As a writer analyzing the Harry Potter series for other writers, I don't have too much to say about the epilogue. I saw it mostly as a gift from JK Rowling to her readers and a commitment to herself. It was also a place where she could hint, once again, at her view of war and peace.
As a gift to her readers, the epilogue shared Jo's vision with her rabid fans of what happened next. Fans knew for sure who ended up with whom, what paths their lives took after they left Hogwarts, and how the wizarding world had adjusted after Voldemort's reign of terror had ended. We also got to see that our heroes had indeed healed, and that all was well.
Personally for JKR, I believe the epilogue to have started out as a promise to herself. She would finish Harry's story. She would remain true to herself. And she would develop and share her rich inner values with a world full of people actively engaged with her imaginative creations.
By showing Harry as a middle-aged father, she committed firmly to not doing another story with Harry as the hero (though a story set in Harry's world with someone in the next generation as the protagonist is still possible in the future). It would be very hard, after having committed to that epilogue, for JKR to suddenly decide to write a story in which Harry stars as a young man beginning his career as an Auror.
Finally, in the epilogue, JKR showed a world which was at peace. It is not utopia. The world had not changed dramatically. Percy is still a bore. There is still tension between the pure-bloods and Muggle-borns. Ron, Harry, and Draco are not bosom buddies. And Harry's son Albus is worried about being sorted into Slytherin.
But the Thestrals are invisible to James and Albus. And Harry's scar had not pained him for nineteen years.
When choosing to write an epilogue to your story, especially if it's at the end of a series, you must consider how, if at all, you may wish to revisit that world in the future. Is the epilogue truly necessary? And if so, how will you show the highlights of your characters' lives without bogging the reader down in too many soppy details.
JK Rowling has said that she ended up cutting her epilogue down quite a bit. I imagine the original version was long on answering every last detail and maybe a bit too syrupy sweet. But I'm just guessing, as that's a danger I would run.
What she ended up with was short, light, and with just enough details to let the reader imagine the rest. Exactly like an epilogue, if it exists at all, should be.
And as we're talking about JKR here, her epilogue came with a nice fat bonus -- by providing a peek into her characters' futures, she engaged the reader's imagination for the next generation...and inspired a whole new genre of fanfiction!
Have you ever written an epilogue to any of your stories? What was your reason for including it? Also I'm really curious as to whether anyone has written an epilogue that they then came to regret when they approached a sequel.
Please be sure to come back later today when I'll have something new for you!