On April 13th of last year, I started reading the Homestuck Epilogues. I knew exactly as much about the Homestuck universe as I had acquired via osmosis, existing as a human being almost entirely on the internet from 2008 onward. I sort of knew who Rose was, I sort of knew who John was, and I knew that trolls were a thing and that Vriska was a familiar emblem of discourse. I found the format a lot easier as an entry point than Homestuck Proper, and I enjoyed the prologue and the ideas it presented. I was briefly a bit of a Nabokov geek, and I was familiar with the conventions of and some contemporary discussions that surround works of metafiction. It would be a lie to say that I was instantly entranced, but I liked it, and many people I care about a lot really like Homestuck, so I figured this would be as good a place as any to start. With the prologue to an unpublished epilogue.
I got going in earnest on April 20th of 2019, when a friend tagged me in a livetweet, mentioning an election plotline that reminded them of something I had written. Coincidentally, I had recently undergone a campaign for the position of College Government president, and fucked it up so badly that the post had to remain empty until the next year, so I had personal interest in the topic, and I was hooked.
To be frank, I didn’t get the Epilogues at first, but I liked them. I didn’t know who half the characters were, and was deeply confused about the identity of the redtext narrator, coming to the conclusion that they were Lord English after some vaguely-informed googling and perplexed wiki-reading. I thought Dirk was unfathomably knowledgeable and that the narrative was presenting him as unambiguously correct, and was confused by and summarily missed a lot of the digs at fandom. I had just turned 22, and was gearing up to graduate at the end of my senior year.
As a piece of art, the Epilogues resonated with a lot of what I was thinking about - questions about meaning, about my role in making meaning, about love and identity and friendship and loneliness and how writing and stories tied into that, how writing changes the writer and the reader, the extent to which life can, should, or shouldn’t be interpreted as narrative, the complex relationship between writing and existing. I’m a biologist and a biochemist, but I’d recently taken my first philosophy class on the mind-body problem and was unusually well equipped to Obnoxiously Expatiate on the topic. I read it again, and again, and then, as I started reading Homestuck proper, I also started writing fanfiction.
So my entry point is different than it was for most people. I’m honestly grateful for that, in part because as I assimilated into the fandom and actually started publishing my fanfiction on Archive of our Own, I realized that not everyone shared my view of the Epilogues. In fact, most people didn’t.
I think the Epilogues were an enjoyable piece of art, and I think that they made an interesting and interpretively rife companion to Homestuck Proper. This is a sentence you can say in a very specific kind of bar to start a fight.
The fundamental questions I hope to explore here are, well, ‘what makes an addition to a completed work enjoyable’, ‘what makes an addition to a completed work unenjoyable’, and fundamentally, what is an ‘epilogue’ published three years after a finished work to that work? What is any epilogue, relative to the rest of the story? What are the Homestuck Epilogues?
WHAT ARE THE EPILOGUES?
‘Epilogue’ is one of those Greek-originating words with a bajillion meanings. Epi: in addition, after, also, on top of. Logos: word, reason, plan. Literally, logos is the Word of God, in the Greek transcription of Genesis. What does the word of god mean when the story’s done, when he’s gasping his last gasps, or in this case, three years into decomposition? What’s the word of a dying god worth to anyone, including the god themself? What does the after-word look like?
I’ve written epilogues to every multi-chapter work I’ve successfully finished. I think they’re awesome, just in general. A short epilogue can signal openness to ambiguity - a long and sprawling one often means I’m struggling to let go of the work, still rehashing it, not willing to give it up, yet. To end a story is a choice, with a meaning. To write an epilogue and to keep ‘going’ after that ending has been presented is a choice, with a meaning. The way one does it is, itself, another choice, with attendant meanings and interpretation-fodder.
I loved the epilogue to the Hunger Games series, and found the epilogue to the Harry Potter series disappointing. Many people felt the opposite. Some people loved the Homestuck Epilogues, some people loathed them, and most people, in my experience, fell somewhere in between.
But looking at other texts will almost always tell us more about both our readings and those other texts than it will about Homestuck.
Homestuck has always been a story about itself - literally, a story about writing and reading and ‘playing’ Homestuck (a video game from the beginning, when we ‘choose’ the name Zoosmell Pooplord, though our choices have always been forced - even in the ‘choose the character’ interactive sequences, the final result is that the sum total of the text that is read Matters to the progression of the story in some way), and within it, SBURB or SGRUB, is a video game within a video game.
