Inspire me: What’s the best way to end a series?

Okay, I’m not really looking for ideas about how to end The Auralia Thread.

The first draft of The Ale Boy’s Feast is very roughly drafted, and by the time the fireworks go off on the 4th, I’ll have given a readable version to the editors. (It feels like I’m preparing to take a patient with worrying symptoms to the doctor to await a diagnosis.)

I know how it ends. And I get a little shaky just thinking about the questions that I won’t pursue to full resolution, and the unexpected resolutions that have emerged for characters like the Ale Boy, Cal-raven, Jordam the beastman, loyal Tabor Jan, and the elusive mage Scharr ben Fray.

But working on this, and watching Toy Story 3, has me wondering…

What has been, for you, the most satisfying conclusion to a series – in literature, film, or television? What final scene packed the most punch for you?

I’ll just say it now: The responses to this question are likely to be loaded with spoilers. So do not read them if you don’t want spoilers!

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  • David Grieger

    I think the ending of Ted Dekker’s Circle trilogy is well worth mentioning

  • Brian D

    As it appears that some have answered with film endings that are not part of series, I feel emboldened to share the ones that come to mind for me, none of which are from series. I seem to be inevitably drawn to film endings centered on growing up and on families, especially ones shot through with a sort of cleansing grief that is almost palpable. For me, the final scenes that really kill me are from In America (thank you, jeremy.landes, for sharing in the love for that scene), Running on Empty, and Men Don’t Leave.

  • Gene Branaman

    Corey & Jenna mentioned The Last Airbender (the animated series, I hope the movie will be as good) & Harry Potter. I wanted to mention them, too, but I’d already gone on too long in my post. Both are great examples of the kinds of endings I love, as I wrote about above.

    Neither tie up everything in a pretty bow, leaving some mystery, something unanswered. The lives of these characters have been difficult & challenging; they’ve lost loved ones, sacrificed much, & nobody comes out unscathed. Both endings were extremely satisfying & effective. TLA has the right blend of heroism, humor, tragedy, & action that was a very fitting culmination for the show.

    LOST was also, IMO, an excellent ending for that series, too, for the same reasons as others have mentioned above, especially regarding forgiveness, something our society doesn’t understand at all these days.

    Not really adding anything to the conversation here, just supporting the examples of others.

    But . . . by contrast, I’d like to mention the ending of a series that didn’t work for me: the last book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga, The Wicked Day. I know it was written quite a few years after The Last Enchantment &, perhaps, her focus changed in how she told the story because of the break, or perhaps it was a contractual issue that the book be written, but TWD seems rushed, unconnected to the other 3 books of the series, & at times merely an unemotional list of events. After the excellent 3 books that preceded it, I was very disappointed that Stewart didn’t maintain that same tone. It was written more as reportage, facts alone & lacking almost all the emotional engagement of the other books, rather than the moving, tragic, & cathartic ending it should/could have been. It left me cold & uncaring for these very characters that compelled me to read the other books long into the night! It was more like reading Barbara Tuchman. It also seems that Stewart wanted to actively distance these characters from her readers, making writing choices that stiff-arms the reader at every key moment between characters, frequently describing conversations (at length) rather than actually quoting her characters. (My recollection is that there are only a handful of actual conversations in TWD. Very strange considering the character-driven nature of the other books.) In the 1st 3 books, there was charm & wit even in the most dramatic scenes, but that’s all gone in TWD. When I finished TWD, I was kinda pissed off that I invested myself in the series at all! Eventually, I may read the 1st 3 books again but I’ll never read The Wicked Day again. Honestly, I’m not in any hurry because TWD soured me on the other books. It would almost ruin the whole series for me if I didn’t have such fondness for the first 3 books.

  • jeremy.landes

    The final shot of a soul rushing out to play in the Alaskan wilderness that ends Sean Penn’s Into the Wild.

    In another nod toward 2007, the final concert of August Rush that brings a family together for the first time.
    through the power of music.

    The last goodbye of In America – on the balcony.

    The school dance with the curtain closing on the ensemble cast of Rushmore.

    THese are a few of my favorite things…

  • Jenna

    I was thinking exactly the same as Josh. Serenity was a great ending to the too-short-lived Firefly series, and the Arwen/Aragorn thread was the most satisfying ending for me in Return of the King.

