If you could change the ending of any novel —

Here’s an interesting Quora question, much more interesting than the usual run of questions: If you had the chance to enter a specific book/novel and alter the plot/ending, what book would it be? Why?

There are a handful of answers, including a Jim Butcher series (The Alera Codex) that perhaps some of you have tried?

Also The Book Thief, which I know was super popular, but it didn’t grab me and I just read a chapter or so.

So it’s kind of interesting to read through those answers, but for me …

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.

Such a great series. But having everyone forget at the end was appalling, and would be so very, very easy to fix. I mean … don’t do that. Do practically everything else.

OH! How do you define “ending?” Because if I were revising The Dark is Rising series, I’d actually ditch the Arthurian stuff completely. I seldom like the intrusion of the Arthurian mythos into other fantasy novels — I didn’t like it in Guy Gaviel Kay’s Fionavar trilogy either, which otherwise I loved very much. It’s not that it absolutely cannot work for me, but I start off highly skeptical. It takes a lot — I mean, a lot — for that to work for me. I prefer the Arthurian story in an Arthurian story, and while we’re on the subject, I do think Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy (or quadrilogy) is the best Arthurian retelling. Such beautiful writing. Lovely. I’ve read that trilogy many times over the years. Even the fourth book does about as well as anyone can to rescue the Arthurian story from being a complete tragedy.

Anyway, for me, Dark is Rising, simple revision of the ending: nobody forgets anything. Complicated revision of a good part of the last book: no intrusion of the Arthurian mythos. Bran is special for some other reason, I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to come up with something else.

How about you? If you could re-write the ending of any novel, what would you choose?

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18 thoughts on “If you could change the ending of any novel —”

  1. Kate Elliott’s Jaran was a perfect book. The other books in that series failed spectacularly for me. The meeting of Charles and Ilya? The inclusion of the troupe of players? The other books in the series? Please revise, Kate, please.

    Hild: again, a great and shocking ending. I see only bad things ahead. Can’t we stop there?

    Michelle Sahara West: Hunter’s Oath and Hunter’s Death were almost revolutionary for me. For Michelle to take Jay out of Hunter’s Death- well, that’s fine, but she really bogged herself down. A terrifically plotted novel has become a series that I simply can’t finish.

    Rachel: your floating islands series. I love that series so much; however, I am so invested in Ariae that I want to know what happens to her, specifically in a romantic way. Does Cerfei have to drop her now that he is king? Does her friend have deeper feelings for her? Enquiring minds want to know.

    I love the Susan Cooper series and the Mary Stewart series so much- but again, I can never read the last book of Mary Stewart’s series. Idk about having everyone forget. It’s a little like GGK having Dianora go into the sea at the end of Tigana, with Brandt never having found out who she is. Yet that’s a perfect ending.

  2. I so agree about that series. Fortunately there’s abundant fixit fanfic (either “everybody remembers everything” or “people remember after a shorter or longer while”). There are other things that would make it better for me (the intrusive Arthurian stuff for one) but this is the most annoying. Almost on a par with the “it was all a dream” trope.

    (if two comments appear, please delete the other one; your website seemed not to believe I was human)

  3. Alison, I agree The Floating Islands ought to have another book to finish the story properly. Enough people wrote me very nice letters about The Sphere of the Winds that I paused, re-read both books myself, and wrote out quick notes about a third novel. Maybe next year I’ll write that and answer your questions about it. It’s tricky because although I can write and beg RH to revert the rights, I doubt they will. I still get a small royalty check every now and then for Islands.

    I didn’t dislike the rest of the Jaran series as much as you did. I liked some things. But I fundamentally agree: the first book was really excellent and the rest much less excellent, and then the series stopped short without finishing in any way.

