I have previously stated that I think the first line of a book is extremely important. However, for as critical as the first line may be, the ending is even more significant. It's what sticks with you, and in many cases, it determines what you think of the book when you reflect upon it.
In this new feature I'll be discussing the ending of various books, and whether or not I think they "earn" their ending (in the case of a strong ending), or if it is a let down compared to the rest of the novel. Obviously, as I'm discussing the ending of the book, there will be spoilers, but I think endings are important for readers and so we shouldn't shy away from potentially spoiling them. Plus, this book specifically is rather bad, and so I don't feel guilty for potentially ruining the ending and discouraging you from reading it.
For our first entry (and the one that inspired the feature) I'd like to talk about Here, There be Dragons by James A. Owen. This is the first novel in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, and it tells the story of John - a young man who becomes the caretaker of the Imaginarium. As the caretaker, he and his friends must travel to the archipelago of dreams (the land of imagination and story), and protect it from evil.
While there John and his friends (Charles and Jack) must find a magical ring and stop an evil sorcerer. If this simple summary sounds reminiscent of anything, it's not a coincidence. It turns out that John is J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack is C.S. Lewis, and Charles is Charles Williams. As the brightest literary minds of the age, they are the caretakers of the Imaginarium, just as H.G. Wells and Charles Dickens (among others) were before them.
This revelation, and the idea of following Tolkien and Lewis on their own grand adventures, may strike you as pretty great. And it is! When I heard this ending I was completely swept up in it. But, at the same time, therein lies the problem. The rest of the book was bland and boring. It dragged along, feeling both cliche and unexciting. Unfortunately, as a result of the mediocre nature of the rest of the book, the twist ending left me more annoyed and offended than it did excited.
How dare this author co-opt some of the greatest authors of the 20th Century and make their stories his own? How dare he imply that the real story behind The Lord of the Rings was this adventure that Tolkien went on as the caretaker of the Imaginarium? You can't simply take well-beloved authors and stories, and insert them into your story to make up for your otherwise lacking novel. It offends the reader, and it offends the legacy of the authors themselves.
Here, There be Dragons is not a good book, and a twist ending that plays on the strength other stories does not justify the rest of the novel. This book does not earn its clever ending, and I'm offended as a fan of the authors and stories it uses to its own advantage. Great endings don't exist in a vacuum - they must be earned by the story being told, and Here, There be Dragons does not live up to its clever ending.