The Death of a Story

This morning, when I opened my Google Reader,  I saw a headline that I had to read. The title was, JK Rowling: More ‘Harry Potter’ books are possible.  Citing Rowling’s recent appearance on Oprah, the blogger writes this:

On “The Oprah Winfrey Show” Friday (Oct. 1), author J.K. Rowling says she could possibly write two more books in the series. “They’re all in my head still. I could definitely write an eighth, a ninth book,” Rowling says, setting Potterheads’ hearts aflutter. “I think I am done, but you never know.”

There is no shame in admitting that my heart gave a small flutter when I saw the words. For my part, it was half a flutter of consternation, half of excitement. Series that continue interminably tend to decline in quality and, like television shows, to “jump the shark” at some point. Restarting a series as beloved as Harry Potter strikes me as problematic in that regard.

What is more, as a writer, it would be difficult to distinguish clearly between fans’ expectations and personal impetus to write. I’m thinking of the prologue of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Part II:

The general welcomes Tamburlaine receiv’d,
When he arrived last upon the stage,
Have made our poet pen his Second Part

On the other hand, more Harry and Hermione and Ron and Ginny would not be at all amiss…

What intrigues me about the article, beyond its powerful hook, however, is the tenor of the second part. Rowling talks candidly about mourning the completion of the series, and about the way the books work out and work from her own mother’s death.

It’s a provocative concept to think of finishing a book as a kind of death, not of the author, but to the author. I’ve spoken about turning in an essay or submitting a piece of creative writing as “sending a child out into the world” and feeling its rejection as your own; there is something about writing that lends itself to the metaphor of childbearing. But to think of the final keystroke as a moment of death has certain implications for the way we think about writing.

First, it lends a favorable light to the process of revision, which, in this paradigm, keeps the text alive and fluid. Although this practice fits well with academic and scholarly writing, reflecting the changing currents of thought and knowledge, it is not particularly conducive to fiction. When it comes right down to it, we want to know how the story ends.

To me, this bespeaks an underlying longing for finitude: and beyond that, for completion. If that longing is recognized for what it is, I think it can represent a healthy desire; if, however, it causes us to seek undue  or premature closure from our own relationships and in our own life stories, it becomes more problematic. I’m thinking in particular about romance novels that end, rather than begin, with marriage. The image of working out love loses something in story form.

Fittingly, as my thoughts are still in flux on this topic, I’m hesitant to come to a firm conclusion, but in closing, I’d like to refer back to Shakespeare and The Lord of the Rings.

“They have their exits and their entrances, and each man in his time plays many parts,” and “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

However, “their exits” do not always designate the end of the play, and “his hour upon the stage” is but half the length of a typical play. What if the story does not end, but each of us must come and go in the telling?

If there is an element of death in a completed work, it seems to me that there is also a sense in which only by ending can that limited and incomplete story be drawn into the larger body of text and story that goes on around it and makes it new.



One Response to The Death of a Story

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