Friday Fiction: The Power of Three

Among the mainstays in the world of fiction is the TRILOGY. As I cracked upon Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I wondered why a set of three is so common. 


It made me think how decorators are always saying that knick-knacks, vases, and other décor should come in sets of three because that is more appealing to the eye. There are the clichés that “Good things come in threes” or “Bad things come in threes,” depending on whether you are hearing it from an optimist or a pessimist. My own faith, Christianity, values the number three since God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit constitute the Trinity. More threes include the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges,  three Charlie’s Angels, three branches of government, three parts of a nucleus, the three Chipmunks, three primary colors, Christopher Columbus’s three ships, and three judges on American Idol (that fourth one never worked). 

So are we just fascinated by threes, and thus the fictional trilogy seems the perfect length to tell a tale? After all, when we talk of a story having a beginning, a middle, and an end, that’s another three. 

Here are a few of the fiction trilogies I’ve read.  

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – The ultimate fantasy trilogy which set the standard for many that followed. The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King relate the tale of a reluctant hobbit and his friends’ quest to overcome forces of evil in Middle-earth.

Maggie Quinn vs. Evil – Author Rosemary Clement-Moore calls this a series, but until she writes a fourth book (go right ahead, Rosemary!) I’m calling it a trilogy, which I read this year. Prom Dates from Hell, Hell Week, and Highway to Hell are the three so far, which deal with Maggie Quinn and her brushes with demons. 

Midnighters Trilogy – Written by Scott Westerfeld, this young adult trilogy consists of The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon. It’s a fascinating series about teenagers with supernatural abilities and evil lurking at midnight. 

Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – Consisting of The Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, this science fiction trilogy takes place in three planets of our solar system. Lewis had started a fourth, The Dark Tower, but he didn’t finish before his death in 1963. 

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Okay, I know it’s not a trilogy, but it was originally intended to be. I did read Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe, and Everything. Adams still used the word trilogy, calling Mostly Harmless “the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named trilogy.” And I think that’s funny, so I’m keeping it on the trilogy list! 

There are several others that began as a trilogy (The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice), caught fire, and led to a slew of books in the series. It’s awfully tempting for an author to keep giving readers what they seem to want and are definitely willing to buy. (Check out this interesting article about “Trilogy Creep” –  the strange tendency of trilogies to expand and see more and more works added.) Mind you, I only read the first three of Rice’s vampire series and happily have no idea what happened after that; presumably more blood-sucking. 

What do you think of trilogies?  Why are they so popular?  What trilogies have you read?  Which ones would you recommend?

7 thoughts on “Friday Fiction: The Power of Three

  1. I've noticed a trend for trilogies as well, or a series at least. On one hand I like being able to follow a character I love beyond just one book. On the other, sometimes it seems like a series may have been better off written as a strong stand-alone than dragging the story out. A series I've read recently that I really enjoyed was The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan. (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places). Great reads if you enjoy YA Dystopian novels and zombies :).

  2. I've never read a trilogy but I do enjoy series. I've followed Debbie Macomber's trilogy set off the coast of the state of Washington, all addresses of the people who are characters in the books. I could follow them forever but sadly the last one is coming out in a few months. Twilight is a series I like along with Harry Potter.

  3. My favorite "trilogy"–breakfast, lunch and dinner! 🙂 But as a writer, the "rule of threes" is one I follow. Explained best at Wikipdeia: The "rule of three" is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. A series of three is often used to create a progression in which the tension is created, then built up, built up even more, and finally released. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped together in threes in order to emphasize an idea.In comedy, it is suggested that maximum humor can be attained by creating a structure in which a joke is set up, the setup is reinforced, and the punchline breaks the pattern: How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost.

  4. I'm guessing a lot of it has to do with marketing. Three books sell more than one, and you almost guarantee readers will finish the storyline. I love series, too, but sometimes the author doesn't know when to stop, or can't keep it going up to the original's standards. (Come to think of it, that applies to some trilogies too.)Hm, I'm finishing The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Would recommend the first; the subsequent are okay.I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars trilogy. I really liked it, but it's hard core science fiction.Ooh! Have you read the Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers? The first two books are amazing. Third was okay.

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