On the endings of Stephen King's novels

HoopyFrood

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Firstly, beware, there be spoilers in this here thread.

For my creative writing class I have to keep a work journal and one of the things I decided to write in it is a response to the criticism about the endings of Stephen King's books. These are just some informal thoughts that have been roving around the inside of my head for a while now, which I finally tried to put into some kind of coherent order (whether I succeeded is another matter!) I'm quite prepared for people to reply with "What the hell are you on about, this is all rubbish" because, as I say, this is a response to criticism I've already seen. It's quite long, too, so bear with me. But perhaps it'll make some people think from another point of view, even if they don't agree with it...

Stephen King, being the popular author that he is, has quite a following, from those who may have read one or two of his novels, to those who are, to use King's words, "Constant Readers" of his work. I think it's safe to say that I am of the latter camp, having read his books for a number of years, enjoyed them thoroughly, and built up quite the collection. But one thing that I've noticed, in both the casual readers and the ardent fans, is criticism about the endings of King's novels. And the opinions get even more loud and fervent when it comes to the most marmite-esque (either love it or hate it) ending, the conclusion of King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower series.

One reason for complaint, I've found, is that people are never given a happy ending. Personally, I'm glad. I think King's conclusions are a refreshing change; there are only so many times people can realistically skip away into the sunset. And there's the rub -- realism. King, in my opinion, is a great writer of verisimilitude, despite writing about the supernatural, the horrifying, the incomprehensible. He creates deep, complex characters; even those that might only appear for a few pages, he gives some small snippet of information, something as simple as their favourite baseball team that they watch every time they play, just something to show they are human. And, being human, many of his characters already have their fair share of problems in their lives: broken families, alcohol problems, abusive parents -- all seem to have some flaw in their pasts that move them from two-dimensional characters into figures in which we can believe. To have a neat, perfect ending for them would go against the rich, complex backgrounds King has created for them.

Is it really feasible to think that his characters could go through all that they do -- ghosts, aliens, murderous spirits, deaths of friends and family, wide-scale apocalyptic events -- and then calmly settle back into their lives when all is over? The repercussions of such would undoubtedly be huge and the only way to show such would perhaps be to have some kind of "twenty years later" section at the end. Perhaps then normality may be returning for our favourite characters. Or perhaps not even then, which is something addressed in IT, where one character, Stan, would rather take his own life than go through the horrors that he experienced as a child again.

And while on the subject of horror, we must remember that this is what King is writing (there is speculation, I know, that many of his books could be classed as science fiction, but it's still more than likely that you'll find them in the horror section). To have a resolved conclusion with a merry tone would do the genre itself a disservice, I feel. It is, after all, supposed to make us uncomfortable and unsettle us, even beyond the end of the story enclosed within the book. To leave a resonance of this beyond the final page is the sign of a good horror book. So perhaps at first glance, the conclusion of Cell appears incomplete, or the ending to The Tommyknockers weak...yet is it not unsettling to not know the outcome about Clay's son? To be left wondering whether his will be saved or not? We can hope and maybe even convince ourselves that he is saved, but there is still a part of us that whispers that he is not. In the same way we are left unsettled and uneasy about Gard in The Tommyknockers -- left alone on a spaceship flying out to space. At the very least, he will suffer a slow death from starvation, but we can also be left to imagine strange creatures moving around the ship with him, hunting him, coming closer...Would the same feelings be achieved if there was a resolution at the end of every novel? There is a desire, I know, for some kind of 'closure' some kind of wrapping up of events; it is a fundamental part of writing stories. We are, generally, given this in some form -- often there is a closing of the immediate events, but then King gives us something, or perhaps it would be more rightly called a lingering, something to prolong the feelings of discomfort so inherent in the horror genre.

We also must remember that there are not heroes, of the conventional sense, that King writes about. Granted, they often do overcome the horrors that they face, but only in a bid to survive, not because they have been picked out or chosen by fate to do so. Yet even those characters involved in his greatest work, The Dark Tower, seemingly drawn by fate to be part of this epic tale, are not the benevolent, shining knights. Eddie continually voices his opposition to being part of the quest, is unruly and half-serious for most of the time, and plagued with his own doubts and demons, including a heroin addiction. Characters like these cannot defeat the bad guy and then go home knowing it was a job well done. Sometimes they can't even beat the bad guy, such as with Ben getting into his car at the end of Salem's Lot and driving away, leaving the town to be overrun by the vampires. Yet is it not horrifying to consider that sometimes the villains cannot be destroyed? And is it not an uncomfortable comment on the human condition that, despite thinking we can be heroes when the time calls for it, sometimes the only thing we can do is run away.

This is just the first half (really!); the rest is on
The Dark Tower specifically. I won't type it all up right now -- for all I know, this could be completely ignored! I may, when I've recovered from this bout, type up the rest. Anyway, there we go...
 

daisybee

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Your thoughts were pretty coherent to me! LOL.