    As for books, I can’t believe no one has mentioned Harry Potter yet. For anyone who hasn’t yet read the series, I won’t say exactly what happens, but I love reading the last few chapters of Deathly Hallows just to see how everything is tied together and wrapped up in the end. Specifically, I always want to cry reading the chapter “The Prince’s Tale”.

  • For me, the most satisfying series ending has got to be the end of “The Last Battle” of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. It’s difficult to put into words how awesome that was.

  • Laura

    I loved how the DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul ends. So many scenes in this series stand out for me. But in the last book Dragonlight near the end when all hope seems lost when Wulder’s champions are eaten by the dragon, it is the thoughts of Brandon that stand out when he says, “I cannot quote Your principles day in and day out and not trust Your hand to bring forth Your best for us. But it is hard, Wulder. It is hard.” Then the dragon disintergrates because he could not live with the pure light/truth of Wulder inside him in the shape of an egg carried by a child that Wulder gave to so long ago.

    I also love the Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers. In the last book THE WAY OF THE WILDERKING, I like the scene with the kings last breath acknowledging Aidan as the living God’s chosen king as he laid dying. It makes me wonder what King Saul would have done if David was there as he lay dying. I especially enjoyed that the ending doesn’t include a Bathsheba.

  • Rick Ro.

    My blurb about Limbo could have used an editor. Near the end, it should have read “…they don’t know (nor does the viewer) what the airplane pilot’s intention and motive is.”

    Sorry ’bout that.

  • Rick Ro.

    I know you asked about the most satisfying end of a series, but I’m going to offer up the ambiguous ending of John Sayles’ “Limbo,” starring David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. I’m one who usually finds ambiguous endings annoying, but in this case it was totally appropriate and almost necessary. At the end of the film, Strathairn’s family, stranded in the Alaskan wilderness for a while, sees a plane approach. A plane coming toward you…usually a GOOD sign, when you’re stranded, right? Except that, as the family members stand and watch the plane approach, they (nor the viewer) knows the airplane pilot’s intention and motive is. The movie ends, leaving viewers to endlessly argue about whether they are rescued or not. Great ending.

    As for books, how about the conclusion of the Bible. Revelation 22:20-21.
    20He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

    21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

  • Have to say I’m somewhat a fan of the Shakespearean/Classical Greek ending: Kill ’em all and let some unknown sword holder come center stage for a lament or something so we know how the story survived all the dead bodies littered around the stage.

    Of course, I’m not going to argue with Mr. Tolkien none.

  • Corey

    Is everything sad going to come untrue?” –Sam Gamgee. Is Sam’s question the measurement by which we determine a good ending? Was Lord of the Rings’ Return of the King satisfying? Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf pass over into the Aman, to the undying lands leaving Sam the Hobbit hole. Gimli and Legolas take off on an adventure to see forests and caves. Arwen dies of grief after Aragorn dies of old age after an extremely long life ( in terms of men). Yet the Hobbits return to Minas Tirith as Frodo awakes to find Gandalf resurrected sitting there, Aragorn crowned king, Sauron defeated, Saruman on the run and all his companions alive.

    I hear in some ways Toy Story is similar, a yearning sorrow and joy intermingled
    Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one— Tolkien

    I have rarely had the pleasure of such endings (possibly because I watch the wrong movies). Yet recently I found the cartoon the Last Airbender quite similar. As the title shows there is the idea that his whole nation was destroyed by genocide by the Fire Nation, he is the Last one, he was also trapped in an Iceberg for a hundred years. He is a boy whose friends no longer exist, his family dead and he is now a wanted man in a world where the Fire Nation wants to destroy the Avatar, the last great balancer, the restrainer of greed, expansionism and oppression. He’s 12 years old. He’s told less he has to learn all the elements and defeat the fire lord before the arrival of a Comet that would give the Fire Nation power to defeat the one last nation the Earth Kingdom( think Gondor’s vigilance holding back the orc hordes ). The “villain” of the movie is a teenage boy named Zuko, prince of the fire nation, trying to regain his honor( in his father’s eyes) by capturing the Avatar ( he has to capture him, dead or alive). Zuko chases the Avatar Aang the Last Airbender through much of first part of the Trilogy. Aang spends alot of time trying to ignore his destiny but Zuko’s constant stalking presence makes it near impossible for Aang to hide himself from the world’s problems. Zuko also is questioning alot of things as his chasing Aang seems more and more futile, between his Uncle’s round about influence and his constant failures, Zuko begins to question his quest. During the Empire Strikes Back Equivelent, Zuko is wandering around by himself like a peasant, having told his Uncle he wants to go it alone, having lost his ship and crew. His sister Azula, a prodigy at firebending is sent to get the Avatar. So Aang is constantly moving but he has accepted the need for confrontation, for decisiveness and accepts that he needs to learn what he can.

