Monday, May 14, 2012

Homecoming and saying good-bye

My youngest daughter just returned from four months studying abroad. Her homecoming was full of squeals and hugs and tears and kisses. As it so happened, I was just returning from a week at the beach, a yearly retreat I take with nine other writing women. Her grand homecoming was my smaller one, and both all-around joyful.


There's always a but, isn't there? Coming home meant leaving something behind. In her case, it was France and traveling Europe, and friends she will likely never see again; in mine, it was beloved friends I see only once a year, the turbulent tranquility of the sea, and a week of autonomy a wife and mother of four gets only very rarely. Coming home means saying good-bye.

One of my favorite homecomings occurs in Return of the King (movie.) The Hobbits return to the Shire riding fine ponies and wearing their finery; returning heroes even if no one actually knew what it was they did. In the movie version, Saruman and Wormtongue hadn't gotten to the Shire. Life continued on almost as if Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin never left.

Our four heroes sit in the pub where they once sang and drank as obliviously as those all around them, they look at one another with a glance that says, "We will never be the same." There is a sweetness to it, and there is sorrow. Once out in the world, after seeing and experiencing all they had and saying good-bye to those friends made along the way, there really was no coming home again.

Homecomings can be poignant, joyous, disastrous, sorrowful, frustrating, hilarious or all of the above. Sometimes coming home is how the story starts, and sometimes it's how it ends. Wherever it appears, it is a transitional moment, a pivot in time, and always important. In my novel, A Time Never Lived, releasing at the end of this month, the story revolves around homecomings of all sorts. One character returns home from exile to face consequences she thought she would never have to. Another character's homecoming brings unexpected joy, and yet another pair returns only to find a new adventure awaiting them. In each case, it meant saying good-bye to family, friends, and experiences that, once had, made going home to what once was impossible.

Have you ever thought of homecomings this way? I don't know that I ever have; and if I have, it was only subconsciously. It got me thinking about other homecomings, and why they touched me, and how they connected to the necessary good-byes. I keep thinking of the end scene in The Hunger Games (movie)--I won't put any spoilers here in the body of this post. It was magnificently done, the joy and the sorrow, that sense of never being able to truly come home again. It touched me on many levels, and sticks with me even after several weeks.

And then there's the homecomings that never happen, but are striven for throughout the story. Again, I won't put spoilers here, but I do welcome them in comments, because I can think of a few of these--and I'm getting chills doing so.

So now that I've got you thinking, I want to hear about the homecomings and good-byes that really stick with you, whether in movies or books, plays or operas, your own work or by someone else.


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Hello Terri!

What a lovely post. I liked the way the homecoming was done for 'Return of the King', as well.

I think one thing we don't often see in the homecomings of fiction (and this was true in the LoTR movies), is that what used to be 'home' also changes while we are gone -- to the point that what we sustain in our memories as "home" often no longer exists by the time we return, particularly if our journey is a long one. This is one of the themes I like to emphasize in my own writing; that try as we might, there is often never an opportunity to truly 'go back'. (Unless, of course, you're lucky enough to come across a pair of ruby slippers...but those don't exist in Eolyn's world.)

Sounds depressing, but I don't think it has to be. There's something compelling about the combination of nostalgia (what is left behind) and new opportunity (what lays ahead). It's as if you can't really have one without the other.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post! ;)

Terri-Lynne said...

Karin~Life being what it has been of late, this post has really been ruminating for quite some time. You're right--going home to what WAS is rare for just about anyone. Nothing stays stagnant while you're away. Something changes, even as YOU change. And it's not depressing; it's just the stuff of life, right?

Now let's see if this ends up in the spam folder. :)

Diana Munoz Stewart said...

I like the homecoming in Star Wars.

Luke: I grew up here.

Han Solo: You're going to die here.

Gustavo said...

Hi Terri!

As always, thought-provoking, and I join you in saying that I hadn't thought of homecomings that way, which probably has to do with the fact that they often pop in at the end of the book...

Will have to think about it a bit more to say something more coherent...


Anonymous said...

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado in a very isolated community. I spent the first 19 years of my life there, and right now that's just over half of my life. I still haven't gotten over it. Even after I left for college, I came back home wherever I could, sometimes twice a month. I moved back for a summer and another summer with my wife as we were looking for a place to move.

I should have just left it for good, because I'm not the same person, and Home isn't the same place. I'm haunted by what it was, and it has all but forgotten about me.

The home we carry with us in our hearts is the true home, but it's also a lie. Just as we are nothing more than future memories of our homelands. Eaten up by the flotsam and jetsam. We are no more remembered by it in the long run as our shadows at sunset. Or until the paint fades on the cop cars that we might have egged. It all just fades away until any significance it had exists only in our memories. Like the Road Warrior...

writerknv said...

Beautiful post! I heard the final song in ROTK playing in my head the whole time I read it.

I completely agree with everything you said. I LOVED the ending of the ROTK movie. It satisfied in a way that the original ending did not, even though Tolkien's original vision of the hobbits' return was probably more akin to what really happens in times of war. Certainly those British soldiers returning from WWII had to face a world very different from that they left. Even now our soldiers come home with PTSD, some to broken families and broken lives, still some who suffer because the world is NOT different, that while they've been away fighting, people at home have NO CLUE what they've been through to defend that which we value most.