  4. I’ve long said that I believe The Last Battle was the right ending for the over-arching story that Lewis was telling about Narnia, but the wrong ending for the characters (if their time in Narnia was meant to prepare them to better live in their own world, why did they then not get very long to live in that world?). Better, I think, if Jill and Eustace had been sent back to England when they went through the stable door at the end, though that certainly would have left them with a boatload of trauma to deal with in a way that none of the other journeys to Narnia would have done, so perhaps that wouldn’t be the best choice either.

    I absolutely agree about the ending of The Dark is Rising series! I’d be curious to know if Susan Cooper would write it the same way today, or if she’d let them remember–if she had them forget because that was the convention of the day, and if she’s thought better of that by now, or if she really did have a good reason for doing it that way that just didn’t come across to readers.

  5. Queen of the Tearling and Prospero’s Children were the series whose endings really made me mad, so probably one of them? We discussed a similar topic in a post a few months back, I think.

    Or, for something new, maybe that epilogue in Harry Potter, where they make a point of letting you know that all the characters got married off to each other.

    I was just rereading Sookie Stackhouse while I was sick, and the last few didn’t seem quite as bad as the first time, going in with very lowered expectations, but boy did that series end in a whimper. I saw that Harris has a new series now, but she’s broken the author/reader contract too many times now for me to give it a chance.

  6. … I guess I’m glad I didn’t read all the books in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I don’t know how that one ended.

    I liked the first book of the Midnight Texas series, but by the third I was less interested.

  7. I’ve been trying to think of an ending that made me as angry as everyone forgetting everything at the end of The Dark Is Rising, and I am coming up blank! I can think of many series where the second book went in a different direction than I wanted, but that’s a different question… I guess if one of you had taken care of The Dark Is Rising, I might use my wish preemptively to make sure Philip Pullman finishes the third Book of Dust in a way I like, the second one left me feeling quite concerned about the eventual ending.

  8. You’re better off not revisiting the sookie series, but by far the biggest offense there was the so-called book Harris published after finishing the series, which retailed for $18, had so much filler space that if you formatted it reasonably it’d only be 15 pages long, max, and basically amounted to a series of obits of all the characters in the series. Who cares what happened to Sookie’s plumber or insurance agent?

    Before that, the worst thing she’d done was that in one of her earlier cozy mystery series she killed off the husband without warning, and in a total violation of genre expectations, but at least that was a book.

  9. Good Lord above, SarahZ, she did WHAT?


    Both of those are appalling literary sins. I can’t believe she did either thing. Ugh. She must have lost TONS of readers, and I can’t imagine why she thought those were good ideas.

    I really think it’s crucial to understand Cozy Mysteries are almost always romances and need to follow romance beats. And if they start off following romance beats, you cannot change your mind and have a tragic ending. No.

    I almost think that’s worse than the $18 pamphlet.

  10. I know – I originally was willing to get past the big swerve in the mystery series, since it was a pretty early series of hers, and I figured maybe she’d grown as a writer since then, but both things together mean I just don’t trust her anymore

  11. Alison, agree on Michelle Sagara West’s series. It had such promise and she kept adding more stuff and making Jewel more special instead of moving the plot. I read the first installment of Jewel’s series (not the Sun Sword, the second one) and my reaction was: the author may have needed to know all this but we didn’t. Should have taken the warning.

    I didn’t like the ending to her YA series either: too much new random stuff thrown in at the last minute. The lantern was obviously part of the problem and solution. Instead it was ignored for new elements and new characters.

    Can’t think of any other books that I’ve gotten so fed up with. West mattered because she’d been better than that, I think.
    I didn’t care for the second GGK China book much but can’t remember enough about it to suggest changes. It was his usual quality and if I’d gone in expecting tragedy, I’d have probably reacted differently.

    Didn’t get farther than a chapter into Queen of the Tearling – the utter incompetence of everyone put me off.

    FWIW, I recall an interview with Susan Cooper I read, which I may still have around in a book somewhere… where she was asked about the forgettery, and she said it was always going to be that way. Certainly there’s a lot of it throughout the story.

    I remember the Codex Alera ending being … bizarre, weird, unsatisfying. But, like the GGK don’t recall enough details to say how I’d fix it.

