- All Is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction
“Closure is a phenomenon closely tied to expectation”—Lynette Felber, Gender and Genre in Novels without End
Different eras have different preferences regarding endings—about when a story is really over and what determines that. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan argues that in the present day “suggestiveness and indeterminancy are preferred to closure and definitiveness” (61). However, this is not the case in children’s fantasy fiction, wherein the epilogue, unfashionable in most other prose genres, serves a few functions: it can offer a transition from the novel to the genres of myth and legend; it can provide the implied reader reassuring completion beyond closure; it can calm fears that a particular and possible bad outcome won’t come to pass down the road; in the case of the epilogue to Rowling’s final volume in the Harry Potter saga, epilogue can provide the implied reader the experience of an additional literary mode.
The epilogue is an awkward convention and has been out of literary fashion for a while. There certainly can be no place for that device of ultimate closure, that extranarrative, almost peritextual event that, as Henry James complained, distributes last “prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs and cheerful remarks” (48). Pat Rogers describes the epilogue as a “Parthian dart,” a volley delivered in retreat. It is a parting shot that is both too much and too late for many readers, a “shift in tense, and a jump in tempo—an accelerando” followed by a sudden “loosening of the temporal screw, enabling us to move rapidly ahead over a period of years” (Rogers 91), most notably either as a summation of the future—which can be as short as a line or as long as several pages—or as a scene that takes place after a [End Page 343] significant temporal and structural break from the “end” of the story (see Torgovnik and Eikhenbaum).
The epilogue is not a peritextual feature such as the afterword and the notes, but it is post-narrative despite being narrative. The epilogue is always after but never really outside. Though structurally awkward and never defended for its artistic merits, the epilogue provides emotional satisfaction. For this emotional clarity and structural removal, it has the feel of a fable’s moral; and just as the fable has fallen out of literary fashion and become a children’s literature genre, the epilogue seems to be another literary fashion of comfort and clarity now offered only to young readers. This implied audience of young readers must be concluded to need or desire that satisfaction and reassurance. But the kind of comfort that the epilogue provides, especially as a feature of children’s fantasy, might be contrasted to the pleasure of closure in a narrative. James Phelan makes a distinction between closure—simply “the way a narrative signals its end,” and what he calls “completion”: “the degree of resolution accompanying the closure. Closure need not be tied to the resolution of instabilities and tensions but completeness always is” (17–18). Many children’s fantasy tales provide closure only to move on to what is (or functions as) epilogue in order to satisfy what is perceived to linger in the mind of the reader after plot has been resolved. Closure is about the mechanics of the narrative progression (e.g., a story of a journey will signal closure when the protagonist returns to the starting point) while completion is about “instabilities” that drive the progression and direct the interests of implied readers (if the protagonist in the journey plot sets out to right a wrong in another location and returns home with the situation in that place unchanged, the narrative would provide closure but not completion). In a similar vein, Maria Nikolajeva contrasts closure with the more specific phenomenon of “aperture,” which she describes as the state of psychological completion of the character at the end of the narrative (168–71). Will this character be well despite the rough ending? Can we extrapolate an upward swing in her fortunes or at least her relationship to her world?
The epilogue isn’t about the hero...