Clockwork Princess and love triangles: the last post

This is, as promised a long time ago, the last and final of my essays/replies about Clockwork Princess, its ending, and the Clockwork series in general. And the last time I will write about love triangles for a good long time. :)

Because it has been a while now since Clockwork Princess, I am not putting this under a read more tag. IT IS FULL OF SPOILERS. BEWARE YE THE SPOILERS, IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CLOCKWORK PRINCESS. It reiterates a lot of things I’ve already said about love triangles, love, etc. — but it is a basic sum-up, and final word on the topic.

First, I want to stress that never have I had such a positive reaction to a book as I have to Clockwork Princess. Online, in person, in reviews, the response has been amazing and thoughtful and I wanted to thank all of you for sharing your thoughts —and tears! — with me. As we move on into movie madness let’s not forget Will, Jem and Tessa - and maybe someday they’ll have their own movie, too.  But even if they don’t, I hope they will live on in your hearts, as they do in mine — and will again in TLH!
'So… I finished Clockwork Princess two months ago or so and I can’t help but dislike the epilogue. Well, when Tessa thinks about Will, about how years have passed it is heartbreaking and sad and I wanted to cry, but when she sees Jem and he is no longer a Silent Brother… I didn’t like it. Not only because I can’t stand Tessa at all, but also because I don’t like that Tessa, after all, ended up with both Will and Jem. I can understand (more or less) that she loved the two of them, but the thing about the trilogy was that she had to choose between the two. Choosing always means to lose what you don’t choose and it doesn’t seem fair that she could be with Will and Jem. It is like you wrote it as if to please both Wessa and Jessa shippers. Just a thought.. — littlerocavarancolia'