The Epilogues, in contrast, are a story about epilogues, and simultaneously a story about fan continuations and what those look like, what it means when the author passes the pen to someone else, whether on purpose, to a chosen and counseled successor, or unintentionally, to the fans and other artists who will inevitably do whatever the fuck they want to do with it once they get their grubby paws on the work.
A helpful question here is this: what happens at the end of the ‘plot’ in the Pokémon games? When you finish all the quests the way you’re ‘supposed’ to in Skyrim? The sandbox you’ve created is now fully open to you, no more forced-paths and equally-forced-choices that you have to make to Progress. When you dick around and complete your Pokédex for the hell of it, or else abandon that when it gets boring and work on honing and grinding your team until you can compete in inter-player leagues within the sandbox, or else… restart the game, and lose all of your progress, that’s the epilogue to Pokémon. After the fairly-tight, participation-demanding, self-limiting narrative is done… there’s still something, but it’s something else.
So if what was really fun to you about Pokémon was the story, sure, you can muddle through the non-story events after the credits have rolled, but to experience the same delight and purpose and satisfaction you did on the first playthrough, you simply have to play it again. And if Pokémon is a good, fun game, like you remember, it should be great, playing it again.
Except it’s not the same, right? It’s different. It feels different.
Even with a work as expansive and alinear and multi-layered as Homestuck, with so much reread and recall and rehash value, you will never be thirteen years old, watching [S] Cascade for the first time, again. We’ve eaten too many apples to go back.
So the Homestuck Epilogues are complicated - gold star to me for figuring that one out! - because they’re about more than one thing. They’re about what it feels like to both write and to inhabit a Homestuck Epilogue, and also what it feels like to desire a return to Homestuck When It Was Good. To desperately want to show up at a convention and see five hundred other Daves again, to have just a taste of what life was like, when that was all it took to feel joy. Nostalgia is a liar, but that hit of dopamine when an update got posted - that was a biological reality. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
Homestuck proper is over. The world will never be like that again, even if we could cosmically hit reset and retcon our way back to 2010. Barack Obama might be president, if we could hop back and stick our consciousness in the bodies of those awkward teen selves, but we would still be different, we would still have played it through, would know how it ends.
Some of the joy we can recall was, necessarily, due to the presence of Homestuck, but More Homestuck is not sufficient to recreate that joy.
The Epilogues are not, themselves, a joy. Instead, they’re a reflection of Homestuck-as-it-was that lays bare some of the complexities that it might have been easy to ignore the first time around. Dirk heroically beheads himself (twice!) in Homestuck proper, and commits suicide a third time in the aftermath of [S] Game Over, but it’s different, isn’t it, on Candy’s page 14, when it’s written out in gruesome detail, and then joked about as though that wasn’t one of the more horrifying things we all read in 2019.
How can the text joke about a horrific suicide?
Then again: what was different about all those other suicides, and the jokes about them?
It’s harder to joke about Jake’s frequent narrative blunders into sexual peril when we have to live with the devastating consequences. It’s harder to joke about Rose’s addictive tendencies when they kill her. It’s harder to joke about Jade’s fusion with Bec when it’s executed so… distastefully, so cruelly and at her expense. But if you want to go back to Homestuck In The Early 2010s, that’s what you’re going back to.
At the same time, though, the Epilogues really, fundamentally are about writing an epilogue-slash-sequel in a world in which anything you create will be measured against how close it comes to reproducing the experience of Being Thirteen And Watching Cascade. It’s about writing in an impossible situation, continuing a story that’s over, and for what? Closure? Candy makes a mockery of closure, and Meat does the opposite, insisting on More Story at all costs, chasing that Cascade high at the expense of anyone and everyone who might think to stand in the way of the Plot Bulldozer.
After all, large swaths of people weren’t satisfied by the first ‘epilogue’, Act 7! Rose and Kanaya stand next to each other under trees, Dirk and Jake wordlessly play soccer, DaveJadeKat is implied in picnics! That’s, in theory, at least, what people want more of. It’s what people wrote post-game fics about, once they’d gotten past the prevailing fandom idea that the kids would simply snap back to their prior existences before the game. Another epilogue, the credits: Rosemary wedded bliss! Dirk and Jake in flower crowns! Davekat, on a couch! Are you not satisfied?
