Hail fellow fantasy-buffs and gamers!
Last Ending the Story I had first analyzed the ending of the popular The Lord of the Rings to see why this apparent extra piece of story actually completes and explains the whole story. This analysis was started because of my reluctance to accept the seventh book of the Harry Potter series as a conclusion to the series; or at least as an adequate one. But we also have to face that not all books finish the same way LotR does… otherwise we would really see no real variation on stories, at least in their structures.
But wait! There is more…
Affirming that Tolkien had the best ending ever is most probably an overstatement. I would say that the book has the perfect ending to what had been proposed for so many pages. This closes the story arc in a perfect manner, avoiding thus this uncomfortable feeling that there could be more. After all, the whole trilogy is based around the closing of an era, so every part of it must find the closure. As we see, if there would have been an open ending, the story may have felt utterly incomplete.
There is the famous open ending as an alternative, but this one is to be used with great care. Let use for this case two examples, starting with G.R.R. Martin’s now famous Game of Thrones series. “But why?” you may ask yourself, “There are still two more books missing!” That’s the point!
The open ending in an ongoing series has a central use for the advancement of the story: you are kept in expectance, excited of what may happen in the next book, making you want to read the next part. When Arya, just after the death of his father Eddard Stark, is suddenly pulled away from the mob to be taken elsewhere, you can’t keep but wonder what is in store for her in the next book. And this is just one example of the multiple cliffhangers that Martin, in his excellent narrative, leaves for us the reader to wonder on. This is obviously not created to give an end to the whole situation… it just feeds us partial information so we can not do anything else but guess what may happen the next book.
Or just leaving room for more…
The one open ending I want to focus on, though, is more like the ones we find in some of the novels of Anne Rice. Let us for example my favorite novel in the “Vampire Chronicles”: Memnoch the Devil. Although it goes way off what happens in the first three books of the chronicles, I think that the tale is quite interesting and different from the typical blood-story that is a normal topic in any vampire story.
But going back on topic, this particular book ends with the discovery of Veronica’s veil, Lestat entering in a catatonic state and some vampires killing themselves under the sun in public. I know it sounds weird, but let us analyze a bit further: the whole travel with Memnoch is a travel of knowledge and selfdiscovery. The main point is to find faith again in a world and life that seems not only endless, but hopeless. For Lestat, this means to confront the very basis of humanity. The whole trip through time, space and dimensions ends up revealing one of the articles of faith, which changes the people around the beloved vampire of the “Vampire Chronicles”. The catatonic state he slips into is nothing more but an end to his own series and the beginning of all other books that appeared afterwards. The other vampires win their position in the central stage. Honestly, not much of my liking, but for fans a golden opportunity.
This closes a cycle, but clearly opens a new one. This leaves room to the reader to imagine whatever may happen. The new faith found by the vampires leaves a hole in the story, but also gives us the chance to imagine how we can imagine a society in which society shares places with their monsters, even with them in religious fervor, a thing we should not be able to share. In this case information is left unsaid deliberately, because it invites to a new adventure. But deep into the story there is a closure, although maybe one that we did not want.
On to the master of horror
Another great example of an open ending is H.P. Lovecraft. One of my absolute favorite authors, you may have noticed that if you read his short stories, rarely leaves one concluded. This open ending is maybe even bolder, since in reality all we do is understand the madness of the character, but never to see an end to the cosmic horror that lurches behind the curtains of the cosmos. Let’s take as an example “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. The whole investigation the main character is more or less forced in finds an ending when it stops an unholy rite and the spreading of an race. At the same time, he discovers that he is part of that destroyed race and plans to join the survivors to start the plans of world domination again. Same goes for the classic “Call of Cthulhu”. Even though the sailors defeated the Elder God, the cult still kills the investigator for discovering parts of the truth… leaving the sense of doom lingering.
Both examples are typical of Lovecraft’s writing, and give a perfect example of an open ending as it should be written. The reader himself is called to imagine his own rest of the story, of what lingers and what the investigator has not discovered yet. This is why this author’s style was copied so much and whit much success: all the other writers expanded that mysterious universe and gave it even more exciting cases to follow. We could even say that this expanded universe is a typical example of what more or less goes through a reader’s head in a good ending with possibilities left open.
A second short conclusion
This time we explored the open ending a little bit. We have to accept that not all stories can have a perfect closure as the one Tolkien wrote over fifty years ago. But even the open conclusion leaves us with a little closure, even though not perfect. But instead of leaving us wanting, it permits us to participate in the story, even though it is only us. These endings make us imagine possibilities and lets us be part of the creation, in one way or another. If there is no final conclusion, at least it gives us the elements enough to enjoy the book or tale further than anticipated.
Also, on a review on the recent Prometheus movie, Chris Stuckman reminds us that sometimes it is good to leave some questions open, to be asked about what we think and what we imagine of a story. If you close up a story correctly and leave some answers open correctly, you may create even further excitement… or even wild new stories!
But at the same time, the open ending is a terrible weapon. If the door is left too open, it can create a great hole in a reader, leaving us wanting for more… better said, demanding more, instead of participating in the ending.
Next time we will wrap up the whole discussion and finally give an answer to why Harry Potter fails on his last book and on how we can imagine an, at least, adequate ending to a fantasy series. Until then, may the gods guide you!
May they smile upon your way!