There And Back Again: Saying Goodbye to a Story


With The Battle of the Five Armies, the third and final instalment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit, now doing a roaring trade in cinemas, I take a look at how ending an epic tale has been tackled by some of the most famous works in recent memory.

NB: Here be some mild spoilers.

Saying goodbye to a story (be it long-running or a single adventure) can be difficult for readers or viewers, but equally an ending can be tough for those behind the pen or the camera to get right. There’s a lot riding on a story’s conclusion, particularly if the piece in question is well-known, acclaimed or commercially successful, as its audience will rightly expect great things from it. The Hobbit film series is a case in point.

It was long. It was padded out beyond belief. It was tiring on the eyes because of the 48 FPS. But it’s over. The Hobbit trilogy is finally at an end. It may have diverged from the tone of the book, but it provided a cleaner conclusion than the Lord of the Rings series and seamlessly linked up the two sagas. It was good on the whole, but there is also a question as to whether the series is truer to Tolkien’s vision of the story, or to how Peter Jackson wanted it to be.

Lord of the Rings was better on most levels, and was generally very good, but in contrast it didn’t know where to stop itself. The last film, The Return of the King, almost wanted to continue the story forever and suffered from too many endings, rather than one definitive end. It’s a shame that the best film of the trilogy was marred by not knowing where to draw the line.

Another famous adapted series of recent times is the much-loved Harry Potter series. It may not always have been able to strike a balance between slavish faithfulness to the books and adding new things, but at least it did its own ending justice. However there has arguably been a problem with the books too, albeit a little after the fact. The written ending was near-perfect, but now there is often the feeling that, 7 years after publishing The Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling cannot let go of her biggest success.

With the launch of the Pottermore website for fans of the series, the revealing of Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality in an interview, and even mentions of aspects of the ending which Rowling found annoying (she acknowledged in 2014 that she thought she should have put Harry and Hermione together instead of Ron and Hermione), Rowling is giving the impression of someone who doesn’t know when to end things, or who doesn’t want to do so.

This is patently ridiculous when she’s had great success with her new Cormoran Strike crime series, and so such comments about Potter may only serve to frustrate some readers who have come to love the endings she provided for each of her Hogwarts characters. It should have been ‘Mischief Managed’, but the world an author creates can often prove too alluring for them to truly bid it farewell.

As was the case with all of the above, some endings have a great weight of expectation on their shoulders. Ashes to Ashes, the TV series where police officer Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) is shot and wakes up in the 1980s, which served as a sequel to Life on Mars, had a job on its hands in that it had to explain the reason for the events of both Ashes and Mars before it. Mostly successful, it managed to be quite clever, as well as being slightly mad. In the end, though, it was a fitting conclusion, even if the near-romance between Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and Alex felt more than a bit forced.

In terms of bonkers endings for highly anticipated onscreen adventures, 2014’s Interstellar must also be up there (literally). It managed to just about juggle being a space epic, a family drama and a quasi-whodunit, and then the final fifteen minutes, which did actually explain the plot, veered well and truly onto Crazy Street (though the by-this-time supposedly theoretical science may have hamstrung director Christopher Nolan here). But if you are able to look past the madness, then the film as a whole is still very good.

Returning to the end of this year’s flagship series The Hobbit, I think that in terms of its main thrust about friendship and loyalty, the films stayed faithful to the spirit of the book, despite some deviances along their sometimes tortuously lengthy route. The question now is how will The Hunger Games, arguably the next big film franchise to conclude, fare when Mockingjay Part 2 is released later this year. At least after next Winter we won’t be hearing that darn whistling noise any longer.

And so with that, and with many more franchises and stand-alone films beginning and ending, it becomes clear that the creative road goes ever on and on, and that there are yet more stories to come. The one thing I know is that the world wouldn’t be so great a place without them – everybody loves a good story, so as far as I’m concerned, keep them coming. I’ll be reading and watching right along with you.

Alex Nicholson

What’s the most satisfying ending of all time (so far) to a film, TV series or book? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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