There’s this quote I read once but for the life of me cannot find (no, not even on the legendary internet). Well, starting an essay with a quote is pretty trite and I think I’ve averted that, so there.
Anyway, CS Lewis was once asked why he chose to end The Chronicles of Narnia after ‘only’ seven books. He essentially said that it was better to end it when people wanted more than to end it when people were tired of it. Y’know, end on a high note (title drop!).
In 1995 Bill Waterson decided it was time to bring an end to Calvin and Hobbes. After ten years of adventures of the eponymous boy and his stuffed tiger it was over. Everyone wanted more. Seventeen years later we – I – still want more. They’re good stories, full of life and imagination, silliness and insight. But he ended it how he wanted to and when he wanted to. We got a conclusion, and it ended. Now it’s fondly remembered as one of the best comics ever.
Compare that to, say, The Office. The show is several seasons along and, by most accounts not what it used to be. Not to say it’s not still entertaining, it’s just not as good as it used to be. Fun as the show is, the general populace doesn’t really care too terribly much about it anymore. We’re (almost) tired of it (maybe). If it ends now in seventeen years we’ll be discussing how it was ran into the ground and how good it was at first. It’s not that it outright sucks anymore, it’s just that, well, it doesn’t measure up to what it used to be.
The Star Wars movies are another great example. When Return of the Jedi concluded the Holy Trilogy in 1983, that was it. People loved the movies. People wanted more. But we wouldn’t get more: it was over.
Only it wasn’t. Come 1999, we got The Phantom Menace; more Star Wars! A dream come true! But, for reasons that are for another rant essay, they didn’t measure up to the Holy Trilogy. Yes, we were excited for each new installment, but, well, we slowly realized that we didn’t need them. We got what we wanted and it wasn’t quite what we had hoped for. Look, the prequels aren’t the worst movies ever, they just, well, aren’t the Star Wars we grew up with. Maybe it would have been better to leave us clamoring for more.
It’s not always by choice, though. I would do quite a lot for a new episode/series/anything of Firefly. There were only fourteen episodes created before the show met its untimely cancellation. Each of these episodes was a terrific example of good science fiction; telling stories about people and their lives, the artificial family they formed, and the adventures they got up to. But it was canceled. And it ended, leaving us (you know what’s coming next) wanting more. We did get more, a very satisfying conclusion that brought it to a definitive end. But still, another few episodes of Firefly would be nice, wouldn’t they?
It doesn’t matter if we get more, though. The show was fantastic and the movie Serenity tied everything together. What better way for it to end?
Well, not ending would be a better way.
Point remains, though. It’s easy to follow the temptation to keep giving the audience more. It’s what they want, it’ll shut them up, and you’ll get money. Just keep doing it until the audience drifts away and loses interest. Once your source of income’s gone, well, that’s it then. Done is done, time to move on, right?
No. Think about posterity. Find a conclusion, end it well. Give your audience closure and leave them with fond memories of your work. Let them be satisfied with dissatisfaction.
The final strip of Calvin and Hobbes is arguably one of the best of the entire run. It’s Calvin and Hobbes looking at freshly fallen snow and getting ready to go sledding through the woods. “It’s a wonderful world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…” says Calvin, “…let’s go exploring!”
Now that is ending on a high note.