It is like you wrote it as if to please both Wessa and Jessa shippers. Just a thought.
Just a thought I’ve heard once or twice before. :) Except of course, that it’s an ending that runs the risk of displeasing both Jessa and Wessa shippers just as much as it has the chance of pleasing them. After all, part of the point of shipping is that you want your ship, not your ship and also another ship. For instance, asker, I can tell from your ask that 1) you ship Wessa and 2) you are not pleased. So why would you think everyone else would be, since you’re not?
As I believe I have already written about a few times, I knew I was writing a controversial ending, and that not everyone would be happy with it. I have in fact been stunned by how many people have embraced it (possibly — I hope — because everyone was getting a little tired of the “she must choose! she must CHOOSE!” love triangle and wanted to see things pan out differently). I wrote it to express my feeling that you can love beautifully, life-changingly, deeply, and yet love more than once, and more than one person. I wrote it because I wanted to see a love triangle in which no love was invalidated, and that includes the love between the two points of the triangle: Will and Jem. I wrote exactly the end I had planned to write all along, that was always hinted at and pointed to, and the only ending that felt right for me. I actually don’t know how I could have written another ending that wouldn’t have felt wrong-footed, as the entire ending of Clockwork Prince made it pretty clear Tessa loved both boys, so without a sudden about-face change of heart on her part in Clockwork Princess, or one of the boys dropping dead or falling in love with someone else suddenly and improbably, there was no functional way for another ending to work.
'the thing about the trilogy was that she had to choose between the two'
No, it wasn’t. It not only wasn’t the thing about the trilogy, it is very explicitly antithetical to the point of the trilogy. If the point of the books was Tessa choosing between two people, then the series would not have been written to clearly show that these are two people who do not want her to choose between them. The reader may want her to choose, because they have a favorite, and because they have expectations that love triangles are supposed to work a certain way: but Tessa does not have a favorite, and is also unaware that she is in a love triangle in a book. That is the great thing about characters; they don’t know they’re in books, or that they’re supposed to abide by specific fictional rules decided on by readers, and so they can always surprise you.
Tessa never did, in fact, have the two boys standing in front of her going ‘Pick me, no no, pick me!’. I don’t like the idea of anyone choosing in that way, as if other people are objects. People aren’t items on sale at the store: Tessa did a lot in the Infernal Devices besides choose between two boys, as if she were choosing between raspberry and strawberry yogurt AND YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE DELICIOUS FRUIT FLAVOR.  Will and Jem have feelings, they love each other as well as her, as well as she does both of them: Will, as well as Tessa, wanted to not hurt Jem and act honorably. Jem, as well as Tessa and Will, was capable of great sacrifice and great forgiveness in the name of love. If there ever had been a time where the two boys were lined up in front of her with the opportunity of making their  ’Choose me’  case, here is how it would have gone: Jem would probably end in saying ‘Choose Will, he’s struggled so hard all this time, he’s such a good person, it would make me happy for him to have love’ and Will would start yelling ‘Choose Jem! He’s so kind, and clever, and wronged by the world, and musical, girls love musically gifted gentlemen, and HANDSOME! God, he’s good-looking! JEM!’ 
In TID, Tessa found out the tangled truth about her heritage, made good friends, saved many lives, found out about a whole other world, had to struggle with the writ-large scenario of a woman’s predicament in that day and age (a man literally thinks he’s made her, like Pgymalion, and that he has a right to her body), she learned to fight back, she made daring escapes, she refused to back down on her beliefs, she learned more about the real world but never gave up her love for books. She was on a mission to rescue her brother. She still found it in her to love others when her brother and then Will betrayed her within a tiny space of time in the very same book (Will did it for what he thought was a good reason, but Tessa didn’t know that, and so it wasn’t any less horrible for her). Even after other people had hurt her, she did her best to spare others.She learned she was immortal and had strange powers, was a being entirely different from who she’d thought she was. She learned to be independent. The story was her coming of age story, a bildungsroman as TMI is Clary’s, showing how someone became a hero. Because Tessa is a hero. Tessa is the hero.
'I can’t stand Tessa at all'
You are absolutely within your rights to not like any character you choose, but this attitude is not something that I, as a writer, can really respond to. As the writer, I love all the characters, but Tessa is heart of the tale, the one I chose to focus on, to build the world of TID around. Without Tessa, everything would be changed. (Without Tessa, in fact, Will and Jem would both be dead. Everyone in the Institute would be dead.) I spent years of my life writing Tessa’s story, and I can’t talk about it as if it was anything but Tessa’s story — as if she is not, naturally and obviously, the most important character in her story. (I have also often talked about how of all the characters I’ve written she’s the most like me, so it’s a bit of an ouch to hear someone say they hate her, but — that’s my problem!)
On one hand, readers can interpret the story any way they want. You guys can decide all the books have been Church’s story, if you want. ;) But on the other, when you strive to write complicated characters, the boys gets loved for being complicated and the girls get called names, and that’s always an attitude that disturbs me. 
After all, what’s so wrong and terrible about Tessa? That she did her best, that she read a lot, that she believed in a brother who betrayed her, that she still found it in her to love others when her brother and then Will betrayed her within a tiny space of time in the very same book, that she was loved, twice in over a hundred years, when thousands of other women in the world are loved by (and love) many more in a shorter time? Or are they unlikable, as well? Which women get approval — the very, very few, the tiny minority, who only ever love one person (although that describes Clary and she gets double the hate Tessa does, so who knows), or those whose hearts are so small they never love anyone at all?
