Saturday 18 September 2010

Epilogues: When Stories End With Ugh

If you want the scandalous truth about me, it is this ...  for most of my teen years all I read was my class assigned texts and Harlequin (Mills & Boon in Australia) historical romance novels.  It's the reason why I have a love of, and use, words like 'bother' and 'persnickety' in every day language. On the plus side it instigated a love of history which then (inexplicably) directed itself into a fascination with war.  Anyway - the reason I bring up my shameful (and sometimes revisited) past is that epilogues are a big deal in romances.

Big deal in that the reader usually catches a glimpse into the character's 'happily ever after' and more importantly, what the happily married (ugh) couple name their children.  Part of me has to like it, the subconscious part, as I continue to read these kinds of books but I do find them to be unnecessary.  Almost like that annoying girl that we all have in our lives that needs to tack on a tidbit more information than is necessary.  I roll my eyes at that girl and I do the same for the humble epilogue.

In terms of the three current grand poobahs of young adult literature we have the Twilight saga, the Harry Potter series* and the Hunger Games trilogy.  I am going to discuss the use of epilogues in terms of these three cultural phenomenons - two of which I have read recently, one in which I would love to strike from my memory.  (There will be spoilers for all three series so consider yourself warned.)

I think it is necessary for me to define what an epilogue is - "The epilogue is the final section of a novel or story, which provides a comment or conclusion to what has happened. It follows the book's climax, and ties up any loose knots."  A badly written and/or unnecessary epilogue is a garnish on a plate that has already gone cold - limp and trying to camouflage the main.  Personally, I don't remember epilogues unless they're bad and I think that should be the case.  An effective epilogue gently completes the story, it shouldn't declare itself with a bang as the definition states ...."follows the book's climax".

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or HP7) came out in 2007 and successful tied up a plethora of story lines from the six previous books.  There were so many necessary narrative facets of this book that the film adaptation necessitated two parts to include them all.  Alas, there is the twenty page epilogue that firmly split the Harry Potter reading community. I sat firmly on the 'what the heck?' bandwagon.  I really liked the concluding title to this series but the epilogue left a real bad taste in my mouth.

Why were my panties in a twist?  Firstly, it was rushed and the quality of the writing wasn't on par with the rest of the book.  It was almost as if Rowling tried to squash the first third of a continuing title into HP7's remaining pages.  Secondly, an epilogue should not be that long or expansive.  Everyone was paired off and bred.  Each spawn was named (preposterously at that) to provide fan fiction writers with spin off material.  It was not so much the presence of the epilogue but the sheer size and scope of it.  Rowling would have been better off making the epilogue short and less bogged down with minutiae or written another title for the series set a) in Hogwarts and the offspring of the HP characters or b) middle aged Harry, Ron and Hermione doing something.....okay, that idea sucks.  What we did receive was a thinly written, detail ridden piece of fan girl nonsense about what happened to the characters if death didn't find them.  They would, of course, find their destined one in a fellow Hogwarts alum to which they get married and provide future students for their alma mater.  While it touched on the weight of those that passed away during the series' history and attempted a exploration of life after battle and an avalanche of hope.  It just didn't work very well, it just seemed trivial.  (And on a complete fangirl note....I've never liked Ginny and thought Harry should have died so this just rubbed salt into my wounds.)

Mockingjay, unlike HP7, has almost the exact opposite problem.  There was no hope left.  It topped off a fairly desperate, destructive and depressing title with an epilogue that featured Katniss existing but not really living.  Sure she bred.  But she had to be talked into it.  This is the first element of the epilogue that sat poorly with me.  Katniss, who would always stated she didn't want children, allowed herself to be whittled down into having children.  Children she didn't particularly want or connect with (if my reading of the epilogue is with the majority).  Secondly, the whole series featured Gale as a loyal friend, enough so that some people thought he was a viable romantic option but the friendship completely died.  Their connection gone.  Boo.  Lastly, I hate that with the destruction of District 12 and the death of Prim - both Gale and more importantly, Katniss' mother, aren't a factor in her future.  She lost pretty much everyone and this girl, with mammoth amounts of moxie, failed to fight for her family and forgiveness of a friend.  In losing her will to fight, she lost her spark.  I wanted to see some of that still remain....though I find the epilogue true (somewhat) to the character.

