I know someone who read the first six Harry Potter books but not the last one. This same miscreant also chooses not to watch the final episode of a favourite TV series. Bizarre, yes? But there’s a reason: she doesn’t want it to end.
Not wanting your beloved series to end is understandable – it’s like saying a final goodbye to a friend. But after getting so far, refusing to complete the experience is an insult to all the hours invested already.
Choosing to not eat the final square of a chocolate bar doesn’t mean the chocolate bar-eating experience will never end. It just means that it ends sooner, and that there is some chocolate left un-enjoyed.
Not everybody hates endings to this extreme, but there is something poignant about closing a book’s covers for the final time. We are left at a loss, with a sense of emptiness. The world we have inhabited for days, weeks or months closes its doors to us, and we are sent back to reality.
Reality. That is what we are left with. Reality never ends. It changes, fades in and out of phase after phase, but never reaches a full stop.
A story will always reach its final full stop, but, like reality, can it ever really end?
The best fictional endings are, in essence, no ending at all. The Italian Job’s famous last line – “Hang on, lads. I’ve got a great idea” – as the choice between saving the gold and saving their necks hangs in the balance (literally), does not indicate an ending, but the beginning of a new venture: a new idea.
Those millions of us who have devoured the final tome of Harry’s adventures know how Rowling puts this particular tale to bed. Not where she ‘ends’ it, but where she lays it to rest.
The final chapter projects us forward in the lives of our three hero(in)es. We enjoy the nerdish satisfaction of seeing who ended up with whom and what they named their children. As Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione chivvy their children onto the Hogwarts Express, the full circle is completed: the technique that satisfies all audiences of classical music and comedy sketches alike. And as we absorb this cheerful conclusion, we ask ourselves what adventures lie ahead for these young witches and wizards. It is simultaneously an ending and a beginning.
But not everyone enjoyed this finale. Was it perhaps too happily-ever-after? Even JK Rowling admitted that partnering Ron and Hermione was ‘a form of wish fulfilment’ on her part. So although the final chapter implies a continuation to the wizarding world we have known for seven volumes, the final picture we get is unrealistically convenient.
Unrealistic convenience is what is objectionable with so many happily ‘ended’ stories. The story stops in a nice place, leaving little or no doubt as to what will happen beyond the final curtain. But even a perfectly resolved narrative is merely an impressively choreographed tying of loose ends.
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” – Frank Herbert