    By the 3rd section Zuko tells his off his murdering Father Lord Ozai, after discovering Lord Ozai banished his mother, killed his grandfather and recently through Zuko’s help put his Uncle in Jail. Zuko decides to join the Avatar but not before helping his sister Azula defeat the Avatar and capture Ba Sing Se ( The Earth Kingdom capital). The Avatar is believed to be dead. He gets his father’s love but only after betraying his uncle. This weighs heavy on him and his sister’s manipulations make him wonder.

    Zuko finally tries to join the Avatars group, Zuko is untrustworthy, and how do they know it’s not a trick. Zuko spends a bit of time being rejected fiercely by the group. Finally after nearly dying trying to protect the Avatar and his friends do they accept him into the group but only as a Firebending Teacher, he may serve a purpose but most of them still give him the cold shoulder. Full trust is a long road.

    Finally at the end of the series Zuko is crowned king of the Fire Nation, he uses his position to work together to restore peace.
    Ba Sing Se is recaptured for the Earth King by Zuko’s Uncle ( who broke out of prison) and the followers of the White Lotus ( secret society comprised of members that transcend all the nations). Aang is no longer hunted and Zuko and Aang have become friends. Aang has fufilled his destiny of defeating Fire Lord Ozai but without having to kill him… a great deal of wrestling went on as Aang struggled to find a way of defeating the fire lord without killing him.

    In the end Zuko became king ending the constant war , Uncle Iroh became a simple man of tea, Aang became the Avatar and defeated the firelord without killing him. Aang and his comrades learn how to overcome the prejudice born of pain towards the people of the fire nation. Also Aang learns about the fact that a lack of involvement doesn’t make things go away.

    The villain is redeemed
    forgiveness and love for one’s enemies
    prejudice is the power of hate
    The outcast becomes king( the humble are lifted up)
    parents and children reunited

    This Pilgrimage through a war torn world, with little rest, hounded by the enemy. I find this story, thankfully, one of the more difficult stories to sum up and one of the most Lord of the Rings like, where Sorrow and Joy intermingle.

    This is a long post but suffice to say the question still comes up, “is everything sad going to come untrue?”

  • I cannot think of a series that I’ve read recently that hasn’t ended tidily, but in general I like endings that leave an open-ended future for the characters, but without raising questions that requires more input from the author. That way the reader can imagine smaller adventures involving the author’s characters.

    On a side note, I would love to see a novella that tells the complete tale of Tammos Raak.

  • Return of the Jedi!

    Just kidding.

    But Serenity, on the other hand–that packed a pretty great punch and took things in a lot of unanticipated directions. Which was great.

    And as much as the film screwed around with the source material, I have to admit Return of the King’s Aragorn/Arwen angle was pretty emotionally satisfying by the end.

  • Stuart B

    I’d say one of the best literary endings I’ve ever read was the ending to the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. After 7 books, Roland finally reaches the Dark Tower, climbs to its top, opens the door, and is right back where he started at the beginning of the first book…but with one MAJOR difference that could change everything, once the events of the seven books repeat themselves again (and who knows how many times the events have already repeated!).

  • Gene Branaman

    Some spoilers below but I’m assuming readers have seen the films or read the books I refer to so I’ll keep spoilers to a bare minimum.

    I loved Toy Story 3 & it’s my favorite of the trilogy (I guess it’s OK to call it a trilogy now). It has the greatest emotional impact & resonance of the 3 films; I’m still reeling emotionally 3 days later when I think of the ending. It was spectacular. “Take care of him for me.” That’s what I look for in a conclusion – emotional impact, resonance. We’ve been on this journey with these characters &, if they’ve been rendered well in whatever media we’ve come to know them in, there should be some sort of impact on us as readers & viewers. Andy’s toys were very real people to me in the imagination of the film, just as they were very real to Andy in the imaginative adventures he had with them. The thought of these characters being thrown into the Cracks of Doom, so to speak, is horrific to me & I actually thought, “They’re really going to do this! They CAN’T do this!!” That’s when I knew exactly how Andy felt about these characters, how important they were to him. And that’s what gave the ending it’s resonance, Woody’s last look & a wave, acknowledgment of a selfless act after 1 last afternoon of imaginative adventuring with these old friends. (It’s my firm belief that Andy now works for Pixar!) But a new life is waiting, with new adventures & new friends – for Andy & his toys. The depth there astonishes me! I never, never saw it coming. I thought, “How kind, Andy” but the more I think about it, the more it resonates, the more emotional it is. It’s not sentimentality, it’s real emotion. It’s what books & movies do best.