Breaking Dawn didn't have a epilogue, though its late chapter was titled Happily Ever After.  Those three words encapsulate my issues with epilogues - HP7 chased it whereas Mockingjay subverted it but also didn't (I know, confusing.)  Why am I bringing up Breaking DawnCullens and even Jacob accepted her decision and no sacrifices were made.  Really?  Happily Ever After with no sacrifices...other vamps might not have kicked Bella's arse but Harry and Katniss might.

Breaking Dawn is the extended happily ever after epilogue.  Except its extension removed the fun bits (the baby making) and left us with bruises, a frightfully long and unnecessarily gruesome birth scene and an aberration (the child that I refuse to name).  Again people are paired up willy nilly, Jacob and the aberration?  Really? I refuse to discuss this one anymore as my memory has faded with time and Google is not having the pleasure of me typing 'Breaking Dawn + what happens?'  But if you are going to subvert the notion of an epilogue and try to go out with a bang....make the bang a bang, instead of a whimper.  The force field thingy was anti-climatic and really lame.  Good luck, film makers.

I will add that Breaking Dawn also has the pleasure of being adapted into a two part film.  But we all know that has nothing to do with addressing story points with adequate screen time and everything to do with the all powerful dollar.  I sound jaded, it might be time for me to conclude my rant.

What immediately springs to your mind when a bad epilogue is discussed?  Though I chose not to discuss it in this post I would like to suggest that the epilogue in Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry made an otherwise great read finish on a bum note.  Evidence that sometimes an epilogue is the wrong thing to attempt?

* For those of you who argue that HP isn't YA, I would agree that as a series it isn't wholly YA but the majority of it is.  For those of you who wish to argue...go ahead BUT he attends a magical high school for goodness sakes.


Kay said...

Hi Adele

First of all, I absolutely agree with you regarding Harry Potter (no epilogue would have been a lot better, Ginny was rather bland and it would have preferred it for Harry to die rather than the strange twist the author has found to make him not to).

This being said though, I love epilogues! Admittedly, there may be some really bad ones out there (the aforementioned HP one), but most of the time they are my favorite parts of a book. The one part where happiness abounds, so to speak. Yeah, living happily ever after and all that may sound a bit cheesy, but when it comes to people that one has grown to care for during hundreds of pages, wouldn't you rather know they end up having a nice life? I definitely would :)

From this point of view one epilogue I very much liked was the one of The Thirteenth Tale, where the narrator (herself a consummate reader and knowing all about he ways some of us reader tend to wonder about what might have happened to X or Y character after the book ended) wrote an epilogue covering the subsequent fate of all the characters in the book. And I loved that, it was like all the pieces of the puzzle were revealed and the big picture of the world in the book was then revealed.

Splendibird said...

I have mixed feelings about epilogues. I always like the idea of finding out what happened next, but am invariably disappointed by the result. I agree re. Harry Potter - the epilogue reads like (bad) fan fiction and wasn't really necessary. I suppose it ensured that no-one was going to ask JK to write more books about Harry himself, though. However, for a truly bad epilogue you should check out Jekel Meets Hyde. The book was OK but the added extra kind of made my skin crawl... ick. Great post.

Robyn Bavati said...

I haven't read those particular books that disappointed you with their epilogues, but it seems to me that an epilogue isn't just an ending - an ending per se can often be accomplished simply with a final chapter. Usually the necessity for an epilogue is dictated by the structure of the story as a whole, in much the same way as a prologue is. It's a part of the story that doesn't fit into the main body of the story because it is structurally different - eg. the main body of the story might take place within a six-month time-frame, and an epilogue several years later, or the story might be related by one character, the epilogue by another. But I agree that where epilogues are used, they should be fairly concise - and they should serve to wrap up a story, rather than create a number of new ones. I also agree that they are overused and often unnecessary.

