Our columnist knows from writing his ''Dark Tower'' series that every story needs closure -- even if one ending can't please 'em all
Harry fans, break out the tissues!
I’m having a day of mixed feelings: happy because I’m reading the manuscript of a novel that’s full of magic, mystery, and monsters; sad because it will be finished tomorrow and on my shelf, with all its secrets told and its surviving characters set free to live their own lives (if characters have lives beyond the end of a novel — I’ve always felt they do). It’s called The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, and it will be published early next year.
Did you think I meant the final Harry Potter tale? Don’t be a sillykins — not even your Uncle Stevie gets that one in advance (although I’m sure you agree that he should, he should). But I expect to face the same feelings, only stronger, when the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows dwindle down to the final few. Hell, I had trouble saying goodbye to Tony Soprano, and let’s face it — he was a turd. Harry’s one of the good guys. One of the great guys, in fact, and the same holds true for his friends.
The sense of sadness I feel at the approaching end of The Monsters of Templeton isn’t just because the story’s going to be over; when you read a good one — and this is a very good one — those feelings are deepened by the realization that you probably won’t tie into anything that much fun again for a long time. This particular melancholy deepens even more when the story is spread over multiple volumes. I felt it as I approached the end of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, more strongly as I neared the conclusion of Frodo’s quest in The Lord of the Rings, and with painful keenness when, as the writer, I got to the end of The Dark Tower, which stretched over seven volumes and a quarter century’s writing time.
When it comes to Harry, part of me — a fairly large part, actually — can hardly bear to say goodbye. I’d guess that J.K. Rowling feels the same, although I’d also guess those feelings are mingled with the relief of knowing that the work is finally done, for better or worse.
And I’m a grown-up, for God’s sake — a damn Muggle! Think how it must be for all the kids who were 8 when Harry debuted in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with its cartoon jacket and modest (500 copies) first edition. Those kids are now 18, and when they close the final book, they will be in some measure closing the book on their own childhoods — magic summers spent in the porch swing, or reading under the covers at camp with flashlights in hand, or listening to Jim Dale’s recordings on long drives to see Grandma in Cincinnati or Uncle Bob in Wichita. My advice to families containing Harry Potter readers: Stock up on the Kleenex. You’re gonna need it. It’s all made worse by one unavoidable fact: It’s not just Harry. It’s time to say goodbye to the whole cast, from Moaning Myrtle to Scabbers the rat (a.k.a. Wormtail). Which leads to an interesting question — will the final volume satisfy Harry’s longtime (and very devoted) readers?
Although the only thing we can be sure of is that Deathly Hallows won’t end in a 10-second blackout (you’re going to hear that a lot in the next few weeks), my guess is that large numbers of readers will not be satisfied even if Harry survives (I’m betting he will) and Lord Voldemort is vanquished (I’m betting on this, too, although evil is never vanquished for long). I’m partly drawing on my own experience with The Dark Tower (reader satisfaction with the ending was low — tough titty, since it was the only one I had); partly on my belief that very few long works end as felicitously as Tolkien’s Rings series, with its beautiful pilgrimage into the Grey Havens; but mostly on the fact that there is that sadness, that inevitable parting from characters who have been loved deeply by many. The Internet blog sites will be full of this was bad and that was wrong, but it’s going to boil down to something that many will feel and few will come right out and state: No ending can be right, because it shouldn’t be over at all. The magic is not supposed to go away.
Rowling will almost certainly go on to other works, and they may be terrific, but it won’t be quite the same, and I’m sure she knows that. Readers will be able to go back and reread the existing books — as I’ve gone back to Tolkien, as my wife goes back to Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful sea stories featuring Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin, as others do with novels featuring Travis McGee or Lord Peter Wimsey — and rereading is a great pleasure, but it’s not the bated-breath, what’s-gonna-happen-next suspense that Potter readers have enjoyed since 1997. And, of course, Harry’s audience is different. It is, in large part, made up of children who will be experiencing these unique and rather terrible feelings for the first time.
But there’s comfort. There are always more good stories, and now and then there are great stories. They come along if you wait for them. And here’s something I believe in my heart: No story can be great without closure. There must be closure, because it’s the human condition. And since that’s how it is, I’ll be in line with my money in my hand on July 21.
And, I must admit, sorrow in my heart.