I would venture a guess that anyone who willingly showed up to read 200,000 words of Homestuck Adjacent Material three years after anything major was released was, in some way, unsatisfied by that ending and those softer epilogues.
This is all a perilously difficult conversation to have if the Epilogues still feel like an open wound. I have to counsel against shoving hot pokers into open wounds, ethically if not legally, and if the Epilogues were horrifically unpleasant to you, this essay will definitely dig into those unpleasant areas.There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling wounded by the Epilogues, as there is more than enough shrapnel in there to do some real damage on impact, and I guess all I’m saying here is that I don’t want to help grind salt into unhealed lacerations. I don’t want to be a party to harm, especially not avoidable harm.
Nothing about this essay is interesting or insightful enough to be worth hurting yourself over, and if you’re aware that just meditating on the Epilogues for too long tends to ruin your day… please don’t ruin your day for this, or anything. Confronting things that make us miserable does not inherently make us stronger, and the choice to opt out of misery and frustration is a noble and laudable one.
So, that said: the Epilogues are a highly recursive story about writing themselves, and reading themselves, and how it feels to revisit the things that made you laugh and helped you find community and made you very, very happy a decade ago, when you are in your twenties and you’d do anything for a hit of that ‘things click into place and make sense, beautifully and grandly, and I am a part of it’ feeling, but you find it doesn’t exist anymore.
They’re hosted on the same site as Homestuck. If you search for a phrase, meaning to look for it in the text of Homestuck proper, you will also come up with results for it in the Epilogues.
Why don’t I consider them The Logical, Canonical Continuation Of The Events Of Homestuck?
WHY I DON’T CONSIDER THE HOMESTUCK EPILOGUES TO BE THE ‘CANONICAL’ CONTINUATION OF THE EVENTS OF HOMESTUCK, AND NEITHER DO THE EPILOGUES THEMSELVES
Homestuck has been known to move around temporally. A three year timeskip cutting back in with a general explanation of the intervening events, a few subtly delineated shifts back and forward in time and between timelines, the use of animation to quickly and succinctly deliver information about the passage of five thousand years… it wouldn’t be a breach of Homestuck’s ‘rules’ to hop forward seven years and call that the next chapter, assuming we were still even trying to play by those rules - assuming those rules could even exist in a game that was categorically won!
There are ways to write the content of the Epilogues as something other than an epilogue. Game mechanics seeping back in due to the failure to defeat Lord English within the confines of the previous portion of the story, the dissolution of the victory state a la dream bubble, this absolutely could have been mechanistically woven into the existing body of the story.
The events of the Homestuck Epilogues could have been page 8130. No one was holding a gun to Andrew Hussie’s head and telling him he couldn’t do this, and if they were, I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t know.
The choice to continue Homestuck in the same medium it began, happened, and ended would have been a legitimate, feasible choice, with a meaning. The fact that this was not the choice made by the team involved thus also must be treated as a choice, with a meaning.
They wrote an epilogue, which is something different than page 8130.
Homestuck, we will note, still ends on page 8129. Nothing about the Epilogues or anything else that’s happened in terms of the slow-onset decay of Flash and Viz Media has changed the fact that Homestuck ends on this page. Hell, they could change the numbers, I’m pretty sure they already have once. Substantively, though, the work ends with this final flash until someone with the means to alter the text decides that it doesn’t, and won’t that be a hoot and a half if and when it happens!
Even then. Even then, the ‘story’, the text that constitutes Homestuck, always had to end. The diegetic rationale is simple: SBURB has an ‘end state’ - the victory state. There was always a point at which the story would conclude, unless the ending was averted in some way, as it was for the trolls. When there are no more lines of dialogue to be exchanged.
Our heroes exit the Medium, capital-M, but the lowercase-m medium follows them through Act 7, through page 8129. The established rules of SBURB which allow John and Jade to speak face-to-face rather than through the chat client, we notice, once sufficiently high god tiers were achieved, no longer apply. There are no more words to be traded. At least, none which we as an audience are privy to, until the credits introduce John’s snapchat as a new medium through which we can gaze, for a few minutes.
We’re free of Skaian mechanics, though, as best we can tell. Quite literally, as the Medium-exit and the medium-shift are simultaneous. We’re no longer bound by Skaia’s interface. That’s... very important to addressing the ‘canonicity’ of the Epilogues.
