Do You Remember The Jam?

October 16th, 2006 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

Way back when, possibly just before we were born (but more likely after), Pete Townshend wrote a phrase that roused a generation: “I hope I die before I get old.” As it turns out, Pete did not listen to his younger self, and The Who continue to tour and attempt to recreate old glory. This has lead to our friend Jim making a lot of “Last Who Tape Ever” mixes to celebrate final Who concert tours. Jim has only ever made one Last Jam Tape Ever in honor of a final concert tour. The Jam got out while the getting was good.

While some artists can go on forever — Mose Allison, one inspiration for “My Generation”, can keep on singing forever as far as we’re concerned — sometimes it is important to stop while you’re ahead. We are reminded of this as we witness the end of Lemony Snicket’s series of Unfortunate Events. With Book 13, the long, sad tale of three orphaned children comes to a close.

Even as fans sob and try to find meaning in a heretofore unheard-of 14th chapter, they must know inside that this end is a Good Thing. Stop now, they secretly acknowledge, before you become silly. Irrelevant. The Who.

Same goes for Harry Potter. There will be a next big thing to fill the hole in our hearts and Harry will continue to live on for future generations, just as the Lemony Snicket books will. If only Elizabeth Peters had found J.K. Rowling’s fortitude — her Amelia Peabody series has lasted far too many books beyond what it should have. There is a point when a series becomes a parody of itself, and even the introduction of World Wars cannot hide the fact that this series has grown monotonous. Characters who were formerly charming are now irritating.

Why is it that some authors persist long after the useful life of a series? Janet Evanovich once said she stopped writing romance because she ran out of positions; one wonders if she’ll stop writing Stephanie Plum stories because she’s running out of ways to blow up cars. There comes a point where writing in the safe zone — familiar characters, scenarios, and outcomes — simply put the audience to sleep. Yet so many authors do it. Over and over and over.

What is the cure? Bravery and imagination. You must be bold and cut the ties with series that have grown stale, or better yet, have a plan for the series that includes an ending. Stop letting them spiral out of control. Stop adding long-lost cousins who will prolong the agony. It is okay to let go — those fans who are clamoring for just one more story aren’t begging in your best interest. They will abandon you and your series in a New York minute. They have other series, other media. They don’t need you and your one book a year. They need constant stimulation. Do not trust these voices.

In television, it’s called “jumping the shark”, the moment when a series is officially phoning it in. Lemony Snicket and J.K. Rowling know enough to stop before they’re dropping dimes into the neighborhood pay phone. The Jam knew they were over long before their fans were quite ready to accept the truth. Pete Townshend knew the truth in heart, but couldn’t quite reconcile it to the life he’d started to lead.

We say goodbye to A Series Of Unfortunate Events. But we do it knowing it left us at the right time.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Lorra Laven // Oct 16, 2006 at 11:51 am

    But, Booksqure, if you quit before your fans are ready, you might find yourself strapped to a four-poster bed with two broken legs looking up at a crazy person with a sledge hammer.

    Hmmm . . . where have I heard that scenario before?

  • Bernita // Oct 17, 2006 at 6:00 am

    Thank you.
    Felt that way about Peabody and thought it was just me.