On Monday, I did a post on first lines in literature, and today I’m going to look at the last lines of stories. The first line of a story does not have to be brilliant, but it is important as the reader’s first impression of the story. The last line is even less important, of course, because the reader has already read the entire story and the last line is not going to make much difference either way. The only exception is a writer like H.P. Lovecraft, who often revealed the twist of the whole story in the very last sentence.
Still, I am interested in last lines. Most are nothing special, but some of them sum up the whole story very beautifully and leave the reader with a lasting impression of things. Here are some of the ones I really like, but first an explanation and caveat: first lines are often very quotable because they don’t rely on any context. They can’t; they’re the first sentence. But last lines only make sense when taken with the book as a whole. And there are often spoilers. I couldn’t tell you the last line of “The Wasp Factory” by Iain Banks without giving away the major plot twist. Anyway…
“We look forward to getting you back.” Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. This is so perfect because it has a hint of foreboding. The main character escaped and you thought the story was over. It isn’t…
“The creatures outside looked pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Animal Farm, by George Orwell. This is the perfect ending for this, since that’s the whole point of the book, that the pigs eventually become exactly like the thing they tried to get rid of.
“And, feeling better, fixed herself at last a cup of black, hot coffee.” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I like this because I think a cup of coffee is a good end to anything.
And probably my favorite ending to a book for sheer poignancy and summing things up is from Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
“‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
Do you know any good last lines? Do you put much work into them in your own writing? Share your thoughts in the comments.