In preparation for Mockingjay-mania, here’s a look back at seven popular fantasy and trilogy series and an evaluation of their endings, from “perfect” to “meh” to “garbage.” Doubtless, you won’t agree on all of these (or any of them, maybe) but I think we can all come together and acknowledge that it is an incredibly difficult feat of world-building, writing, and pacing to wrap up an entire series in a satisfying way, paying tribute to the moral stakes, the characters, and our desire for a happy ending at the same time.
All this is added to the pressure facing contemporary authors to finish their series quickly and not keep fans waiting, which can mean that concluding volumes are rushed to the stores without necessary edits (cough, cough, J.K. Rowling!). I think it’s fair to say that even if we quibble about a given conclusion’s quality, we all raced to get there, and enjoyed the ride.
This post contains a bucketload of spoilers, obviously.
The Return of the King
You can never go home again. That’s the message of the “Scouring of the Shire,” a concluding chapter in the LOTR trilogy that didn’t make it into the film adaptations’ endless series of codas, but is quite central to the book trilogy’s message. When the hero hobbits arrive home to find corruption and misery has seeped from the wider world into Hobbiton’s once-innocent infrastructure — and when they actually have to draw arms and kill their fellow hobbits to rout Saruman and his handlers — it almost breaks them, and does really break Frodo. And so when Frodo and Bilbo leave with the elves and the other ringbearers because Middle Earth was saved, but not saved for them, we weep.
But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save The Shire, and it has been saved but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger someone has to give them up, lose them so that others may keep them.
Close to perfect, if absurdly sentimental. I think J.R.R. Tolkien’s choice of splitting the ending into content family life for Sam but doom for Frodo is the kind of balance between happy and tragic that all the below series are trying to imitate. But it’s not easy. And so, I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.