Another book-related post. Be warned that it contains spoilers from ‘Inheritance’, the final novel in the ‘Inheritance Cycle’ by Christopher Paolini, and ‘The Last Guardian’, the grand finale to Eoin Colfer’s fantastic ‘Artemis Fowl’ series. There, fair warning. You can’t say I’m unreasonable.
I’ve recently been contemplating the incapability of some authors to leave their readers satisfied… ok, you got me. I’m just grumpy about finishing several series in a short space of time, and venting to reduce the withdrawal symptoms.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of happy endings. At the end of a series I even continue the storyline on in my head to achieve this. It’s for this reason that I refuse to read the ‘Buffy Season 8’ graphic novels, despite the fact that they’re officially canon, because I have happy endings for all nicely sorted out in my head, thank you very much. It involves a fair amount of debt on the behalf of the Powers That Be and hence the resurrection of several characters (sans repercussions, of course). And if you don’t like this, please vacate my headspace.
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be a happy ending. The Hunger Games isn’t an entirely happy ending, but then given everything the characters have been through, a blissfully happy ending would read as false. Or a hijacking of the text by an outside entity. (See ‘My Immortal’, where some genius broke into the author’s account and killed off all of the characters. Apparently. I’ve never been able to read that far.) What’s important is that the story is given a true ending. As a reader, not only have essentially all of your questions been answered, you feel that the plot has come to a conclusion, and while you may be sad to say farewell to the characters, you are aware that you have reached a natural parting of the ways.
This is the skill of a good author – to leave the reader satisfied, if wistful for more. Which is why it is so vexing when an author fails to do this. I am, of course, talking about the ‘ending’ to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, although ‘brick wall’ would also be an accurate description. We knew from early on in the series that Eragon would be leaving Alagaesia forever, so we were prepared for that bit of depressing plot. What I’m annoyed about is the complete lack of a resolution of Eragon and Arya’s feelings for one another. There was a complete tease in the first book that suggested that they’d leave together, which left the author with no choice but to include that scene in the final book, before Arya returns to her people. In all fairness, it’s perhaps more realistic that the series should end this way, but then it is a fantasy series. Realism is not its purpose.
Still, I could allow a nice bit of poignancy if it weren’t for Angela. We are given almost no explanation as to whom or indeed what she is, and given that she is far and away the most interesting character, I actually screamed at this. To add insult to injury, Paolini states in the acknowledgments that many readers would like an explanation, but that it is ‘more interesting’ if we don’t get to find out, to which I have to call foul (I actually threw the book across the room – something I would never ordinarily do). It actually comes across as laziness on the part of the writer, but that’s just my opinion. If he were planning to write a separate book about her origins, I could understand, since it’s perfectly acceptable for authors to leave hints lying around their works that lead to a further series down the line. Just look to ‘the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel’ for an example of this.
If, however, you plan on leaving a series permanently, then please take a leaf out of Eoin Colfer’s book. I realise that ‘the Last Guardian’ has only just been published, and as such Paolini couldn’t follow this directive, but all the same, there are a few authors who really should take note of this. Colfer provides the reader with a definite conclusion, leaving us in no doubt as to his stance on writing another book, but he does it in such a way as to leave us satisfied. In all fairness, he hasn’t always done this. The ‘Eternity Code’ was meant to be the final Fowl adventure, and it ended with the titular antihero having his mind wiped of all knowledge of the people. This made me grumpy. Of course, Colfer proceeded to write several more Fowl books, and now that the series has come to an end he has left at least one reader satisfied. I might have preferred a slightly different ending, but all in all it was very well done, and I have no desire to fetch a wet fish with which to strike someone.
So there you have it. Give us closure or beware my wrath and suchlike. Or if it’s a choice between a happy ending and having questions answered, at least make sure to choose one rather than taking the curmudgeonly option of ‘neither’.