Starting now the third year for my Religion & Story blog, I think it is the perfect time to talk about endings.
Ending a creative work—knowing when and how—is possibly the hardest task an artist or writer is faced with. Surely everyone has heard that speaker who just doesn’t know how to end the lecture, or it is hard to forget all those books we sunk countless hours into only to be devastated with a lackluster final chapter or those shows we watched religiously until they entered that third season past when it stopped being good. I’m talking about endings like:
- How I Met Your Mother
- Lost (unless you are in the minority)
- American Idol
- The Hunger Games
- Great Expectations
- Superman (1978)
- The Dark Knight Rises
- The Village (and every Shyamalan effort thereafter)
- I Am Legend
- Remember Me (So insensitive)
- The Matrix Revolutions
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (I’m talking about the ghosts)
Seinfeld, one of my personal favorites and one of the most popular shows of all time, received a particularly mixed response for its ending. While it achieves a level of humor via flashbacks, many found the social critique of having our main characters imprisoned for all the things we loved so much about them unentertaining.
But it’s sour endings like those above, and the ones that are long overdue, that a make a good ending really good. Think of Steinbeck’s work that we discussed last time—particularly The Grapes of Wrath, Shyamalan’s eternal redemption The Sixth Sense, and the always controversial Do the Right Thing. Possibly the greatest entertainment finale was in 1990 with Newhart’s “twist ending.” All of these conclusions are all great otherwise, but by the merit of their finale, they transcend to something special.
Now of course, the Good Book—the Holy Bible—is the Kobe Bryant† of great endings. If it weren’t enough to contain such masterful conclusions as Mark and Acts’ cliffhangers or Malachi’s prophetic expectation, the grand biblical narrative is brought to a close with an entire book dedicated to the End of Days, Armageddon, a New Heaven and Earth, and with its last note calls back to words long ago in the pages of the Old Testament. There is no ending more fulfilling than that one.
And while it’s not quite as bold, I want to talk about one ending in particular: C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle.
The final installment to The Chronicles of Narnia is an excellent conclusion to a fantastic series (excluding, of course, The Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair). I won’t speak to the literary merit of the novel, but for my adolescent, Judging (in the Myers-Briggs sense) mind, it was the perfect wrap-up to all that had come before it. And though surely much of the religious allegory slipped by me at the time, I clearly remember the sense of joy I had flipping those final pages.
If you don’t remember, the book ends with our heroes losing the titular battle. And yet, even as our protagonists fall, Lewis maintains a unique sense of hope—a transcendent optimism. This optimism, not unseen in his earlier works (namely, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), is best conveyed in the final chapter’s last words:
All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
And while I’m tempted to break off and ruminate in the glory and beauty of what is to come, that which Lewis gives us an allegory for, I think The Last Battle has a much more immediate importance.
It is only on the heels of defeat, that Aslan reveals this new Great Story. It is when the children feel most defeated—and when they truly are. Many, I know, still feel this defeat. But we are given a hope—yes, one at the end of our lives—but one for the here and now. It is not a modernistic optimism in human progress, but a sacred hope in human good and the God that works in them.
† Excuse me if this reference is outdated.