Young adult fantasy writer Sarah Rees Brennan knows a thing or two about series. In 2011, the Irish writer completed her first, Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy, and this past September wrapped up her second, the Lynburn Legacy. Here, Brennan talks about the pressure put on the final book in a series, high fan expectations, and the series finales that did and did not leave her satisfied. Warning: Massive, gigantic spoilers ahead. Reader beware.
Series. They’re tricky, right? Ending a series is hard. It’s tough structurally, because all the threads you introduced and wove together throughout all the books need to be tied up. But ending a series is much harder when you take into account readers, and the weight of readers’ expectations.
I wrote the end to my series the Lynburn Legacy going, “Here are characters. I hope you love them, because I do. I tried to give you even more reasons to love them, and to wrap up their story in as loving and respectful a way as I could. But if you’re disappointed, I understand.”
With a standalone book, you can pick it up, read it, and finish it, having vague expectations but not really having a firm idea about the story you were reading until you’re done and you go, “Oh, THIS was the story it was all along.” A series takes much longer until you can see the whole and entire story and love it… or not.
For example,I love Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series with all my heart and soul, but I’m still mad that Bran and the other kids get magic amnesia at the end. They forget all of the fantastical things they’ve been through, which made me feel as if their adventures had been all for naught in the character-development department. I hate magic amnesia at all times and in all places, unless it is cured quickly. Just not my thing. I love you, Susan Cooper. It’s not you, it’s magic amnesia!
And do not speak to me of the Narnia books because:
A) The world ended.
B) Everyone not currently in that world was squished in a train, like a sandwich in a foil packet that got sat on!
C) Everyone then proceeded to talk smack in the afterlife about the sole survivor, who was presumably mourning her entire family.
And yet, I love series. I love to write them. I love to read them. I love to spend lots of time with beloved characters, and really get to know them. I wouldn’t trade in any of the Narnia books—if someone said “OK, you’re right, should’ve left it at The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and tried to take Prince Caspian away from me, I would bite them.
With a series, there is both expectation and uncertainty. You the reader might have books one to however many, and when the last book of the series comes out you’re going “I love this. I LOVE IT. I really love it, please dear writer, don’t mess it up.” But there are thousands more people, with deeply different tastes than you, who also want to have an ending that wholly satisfies them and gives them nothing they dislike. Some of them are bound to be disappointed. Maybe a lot of them.
I, like many fans, did not enjoy the end to Harry Potter. Harry seemed like a smug Dursley, waving his kids off to fancy magic boarding school with his best pal going “Make sure not to get put in House Evil” while Harry went “Now, now, House Evil only has a 99.9% evil rate!”
But now I have to talk about a series ending that I do really love, because having slagged off three children’s classics I am going to be ducked repeatedly in the witch’s pond until I am sorry. I’m already sorry.
Maybe my favorite end to a series is Diana Wynne Jones‘ Chrestomanci series; it’s about a master wizard whose title is Chrestomanci. For most of the series, Christopher Chant is the Chrestomanci. He’s arrogant, ridiculous and impressive all at once, and has a criminal past involving mermaids. The series skips around in time, so you see Christopher as a cricket-playing kid, as a runaway teen with dramatic flair, as a married man with fancy waistcoats, as a distant and terrifying figure. Each book has a satisfying ending, and you never feel like you’re missing out—the next adventure feels like it could come at any time. Literally: any time.
The end to anything is sad, and can feel underwhelming or disappointing simply because it is the end. But if you love a book, I think, you read it again. I’ve read Susan Cooper’s or Diana Wynne Jones’ or Tamora Pierce’s, over and over, hundreds of times. Or at least you think about the book you love again, think about the magic of it.
The story never has to be over, not really. That’s my favorite part about stories.