Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Waiting for Shephard's Crown

I am rereading the fourth Tiffany Aching book, by Terry Pratchett, as a preparation for reading the upcoming fifth and final book in the series. It is also Terry Pratchett's last book, The Shepherd's Crown. He died several months ago.

My wavering, hot and cold interest in this fourth book, called I Shall Wear Midnight, got me thinking about trilogies.

There's something about trilogies.

Maybe the gauntlet was thrown down sixty years ago with The Lord of the Rings. While I can't exactly think of it as the greatest or deepest reading experience I've ever had any more, it's still the most involving and transportive. Or it was, back when books were new to me and before I'd worn out the bindings of my copies, burned through the very words of it. It's just one book, really, but in three distinctive volumes, so deeply marked that it would be its own artificiality to think of them not as three. And once that monumental adventure set the blueprint, some strange law of the trilogy was hammered into literature.

Three is a magic number.

People started shooting for threes in fantasy and science fiction, and three became a sweet spot. But there is a curse too.  Everything changes after the third book.

Maybe that started with The Lord of the Rings too. The Silmarillion as far as I can tell is Tolkien taking the one weak part of his trilogy (the mostly easily skippable poetry) and spending the rest of his writing life working on that. Perhaps it's all the success and completeness of completing a trilogy that curses what comes next. Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies, but years later she came back to it for a couple of barely faded reworking additions to that world. Beware, authors and readers both, of the fourth book. J. K. Rowling wrote a charming juvenile fiction trilogy only to finish the series with four diminished young adult novels. And let's return to the Tiffany Aching books, three of the greatest books ever written that seem somehow to fade a little in the fourth. And I tremblingly await Patrick Rothfuss's third book of The Kingkiller Chronicle series. Can he join this illustrious pantheon with that third book?

Three is a magic number.

But there is no guarantee. Philip Pullman wrote two books of pure bliss and wonder in the His Dark Materials trilogy, but didn't quite stick the landing on that third one. You never know in life or art.

Maybe five is the magic number.

Of course, I speak in the grand objective tradition, but this is an entirely subjective cosmology, and so is utterly ridiculous. 

It probably has to do with this being my fourth blog post on this subject. 

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