Homestuck has always been an overarching story that recognizes the unpredictability of choices and their consequences. There ARE multiple universes: one in which Terezi kills Vriska, one in which she doesn’t, to name a single fork-choice, and while only one of those is sustained in the ‘canon timeline’, both textually happen. Within SBURB, the game-engine-mechanism cuts down all of the extraneous ‘non canon compatible’ possibilities with Laplace’s Demon’s perfect determinist comprehension of the Skaian system and fills a universe of dream-bubbles with the infinite ‘untrue’ (and thus, uncanon) versions of characters - including the versions we ‘follow’ for much of the text of Homestuck.
After SBURB, this mechanic no longer exists, and after the conclusion of Homestuck itself, the parameters of the Homestuck outer layer of the videogamewebcomic (which has always been the vehicle to enter SBURB) similarly cease to exist after page 8129, and our heroes receive their ‘thank you for playing’ in the sky as Act 7 ends.
Our heroes are living in the ‘post-myth’, a world where the story-rules, both its limits and its advantages, no longer apply.
All this to say, once SBURB/SGRUB/Skaia/the Medium is vanquished, there is no longer a right choice or a wrong choice, a canon choice or a noncanon choice - there are just choices.
There’s no longer a boss battle at the end of the tunnel to train for. As in the Pokémon games, the ‘quests’ a player undertakes are no longer mechanically enforced by the game. If you’re going to find fulfillment in completing your Pokédex, you mostly have to do that yourself; the game isn’t actively walking you through it. If you have the ambition to collect all of a certain class of shiny Pokémon, well… the game isn’t going to reward you for that, or even tell you, more than perfunctorily, how to do it.
In the Homestuck Epilogues, which overwhelmingly do not take place in the Medium, with exceptions made to fulfill causality already textually established in Homestuck Proper (the kids’ presence in the theater for Caliborn’s defeat) there is no longer any mechanic to ensure that the characters are in the ‘true timeline’.
A ‘true timeline’ no longer exists, from an objective standpoint, except for the one that led them to the victory state. That is the only immutable text.
As Rose observes, in this post-objectivity, post-determinist system, subjectivity is truth. It’s the only truth left. Dirk disagrees, but the text supports her interpretation in its explicit exploration of the role of subjective truth in storytelling in Candy.
The existential fear this inspires is foundational to the Epilogues’ twin narrator deathspirals: Dirk in Meat, John in Candy. Dirk is… Dirk. And John can’t retcon outside of the text of Homestuck Proper not because of the falsity of the Candy timeline relative to Meat, but because there is no ‘official continuity’ outside of the Medium to retroactively alter at all, in Meat or Candy.
The sudden absence of an objective truth, a metric, a literal measuring stick to be sure of how well you’re doing - alive, not confined to the dream bubbles, progressing with all members of your initial party intact, with some potential for victory in sight - in Greek, these ‘measuring sticks’ were known as ‘Kanon’ - well, losing that can be a devastating shock to someone’s system. Leaving high school or college, quitting a sport or a job, finishing a series, whether writing or reading or playing a game.
‘What will you do?’ can be the most terrifying question in the world when you don’t know the answer.
But this is my justification, beyond anything Andrew Hussie has written and published on Reddit, for why the Epilogues should not be treated as the Objective Truth Of All Their Story-Inhabitants. The Epilogues are about the deconstruction of a single true ending. How one choice, in contrast with the determinist view that all outcomes are directly predicted based on the biology-history leading up to them, can actually drastically change the story. That multiple outcomes are ‘possible’ at an inflection point instead of one predetermined path.
That’s the death blow to Dirk’s understanding of the text; Candy Exists. If the story was already written, if ‘wrong timelines’ disappeared into obscurity by virtue of their non-continuative properties, Candy would not exist. It would stop, and it definitely wouldn’t be as long as Meat. It would be an untrue, untenable, fundamentally impossible and uncontinuable story through its untrueness, because there can only be one objective reality and one true choice brought into existence in the cradle of the past.
But the product of the impossible ‘other choice’ definitely does exist. I’ve read it, it’s there. In Homestuck, wrong-choices stop existing. They may not stop mattering, but they dissolve into the ‘important story’ and ultimately stop happening. Davesprite assimilates to the Real Timeline, his Horror Timeline Of Origin vanishes. In fact, we hardly see any of it, and only as memories and dreams.
