Discussion: Happy Endings

let's talkAnd they lived happily ever after.

That idea engrained into our minds from a very early age. Many (if not all) of the stories we are read as children all end happily. [But then again do you really want to upset a small child by ending a story badly?] Generally this trend of happy endings follows readers as they grow. Of course, the definition of happy ending depends on the genre and type of book. The basic idea is the same: everything turns out okay in the end (the boy gets the girl or vice versa, the kid saves his/her parents, the team saves the world from destruction, etc). I’ve got questions for you to think about: are happy endings a good thing? Should we continue to have them in books?

I keep going back and forth on the issue. On one hand, I read to escape my life. Obviously things aren’t perfect for me. I don’t always get what I want. That’s real life though. Stories allow you to experience things that you won’t get to experience in your normal day to day life and that includes happy endings. Why wouldn’t you want the characters that you’ve grown to love be happy? It’s nice to fantasize about a ‘good life’. I don’t want to finish a book and be upset and miserable. [I’ve read books that don’t end happily and it always feels like a punch in the gut]

On the other hand, it could lead to disappointment. Small kids might start to think that happy ending are the way things should be and become increasingly frustrated when they don’t happen. What about  us grown ups who ‘know better’? Should we read books that stick closer to our world (the wrong people die, things don’t work out the way we want, etc)? Don’t we to look to literature to figure out how to cope with life (to a certain extent)? Can we learn to cope if our learning tool is skewed?

I might be rambling at this point but I think you understand what I’m trying to say. What are your feelings on the subject?

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13 thoughts on “Discussion: Happy Endings

  1. Wow, this one is a toughie! I do love a good happy ending, but sometimes I feel books I’m most passionate about don’t always end happily ever after. That being said, I think happy endings should happen if the book calls for them. I mean, if you have a book that is just a light and fun read that’s meant to entertain, why would you spoil it by having one of the main characters suddenly die at the end? However when it comes to younger readers I don’t know how I feel about being honest about the way the world really is. It’s like parents who refuse to let their little girls play princess because they don’t want them to think they need a handsome prince or want them to be strong women. People are so concerned that kids who get only happily ever afters won’t be prepared to face the real world. But if you stop and think about it, there’s stuff that happens BEFORE happily ever after. The prince has to fight a dragon. The girl has to defeat her evil stepmother. There are struggles our heroes and heroines have to face before they can get to a happy ending. So if we take away a happy ending, what do we leave our younger readers with? A cynical outlook on life that tells them no matter how hard they work or try things are always going to be unhappy. Why bother trying then?

    Rather than focusing on the happy ending, maybe we should teach our young readers to focus on what gets them to a happy ending. And, in our own readings, focus on what characters go through to get to their ending, however happy it may be.

    Great discussion question! 🙂

  2. I do like happy endings, but I think that what I like even better is an appropriate ending. If Patrick Ness had ended the Chaos Walking series in a more happily ever after way, I think it would have done the whole series a terrible disservice. The books were difficult, so a tied-with-a-bow ending would have cost Ness some of my immense respect for him.

    As for the unreality of happy endings… well, I like to think that a happy ending exemplifies hope and that hope is something we should all hold on to, even if sometimes we are disappointed by it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion!

    • Very good point about appropriate endings. I’m still up in the air about the ending of Chaos Walking. I definitely felt like I was punched when I thought Todd was going to die. With that being said, I think I would have been more upset if it ended with Todd and Viola getting married (or something similar).

  3. I think that the happily ever after is what all of us strive for. Some strive for that dream job or the house with the white picket fence or just being able to pay our bills every month without having to worry about it constantly. And because we get so attached to the characters, it’s natural for us to want to see them acheive that dream because it’s what we want for ourselves, we want to see someone else do it because it lets us know that it can be done and thus that we are capable of doing it. So like Elizabeth said, acheiving that happily ever after brings us hope even when our dreams appear impossible because it lets us escape to a world where the impossible is acheivable. That being said, I also think that the ending of a book is almost like putting that story and those characters to rest. Once the book ends, we aren’t allowed on the journey anymore and to think that the characters have to face trials on their own, without us, is kind of sad and scary because it means we’re missing out. But let’s be realistic, if these were real people then their lives just wouldn’t be perfect for forever, more trials would always arise. So that’s why I like it when a story ends on a happy, content note where you know the characters will be alright, but where they mention something like ‘things are good now but i know that down the road i’ll have to address THIS or so and so will die’ or what have you. (I could name a few examples here but in case you haven’t read the books I have in mind, I’ll exempt them so as not to ruin the ending). It makes the story more realistic and it lets us know that even if we acheive our dream it won’t always be perfect, life happens, but that it will be alright because you know that you have acheived that dream and are thus capable of acheiving others.
    Also, I love Candice’s point that focusing on HOW the characters get to the ending is incredibly important, especially for young readers.
    And it really does depend on the type of book, too. A sad ending, if appropriate to the style and story of a book, can also be inspiring or thought-provoking.
    Wonderful discussion question!

  4. Oh they definitely should continue with the happy endings. I like ambiguous endings too but I am strongly in favor of continuing with the happy endings. When you’re a little kid (at least when I was a little kid), it’s sort of upsetting to reach the end of a book and find that it’s sad. It agitated my strong sense that things should be fair. As a grown-up I know that life isn’t fair and things aren’t fair etc., and it’s still nice to read books from my childhood where things are fair and endings are happy.

  5. I know I personally very much prefer books with happy endings. Occasionally, it’s nice to read a book which makes you cry, when you need a good cry, but mostly I read books to relax. If I finish a book and it makes me unhappy or ends so ambiguously I’m left with an unsettled feeling, I haven’t gotten what I wanted out of it. And I like to think that I turned out ok anyway,perhaps because as Candice said – it’s possible to have a book in which work leads up to the happy ending. In this case, books don’t have to promote the mind set that we deserve everything in order to give the reader a happy ending.

  6. I think we, as writers, owe it to our readers to try and make the world a better place for future generations. We should use whatever devices we can in our writing. Happy Endings are a part of this, especially for children. Do I think this creates false expectations? Possibly, in the fact that life does not always follow suit. However, if we want things to be better, if we want our own endings and those of future generations to be happy, we need to give them examples of such in our writings. This doesn’t mean that every story we write should have a happy ending, but I believe all children’s stories should have. Stories for adults that do not have happy endings should at least have some sort of comparison in them, some way for us to say that if so and so or such and such a character made a certain decision differently, things would have ended more happily.

  7. Pingback: Really Great Bookends – Part I | Doing Dewey

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