The Crime of Epilogues
IMAGINE THIS. You’re watching a delightful movie about young love. You have fallen in love with the characters and have been rooting for the inevitable union from the beginning. You come to the end scene – the girl walks down the aisle in white. You’re heart swells, tears form in your eyes.
Out of nowhere, a scene begins with the same girl shouting at her 3-year-old son “ Issac if you don’t get off the potty right now, I’m gonna come up there and smack you!” All the while holding a kleenex to her 5-year-old’s nose. “Are you ever gonna learn how to blow your own nose?” She says, looking down at the thunderstruck child.
Her husband, now sporting a round beer belly, stares at her disheveled appearance with a lost look that resembles how you, the viewers, feel: How the heck did we get here?
This is an epilogue.
Now, there are two types of people in this world. Those who somehow find delight in having the completion of their story disrupted by random facts about the future and those who appreciate that a story has a proper time and place to end. I am the latter. I have caused much controversy in my literary circles about my opinion, but I think it is time to take a stance against this nuisance to society. No longer will I stand to have my books ended with epilogues that destroy the integrity of the entire story. So I will make my case against the dreaded epilogue and ask you to join me in my mission to end this unfortunate literary mishap.
Merriam- Webster defines an epilogue as “a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work.” I would add that this section ATTEMPTS to round out a literary work. There are few occasions where it actually does. (Alright people, Brideshead Revisited is an exception so don’t stone me over that one, but every rule has an exception.) There are three reasons to despise the dastardly epilogue.
- They add to a story which has already ended, disrupting the peace of that ending and oftentimes changing the entire meaning of the beloved story.
- They often are artificially tacked onto the end of a story to give the reader a little more taste of the story like fan fiction for the nerdy soul.
- They allude to a sequel that will never come.
Let sleeping dogs lie and let the end of a story lie where it was. Tell a story to its completion and respect the reader enough so that at the end of the book you give them closure. Let him mourn or celebrate the end of a delicious book without the undue stress of future stories and unrelated ideas. For example, Harry Potter while not great literature was a vastly popular series of books which ended with an epilogue. At the end of the story, the heroes stand together having vanquished the villain. This is an altogether peaceful ending. Goodness has been restored and an evil force has been destroyed. What a lovely place to end at rest, Right? No. Instead, we must venture into the future lives of the heroes to see that they have all settled into cheeky office jobs and have had cheeky children who are also all going to go off to have wild adventures. Is this necessary? Absolutely not. It adds no value to the story itself and instead disrupts the ending to plunge us back into another story altogether. Listen authors, if you want it to be part of the story PUT IT IN THE BOOK. Don’t use the word epilogue because you are unable to bridge the gap between plot and ending.
Next, I understand that we all have characters we love and we would love to see more of them, but let’s not get desperate. This recent barrage of epilogues is because we readers want to consume anything that has our favorite characters! But this consumerism is what encourages our favorite authors to behave like fan fiction writers.
We must have standards. When you find out a guy has a gambling problem, you don’t wait around to see if he wins it all back, you leave the casino, perhaps to ponder the man’s eventual fate. No matter how much you love watching gambling, in this analogy, you still leave when you get wind of his addiction because it is the human thing to do. The same should be said of enjoying the book, or story. When you find out a new novel has an epilogue, get out of there…it’s not gonna end well. The author is toying with you and trying to get you to look past their bizarre fan fiction feel at the end and label it as good writing. It’s unhealthy and I will not stand for it.
The prime example of this? Mockingjay. Another popular series which ends so dubiously you wonder what the hell the point of slogging through three books of almost four hundred pages, each of which are full to the brim with psychological, physical, and even spiritual torture and suffering, was for. The author takes you one step further into her Nihilistic nightmare in her epilogue. She strips her main character of any virtue, love, or honor, she has left and turns her into a lifeless void. Why? Why do this?
Oh, do you want to know another terrible thing about epilogues? There is nothing worse than getting to the end of an epilogue and realizing that you wanted to know more about the epilogue story than their 5-20 pages gave you. Crime and Punishment comes to mind here. Tell me about Sonia and Raskolnikov. Let me see the Redemption from the Crime. Instead, I read for 3 months about this crazy man, his unstable mental health, his grizzly, nonsensical murder, I memorized 140 different Russian names for 40 characters in order to fully understand the plot and at the end of the story, it’s just misery. A mentally unstable man murdered a terrible old woman and her abused daughter for a paltry sum and is sent to a labor camp for it…. But wait, there is redemption! In the epilogue Sonya (the quintessential whore with a heart of gold that Dostoevsky, if not invented, certainly made into the profound literary trope it is today) follows Raskolnikov to his camp and there they grow in love and virtue and the spiritual wealth from the word of God… but we’re only gonna give you a tiny, little taste of it. DON’T BE SUCH A TEASE, DOSTOEVSKY!
Finally, to those authors who feel so compelled to have an epilogue, I’ll give you two options. Either,
- Make the epilogue the last chapter in your book. If it truly is part of the story, then MAKE IT PART OF THE STORY. Or,
- If it is it’s own story, then WRITE THAT STORY. Stop being so lazy by only writing 3 pages of a crappy post story. If it’s not good enough to be its own short story, novella, or novel, then don’t bother wasting it on me. Keep it to yourself.
I will not stand for this anymore. I took too many literature quizzes about these dreaded epilogues in my schooldays and now that I’m out in the real world where things make more sequential sense, I’m done with them altogether.
Colleen Beebe is a co-founder of Wonder Magazine. She is a Customer Service Manager at 5 Stones as well as being a writer, a lover of history, and a marketer for Wonder Magazine. She is a proud wife and mother who lives with her family in Sycamore IL.
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