How to end a series: My problem with Marissa Meyer’s “Winter”

Lunar Chronicles spoilers ahead!

I’m ready to talk about Winter.

I considered filming myself reading this book; I have very entertaining reactions. Instead, I’ll share some choice quotes from my real-life reading experience to give you a good idea what it would have been like:

  • “Just kiss already.”
  • “DID YOU HAVE TO STAB HIM?”
  • “No one cares about your problems, Cress.”
  • “Oh…BYE, CRESS!”
  • “WOOOOOLF! SHE’S IN THE ALLEY! WOLF, SHE’S IN THE ALLEY! GOOOOOO”
  • “NO! NO NO NO! CINDER, WHY YOU BEING SO DUUUUUUMB?”
  • “JUST KISS ALREADY!”
  • “If Jacin dies, I will murder everyone in this whole book.”

If it wasn’t obvious, reading Winter was an emotional experience for me.

Meyer, as always, delivered a tense, well-plotted space adventure story (MY FAVORITE) as her final installment. Cinder, the series’ lovable cyborg protagonist, defeated Levana with the help of her friends, relinquished the throne she never wanted, reunited with the love of her life, and achieved self-acceptance by letting go of her past.

I should be happy, right? WHY AREN’T I HAPPY?

No one died.

Okay, that’s not technically true. Lots of blood–both Lunar and Earthen–was spilt. The book’s final battle involved carnage upon carnage, and by the end of the book both of Wolf’s parents were dead.

However, there are eight main characters and all of them make it out alive. Even Iko, the comic relief android, survives till the end.

Better yet, the main eight form four couples, all of whom stay together, happy and in love, in search of their next grand adventure.

Which is nice and all, not to mention statistically impressive, but…really?

I’ll admit, I do believe a lot of the time that art means angst. Beauty can be found in pain, which is why so many Oscar-winning films are tear-jerkers. However, pain isn’t necessary for beauty to exist. Yotsuba works best as a slice-0f-life comedy, and its life-affirming message comes across without gore or trauma. Yet even though I can admit intellectually that art doesn’t equal pain, I still expect it in my entertainment.

So I was disappointed when Wolf and Scarlet’s ending was a little too happy. After being separated from his lover, watching his mother die, being captured and turned into a monster with no ability to think for himself, Wolf should be traumatized. I was worried there would be no redemption for him because of what he’d become (echoing the feelings people have about another of my favorite characters.) While I’m glad that wasn’t the case, I wasn’t pleased with the alternative:

  • As soon as he was reunited with Scarlet, Wolf no longer posed a threat. Kind of an easy fix after so much build-up. Also, Scarlet is apparently so awesome Wolf completely forgot his entire family died.
  • At this point in the book, Wolf was literally a monster. When he admitted his completely reasonable and logical fears about living a “normal” life to Scarlet, her reaction was: “No big deal!”
    No big deal? Your boyfriend underwent horrific surgery! HE WAS GENETICALLY MODIFIED TO LOOK AND ACT LIKE A WOLF! HE HAS FANGS NOW!
    “Hahaha! Well, kissing might be a bit awkward, but we’ll figure it out! The kids in the village will probably be terrified of you…but that shouldn’t be a problem once they get to know you.”
    Scarlet, I think you’re in denial–
    “SHUT YOUR MOUTH! TRUE LOVE PREVAILS!”

See what I mean? It didn’t have to be all angst. Wolf didn’t need to die, or be separated from Scarlet by choice for all eternity, or some combination thereof. Even so, the current ending lacks emotional depth and fails to satisfy.

As a comparison, I just finished Gary D. Schmidt’s What Came From the Stars.

Right now, I’m drawn to stories that deal with grief (I also recently finished Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls.) What Came From the Stars is about a boy whose mother has just died who discovers a powerful totem sent to him from a far-off planet.

 I enjoyed the book; I loved the ending. Good wins in the end, but at a cost. The characters are affected by the events of the story. Heroes fight for the sake of others and some don’t survive the battle. Tommy Pepper, the protagonist, loses a part of himself in order to achieve growth. Joy and mourning mix in the final pages and it is beautiful.

In my favorite stories, characters don’t return to their normal lives as if nothing ever happened. Stories need a cost in order to be worth it; some sort of change has to have occurred. This is why a certain death was so critical to the finale of a popular sitcom I won’t mention because some of my friends haven’t watched it.

HIMYM
Ted Mosby tragically not waiting 30 minutes after eating to swim

We can fight all night about whether the choices made in that finale were the right ones (hint: they weren’t) but the death is one I don’t question. Without it, the entire story lacks meaning. The parts of the finale that didn’t work were because the weight of that death wasn’t felt or acknowledged.

Robin
Robin reacts to fan outrage

None of Winter‘s main characters come out completely unscathed: Thorne has his fingers blown off; Kai is held hostage; Wolf goes through horribly invasive surgery…again.

Of the mains, Winter and Jacin’s ending is the most bittersweet. Winter still suffers the effects of Lunar sickness and her condition worsens when she uses her gift to kill Aimery Park. Though determined to help her heal, Jacin has to watch the woman he loves suffer with no promise of recovery.

While not a happy ending by any means, it’s my favorite of the four because of its realism. It sticks out because it shows Winter moving toward healing. The happy endings of everyone else come across as a denial of pain. As my favorite characters leave to run governments, work farms, and smuggle goods, I worry for them and the scars they’ve accumulated that they keep ignoring. I’m afraid their forgotten pain will resurface and wreak havoc in all aspects of their lives.

Now that’s a series ending I would love to read.

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