That’s clearly not what’s happening here, because the Epilogues no longer participate in the mythology of Homestuck or SBURB. Choices matter and have persistent effects. Even the wrong choices. Even the choice to forgo ‘meaning/significance’ altogether doesn’t make things… stop having meanings. Saying Candy doesn’t matter, that it’s Not Happening in some way that Meat Is Happening simply isn’t true.
They are two texts, of roughly the same length, with peripheral aesthetic differences, but both of them exert a pretty profound effect on their reader. Both feel roughly as ‘true’ to the characters involved and how they would react to the situations presented in the text, and also roughly as ‘untrue’. Was anyone really pointing at Candy or Meat and going ‘that one, THAT one contains exactly the versions of the characters that I cherish, but NOT that other one’.
If the text of Candy required some ARG level of involvement and digging to read - if Candy was hosted on a different website, if Candy was written in invisible ink over the text of Meat and required you to hold a candle to the print version of the book to read it - I would buy the contention that, on some level, it is not as “”””true”””” as Meat. But it lives in the minds of those who read it in exactly the same way as Meat, via the exact same textual intermediary, and indeed, many people read it first. Some people stopped there.
Candy is exactly as canon to Homestuck as Meat, and this is what proves that the Epilogues are playing by a completely different set of rules than Homestuck. What is textually depicted in Homestuck proper is necessarily the True Path, or Part Of The True Path, to the story’s completion, Skaia’s reproduction, the victory state.
This is simply not the case with the Epilogues. They are not the only way things ‘could have gone’, and neither Meat nor Candy is presented as the only true path forward from an Inarguably True Inflection Point. It’s a story about What Can Happen when you write, read, exist in an epilogue-state, after the dissolution of the myth that’s given you meaning for so long.
This is not the inevitable fate of the cast of Homestuck.
WHY DOES THAT MATTER?
There's a fairly prevalent impression that the Epilogues must represent what the author(s) believe to be the ONLY logical continuation of the story, and summarily, that they ought to be judged by whether they succeed or fail at ‘accurately extrapolating from the end of homestuck to the future point at which we return to the narrative’. This is where we get the debates on whether or not the epilogues are accurate. Whether they are realistic, whether they make sense, and whether they ‘improve’ or ‘ruin’ Homestuck.
At the core of this, “Epilogues as rote canonical continuation” way of thinking about things, verisimilitude is the order of the day. If the Epilogues succeed, they succeed because they represent a good well-reasoned continuation of Homestuck-story. If they fail, they fail because they do not adequately or truthfully in some way represent the way the story invariably would have gone. They’re either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ - they provide some fundamental insight into Homestuck Proper, or else they fuck it up, pull the rug out from under it, reveal the fact that, all along, the alleged ‘author’ stood on feet of clay. They’re either the ‘true’ depiction of early-twenties existential malaise and self-rediscovery, the resonant ‘coming of age’ at twenty-three rather than thirteen, which makes perfect sense to anyone who’s lived it, or they’re a cynical dunk-fest on beloved characters that depicts a reductive, warped, funhouse vision of a cruel narrative reality and truly isn’t the only way the story could go, which is obvious to anyone familiar with the conventions of ‘existence’. Nothing is immutable or guaranteed, choices are everywhere, suffering is not inevitable or absolute.
Thinking this way about The Homestuck Epilogues tells us something about how we think about epilogues in general - that they are just More Story, the fifty-first chapter of a fifty-chapter book, with the same reader-utility as any of the previous chapters and the same interpretive weight. Some people may find that a satisfying way of thinking about stories - they may look to the epilogue of Legally Blonde or The Hunger Games as a way of situating the story in a longer-term reality, finding closure in the authorial or directorial Intentions for how things might end, validation of speculation on how the story might unfold. After all, we don’t SEE Elle Woods and her compatriots dump Warren and pursue successful careers - we’re invited to imagine that’s how it went, and to judge for ourselves how that might work, to reverse engineer that ‘movie’ based on the evidence we’ve been presented throughout the film we’ve already seen.
In Mockingjay, the last book of The Hunger Games series, the political trajectory of Panem is left ambiguous, but hopeful, enemies and friends vaguely situated in the post-Games world, and Katniss, finally, is left more or less alone by the state that gutted and stuffed and mounted the taxidermied corpse of her childhood like a prized buck in order to accomplish its agenda. The story, too, steps back in its examination of her life - she delivers years of exposition like a monologue and closes her own book.
