Trilogies: Why the Best Things Come in Threes

JRR Tolkien’s covers for The Lord of the Rings. Fair Use.

Trilogies are most often associated with science-fiction or fantasy, whether it be in film, novel, or even video game. However, the trilogy has been used for thousands of years, dating back to the Greeks. The Greek trilogy of plays known as The Oresteia is the oldest surviving trilogy that we have.

Why have trilogies survived for such a long time? Here are a few of the reasons.

1. They easily fit a thee-act structure

Trilogies are, obviously, perfect for the three-act structure. If you’re not familiar with it, here is a brief overview.

1. The first act generally deals with introducing characters and the world they inhabit. Later in the first act, something will happen that will change the main character’s life.

2. In the second act, the main character will try to solve his problem, but only make it worse, since he is not sufficiently experienced enough to deal with the problem.

3.) The third act will resolve the problem.

For example:

1.) In The Lord of the Rings narrative,  Fellowship of the Ring, is the first act. Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Humans, and the world they live in are all introduced. Frodo gets the ring, which changes his life forever. The problem ensues when Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor. After Boromir tries to take the ring away, Frodo makes the decision to take the ring to Mordor on his own, which he is not ready for.

2.) The Two Towers continues the story of Frodo, who realizes how complicated his situation is getting. Gollum, Faramir, and the hordes of Mordor all complicate the situation. He realizes that he can’t carry his burden alone, but refuses Sam’s help and trusts Gollum instead of his best friend.

3.) In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam complete their quest after discovering that trust, friendship, and crazy determination (also, Gollum biting off a finger), will always win the day. The subplots are resolved, the characters are left forever changed, but are more mature and complete because of the experience.

You could apply this structure to any number of trilogies. It’s just easy, and if done well, can work beautifully.

2.) Trilogies are lucrative

Why do publishers and movie studios love trilogies? Because they make money. If the first movie or book does well, no doubt that the second and third parts of the story will also make sales. Guaranteed sales are good for the author and the publisher.  So, yes, sometimes it’s a greedy plot to make more money, but honestly, isn’t having more story worth it?

3.) Concerning fantasy/sci-fi

Fantasy and sci-fi readers are more likely to be reading for fun, so long stories are enjoyable for those readers. I love fantasy and sci-fi, so I love series that make up a trilogy (or multiple trilogies). I never feel like I have to plod through those stories, because I am doing it for enjoyment.

I know people complain about the prevalence of trilogies, but they are good for the reader, the writer, and the publisher/studio. They are an ancient form of storytelling that isn’t going anywhere soon, so try your best to enjoy the ride.

 

 

((The featured image is a screen capture from The Fellowship of the Ring. Subject to fair use. Used for illustrative purposes only.))

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