculate over the deliciously vague details of the story — Did the girls plan this? Did they get away or die? How was the teacher connected to this?
Picnic seems to bring the reader right to the edge of understanding….and then leaves the reader there.
It might be enough to anger you, but instead this rich mix of offering and challenge has delighted year after year after year.
Two decades after the book was published, the seven-page Chapter 18 finally saw the light of day as The Secret of Hanging Rock, and it was brought back into print in 2016.
Let’s put it this way: You don’t want to know the secret.
I mean, of course, you want to know the secret. And the secret of Chapter 18 is a fine solution to all the complexity in Picnic (although I would have preferred something a bit different).
But let me tell you what happens:
As a Picnic reader, you have this world of possibilities to ponder, a universe of potential answers.
As a Secret reader, that cosmos is reduced to a single answer.
Patrick T. Reardon