    Lord of the Rings has that same depth of resonance on at least a 2-fold level: not only because of the harrowing journey we’ve witnessed those characters complete but also because Professor Tolkien purposefully included certain aspects of the story based on his Christian faith. Of course, CS Lewis did the same thing, as have other writers (as have some Pixar directors). For Tolkien, everything meant something & was important. But I think that may have to do with the genre he wrote in & that he based his story on myth derived from a created language, as he found ancient myths to be. A story told without the constraints he placed on LOTR (which are not bad things at all, considering the goal of Tolkien’s philological exercise, which is what it was, at first), such as The Aurelia Thread, don’t necessarily need to wrap everything up in a tidy package. In fact, there are some things I’d rather not know! (And, honestly, there are some things Tolkien didn’t really resolve, either; which is great ‘cos I likes me some mystery!)

    I can’t read the last few paragraphs of Return of the King with out bawling my eyes out! Just as I could barely finish the first paragraph of this post without crying, either. Great storytelling, to me, allows us to identify with the characters we love & want to take their best traits & make them our own. Sam & Woody were loyal. Buzz & Aragorn were brave. Andy & Frodo were selfless. These characters, despite any faults they may have, inspired their fellow characters & us, as well. But the emotion has to be real, not saccharine, not forced.

    It’s that sort of storytelling that makes me want to reread a series of books or see a series of films or multiple seasons of a TV show again. That’s what I hope for in a conclusion of a book or film series. That’s what’s most satisfying for me.

    Excellent question, Jeffrey! I’ve never really thought about it until after I saw TS3 this weekend. I’ll never not think about it again. Can’t wait to read other reader’s posts.

  • The ending of LotR of course…and I love how Bryan Davis ends the last Oracles of Fire book, and the “The dream has ended…this is the morning!” in Lewis’s last battle. Too many options!

  • Clarissa

    The “rest of everybody’s life” montage at the end of Six feet Under and the “this whole series was a dream by my other series character” Bob Newhart endings come to mind.

  • The end of “Jaws-The Revenge,” when Ellen Brody finally rams the shark with the boat, avenging the terror on her family…j/k.

    I think one of the best conclusions I’ve ever seen is the final shot of “Before Sunset.” There are no easy ways to end that film–if Jesse stays, he’s an adulterer, but if he leaves, he’s abandoning this relationship we’ve come to root for. And Linklater’s decision to just fade out on Celine doing a dance as Jesse looks on in awe (“Baby, you are going to miss that plane”) is perfection. But I say that crossing my fingers it’s not the end…

    I know it’s controversial, but “Lost’s” finale really shook me up. All of the themes of forgiveness, redemption and community overshadowed any of the mysteries and rocked me to the core.

    But still, I think “Toy Story 3’s” final moments may be the most perfectly realized ending I’ve seen. Andy grows up and lets go but is offered one last playtime–which is not just satisfying for himself, but we can tell it’s pure joy for the toys, who have longed for just one last time to be with Andy. Woody has never wanted to let Andy go, but now it’s Woody who initiates the separation and Andy who is having a hard time giving up his childhood pal. And then the final fade up into the sky, recreating the first shot of the first film. Bliss.

  • Film: The Return of the King – seeing Sam return home after saying goodbye to the closest friend he had. Perfect.

    Literature: Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle – I am only considering Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur in this discussion. I love the other books but they feel more apocryphal than cannon. The closing scene with Merlin holding Arthur in his arms as they sail to Avalon in hopes of healing is heartbreaking. Their father-son relationship is a beautiful and touching thing, especially at the end as Arthur calls Merlin “father.” I get a little teary eyed every time I read it.

    Television: Lost. I don’t care what the detractors say, the end left me emotionally satisfied. Would I have prefered a few more concrete, definitive answers? Sure. But not at the expense of the emotional closure we as viewers received. I am still haunted by the final shots of the series and how poignantly beautiful they are.