Just as a personal opinion-I love Stephen Kings sense of realism in his characters-they are what anchor his stories in some pretty messed up situations, to resolve his tales with and so and so lived happily ever after... just wouldn't cut it. I can live with a bit of mystery-I like the feeling I have dropped in to witness a fantastic/horrific/bizarre chapter of these characters lives, and am quite happy to leave them to it once they deal with the situation at hand-in whatever manner they deem fit. (Well okay perhaps not 100% of the time but hey, he ain't perfect!) Their choices are flawed because they are flawed-therefore a ribbon wrapped ending would jar.

Looking forward to reading the rest.:)
 

Wiggum

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I disagree. :)

The Tommyknockers is one of my favorite King books (opinions are like.....), and Gard is one of my favorite characters, I had no problem with him be shuttled off to undescribed, yet, inevitable death.

I hated the ending of Cell, while I enjoyed the ending of The Colorado Kid. Both open ended, but one worked with the story that he had written while the other left the work feeling incomplete.

Stephen King just can plain write a very poor ending. I've read his full catalog, and I love him as an author, but he isn't infallible. See exhibit 192: From A Buick 8.

If we get into the Dark Tower series we get to either one of his greatest triumphs, or one of his greatest bungles. I personally hated the final act of the series. And I'm not just talking about Roland walking into the Tower to repeat his life. That for me was fine, albeit really mediocre, but fine.

The ending isn't just the last 10 pages, it's the encompassing events around it. He killed the Crimson King with an effing eraser, and destroyed the Walking Dude out of hand within a page or two without any fight.

He had them doing exactly what you bring up in your thoughts, he made into an effing Christmas party with Jake, Eddie and Suz. These things, coupled with the lack of originality in Wolves seriously soured me. Seriously, crap out of Harry Potter? Please.

But The Dark Tower isn't my point. For the ending of every *insert your favorite King ending here* there's an *insert your least favorite King ending here*, and it's obviously going to vary from person to person.

I do, however, think that you have to keep in mind, that at times, the man just doesn't write well.
 

HoopyFrood

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I have to agree with the ending with Susannah, Eddie and Jake. That I did not like. Just far, far too rosy. And the icing on the cake about perhaps finding a dog that had an unusual bark later on. Gah. Not good.

But speaking of rosy, I know I do have a tendency to look at King's work with those tinted glasses. :D

And as I said at the beginning, I knew there was going to be disagreement because that's what this was responding to. As you say, we all have our differences; even if people were to agree that a certain book had a good/bad ending, they'd probably disagree why it was good/bad! (And just to continue with this, I actually rather like From a Buick Eight :D)

I think, at the very least, even if it's only my own rambled opinions, it's been good practice for my journal (and helped fill it a little more!), and tried to look at it from writing point of view as well as a content one.
 

Quokka

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*Cell spoilers*


My problem with the ending of Cell wasn't that he didn't finish the happy ending but that he took it in that direction at all. I was really disappointed when he introduced the idea of the two pulses cancelling each other out etc, I just didn't buy it and yes I know it's a mobile-phone-induced-apocalyptic-zombie story but there's still suspension of disbelief :rolleyes:.

I haven't read The Dark Tower series but in general I'd agree that the tendancy to avoid the nice happy (and tidy) ending is something I like about King's stories.
 

Lioness

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I havn't read enough of SK' books to really comment on the endings in general.
The ones I have read though, I liked, I thought they fitted. Sure, The Dark Tower was a little weak, but I look at it and can't really see any other way to end it without it just being...wrong...somehow...

I also love the sense of realness in the characters. It's one of the reasons that I love his work, and also Bryce Courtenay's (to momentarily bring up an entirely different subject) They both put quite a bit of character development and detail into books, and i really like it, because it enables me to kinda know the character...be the character even.
 

paranoid marvin

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Not sure I agree with King's books generally having sad/bad endings.. although maybe not all the good guys survive , the bad guy(s) hardly ever (if at all) emerge victorious at the end

Tbh the most chilling end to a King yarn for me - and perhaps also the most scary tale full stop - is his short story The Sun Dog
 
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I have to start by saying I am a die-hard Constant Reader, yet I agree with many of you here that King has a problem ending his stories. He is a master at spinning a tale and each and every one has engrossed me in its own way. However, it seems as though sometimes he just can't close the deal. The Stand, for instance, drives me nuts. If the 'Hand of God' meant to destroy all the bad people in Vegas, God could have done it long before anyone from Boulder even went west. I love Duma Key, but the idea of Perse as a little doll also p*ssed me off.

I actually appreciate when he leaves an open ending (i.e. The Dark Tower ending was brilliant). I think that King's best novels are ended this way, but that's just my opinion!!
 

Abyssimal

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I have to agree with the ending with Susannah, Eddie and Jake. That I did not like. Just far, far too rosy. And the icing on the cake about perhaps finding a dog that had an unusual bark later on. Gah. Not good.

