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What is an Epilogue?: 4 Examples from Famous Books, Movies, & TV Series

Luke Leighfield
Luke Leighfield, Content Writer

In fiction, an epilogue is a nifty literary device used at the end of a book that gives additional, but separate, details that are part of the main story. Epilogues often reveal the fates of the characters and wrap up any loose ends.

An epilogue always takes place in the future, after the main events of your story have happened.

It generally comes after the final chapter. However, an epilogue should not replace a denouement or falling action after your story's climax. In movies, filmmakers often use it to give a sneaky afterword, hinting that there’ll be a sequel to a film.

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Like so many other words in the storytelling world, ‘epilogue’ comes from a Greek word, ‘epilogos’, which means ‘conclusion word’. The epilogue always appears at the end of a film (or literary work). This makes it the opposite of a prologue, which always pops up at the start.

Greeks, always blazing a trail

The Greeks invented all the good stuff. Greek yoghurt. Greek salad. Really, the epilogue should be called the Greek epilogue. Aristotle and co. invented the epilogue aeons ago as a way to summarise a play’s moral lessons, as well as explaining what happened to its main characters.

Then Shakespeare and his Elizabethan mates came along and ripped it off. Remember As You Like It or Romeo and Juliet? At the end of this smash hit, the iconic playwright provides a touching post-play description, which explains the dreary atmosphere that sets in after tragedy hits the play’s two lovers:

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings; The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence to have more talk of these sad things Some shall be pardoned, and some punished, For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Of all the literary devices, the epilogue is a corker, with people still going mad for it today. We’ll show you a few examples below so you can exercise some Greek epilogos in your next production.

In case of emergency: Four Famous Epilogue Examples

Like setting off a fire alarm, an epilogue should only be explored when absolutely necessary. You definitely shouldn't use it as a cheap substitute for a meaty, satisfying ending, and your epilogue should provide a point of view that's vital to the main story. It's a supplemental tidbit that helps a viewer understand what's happened, offering a neat resolution.

Here are three questions you might want to ask yourself before you go cooking up an epilogue:

1. Do epilogues help to develop a character?

After seven books and a neverending array of twists and turns, the Harry Potter series finally drew to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At the end of the final installment, there’s an epilogue – set 19 years after the events in the rest of the book – where readers get to see the fates of the characters as adults. It’s a reward for readers who spent so much time in Harry’s wizarding world. And it also reassures nervous Potter fanatics that all his suffering and dragon battling wasn’t in vain.

2. Does it hint at a sequel?

American Netflix hit Stranger Things served up gargantuan epilogues at the end of both its seasons, each time hinting that something sinister is still out there in Hawkins… and, naturally, they’ll need the next installment to find it and kill it. In the final scenes of season two, just as everything’s calmed down, we see the camera slowly zoom out and gradually flip upside down. As the music gets more ominous, we suddenly realise that we’re in 'the Upside Down' – and that things are definitely bubbling away down there. Now that’s what you call a cliffhanger – and the very definition of epilogue.

3. Does it emphasise a key part of the story?

Underneath all the fighting and blood and black eyes, the Rocky film franchise is really about grit, perseverance, and relationships. Rocky III sees Rocky teaming up with his former nemesis, Apollo Creed, as Apollo coaches Rocky for his next fight. Apollo’s one condition? That Rocky grants him one final fight. And that’s exactly what happens in the film's epilogue, after Rocky’s main fight – with Clubber Lang, a.k.a. Mr. T – is over. It’s one of the most tender moments in the movie, wrapping up those last few loose ends, and emphasising the importance of friendship.

4. Can epilogues help with world-building?

Margaret Atwood's most famous novel, The Handmaid's Tale, employs an epilogue that creatively underscores many of the book's main themes while only giving subtle hints as to the main characters' fates. In this epilogue, readers get a retrospective scope on the world of Gilead, the theocratic regime in which the novel is set, and most notably, how the regime crumbles long after the life of Offred, the book's protagonist.

Margaret Atwood's epilogue is set in the distant future and reveals that the main events of the book were actually a collection of tapes analysed and transcribed by Professor Pieixoto, a scholar attending an academic conference. In the tapes, Offred provided an oral history of her life as a handmaid. In keeping with Atwood's approach to speculative fiction, the epilogue underscores the book's use as a parable for helping us understand how authoritarianism rises and falls.

Wrap up your stories with Boords

At Boords, we love literary devices and we can't stand loose ends. So if you're looking for someone to help with your next epilogue, look no further.

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