Monday, March 19, 2012


Note: If you haven't read or watched the final installment in the Harry Potter series, there are spoilers ahead.

Last night, my husband and I finally watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. In the midst of summer travels and work and toddler-wrangling and life, we'd missed it in the theatre. Not only had neither of us read the final book in the series, we'd also managed not to ask or overhear just how the whole saga ended. So when we sat down, excited, in our dark living room with our newly HDified TV, we had no idea what was going to happen.

I realize we're behind the times. But bear with me.

I was sure that J.K. Rowling was going to kill Harry. I thought, this is the only reconciliation for such a myth and magic-laden epic: sacrifice the boy. Save the world.

Happily, I was wrong. And the movie ended as it should have--our focus on the faces of three true friends.

But this made me, today, ponder on endings. Crafting a beautiful, memorable, and above all satisfying ending has to be one of the toughest things about being a writer. Creating an ending for a series must be even more difficult, considering that your readers have made a major investment in the lives and times of your characters.

One of my favorite historical authors, Sara Donati, ended her acclaimed Wilderness novels by utilizing a series of news articles and obituaries in her fictional town's newspaper--a newspaper her main protagonist, the heart of the series, had founded. It was a poignant and lovely way to close the book on a host of memorable and beloved characters.

But there are other ways of doing this. Cinematically, it just seems easier.

Butch and Sundance went out guns blazing.

Thelma and Louise drove a car off a cliff.

                                         And Rhett decided he didn't give a damn.

Movies have the luxury of outside influences--musical scores, set direction--to aid in just how deeply their endings affect a moviegoer. But writers have only words, and those words had better be the right ones if a reader is going to close the book truly changed from what he or she has read. This is no easy task.

Anton Chekhov once said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." And writers, as much as moviegoers, want to be there in that world and in that moment--whether they're captive in a dark theatre or huddled under the covers, reading by flashlight. They want to see the light on the broken glass.

I'm still not certain if I love the ending of the Harry Potter series, book or film. And this is interesting to me, because I'm utterly in awe of J.K. Rowling, profoundly moved and fascinated by the widths and depths of her imaginative powers. I can't read her novels or watch the films based on them without grinning hugely, even at the dark parts. My God, that woman has a gift.

But I wonder, at times, if it's possible to truly write a great ending. And has anyone ever really done it successfully? Or do we leave this to our readers, assuming that--despite our best efforts as writers--they will find a sort of imaginative closure off the page, in the recesses of their own imaginations?


Alison said...

I completely agree! There are very few endings that are completely satisfactory, and often they create a sort of ongoing story. For example, at the end of The Shawshank Redemption (one of my favorite films) we see Red walk up to Andy on the beach, just as the credits roll.

And I can continue that scene in my head - perhaps the two go out, have some Bohemia style beers, decide to start a business together.

Crafting something like that is really, really hard.

Katherine S. Crawford said...

Alison, you're so right. And I loved Shawshank, too. I like to think of stories moving along in the ephemera, even after they've officially ended on the page or on the screen.

So maybe that's the worthy goal for a writer who's struggling with an ending? Maybe leaving a reader imagining is enough?

Jimmy said...

Much agreed. I definitely prefer to writer/director to take me to a point at the ending where I can make an educated guess about what happens next, but I don't necessarily need the ending spelled out for me (in most stories at least - Harry Potter deserved the ending it got, and I even understand the need for the tacked on "19 years later" to try and keep people from speculating when she might return to the characters).

I too thought for a long time that Harry was going to die, but then thought about and was sure that he would survive. At it's core HP is a heroic epic, and the hero always survives the journey and returns "home." Having all of Harry's protectors die (parents, Sirius, Dumbledore) did make me think that Hagrid was going to be sacrificed, but she fooled me there.

Anyway, I wrote a thousand words or so about HP a while back if you are interested, which is probably a thousand words too many for a forty-something, but oh well.

Katherine S. Crawford said...


I loved your post; thanks for the link! I, too, was fooled about Hagrid. And I absolutely agree about Snape's character, and Rickman's (who I adore) performance. (He's also the best thing about the Americanized Kevin Costner Robin Hood film.) I, too, wish the movies (esp. the final ones) had spent more time in Hogwarts.

Stuart and I traveled and hiked around Scotland in 2007, and one of the highlight of our trip was hiking up above Loch Shiel and getting to see the "Harry Potter" train chug past below, the mountains and loch its backdrop. I highly recommend a Scotland pilgrimmage for any HP fan!