Nice treatice, Frood. I agreed with pretty much everything you've said.

As for the "It's a Wonderful Life" ending for Susannah - well perhaps King put that in to keep the constant reader off suicide watch.:p
 

The Imp

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Dark Tower spoiler




I haven't read an SK book sine The Dark Tower. As Wiggum said above, the ending was just terrible. I can't reconcile the actual Crimson King with the almighty, all powerful character. The same for the Man in Black. If you want to consider the entire book an ending then you can find fault with the lack of promised back story, wasting enormous time in the Breakers camp, etc. etc. Of all the books in the series it was IMO by far he worst.
 

Syphon of Oor-Tael

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I loved Cell but the ending was just too much. Or too little, depending on what you're looking at. Little Johnny-Gee getting doublepulsed? Is it me or isn't it weird that a 12 year old (Jordan) figures out the Pulse on his own?
I'd like to see how they build up their lives afterwards.
Clay getting with Denise, her unborn child now born, Dan being the grumpy granddad, Tom being the lovable homosexual, Jordan now of age and Johnny being the human equivalent of a dog.
 

dlsevern

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I disagree. :)

The Tommyknockers is one of my favorite King books (opinions are like.....), and Gard is one of my favorite characters, I had no problem with him be shuttled off to undescribed, yet, inevitable death.

I hated the ending of Cell, while I enjoyed the ending of The Colorado Kid. Both open ended, but one worked with the story that he had written while the other left the work feeling incomplete.

Stephen King just can plain write a very poor ending. I've read his full catalog, and I love him as an author, but he isn't infallible. See exhibit 192: From A Buick 8.

If we get into the Dark Tower series we get to either one of his greatest triumphs, or one of his greatest bungles. I personally hated the final act of the series. And I'm not just talking about Roland walking into the Tower to repeat his life. That for me was fine, albeit really mediocre, but fine.

The ending isn't just the last 10 pages, it's the encompassing events around it. He killed the Crimson King with an effing eraser, and destroyed the Walking Dude out of hand within a page or two without any fight.

He had them doing exactly what you bring up in your thoughts, he made into an effing Christmas party with Jake, Eddie and Suz. These things, coupled with the lack of originality in Wolves seriously soured me. Seriously, crap out of Harry Potter? Please.

But The Dark Tower isn't my point. For the ending of every *insert your favorite King ending here* there's an *insert your least favorite King ending here*, and it's obviously going to vary from person to person.

I do, however, think that you have to keep in mind, that at times, the man just doesn't write well.

I feel that he is the greatest living writer we have and feel that there are few that are close to his brilliance. Even his worst outputs I found very entertaining. I know that many will disagree with me but I just can't get enough of the guy.
 

dlsevern

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Dark Tower spoiler




I haven't read an SK book sine The Dark Tower. As Wiggum said above, the ending was just terrible. I can't reconcile the actual Crimson King with the almighty, all powerful character. The same for the Man in Black. If you want to consider the entire book an ending then you can find fault with the lack of promised back story, wasting enormous time in the Breakers camp, etc. etc. Of all the books in the series it was IMO by far he worst.

The ending was perfect IMHO. I'm not wanting to start a quarrel but who would you consider a better writer than King?
 

dlsevern

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Stephen King just can plain write a very poor ending. I've read his full catalog, and I love him as an author, but he isn't infallible. See exhibit 192: From A Buick 8.

I really think you should do a re-read, FAB8 is actually a great book, one of his creepiest in fact, IMO. I didn't get it at first either, but after I re-read it, I was blown away.
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
I love King, have read most of his novels. Some have excellent endings. Salems' Lot, I love, going back to the horror, without telling us what happened, The Shining. Firestarter with its sense of hope, Dead Zone.

But others have disatisfied. The Stand, which I love, the last 200 pages, I thought he wasn't sure what the heck to do with it, and pull it together. Cujo, christine, not keen. Cell, I hated the end of.

But, I have to be honest, sometimes I wonder why his editor wasn't sort of tapping the desk and going, Steve... finish it. Properly. Your reader just read this whole thing, you need to pay them back for it. Satisfy them... but I usually go back for more, anyhow. :)
 

mtzGr

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I think abrupt/incomplete endings are more of an issue than whether they are happy or sad. I hate seeing stories quickly tied up in a bow the last few pages or so.

King is guilty of this, but while some of his work is suspect, he also has many stories with fantastic endings. Firestarter and Hearts in Atlantis are two off the top of my head.
 

D_Davis

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People put too much stock in endings.

The journey getting there is far more important.
 

mtzGr

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People put too much stock in endings.

The journey getting there is far more important.

Oh come on, this is just a silly thing to say. So it doesn't matter if an ending is mediocre or bad, as long as the rest of the book was good? The ending validates the whole experience. There's nothing worse than a movie with a bad ending, it makes the entire time spent watching the thing a complete waste.
 
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