Endings are often terribly underrated. This is a particular bugbear of mine, and I keep coming back to it. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to make sure the ending is something special. I've heard the argument that "it's the journey, not the destination, which matters." That's all well and good, and I agree that the journey is also far more important than people realise. However a great journey must have a worthy ending. If a writer has to fight every page of the way to keep the reader engaged, they have to work all the harder to reward the reader with a satisfying finish.
Whatculture! posted an article the other day about the new Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3, and the importance of endings. I won't go into a discussion on Mass Effect 3, but I will say that this article perfectly captures the required elements of a good ending.
Too often, people think that the end of a story is just when the final challenge is overcome. Sauron is destroyed. Luke blows up the Death Star. Superman turns back time and saves the day. That's only part of it. Also important are how the hero's experiences have changed them and empowered them to overcome the threat. What is it about the hero's journey that has made them the one who can do what needs to be done, and what does it tell us about them that they achieved their goal in that specific way?
Frodo failed in his task. He gave in to the One Ring and it was only Gollum's intervention which sealed the Ring's destruction. Evil is destroyed by evil. Sauron undone by greed just as he attempted to fulfil his own greed.
Luke trusts in the power that lies within him, seeing past how "impossible" the shot is. He puts his faith in a power few people understand and is rewarded.
Superman's love for Lois drives him to an extreme act. In direct violation of his father's instructions, he pushed his powers beyond anything he previously thought possible because even though he has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, it's not enough if it means he has to live without her.
These are what make an ending memorable and worthwhile. It doesn't matter if the hero beats the villain in a swordfight. We know the hero is going to win. On some basic, unconscious level, we understand that most stories end with the villain defeated. What matters is the method, the motivation, the intention, the cost and the reward. If the reader doesn't get these, or they're not relevant to the story up to now, the story fails. There is no purpose to an ending that simply causes the story to stop.
Let's talk. What are some of your favourite endings? Do you think they fit the description I've given here?