Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel

Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel

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lord of the rings as one book

Series have always been difficult to keep my attention. Outside of The Boxcar Children or Babysitter’s Club, I couldn’t keep up with long story arcs and a rotating cast of characters. This also happens with television series. A long-winded plot just means filler episodes, disposable characters, and an often disappointing ending.

Trilogies, for books or movies, seem to be all the rage right now. And I get it. As the reader, you become attached to a character and want to learn more about them. As the publisher, you see $$$ knowing that even if the third book is poorly written it will still sell because now the audience is invested. Brilliant really.

Lord of the Rings “Trilogy”

I prefer to skip all that and stick to stand-alone books. I don’t need to continue a world or a character. One adventure is enough for me. With that said, I have read all of Lord of the Rings. Though it’s easy to see why I enjoyed those three books when I wouldn’t normally read a trilogy – LoTR is one long book.

For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. – Wikipedia

Lord of the Rings is actually a novel, not a trilogy. It was all written at once, as part of the same story, and released with little time between each volume. As such, you really cannot read each book standalone. There are starts and ends to pieces of the adventure throughout the story, but the books were not meant to be read fragmented. There are no definitive conclusions at the end of each book. Because they were not meant to be separate books at all.

In this sense, reading these three books in a row as the novel they were meant to be wasn’t difficult. I enjoy adventure stories so it definitely kept my attention. And in parts where the politics grew a bit weary, it was quickly balanced out by learning about the amazing world Tolkien created. Like the ents, talking slowly, always in search of their lost entwives.

Reading LoTR as a novel also made the story very clear and kept me connected to the characters. After struggling with other series (The Dark Tower) and not being able to finish. I’ve realized that reading trilogies straight-through is best way for me to keep a connection to the story. So this was how I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman.

Magicians Trilogy

The Magicians

Knowing my difficulty reading series, I generally avoid them. So I was a little worried when I saw “read a trilogy” as one of the Reading Challenges that I’m currently participating in. However, the entire reason I wanted to join the challenge was to read outside my comfort zone. And I knew this would certainly be one of those times.

After hearing about the third book when it came out last year, I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman for the reading challenge. The entire series was already written and published, so I wouldn’t have to wait around between books. Now, each part is a novel unto itself. But it is also a trilogy so they are all connected and there is an overarching plot.

I knew that the only way I could actually finish all three books would be to read them in order. I actually read these digitally on my second-hand Nook just so I would have them all queued up. As soon as I finished one, I could immediately start reading the other. Almost tricking myself that I hadn’t actually finished a book at all.

Reading an actual trilogy is different because each novel does have it’s own plot – a definitive introduction and conclusion. Sure, jumping into book two or three may be confusing as you’re not familiar with the world or previous character development, but you could still read it as a novel and feel complete.

Grossman actually did a really good job tying in past events and briefly explaining them for new readers or refreshing the memories of those who were not reading them back to back. These quick rehashes never took me out of the book and would have been just enough to bring a new reader up to speed.

If it were not for the book challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of The Magicians books simply because they are a trilogy. So the challenge is doing exactly what I wanted it to. And I am really glad I read the books because I definitely enjoyed the story. I liked it as one long story, reading the books back-to-back, with three separate smaller plot lines along the way.

Southern Reach Trilogy

But then some trilogies are written as separate books but don’t have any individual story arcs. They really are simply drawn-out versions of what could be a more concise novel. This is what Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reminded me of. Take this all with a grain of salt because I only read the first one, Annihilation. That short 198-page novel was quite difficult to get through and I have no interest in reading the other two.

The books were all released in 2014, so clearly they were all written at the same time. Annihilation didn’t have any sort of plot or conclusion. It was almost like a periodical in that way, the beginning of a series that you need to continue to get to the conclusion. Not a novel unto it’s own.

The book’s 200-pages merely introduced the world, though vaguely, and the main character. I liked the unreliable narrator aspect. But there was no set conclusion, although the book really wasn’t long enough to justify ending so early. I probably would have read continued reading if it were a long novel because I am curious as to what happens. But… not enough to read two other books.

There is just something about breaking up the reading that seems like such a turn off to me. I’d rather it all be one connected story than fragmented out. With my positive experience of reading The Magicians I thought I had another trilogy in me, but I think I’ll stick to my single novels for now. Besides, after hearing my friend’s frustration with the Wheel of Time series when the author died while writing the final book, I think I will stay wary of uncompleted series for a while as well.


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3 Replies to “Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel”

    1. Exactly! If I tried to read a series as the books were released, I’d have to re-read the previous ones just before the reading the new one so I could remember everything. I definitely prefer to read everything all in one go.

  1. I’m not a big fan of trilogies or series either. In fact I don’t even love long books; I think 400 pages is good! I like concise writing. Not that I can do it; I just admire it in others!

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