There’s something scary about picking up the last book of a series. Will all your questions be answered? Will your favorite characters survive the climax? Will it end on such a “meh” note that you never return to this world you’ve loved so much? It is the last book after all. This door between worlds is closing forever.
When I finished Dark Halo, I found myself struggling emotionally. As a concluding book, Dark Halo did a superb job answering most of the burning questions from the first book. A few were left a bit open ended in a realistic, life doesn’t fit into a neat little package sort of way. The action successfully resolved, and the main characters all experienced closure. But despite my complete satisfaction in the ending, my chief emotion was heartbreak…because no matter how good it had been, it was still an ending. Over the next few days, I reread the book a few times and tried to identify why this series had resonated so deeply. I read so many books, and could even begin to list all the complete series I’ve found that ended well. But I can list all the series I regretted seeing the last page of, so I began looking for a common thread.
Fortunately, Tolkien himself provided me with the word to describe these endings: eucatastrophes. I know this quote from his essay “On Fairy Stories” is a bit long, but bear with me.
Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite — I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function. The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur… It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art…
This reason I think this definition is so important is because it is so seldom achieved. Although, to be fair, I think very few writers try to attain it. There are many, many different types of stories, written for as many different reasons. But there is an almost undeniable sense of greatness achieved by some stories. They touch something in us that very few people will experience in real life. The entire world shifts ever so slightly in our minds. And yet, the same sensation remains deeply human no matter how many elves, aliens, or, in this case, angels are involved.
I have devoured each installment of the Angel Eyes trilogy and scrambled to lay hold of a reason why. I found it here, in the conclusion. Fantasy is made up of stories of good and evil. It’s almost part of the definition. Sometimes, those boundaries are easy to define. Elves are good; orcs are bad. Sometimes they are much harder as many stories in the Star Wars EU have shown us. But the element some stories neglect is the human. We are so caught up in the thousands and thousands of troops, we miss the small, insignificant person standing between them.
This is what Dark Halo has captured. Heaven and Hell, the most archetypal opposing sides, are poised over the world, but it is the decision made in the heart of a teenager that shakes the foundations of reality. And each of Brielle’s choices, right or wrong, are just plan human. As a reader, we get the big picture and can be screaming at her not to go down that path all we like. But if we are honest, if it was us in her shoes, they would still be marching down that same road. Brielle is the perfect everyman.
So for three books, Brielle provides a hole for the reader to step into and experience the exhilaration and agony of this story. For three books, a cosmic war rages with its humans, both character and reader, standing in the middle. And suddenly it’s over.
And it’s not even the kind of over that involves riding off into the sunset for more adventures. Think of what it would have been like if at the end of Harry Potter, his mission complete, he turned in his wand and powers and went off to be a muggle. Or if at the end of Star Wars, Luke decided to never be a Jedi. That’s what this was like. It was over. Brielle, though forever changed, is returning to a normal life that doesn’t involved rips in the cosmic veil. Just as the reader has to set aside the book and go paint the living room or something.
This is a very rare kind of closure. The kind where the book closes with a resounding finality and without the promise of more of same. It is heartbreaking. But with even in that, there is so much hope and joy. Fire and destruction can be rebuilt. Scars can fade. In the deepest of senses, the world can be saved. Eucatastrophe, at it’s very finest.