‘Midnight Library’ Book Ending Explained – Why does Nora change her mind about her root life?

Midnight Library Plot Summary

Matt Haig’s iconic 2020 book Midnight Library dropped right during the middle of the global lockdown and it turned out to be a pretty interesting read. It combines selfcare along with fiction and magic realism that left us with several questions. 

What happens when one dies? Well, Nora Seed is brought to the Midnight Library guarded by none other than her high school librarian, Mrs. Elm. And all the books in the library are the different lives that different Noras have been living simultaneously.

Now she must find a better life – the choices are endless – the one where she is an Olympic swimmer, the LA rockstar, the happy family woman, the scientist, etc. But she must pick one before it is too late as the Midnight Library is not as stable as it seems. The book’s ending leaves us with more questions than answers and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to figure out the ending as much as we can.

Why does Mrs. Elm send Nora to disappointing worlds?

Initially, Mrs. Elm doesn’t coach Nora much except to motivate her to keep trying. But unlike later, she doesn’t exactly guide Nora on what type of life she should try. She lets Nora slide through disappointing worlds to the point that the slider wants to give up on her second chance.

When Nora accuses her, Mrs. Elm reveals that she wants Nora to learn how to live through her disappointments. With each disappointing world, a regret disappears such as marrying Dan, not looking after Volt and going to Australia with Izzy. Once Nora finds the will to live, Mrs. Elm helps her find better lives like the one with Dylan and Eduardo.

Where do the Noras of the other worlds go?

Both Mrs. Elm and Hugo explain that when Nora enters a new life, that world’s Nora is put on pause. If the root world’s Nora starts liking that world and stays on for long, she slowly starts getting the memories of that world’s Nora till she becomes her as seen in the world with Ash and Molly. However, she leaves the world with Ash and Molly before she can completely become that world’s Nora.

After Root Nora leaves, that world’s Nora returns. That world’s Nora will see Root Nora’s actions through a haze. And her last memory will be as if she has temporarily forgotten what she was supposed to do before regaining her senses. This is seen when Root Hugo leaves in mid-conversation and that world’s Hugo tells Nora that he doesn’t remember what happened for the last few minutes.

Why are the books green?

While it is not explicitly explained why, the running theory is that green symbolizes life and well, the books are all the different lives of Nora. The books all happen to have different shades of green to possibly represent the emotions those worlds’ Noras feel – such as dark green for Nora unhappy marriage with Dan or light green for a mollified Nora finally getting over Izzy’s death.

As for the Book of Regrets, it has lost all saturation and is almost grey but the pages get white and lighter as she starts getting over the regrets.

What is the quantum wave function?

When we meet Hugo, the first slider apart from Nora, he gives her the lowdown on what is actually happening. He uses Schrödinger’s cat and Quantum Wave Function as metaphors to explain that basically – infinite parallel worlds all exist simultaneously for every human being. While in one life a certain Nora may be swimming in Australia another Nora may be a rockstar, performing in Brazil at the same time.

As for the Midnight Library and Mrs. Elm, they are created by Root Nora’s mind as she is stuck between life and death. When someone like Hugo or Nora is on the verge of death, they end up in a place that was once meaningful to them with a guardian angel of sorts, someone who was kind to them.

Over there, the guardian helps the slider (people who get a second chance to choose another life) find the right life to live. However, in Nora’s case, it seems that the right fit was her root world after all. Mrs. Elm helps her see that all the aspects that she blamed for her disappointing root life were just excuses and there were silver linings everywhere.

Why does Hugo have the luxury of time?

Mrs. Elm claims that since Nora is overdosing, she can either live or die at any moment. Hence she doesn’t have much time left to choose a life. As for Hugo, he is a special case and has all the time in the world to find the right life for himself. This is probably because he is in a lifelong coma in his root world. His body doesn’t threaten to give up, unlike Nora’s overdosed root body at the moment.

What’s the point of the chess game? 

Nora acknowledges that Mrs. Elm is trying to teach her a lesson by playing chess in the Midnight Library, however, she doesn’t really get it till Mrs. Elm explains it to her. Nora feels like a chess game where she is only left with a pawn.

However, Mrs. Elm points out that one can win a game even with a pawn which is actually a queen-in-waiting and can also take down a king. The game is not over if there is even a single pawn on the board. That way, it’s not over till it’s actually over for Nora – she keeps trying till she realises she wants to live and the best choice is the root world for her. 

There is also a second meaning. When Nora returns to her root world and plays chess with the real Mrs. Elm, she tells her that she isn’t the only one on the board; a pawn like Nora has now joined her. To this, Mrs. Elm says that she was never a pawn. In this case, Matt Haig uses the stereotype that pawns are nothing more but pawns, but Nora is more than that, she is a much more powerful player.

Why does Nora change her mind about dying? 

In the first half of the book, even while she gets several second chances, Nora is not keen on living. However, she changes her mind when she lives the life of Scientist Nora. She is put on guard duty and when her life is threatened by a polar bear, she realises that she doesn’t want to die. She sees that in other lives, she is doing something good for the world.

She is not alone the way she is lonely in her root world. She chooses to be alone as this one is solitude – she’s connected to nature and is doing something in her life detached from people. She doesn’t have to live anyone else’s dream and figures that there must be a world out there where she is doing what she wants. She finally becomes aware of her own potential and the possibility of just simple happiness.

Why does Nora leave the life with Ash and Molly?

At first, it feels like Nora has finally found the perfect life. She lives with Ash and Molly for so long that she even starts getting the memories of that world’s Nora. However, this time, she doesn’t leave because she feels disappointment, she leaves out of guilt. She realises that the happy life she is living is not earned, it has been stolen from another Nora out there, who will disappear after Root Nora takes over for good.

This guilt is coupled with other regrets – of not being able to help Mr. Bannerjee, Mrs. Elm and Leo in that world. This is where she realises that she made such an impact on them in her root world that it is a good life after all and decides to go back to it.

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