If the epilogues get it ‘right’, in this way of thinking, that’s satisfying. C’mon, we knew Katniss could be happy and safe with Peeta, and that mutually overcoming the wildly traumatic march to their conclusion would take an extensive amount of time, and would be bittersweet. But people who expected to see her fall into his arms immediately and get to baby production right away, or to forgive Gale and take that route forward, or else to literally never heal and be Damaged and Alone forever, were disappointed, if they felt the story got it ‘wrong’ or didn’t adequately justify its path to the conclusions alluded to in the epilogue.
In Legally Blonde, those who were left with doubts about the ethics of Elle and sort-of-supervisor Emmett’s relationship were inevitably a little offput at this being presented uncritically as a celebratory conclusion for the two of them. The question becomes - did the story earn this ending? Is this ending reconcilable with the reader’s take on the preceding story, or does it add a sour residue to what could have been palatable? Is this, the ‘true’ ending, actually true? Does it deserve its status as the interpretive truth, by which the preceding story ought to be reflected on?
In Homestuck, and in the Homestuck Epilogues, this particular means of interpretation and criticism has a fairly straightforward means of expression.
It’s fucked up and unrealistic that the Epilogues show Dirk’s relapse into habits he professed the intent to work on, because sometimes people heal from horrible shit. Or else it’s GREAT and realistic that the Epilogues show Dirk relapsing apocalyptically, because that also happens sometimes.
It’s fucked up and unrealistic that the Epilogues show the continuation of Jane’s sort of muddy relationship with corporatism and ownership and identity as a descent into villainy. Or else it’s GREAT and realistic that subtle characterization - the lionization of libertarianism and indoctrination as capitalist heiress to a violent, sprawling empire - are followed through on, brutally and with no punches pulled.
The Epilogues, in these instances, are being judged by whether they are Right or Wrong, True or Not True, Real Or Not Real. The assumption underlying these interpretations is that the Epilogues SHOULD be the real, true, right answer to the question, ‘what happens seven years after Homestuck?’, and also the ONLY answer. That there is only one answer. That there can be only one fate for Dirk or Jane or anyone else in the cast, and deviations from this correct path are Incorrect.
On that basis, some people think they succeed, and some people think they fail. If Dirk and Dave’s rooftop conversation ultimately allows him to descend into the very potential for villainy he tried to overcome, does that make the conversation itself less meaningful? Or maybe more meaningful, for what it tells us about Dave’s ability to actually help someone while trying to also heal himself? Does it change the text of Homestuck, that the Epilogues present this as a way it could have gone, render that or any scene fundamentally different?
Are the Epilogues the word of God, the secret and absolute Intentions of a sinister, antipathic, mustache-twirling author all along, revealed now in his horror and debasement, or else the work of a visionary, pulling back the curtain on his long-brewing magnum opus and forever casting Homestuck Proper in the true light - that this is ALWAYS where the story was headed, and, through the Epilogues’ rightness and harshness and no-pulled punches follow-through, the story was ALWAYS true and right?
I don’t think either of these approaches are the most helpful, let alone ‘correct’ ways of thinking about the Epilogues. While I don’t really care that particularly about the intention behind them - I’ll be honest, as a writer myself, I think it’s VERY easy to give writers too much credit for their intentionality, whether malicious or benevolent - in the ‘bridges and offramps’ reflection released by their architect, Andrew Hussie, I think there’s pretty compelling support for my perspective, here. Andrew Hussie suggests that the Epilogues explore the concept, limitations, and means of reevaluating the limitations of an epilogue the same way that Homestuck Proper explores the concept, limitations, and means of reevaluating the limitations of ‘intermissions’, as one example out of many of the Explored and Deconstructed narrative-structures and game constructs in Homestuck itself.
To my best understanding, the wild shit I'm saying here is pretty similar wild shit to the things the author(s) are saying about their own work. It's always fun when that happens!
SO WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN FOR INTERPRETING THE EPILOGUES?
The typical answer to this sort of take, especially among people who didn’t like the Epilogues, is, oh, then, it’s shitty on purpose? It’s trying to teach us a lesson about epilogues and endings by being shitty? Fucking great! Maybe next time teach us a metanarrative lesson that doesn’t suck? Sucking on purpose is still sucking!