Me, I prefer the rosy homecomings and the happy endings, even though they aren't always realistic.

Terri-Lynne said...

Diana--hahahaaa! YES! I love that one too. Oh, Han. He will forever be one of my favorite characters in any form.

Terri-Lynne said...

Gustavo--you? Coherent? Is that even possible?

Terri-Lynne said...

Clint, I'd never have expected such a comment from you. Your childhood was so rosy! :-P

My daughter, just home from France, was crying this morning. I asked what was wrong and she said, "I just want to go back. Home isn't what I remember."

I wanted to tell her that yes it is, SHE has changed, but I'll let her find that out for herself.

Terri-Lynne said...

Kim...I listen to that soundtrack all the time when I'm writing, and when "White Gulls" comes on, I stop what I'm doing and listen...ok, and sometimes I get all misty.

I do like a happy ending, like Sam and Rosy's; but I also like the sadder kind, like Frodo's. A steady dose of either would wear on me.

And maybe you ought to get out some tissues before you get to the end of ATNL. ;)

Pongo Pygmaues said...

My carers inform me if I comment on the abomination that was the end of the LotR films then my medication will have to be increased to lethal doses, so I shall refrain.

But whilst on the subject of films, it has struck me that westerns generally end with not homecoming but departure (departure including death). High Noon, The Searchers, Once Upon a time in the West, The Wild Bunch, The Seven Samurai (which is in fact a western albeit set in Japan) etc. Even True Grit, which has a homecoming at the end, has John Wayne leave and also the latter day classics Open Range and Appaloosa (though Ed Harris remains, Viggo Mortenstern departs, breaking their partnership). Often any 'homecoming' happens at the beginning (as in The Searchers) and proves unsatisfactory due to injuns or railroads or cattle barons or yankees or whatever.

I suspect of the true classics, only The Outlaw, Josey Wales breaks the convention of leaving at the end.

Film aside, quite a bit of fantasy seems to eschew homecomings, especially as conclusions. I suppose Elric did go home a couple of times (once a sort of 'proper restoring of the order' at the end of the first book, the other time to sack the city) but like many other fantasy characters (eg Conan, Ffhard, Cugel), he's more a rootless wanderer (which crop up in westerns, especially Spaghetti Westerns, also of course). Conan never returned to Cimmeria, Ffhard I don't think ever went back north, I don't think Cugel ever had a home...). Have the Starks returned to Winterfell at any point? I forget. But I don't think any of them have since their scattering. So I suspect homecomings are an element in fantasy that isn't overused, which is quite pleasing as I think there is a lot of scope for grief in homecomings because, as has been said above, nothing stays the same and the longer the absence, the more likely it is that whatever home is will have changed significantly enough to be unsettling (probably the best play on that is superficially nothing much has changed but in fact plenty has, the returning character is just oblivious because of his pre-conception of what he will encounter).

Terri-Lynne said...

Pongo, at the risk of having your doc put you on lethal levels of medication, I will point out why, in one respect, I liked the ending of the movie RotK better than the book (only in ONE respect! The book, of course, is far better.)

In the book, the Hobbits return to a Shire that HAS changed, and in many of the same ways they have. The evil isn't quite as great, but it is evil. The Shire reflects what they've been through, and once again they vanquish it. Huzzah!

But in the movie, they return to the Shire unchanged, making that chasm between it and them so vast, and therefore the moment more poignant. It lent very well to the ending when Frodo joins the Elves sailing off into the West.

Two hugely different endings, IMO, but each of them worked in their way.

I hope your head has not exploded.

Terri-Lynne said...

(This is posted for Mark/pevanapoet as the site isn't allowing him access for some reason.)
I have two responses to this excellent post. As an Air Force brat, I
spent my formative years living on bases around the world. In fact,
that was how we referred to the USA, "going back to the world" when it
came time for trips or assignment changes. For me, home always meant
the back stairs bedrooms in grandma's house and walks down to the
beach for shells, sand and salty air. The scattered hours, days and
occasional months I spent there comprise a series of leave-takings and
returns. The only time I recall noting how much things had changed
came after my grandfather's passing. The place got younger, trendy,
almost but not quite 'not home.' Cool thought.

Tolkien plays the return beautifully in The Hobbit and LOTR--and I
believe did so by design. The Silmarillion has little or nothing of
that effect within its tales. In fact, the whole saga speaks of
loss--especially of home.

In book three of my Pevana stories, a certain character has a moment
of reflection sitting with his back against a certain wrought-iron
fence surrounding a certain grave and comes to conclusions that seem
similar to those Terri asserted. Obviously, we are talking one of
Campbell's main archetypes here: the hero's journey. The response to
that is the leave-taking, which has its own sort of satisfaction.

In my life 'home' has always been more an idea than a physical place,
which in part explains why I love that small scene in the tavern
between the four hobbits. They get it.

Terri-Lynne said...

Mark--Home not home at all, but a place that evokes a sense of belonging, and one of familiarity. I love it, and I'm glad you had that as a child. I'm certain it made all the difference.

A certain character comes to a certain conclusion, huh? Now you have me trying to piece out WHICH one, because as I know them now, it could be any of them.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Actually, I think my favorite part of the homecoming scene in the movie was the ale. And it comes in pints! :)

(Just had to slip that in...)