I finally saw Avengers: Endgame! (And look, by my standards this is well ahead of schedule)
Endings are hard.
I thought it wrapped up the rather massive tale of superheroes about as well as one could reasonably expect, tugged on the heartstrings the way you knew it would and sowed the seeds for the next crop of brightly-coloured demigods. Of course it wasn’t perfect – there are some characters I would have liked to see more of, some moments that I would have liked to explore further, and some I would have done a little less of – but there must be immense pressure in trying to write a thing like Endgame, with its huge cast of characters, all of whom are somebody’s favourite, but not all of which can be the star, or even get the happy ending. Choosing where to leave each character, many of the them probably forever, is a weighty decision, and I know the writers will have wanted to get it right just as much as the audience wants it right, even as they won’t agree on what ‘right’ is.
I haven’t really had to do this yet, although I can imagine the task. Both my novels (I didn’t really know the second would be published when I wrote the first) have an ending, of course, but in my mind neither was ever the end of the story for Adam Godwinson and his friends. I have mentally plotted that ending, but that’s not the same as writing it. Perhaps I will one day. Similarly, the book I’m looking for a home for now, Heretic Blood, does of course end, but I hope it will be the beginning of Easter Pinkerton’s story, not the finish.
Again, though, I’ve thought about where I probably would leave Pinkerton, when and if the time comes, and I can imagine the weight of that particular ‘The End’. How much heavier if you have a massive audience. Regular readers of the blog will likely know that I haven’t watched Game of Thrones (there are reasons) but you could scarcely spend a split second on the internet the last while without becoming aware that a) the series ended and b) not everyone is happy with how it finished.
Endings are hard.
I sympathise with the GoT fans, even if I didn’t watch the show, because I remember spite-watching the closing act of Lost and being, at best, very annoyed about the whole thing. I had invested in the story, invested time of course, but thought and energy and part of my dreams, and I suppose I felt that I wasn’t getting a proper return. Ultimately, I didn’t want to walk away from those characters feeling, at best, annoyed about it all.
Thinking about it now – as a bit more of a writer and with a few (?) more years on board – it seems to me that no, we’re not entitled as readers or viewers to the ending we want. The artist creates their art, and we either like it or not, but we’re not owed anything in particular. The writer is free to tell the story they want to tell. We’re free to like it, or not. Of course, that doesn’t make it feel any better when we don’t like it, and this is the end. A story that takes a turn we don’t like is one thing, because perhaps the next bend will please us. But if this is the finish, and it’s not a place we want to stay, well, that’s much harder to stomach.
For both readers and writers, we might cram in one more pop culture reference and crib from a movie trailer that ran before Avengers for comfort: ‘No one’s ever really gone’. The great part about the stories we love is that we can always go back and experience them again. I am a great re-reader of stories, and going back to let the moments I loved live again is a big part of why. No, it’s not quite the same as a new unexplored tale, but it’s clearly not the same as ‘gone forever’, either. Writers have even more freedom to bring back a character we thought we were done with, or add more branches to a story we thought was finished.
Of course, there’s a hazard to that – sometimes if we unpick something that had been neatly tied off, it turns out that we can’t find a new ending that’s quite as good. Conan Doyle wrote a lot of good Holmes stories after resurrecting his detective, but none of the places he tried to leave off again were ever as satisfying as “there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.”
Endings are hard.
On some level I think we tend to want to resist them, in stories or in life (wherever you want to draw that line) and think that there is always just a little more, perhaps. At the same time, we know that everything does end, eventually, and I think we want to find meaning or at least a nice feeling when they do. There’s a reason why ‘in the end, none of it meant anything’ is a sentiment that tends to be an unsettling one.
I try not to fret about it too too much. Everything does end. An ending isn’t necessarily bad, or at least it doesn’t erase everything that came before it. For a time there was a story, and it was one we wanted to read. The experience, the reading of it, that time we shared with the writer (and whatever other artists were involved), that never goes away. I try to be kind to endings, because they are hard, and especially when we didn’t want something to be over. Every ending, though, is an opportunity to pick up a new story.
I suppose I’ve been thinking rather a lot about this, the last few days, with the end of another semester (and thus, the end of a number of stories), and then in my D&D game, my character’s story required that he walk away from the party, thus leaving the game, at least for now. It was surprisingly hard to do, in the game, and I was surprised as well at how much of a reaction it got from the friends I play with. Ending are hard, and all around us, but then again so are beginnings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of my new character.
Thanks for reading this, and enjoy what you read next.