This is actually an answer to an ask I got over a week ago from someone who got the book early - I wrote her back but asked her if she’d keep the answer private till more people had read the book. She did, so I just wanted to say: classy reader, thanks for being classy.
That said, this ask and answer is about love triangles, love in general, and The Epilogue.
"So I literally just finished Clockwork Princess five minutes ago (I was very lucky to receive my copy early). It was beautiful. It was hilarious. I loved and enjoyed it very much. I thought I’d be in a fit of tears once the series was finished but I’m shockingly composed. I think it’s because I’m so shocked. You were right about the ending, it is surprising. But what is bothering me is that I was sure I had read somewhere that you had answered a previous fan question saying that in Clockwork Princess, Tessa would make a clear choice between Will and Jem… But then the ending, and then the epilogue… I can’t help but feel that’s a bit of a contradiction? On one hand, The Infernal Devices 1878 endgame is Wessa. But then… 2008 endgame is Jessa? Or is there no endgame at all, is the message I should be taking from this that these three characters are each others endgame? If so… Is that the choice? That she doesn’t choose, that she gets to have both but at different times in her life? I’m so confused. Part of me was thrilled that Tessa and Will were married, had children and grandchildren and that my favourite character got his happy ending. Yet the other part of me - even though I understand Tessa’s situation of being alone for so long and Jem too and the opportunity open to them - is completely conflicted between feeling pleased that Jem got a good ending too, and yet being slightly peeved with Tessa. Really, I’m at a loss. I can’t sort through my emotions very well to try and come to a conclusion of how I ought to feel. It’s lovely that Tessa still wore her bracelet that Will gave her, and that she also always wore Jem’s pendant… But, I dunno… It almost feels like cheating. Of course there are no rules to love triangles and this is a very different type of three way love story, yet I still feel slightly unsettled. I was expecting a choice. Whether it be Jem or Will, and there wasn’t one. Or if there was, I didn’t see it. It was more like when one of the boys wasn’t available, she was with the opposite one. I felt it almost cruel to Will’s memory that Jem and Tessa even so much as kissed in 2008. And still, I understood that Tessa has only ever loved two men in her life and it had been so long since she or Jem had felt love and companionship, and it feels wrong to wish to deny them that. But it also seems wrong to wish them well, when Will is long dead and burned and her descendants are running around the world. I always knew Will had to die and Tessa would move on, but somehow I thought it would be someone random and I would be ok with that because Will was her first and true love. With Jem, it’s like they are both her first and true loves and I just feel that it’s not even really a result at all. Do you see my problem? I don’t even know if you can answer me, not publicly of course, and even though I wouldn’t publish it I still don’t know if you are able to. This is only an initial first reaction, perhaps after some emotional rekindling I’ll be better organised in my feelings. Don’t get me wrong though, I completely loved the book! Gabily became canon and so did Sideon, absolutely perfect! Tessa found out who she was and came to terms with it, and killed Mortmain which was brilliant - gotta love those justice serving angels. Thank you for Will’s beautiful story; every inch of it was perfect for me. I sobbed when he died, but I felt pleased at his passing. He was so content and satisfied and it was beautiful. It was just really the whole love triangle plot that had me in a bit of a tizzy. — mrstessaherondale"
First I should say: I understand, I really do, and this is in fact, a response that I anticipated.
We are taught to expect things from love triangles. As you said, there are no rules, but in many ways the purpose and intent of a love triangle is seen to be that the person who is torn between character A and character B makes the statement “I love you, character A, more than I love character B, and so I will be with you. The end.”
That is what is expected, and that is exactly what did not happen, and so I am not surprised that it would make many feel a bit uncomfy. The Clockwork series has a love triangle, but it is also about love triangles, and like I’ve said before, is about what I wanted to say about love and about life.
We are taught by many romance narratives that one can feel only one great love in a lifetime. Even if, as in the example here, the person you married, and loved, has been dead eighty years, the idea has been entrenched in us by media that loving someone else next, as much, diminishes or undermines that love. It is the purpose of the Disney “happily ever after” coda — we don’t want to know what happens after the couple gets together: we assume an unclear sort of happiness awaits, but don’t want to know if they fight, or one of them dies first, or any of the things that happen in actual life. Their love story ends when the curtain comes down, and therefore they are preserved in happiness forever, like flies in amber — and none of the messiness of real life, of loss and death, of cycles of happiness and sorrow, of the inevitability of aging, ever touch them at all.
I think this is an actually damaging way to think about love. Love, even romantic love, is not something you only feel once and forever, and to have loved one person does not make love that you feel later less. Love isn’t a zero sum game: we’re not issued a bucket of love at birth and the more of it we give out, the less we have (in fact, the opposite is true.) Very few people remain with their first loves forever; very few people love only one person romantically ever in their lives. Yet we are told that is the ideal we should strive for. That if love is followed by loss life is destroyed, and an attempt to move on cheapens the love we had before. It’s a narrative I’ve seen ruin people’s lives, literally, and so it’s one I both reject, but wanted to explore.
“With Jem, it’s like they are both her first and true loves and I just feel that it’s not even really a result at all. “
The narrative of soulmates tells us that if Tessa loves two boys there must be one she loves more. There isn’t, and trying to quantify it – to say Tessa loves Will 6.7 but only loves Jem 6.456 — goes against the spirit of what the story is saying about love. The narrative that love is a sports game, with “Teams” and “Endgame”, goes against the spirit of what the story is saying about love. (You don’t have to agree with what the story is saying about love! You really don’t. I am just explaining it here.)