Kathryn from Schoolmarm Style said...


This is an excellent rant, and I have to say that I completely agree on the HP issue (I personally took a really long time to decide that the epilogue didn't actually RUIN the series.)

I think without knowing it, I've been an epilogue hater for a long time. Most of the time I feel that they are unnecessary and poorly written.

Would it be okay if I shared this post in my classroom? I think my seventh graders could have a great debate on this topic!

Adele said...

Kathryn - go for it, although you might want to censor the use of 'arse' lol.

Vanessa said...

In general, I love epilogues, though I'm going to agree with you that the one in HP7 was silly.

I disagree with basicly everything you said about Mockingjay. I thought it was a great epilogue, and true to the character. Katniss has been beaten into the ground almost more times than we can count, but she manages to find reasons to keep living. Gale may have been portrayed as a loyal friend, but his friendship was ever and always on his own terms, and when Katniss wouldn't agree with his terms anymore, it doesn't surprise me that he walked away. Katniss's mother has a history of being unable to deal with reality, so her disappearance doesn't surprise me, either (though I'd bet she doesnt' stay away forever). And so what if Katniss had babies? 90% of the mothers in the world have said at some point in their lives, "I don't want kids." I think the fact that Katniss had her children exhibits the very hopefulness that you're missing in this epilogue. Katniss finally decides that this is a world that she's willing to bring a child into.

And that's my little rant.

Robby said...

I seriously need to read every book Suzanne Collins has ever written. And the Harry Potter books. Twilight...that's all I have to say on that one.

My main problem with epilogues is that I don't want to be told what happens next. "So after this, I was changed." No, unacceptable. SHOW me.
I'm a wee bit picky.

Emily Cross said...

I'm there with you 100% with BD! I haven't read Harry Potter (shocking i know) and haven't gotten to Mockinjay yet. But I think epilogues are indeed hit or miss - there's no in between for them.

When done properly epilogues, to me, are like that little bit extra - like the camera pulling out at the end of the movie and big picture revealed. When done horrible though, it's like pandering, and stays with you.

I liked the epilogue of 'the book thief' but then again I absolutely loved everything about that book!

Anonymous said...

I'm also not a big fan of the epilogue. In HP7 I was kinda like "Meh, okay, thanks for the update."

But with Mockingjay that epilogue upset me more than anything in the book. When I finished the last chapter, I sighed in happy bliss and thought that it was near perfection. Then I read the epilogue and felt deflated. It almost ruined the whole book for me. It felt flat and tacked on. I would have much preferred Katniss' future to be left open-ended.

I hated that frigging epilogue so much that I urge any of my friends who haven't read Mockingjay to stop reading at the end of the book and forget about the epilogue all together.

cat said...

Oh, how I loathed that HP Epilogue! *shakes fist at JKR* It was a bunch of crud I say. I think the book ended just fine the way it did and people should have been off making up their own ideas about what happens next. I feel like it was thrown in there to appease those who would complain that they didn't feel things were resolved enough and wanted another book. Psshaw, I say! Suck it up and deal with it. Use your own imagination for once.

Cheryl Vanatti said...

Darn it! I've got enough to do today without running over to my Mockingjay copy to reread the Epilogue. I was just writing a Hunger Games Trilogy post when I decided to check my feeds...

Now.... I'm having a brain freeze :-)

Excellent points!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

So agree about HP; a. I hate Ginny; b. There isn't really a b although I'll reiterate my hatred of her because she was such a blah character and too Mary-Sue for my taste. I'm also heading to a point where I would have preferred Harry to have died.

Kerrie said...

You know what one I hated? It isn't YA, but the epilogue in Bel Canto was horrible. It was as if the publisher told Ann (Patchett) they wouldn't be able to sell the book unless there was a happy ending, and she caved in and threw them a bone. I loved that book, but the HEA epilogue sucked.

