In Defense of Epilogues
Recently, waves of controversy surged forth from Mrs. Beebe’s eloquent protestations. However, being myself likewise a lover of fine literature, I beg to present an alternative perspective on the current hot-button issue of the day. Of course, I’m speaking of Epilogues, and those who enjoy them.
I admit freely, in agreement with Mrs. Beebe, that I do not delight in having the trajectory of a beloved story utterly disrupted, nor meanings and characters changed in an illogical or essential way. I don’t like fan fiction. However, if the original author (being of a certain quality) chooses to wrap up loose ends with a final but somehow separate chapter, I am grateful, deep in my nerdy heart, for a little more time to cherish within the covers of a goodly book. As far as allusions to sequels which never come, I have not as yet come across an Epilogue in a good book written by a master in his or her craft, which alludes to a mysterious and never-to-follow sequel. Epilogues can be used effectively to wrap up loose ends, without unnecessary jarring to the mind, as well as to satisfy the eager reader.
Certainly there are always exceptions to the rule, as one can see in lesser works, such as the last books of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. Additionally, the final book of the Twilight Saga sports an Epilogue. However, it also sports the titles of “book” and “saga”, so don’t blame me if the author doesn’t know what to do with “Epilogue”. Maybe in Purgatory I will have to read such bunk, but not in this life. I doubt if it’s good enough for Purgatory, frankly.
Perhaps, herein lies the rub. Plenty of people put pen to paper and pass off utter drivel under the category of literature. The Goldfinch won a Pulitzer Prize, and is still a complete and miserable waste of time. Don’t ask me of the torturous 32 hours and 24 minutes I spent listening to the audio book, hoping till the last for redemption that never came! Garbage! 32 hours wasted! Gone! Never to be reclaimed! (Though the thought grows on me, that perhaps 10 more minutes and a good Epilogue could have brought aforementioned redemption….)
Clearly, it takes more than pen, paper, and publisher to produce something worth reading in the first place, let alone worth making it all the way to the Epilogue. It takes a good subject and plot. It takes good use of language. It takes a fine writer.
Therefore it is with fine writers I make my case on behalf of Epilogues. For truly, only fine writers write literature. Many a fine writer has used an Epilogue well. Here are a few instances of authors (of a certain quality), who have used Epilogues:
George Orwell, in Animal Farm
Howard Pyle, in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in Crime and Punishment
Evelyn Waugh, in Brideshead Revisited
Laura Hillenbrand, in both Unbroken and Seabiscuit
Leo Tolstoy, in War and Peace*
Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet and in As You Like It.
Should one deny one’s mind, heart, and soul the benefit of these powerful works, merely because they have an Epilogue? Assuredly not! In the case of Shakespeare, widely regarded as among the very greatest minds to wield a pen (or was it a quill? My history is shabby) in representation of Western Literature, we know that we are facing a master of the art, perhaps The Master of the Art. If the Master of the Art of English language condescends to the use of an Epilogue, we, the humble beneficiaries of his gift, surely ought not to scoff at his methods. Therefore I propose the response of discipleship. Let those of us who are not masters of our craft learn from those who are. And receiving the unearned inheritance of a worthy book, thank the author who crafted it well, even down to the Epilogue. In the words of the mighty, fictional, detective Valentin, acknowledging to Flambeau that Fr. Brown has the greater mind, we might say, “Let us both bow to our master.” (The Blue Cross, GKC)
One further proposal I have to make, which, not quite fitting in with the previous arguments, I see fit to separate from them, in this tried and true form. The great author George MacDonald, from whom both C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien received inspiration, has an alternative solution to the quandary some face in the very notion of Epilogues. In his book The Maiden’s Bequest, he calls his last chapter “Ending Fragments”. In this chapter, there is a wrapping up of loose ends, final tidbits for the reader, and no hint of a sequel. It is an Epilogue for all intents and purposes, under a different name. But as Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Therefore, perhaps providing a different name to the final chapter could alleviate some of the mental agony experienced by those allergic to Epilogues as such.
*Do not read this book, Colleen. The Epilogue would drive you mad.
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