I’m not saying that to make fun of people who didn’t like it. I think there are as many completely legitimate reactions to the Epilogues as there are people who read them - they’re excessively verbose and disjointed in places and it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get there from the end of Homestuck, and they’re just straight up not what a lot of people were looking for. They’re tantamount to sacrilege if you treat a specific vision of certain characters as an alter at which to worship. They hurt to read. They treat some painful subjects in a way that’s very cavalier and doesn’t always feel fairly-earned by the narrative in terms of payoff. I’ve definitely sobbed through a handful of pages, some more than once, so if you don’t like or at least tolerate sobbing through reading, it’s probably not your bag.
One of my favorite things to come out of the Epilogues - obviously, because I did it myself - was the veritable tidal wave of ‘oh FUCK THIS, here’s how I think it would’ve gone, this is outrageous!’ fanworks that ensued. I mean, I sort of just wrote my own continuation of them, because I liked them, and also my own parallel interpretation of the events they describe, and also a LOT of ‘bridge material’ and missed-out-on scenes that helped reconcile it for me, but like… same difference, kinda?
Things about them twisted in my gut, even reading them without knowing who Jake was and having to google ‘Jake homestuck’ to try to figure out what was happening. Things about them were really, really hard for me to read - and ultimately cathartic for me to read, as someone who’s been to rehab for prescription painkiller issues and completely stopped drinking like a month after I read the Epilogues. Issues of abuse - an ex who does everything they can to hurt you for not being the person they need, the vulnerability of being desired and needing to be desired to feel worthwhile - I really can’t overstate the extent to which the Epilogues bludgeoned me over the head with shit that hurt.
I also think it would have hurt differently, and probably less cathartically and more as a personal affront, if I didn’t read them before reading Homestuck Proper. It’s hard to get to the meat of this stuff when the vaudeville shadow puppets acting out real and horrifying traumas are characters you love, characters who you just don’t believe would do that.
Starting with the Epilogues, though, when I did read Homestuck Proper, I was looking for the sore spots and the mundane cruelties, and I found them there, too, though conveyed in a different medium: narrativized, stylized, normalized. Themes of abuse and neglect and cruelty and exploitation, like, tonally, the treatment may be somewhat different, in the sense that they’re treated with tremendously less gravity, but they’ve always been there.
At the same time, Homestuck proper also drastically humanized and deepened my appreciation for basically the entire cast, perhaps along different paths than it would have if I hadn’t read the Epilogues first. It led me to develop a really sincere affection of my own for literally all of the characters, even with the existing context of ‘what they might be capable of’. I’ve grown to care for Jane with and in some ways because of the knowledge that she’s a person narratively capable of horrifying things, paying attention to the little ways she tries to subvert that potential future for herself in Homestuck Proper. Of course, her portrayal in the Epilogues will never be the slap in the face it might have been for someone who had different expectations of her, and liked her based on the conception that Doing Those Sorts Of Things wasn’t within her range.
I like her a lot, and think she’s a fascinating character to explore, in art and writing, and acknowledging that, Jake is my favorite character and that was some fucked up stuff that happened, there. I care about their friendship in Homestuck Proper more, knowing the horrible potentiality presented by the Epilogues. Seriously, thinking about how that could be averted or repaired has been a huge motivating question for my writing.
The shit that goes down between Dirk and Rose has made me care so much more deeply about their familial reconciliation, and how they could have gotten to somewhere like that in the first place. The presentation of a horrible conclusion to the whole Dirkjake trainwreck has made me appreciate where they’re coming from and just how overwhelmingly much they mean to each other in the main body of the comic. Just because I think one potential outcome - two, sort of, but also one - is fucked up doesn’t mean it’s the only possible way things could go.
And I don’t think Rose being a neglectful wife and descending back into her addictive habits, DaveJadeKat devolving into something horrible for all of them, Dirk relapsing into a nightmarish parody of himself, Jane committing atrocities, John dying before he has a chance to figure out who he is… I don’t think any of that is inevitable, because I don’t think anything is inevitable but the heat death of the universe.
I don’t think it’s presented as inevitable, unless you ignore everything about How The Story Works in favor of taking Dirk at face value, and seriously, very little about the Epilogues demonstrates his trustworthiness, omnipotence, or really even Having An Especially Good Plan-ness. He’s sloppy, he fucks up, he lies to himself, to the reader, to anyone willing to listen, and not in a particularly organized way, either.