  12. Oh, yeah, GGK’s second China book! That was River of Stars. If I’d known Chinese history better, I would have recognized the era and known it was going to be a tragedy. Beautifully written, but I gave it away after I read it.

    His first Chinese book, Under Heaven, worked much (MUCH) better for me, but in fact I would re-write the ending of that one if I could; not because it’s tragic, but because there are two many dropped threads, and too many are not picked up in the epilogue. It reads as though the editor said, “Too long, let’s cut two hundred pages from the end and you can do an epilogue.” The book would be imo very much improved by ditching over very much shortening the epilogue while adding another hundred pages at least to bring the novel to an actual conclusion.

    Very beautiful, though.

  13. For me it’s Tigana by GGK. It’s the only book of his I didn’t like, never reread, and do not own. The ending completely ruined that book for me, turning the whole rest of the book into a subtle unending torture scene, in retrospect. I was very upset. I can’t off the top of my head ever remember being more disappointed by a book i had been enjoying right up to the end. And this is the book of his most often held up as “great literature”! How far off my taste is from that of the literary critics.

    Most other books only disappoint me mildly in comparison. Usually because they end too abruptly, don’t leave the main characters in a good place, or don’t tie up the loose ends.

  14. Agreed on the Cooper and C.S. Lewis endings. Also, it’s not genre, but the ending of Romeo and Juliet has always driven me batty. Hamlet less so (so much fabulous language), but I always hated how Ophelia ended.

  15. The ending I’d like to change is All’s Well That Ends Well. I think a nice game of whack-a-mole, with the “hero” playing the part of the mole, would be much more satisfying.

  16. I read a lot of YA as part of the speculative genre since I generally regard YA as mostly just a marketing term in a lot of cases.

    One series I adored was the Tearling series fantastic well written and with some great characters got a lot of love and was really well regarded.

    Then came book three with one of the worst endings I have ever read in any form of fiction, I genuinely think it killed or at least hurt the authors career not so much because it was bad but also because it was a direct refutation of what most readers , including myself, thought were the themes of the series.

    I am almost always a journeyman reader as long as I enjoyed the trip il get over the ending or even if there is never a ending but this one I would absolutely change if I could since in many ways it made the journey through the three books absolutely meaningless.

  17. Jfinn, that’s definitely something that would make me want to change the ending. That’s really painful, especially if you’ve been cheering for the original themes and then it’s like the Evil Twin finishes the series in a way that’s so contradictory to those themes.

    For me, Sharon Shinn is an example where the author, not the book, establishes that the book is going to be a comfort read. I’m just not concerned that the story will wind up in a bad place for the important characters, and there you go, that can and does make a new Sharon Shinn book a comfort read for me regardless of whether I’ve read it before. Granted, given Alison’s comments, I really REALLY need to re-read Summers at Castles Auburn.

    Who here read Network Effect on the edge of their seat because they were worried that ART’s crew might be dead? Or might die after being found? Anybody? No, I thought not. There’s some tension in how we get to the happy ending, but there’s no doubt a happy ending is on the way. I think that’s why those are comfort reads.

    Therefore, I disagree that a comfort read has to be a re-read. Sufficient trust in the author means not needing to know in detail how the story will progress, which is what Kim said, and I basically agree with that.

    However, I also think some books are just so clearly warm and fuzzy that even if that’s the first book you’ve ever read by the author, you aren’t going to be concerned. Some of those are deliberately low tension, such as Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell. But some just have a warm feel to them, such as Chalice by McKinley. I’d be curious to know whether readers new to McKinley found that a high-tension story. I doubt it. It’s the warmest, fuzziest fantasy novel I think I’ve ever read in my life, even though various scenes may be tense.

    Kristi’s point about the characters being “mostly people who I would want to know exist in the world, or in some world” is also important to me and that’s probably another reason some books fall into the comfort read category for me and others may not even if I’m equally sure the ending will be a nice one.

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