Mardie said...

I haven't read the HP books (blasphemy, I'm sure) and I stopped reading the Twilight series after the first book. But, I could not agree with you MORE on the epilogue of Mockingjay. In fact, I'll admit that I did not like the book at all - a big disappointment since I loved Hunger Games and really liked Catching Fire. I was pissed at the demonization of Gale, who I considered, as you did, a loyal friend and potential husband for Katniss. Why couldn't Katniss just dig deep into her feelings and come up with the truth about who she loved more, Gale or Peeta? Why did her decision have to be prompted by a destructive deed? I thought this was a cop-out.

P.S. Love your blog.

Em said...

I am not a fan of epilogues nor of super clean endings. I like something being left to the imagination of the reader. I have yet to read Breaking Dawn, but I agree with HP and HG that the epilogues felt a bit much. At least with Mockingjay though, I feel like it gave us more than The Deathly Hallows did in the Epilogue in terms of understanding of the outcomes of the series.

lanna-lovely said...

I'm easier to please when it comes to epilogues... I only hate them when they're part of a series and the author adds the epilogue purely to leave us on a cliff hanger that is unneccessary.

I agree with everything you said about Breaking Dawn too.

With HP, I didn't love the epilogue but I didn't hate it either - it felt rushed, but there wouldn't be a particularly good way to do an epilogue for that... if J K Rowling hadn't crammed all that stuff into it, people would be complaining about the fact they didn't get to find out what happened to X character.

I completely disagree about the Mockingjay epilogue though - the whole story was never about Katniss and her happiness really, it felt like it was about something bigger than her: what they were fighting for.

And after everything she went through, there was never going to be a completely happy ending - so she got a realistic ending instead and there was still hope and she was still living. She was a fighter before because she HAD to be - she had to take care of Prim and her mum then fight for her life then the revolution... but all that need to fight was gone at the end and she could just - be and she was finally living for herself. (It's the same with the Gale thing - it was being in District 12, fighting together to keep their families alive that was the glue in their friendship and bit by bit it disappeared till there was nothing to hold them together but nostalgia of a past too painful to think about. If Katniss had never gone into the games, her and Gale would've stuck together, probably got married eventually - but the games changed her, then everything else changed her too to the point where they didn't make sense anymore, maybe not even as friends.)

And the kids thing... it kind of baffles me when people complain about the fact she had kids. Because the reason she didn't want kids was because she didn't want them raised in a world where they might get put into the hunger games and she'd lose them... but after the revolution happened, the games were done and that reason for not wanting kids was gone. She was a different girl, living in a different world to the girl she was when she said she didn't want kids. (And like someone else said, loads of people say they don't want kids then have them - my sister was one of them.)

...And I'm actually one of those girls that hates the whole married with kids thing - so I'm not one of those people that are defending it because I love the idea of a woman being a mother. It just - made sense.

Anyway, awesome post. I like your rants. :]

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I agree! While I didn't mind the HP epilogue as much, it still was somewhat odd and I hated the odd naming of kids. It was nice to see them all moving on though. (And I'm a romantic at heart and I liked Ginny)

As for Mockingjay I felt it was lacking. We went through so much with these characters, by the end of the book we're beaten down like they are, yet we as the reader don't get the healing we need to move on. We're told Katniss and Peeta moved on and have healed somewhat, but I want to see it and feel it. And what about Panem? How are they doing? I needed more as a reader-it left me empty.

And don't even get me started on the book that should never have been written but was only to make money and then split into two plotess pointless movies to make even more money! UGH! I agree-if you're going for a bang, have a bang. Both Hunger Games and HP had people die and life was never easy-the Twilight series life is too easy and perfect. And UGH-Jacob and the demon vampire baby-sooo gross!! Frustrating and dumb all around.

Rosanne said...

