Tolerance for ambiguity

Sopranos spoilers ahead!

As soon as the final episode of The Sopranos aired, four things happened at our house:
1. We laughed and laughed.
2. We said “Oooooh, people are going to be SO mad!”
3. We laughed some more.
4. We started talking about the upcoming “final episode” of Harry Potter.

I think that shift to discussing Harry Potter happened for many people who followed both long-running series. Both series had huge audiences who had spent a lot of time in advance speculating on possible plot twists and debating what would constitute a satisfying ending.

Obviously, for many viewers the ending of The Sopranos was intolerably ambiguous. It is open to interpretation, and you can argue that Tony is dead or that they all died just as the screen went black or that they all went on with their lives in just the same mundane way punctuated with violence and sweetness and sorrow that they had before. I’m in the last camp, but I’m very okay with writer David Chase leaving the ending wide open. At the same time, I will NOT feel that way if Rowling does the same thing with Harry.

It’s taken me a long time to reach the point where I enjoy ambiguity. As a child, I wanted things to happen in a predictable, understandable way, and I certainly wanted closure. I think that it’s a rare kid who can stand leaving things up in the air and open to interpretation. The question is, did Rowling write a book to satisfy the child audience that Harry began with? Did she write it for the young adults who have been reading ever since the first book came out? Or did she write it purely for herself?

Many in that young adult group, to judge from the admittedly limited pool of the children of staff members of the Niles Public Library and their friends, feel that the death of Harry is what makes a lot of sense from a traditional fantasy arc of storytellling. My sons (ages 16 and 20) are more in the Snape/Neville will provide a satisfactory sacrifice camp, which is my camp as well. But that age group in general requires a death with substantial meaning to conclude the series.

However Rowling ends it, though, is going to be fine with me. Writers do not owe their readers a thing. Readers can like what the writers give them, or they can hate it, and we certainly can express our opinions about it. But David Chase did not owe viewers a tidy, clear ending to The Sopranos, and while I will disagree with Rowling’s choice for a children’s book series if she leaves it wide open, I will argue with anyone who claims she doesn’t have the right to write whatever she thinks is best for her characters. She made them up, and we may love them but they are hers, just as Tony and his family and his Family are Chase’s.

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