""Choosing always means to lose what you don’t choose and it doesn’t seem fair that she could be with Will and Jem."
Doesn’t seem fair to whom? Who, exactly, is being done down here?
I see this a lot — that it is not “fair” that Tessa “gets” both Will and Jem (though in fact, she gets Will and then Jem, which is an important distinction.) I can see finding it not unfair but unrealistic perhaps if a character suffers nothing and gets everything handed to them on a silver platter, but that is not Tessa.  Tessa, despite what one may say about what she ‘got’, lost a lot—she lost her parents and aunt, her brother, her clockwork angel, Jem, who she’d thought she was going to marry, and then she lost Will to death, and one day she’s going to lose Jem again; she lost her children, has had her heart torn apart over and over by the agony of being immortal and loving those who are mortal—and she still carries on, despite all those losses. Tessa has suffered enormously, and will suffer enormously again.
So that’s not the issue: the issue must be that Tessa is being unfair to another character. And yet, in the epilogue, and indeed before, she is making a decision that hurts nobody. Will is dead, and long beyond caring what anyone does, and if he was floating about in the afterlife, we all know he’d want Tessa with Jem anyway because this is Will, who is generous and kind, and not a hateful, selfish dillweed who wants his wife to spend eternity miserable because he died a hundred years ago. And Tessa choosing Will didn’t hurt Jem either: he was relieved, in fact, that the two people he loved most in the world would have each other to take care of them when he was gone to where his being with Tessa was impossible. Because Will is good. And Jem is good. And so is Tessa.
The main unfairness argument I’ve really seen put forth is that Tessa isn’t fair to some imaginary ideal of the sort of love that she “owes” Will and/or Jem: that the fact that she loves both of them diminishes her love for whichever (pick your favorite) and that therefore she is despicable, for not offering these stellar examples of manhood the kind of perfect love they deserve. Never mind that she offers them both exactly the love they want — that if she didn’t love Jem like she does, Will wouldn’t love her like he does, that he prefers her shared heart — it isn’t what the boy in question “deserves”, which is to be Tessa’s absolutely only number-one priority for every minute of every day of her life — not their life, but hers, no matter how long hers goes on beyond theirs, no matter how long they’ve been dead or a monk. What is unfair and hateful about Tessa is that she on occasion thinks about her own happiness and prioritizes her feelings. What is hateful about her is that she’s a girl who, for whatever misguided reason, seems to have missed the memo that the entire point of her life is to remember that some dude’s feelings are more important than hers, even if he’s dead and won’t notice.
I mean, we all do actually realize that Tessa finding love again a hundred years after Will’s death isn’t morally wrong, and that in fact her sleeping with Will when she thinks Jem is dead and she’s going to be dead in a few hours isn’t morally wrong either, certainly not in any major way that would make a character worth hating. Those things are pretty inarguable. The problem is that in both cases what Tessa is thinking about is her own happiness, and what she herself needs, honestly, in her heart, and not about martyring herself in the cause of a boy who’s dead and wouldn’t want her martyring herself anyway. And that, for a female character, is seen as intensely problematic. We are trained as readers to prioritize what happens to men/male characters, the feelings of men/male characters, the heroism and fates of men/male characters, so why isn’t Tessa doing the same thing? (I remember seeing a huge amount of hate heaped on Cecily because the theory was that if there wasn’t any Cecily in the book, there would have been more Jem. Except there wouldn’t, because I wrote everything about Jem I needed to. It’s not like I ran out of space. Without Cecy, It just would have been a shorter book. But the idea is indicative of the feeling that time spent on women’s stories is time that should have been spent on men’s and is therefore wasted time.*)
So I would posit this: hate for Tessa isn’t because she chose Will, or Jem.  It’s because she thinks the story is about her, not them. And therein lies the problem.
We’ve got to stop seeing women as rewards for men, as trophies to be handed to the best man, as important only in how they emotionally affect men, as nothing but useless clutter in a story that’s really about men, or that should be about men. We have to stop thinking of women as not deserving what they ‘get’—especially if what they get is to be in the center of the narrative, to have the special powers, to be the ones who live forever, to be the ones who love more than once. To say that Tessa is being unfair to Will by choosing Jem in the very, very end is to say that the feelings of a long-dead man trump those of a living woman. And that is an idea we should all strive to at least examine, because “dead men are worth more than living women” is problematic at its heart.

Clockwork Princess was Tessa’s story. City of Heavenly Fire is going to be the end of Clary’s story. These girls are the heart and soul of the books I’ve written. They’re the protagonists: they’re the heroes, they’re the stars. The story is theirs.

(*And yes, to this kind of argument you always get the response: “But if so and so were a better female character, I wouldn’t mind her! If Cecily was just better, it would have been fine for her to be in the book!”) To which I say: neh. I’m not saying I write perfect female characters or the best or anything. But never in the entire time that I have been reading books and examining critique have I ever seen a female character who has escaped this kind of criticism. Is it really all that likely that no one, anywhere, in the history of time, has ever written a major female character who is good enough and that that’s the problem? It doesn’t seem likely, does it? The only female characters who ever seem to evade this kind of critique are incredibly minor characters who take up no narrative space — it’s the equivalent of that study where women who talk the same amount as men are seen as dominating the conversation.)
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    This is, as promised a long time ago, the last and final of my essays/replies about Clockwork Princess, its ending, and...
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