I think the bottom line is that they have to be done well and have to have a real purpose. Of all of the ones you mentioned, I definitely think Mockingjay's was most in keeping with the story and the most fitting, but I may be biased because I thought is was a fantastic book overall.

That Perfect Chemistry epilogue was beyond ridiculous!! So bizarre as it was a really lovely read.

Marg said...

As a romance reader, the epilogue where the kids are produced and there is one last glimpse of the happy family in the garden of their gorgeous home, is so often unnecessary, and yet just about every historical romance in particular has them! Worse was when the book makes no sense and there has to be a second epilogue on the author's website to explain it all, which I saw happen with an author once (I think it was Eloisa James, but am not 100% sure).

Anonymous said...

I hated the HP epilogue, not because it was too long though, it was rather too short for my taste. If you're going to write an epilogue, I would've liked to know more about um well.. what does Harry do now for example? Not just that he named his children after Dumbledore and Snape.

And don't even get me started on the Twilight Saga. That last line really almost made me throw the book at the wall.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful piece, both thoughtful and entertaining! I usually can't stand epilogues - the detachment of them in particular. You become intimate with characters over the course of a novel, living inside their heads basically, and then the author suddenly zooms out and gives this clinical,tacked-on, perfunctory summary of the defining events in their lives that you can connect with about as much as you can with an encyclopaedia article. It's an abrupt change of tone - and for me, almost invariably a rupturing of a relationship which you've developed with a character over a long time.

Having said that, I found the MJ epilogue far less annoying than most in that it actually sustained the mood of the novel up to that point - a mood I thought was appropriately bleak and resigned given what the characters had endured. I thought it showed a katniss who had responded realistically to her circumstances, becoming somewhat jaded and cynical but still surviving and finding a precarious happiness. The mood was perhaps a little dissonant with the gritty, action-packed, suspenseful feel that defined the novels for a lot of people - but I think the author had tried to move away from this onto something more realistic and philosophically-directed by the end of the last book.

I agree with you 100% on HP though - excise the whole section I say!

lili said...

Agreed, to all points. There's nothing I hate more than a book that ties up every single loose end. I love to be able to imagine what happens next, what new adventures are in store, where the paths will lead. I don't want a Happily Ever After (or, in Katniss's case, a Numbly Ever After).

The Mockingjay epilogue in particular was bleak and depressing (much like the whole book). She never gets to CHOOSE anything! She never WANTS anything! She doesn't get to rescue Peeta, or plan the revolution, or kill Snow, or even ATTEND her own trial, or choose between Peeta/Gale, or even choose whether or not she wants to have children. It's like most of the story happens without her even KNOWING about it.


FlossAus said...

I agree with everyone that I love and hate epilogues. As a pure fan girl exercise, I really often want to know if they lived happily ever after, and continued their banter and were always awesome at their jobs (Josh and Donna Lyman (yes, they married in my mind) continue to be amazing in the Santos West Wing).

However, while I want them, when I actually read them, I'm naturally let down. Most are epilogues end up being fan girl wish fulfilment/I don't want to write about these people again/I never want to be asked about what happened in interviews.

The exception to rule, and isn't she always, Melina Marchetta and Jellicoe Road. Chapter 27 and the epilogue itself both serve a perfect end to the story. Chapter 27 gives me everything I want, without telling me that Taylor and Jonah moved in together, watch NCIS on Tuesday and have blue sheets. The epilogue is a quiet moving end to the second arc that also speaks to the entire book and offers peace to some characters and hope to others.

Anonymous said...

I hated Mockingjay. All the fight that I enjoyed in Katnis was gone and everything sucked. I also hate the end of the Gregor series. She seems to want it to be "realistic" and realism to her is nothing ever working out. If I wanted that I'd stick to my own sucky life and not read.

Erin said...

The epilogue in Perfect Chemistry by Simone Eckles literally ruined the entire book for me. It was just so cheesy and unnecessary and took what was a realistic book and made it into an after school special. HATED it.