I really don’t read the ‘bridges and offramps’ comment as the sort of condescending headpat ‘well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to think it’s true’ thing that it sometimes gets interpreted to be. I find it impossible to read the Epilogues as ‘chapter 51’ rather than a whole separate thing, a meditation on stories and epilogues and the post-myth myth of Skaia, and one that’s yielded a lot of really productive thinking and writing and reading, on my part. I think there’s a lot of standalone literary value to it, and I think it makes an excellent complement to Homestuck.
I don’t think it changes the text of Homestuck, because it literally doesn’t. Homestuck is still there. I read it three times in the past year and it didn’t change once. But reading the Epilogues, as a mass experience, has definitely changed the fandom, and in a lot of ways, the fandom is Homestuck, and kind of always has been. I’m late to the party on a lot of it, but I can see the ways the Epilogues would’ve changed, for the less or more pleasant, the discourse around the characters, the kind of fanworks being created. And I really, really get that this might have made it harder for some people, especially those personally affronted by the view of Epilogues as Word Of God Continuation, to enjoy fan spaces. I think it’s very valuable to foster spaces where they aren’t treated as gospel, in part because it’s a legitimate take on a kind of out-there piece of media, in part because treating them as The Only Way It Could Have Gone is itself counterfactual and counterproductive. There IS no one way it could have gone. All stories that don’t begin with the word and end with the dissolution of the universe into entropy are lies of omission. There are a million horrible and wonderful things that happen, by pure chance and confluence of unlikely circumstances, every single day.
You make a million small choices every time you get out of bed. Life, once you leave the confines of an organization that gives you prescriptive rules and artificial limitations, is a Meat or Candy choice a hundred times a day. Every minute is a choice made and a habit reinforced.
And all stories are lies. That’s the beauty of them, if you ask me. Trying on something new, like ‘hey, what would it feel like if this happened?’ ‘how would it work? Where could it lead?’ It takes a huge amount of computational power for a brain to make decisions, and stories are the shorthand we use to help us weigh outcomes, projections of potential futures, based on narratives about what scares us, about what poses a risk to us, about what is virtuous and what is evil and what causes harm and who should be weighed as human.
‘What will you do?’ is the ultimate riddle of Homestuck. We answer that question by living until we die, but through fiction, we can reason our way through the smaller choices in advance, and often the bigger ones, too. We can see the meat-candy dichotomy for the inadequate descriptive analogy it is, and choose another path. Or else we can take what life offers us, and, seeing how ugly it could be, fight with renewed vigor to make it survivable, beautiful, to chart a course through the storm.
If you read the Epilogues and thought ‘I can fix this’ or ‘I could avert this’ or just ‘I could understand this better, through my specific lens’ and immediately started writing, I think that’s kind of the ideal reaction. I’m not going to speculate on intention, but the whole bridges-and-offramps thing is right there, and I take it in good faith that this was the intended result. It’s great when people write, and it’s great to think about what we might have Wanted from an epilogue, and why this was or wasn’t it.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
The point of my sharing this particular take is, like most things I do, to advance my personal interests. Sorry, too honest? I find conversations about the Epilogues that dwell on their Correctness exhausting, unproductive, and unpleasant, and interpretations that dwell on justifying them as the Only Possible Outcome, whether for good or ill, to often be reductive and not very fun.
I think it’s easier and better and closer to right, all things I prize in discussion, to think of the Epilogues as what they are: a story about storytelling, best and most fruitfully examined in this context. I love it when people write about the Epilogues. I love the Epilogues, and I think they are a bracing, honest representation of a lot of things: what it was like to enjoy Homestuck, what it’s like to write and read fanwork, what it’s like to Write under great scrutiny and pressure, not least from your self, how a sad or upsetting story can feel like a form of violence, sometimes: violence by an author against characters, by a story against reader. How that violence can reach us when we least expect it - oh, god, was Dave abused? Did I laugh at something horrific? How could I? What does that make me? How dare this story make me laugh at something I hate!
All of that, in my opinion, is worth thinking about fairly, on its own terms, as best we can: whether they succeed or fail at making us consider something new, at introducing an enriching experience, whether we can mine meaning out of them, whether we learn something about, at very least, our selves.
And we can, really.
We can make even horrible, painful, seemingly random, cruel, and capricious experiences into ones that serve us. I like to think we just did.