"is the message I should be taking from this that these three characters are each others endgame? If so… Is that the choice? That she doesn’t choose, that she gets to have both but at different times in her life?"
Again, lots of media tells us that in a love triangle there must be A Choice, in which one character is soundly rejected (or they can be evil, or fall in love with someone else, or in some other manner be Gotten Out of the Way.) That does not happen here, and so it may seem as if Tessa did not Choose. (Though why all the weight of all choices is expected to lie on Tessa always, and not on Will or Jem, is another post.)
Tessa does not reject either Will or Jem. She loves both boys and loves them equally. I have always said that. However, she makes choices where choices need to be made. She promised marriage to Jem, and she stuck by that until Jem himself told her marriage wouldn’t be possible. At that point, of course, she could have made the decision to wait for Jem anyway — she’s immortal, and he hints that he might one day no longer be a Silent Brother — but she chooses not to, knowing that she’s choosing Will, or at least the possibility of Will. She chooses Will because she loves him and knows she can be happy with him and she knows that to stay and pine over Jem is not the right choice for her.
She loved Jem and could have been happy with him, too (though not if it hurt Will — that was always the thorn in those particular roses.) She chooses to remain with Will for his whole life, though he ages and she does not. She sees Jem every year, but nothing romantic happens between them. (I saw someone describe this as “emotional cheating” which struck me as absolutely bizarre — Will knows perfectly well she’s meeting Jem, he seems Jem on and off while he’s alive himself, and anyway, Will would be all for it. If you (and not you, asker, but a sort of general, overarching, “you”) think Will Herondale would begrudge Jem Carstairs a single platonic conversation with Tessa, once a year, to keep him sane and human, you don’t understand Will at all. If you don’t accept that Will loves Jem and Tessa equally, and values Jem’s happiness more than his own, then you don’t like Will: you like some other character you’ve decided to call Will Herondale. Because that is the defining fact of Will’s life.)
Will dies; Tessa then chooses to have no romantic attachments at all from 1937 to 2007 because of Will’s memory. And then, when Jem is human again and eighty years have passed since Will died, eighty years in which she has mourned and come to slow terms with her loss, she chooses to be with Jem. These are her choices.
"I always knew Will had to die and Tessa would move on, but somehow I thought it would be someone random and I would be ok with that because Will was her first and true love. "
I understand what you mean here but it’s worth examining because it is again about the narrative of soulmates. It would be “ok” if Tessa got together with someone other than Jem because that person would be random and dismissible and not a “threat” to the memory of her relationship with Will. Jem is a threat because Jem is someone Tessa loves as much as she loved Will and her being with Jem is a threat not to Tessa’s romance with Will but to a popular narrative of what romance should be — only! one! person! matters! ever! Some rando might not matter. But Jem obviously does.
A great deal of why I wrote this series is because I wanted to write a series in which the girl really does actually love both boys equally, because I believe that can happen; in which both boys “deserve” it — they are both good people, even exceptional people — in which the boys love each other, as much as they love the girl, if differently; and in which there is not one first and true love, but a first true love, and then, later, a second. I wanted to write a triangle in which the boys do not regard Tessa as a possession to be had but a person with free choice; they hope that choice will light on them, but they love each other enough that the happiness of the other boy means more to them than their own. That is why even though Will tells Tessa that when she walks down the aisle, she walks on his heart, he does not do the thing that would actually stop the marriage: tell Jem how he feels. He recognizes that if Tessa is going through with this it is not only because it is the honorable thing to do but also because she wants to, and he loves her enough, as well as loving Jem, that he does not undermine the decision she’s made.
“But it also seems wrong to wish them well, when Will is long dead and burned and her descendants are running around the world. “
This puzzles me most — I could certainly see not wishing them well if this was happening while Will was alive and without his knowledge, but Will is eighty years dead. Almost a century. If there was an afterlife, and Will was watching Jem and Tessa, he would be chanting Dear God, just get together already! He would absolutely want this for them. He loved them both. It broke his heart that Jem didn’t get to have a life, a wife, a family. If there is a Heaven, and people can see down from it, then Will is watching the epilogue and doing a happy dance and maybe making up a song.
If you love someone, I believe, you want and hope for their happiness. I remember my grandmother, dying, begging my grandfather not to spend the rest of his life mourning her but to find someone else to love. He didn’t want to at first: they had been together fifty years. Eventually, after a decade, when he was in his eighties, he did find love again. My whole family was ecstatic for him: we loved his new girlfriend, and even though my grandfather himself is dead now, we remain in touch with her and regard her as part of the family. We love her for making my grandfather happy. No one ever, ever, would have thought that my grandmother would not have approved. Rather, she would have been furious it had taken him so long to move on.
Love is selfless, love is kind — we all know those passages: the last thing Will would have wanted was for Tessa to spend the rest of her eternal life morbidly obsessing over his memory. As my father used to say: It is not Love, but Vanity, sets Love a task like that. That’s not love, wanting your death to ruin someone else’s life: that’s just pride.
And Tessa does mourn Will, she mourns Will for eighty years, longer than she even ever knew him. But no one is a bigger Jem/Tessa shipper than Will. And no one was a bigger shipper of Will and Tessa than Jem. (And Tessa doubtless ships Will and Jem, but that is a tale for fanart to tell. ;)
Whew. I have many other such emails in my box, though a lot are from the other perspective — that of Jem/Tessa shippers — so I am sure I will be revisiting this! I hope it helps!
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