Happily Ever After

July 9, 2009 at 9:42 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

A while back, I heard about a group of parents who were trying to get Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events put on the banned books list at our school. Not because they have drugs (they don’t), not because they have sex (they don’t), but because they weren’t happy enough. These parents didn’t want their kids reading books with unhappy endings.

As someone who happens to prefer books with unhappy endings, I actually found this a little offensive. Since when is sadness and trauma in literature inappropriate? Sadness and trauma are important parts of life, and that’s not something that should be censored.

I’m not sure why I don’t like “happily ever after” endings. I guess I find them a little boring. I don’t want to go through two hundred pages of a book to hear that at the end all of the conflict vanished and everyone was happy. The end of a story is the most memorable part, and if everything works out perfectly, there isn’t much to remember. Can you imagine how boring Romeo and Juliet would have been if everyone had survived?

That’s why, as dark as it sounds, I would much rather read (or write) a book where everything doesn’t work out perfectly. When you reach the end of the book that has a happy ending, you close the book and put it down and move on. But when it has a sad ending, it stays with you. It makes you think. As a reader, and as a writer, that’s what I’d rather have.




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  1. I totally agree with this. (: I tend to feel cheated if everything works out too perfectly–it’s like, I spent all this time reading this story just so it could end normally and predictably? I’d much prefer an ending that is sad or leaves one or two loose ends (I suppose disliking the end of His Dark Materials makes me a hypocrite, hm?).

  2. That’s… kind of absurd that they were trying to ban A Series of Unfortunate Events. (They weren’t successful, were they?) Because let’s face it – life isn’t rainbows and butterflies.

    I know – I detest sappy, cliche, SUE-endings as well. They basically just ruin the book. I mean, hypothetically if the writing was really superior then maybe the whole book wouldn’t be ruined (although if the writing was that spectacular, can’t really fathom a crap ending…) but otherwise, the ending could really make or break the longevity of how memorable the story is.

    Happily ever after endings are good for kids and all, but once you reach the point of becoming disillusioned with the world… just gimme something real, something that’ll provoke thought, y’know?

  3. I completely agree with you.
    Sure, some books have surprisingly sad endings (you know, like life can), but at least with the Series of Unfortunate Events, you were forewarned (and they’re not even that sad!). Just don’t read them if you don’t like sad things.
    You know, it’s parents like these who raise kids who get depressed later, because no one ever warned them about life. Then, when they’re on their own, they feel like they got slapped in the face. C’est la vie.

  4. Welcome to reality! Where few things ever work out the way you want them to and there are always going to be sad endings.

    There’s nothing wrong with sad endings. I mean look at Before I Die. It’s an awesome book, but the ending is a real tearjerker. Of course, you kinda know that all along… Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest classics and it has a sad ending.

  5. I…think it depends very much. I do NOT like it when all of the problems go away, because that just isn’t life. Life is hard. Life is heartbreaking. But life is also beautiful.

    I like books where there is resolution, but in a way that I can believe. “Romeo’s Ex” by Lisa Fiedler did a good job in that (although my suspension of disbelief failed a few times, specifically when Rosaline nearly invents open heart surgery). Nonetheless, the ending was a mix of sad and happy. Not everything went right, and some happily-ever-afters didn’t come til the prologue–first, there was a more realistic “Yes, but.”

    I love when I can believe in the story. Pointless sad endings? Not so much. (I’ll always be a sucker for stories like Sleepless in Seattle.)

  6. VT doesn’t have the “happiest” ending in the world. It has a realistic ending that will hopefully leave the reader thinking “this is what should have happened.” But I still think about it and worry that they won’t feel that way, that they will feel cheated out of the perfect ending.

    Then I start thinking of sequels.

  7. Just imagine, a library without sad-ending books would mean no Bridge to Terabithia or Flowers for Algernon or even Little Women. Those books make you think about life and love and friendships and family, but also about how tenuous those things are. So it makes you ponder their value. And what better way to do that then safely in a book?

    Like Brigid, I generally like my books to be more Sleepless in Seattle than Anna Karenina. ;-) The best ones, to me, are those that feature a heroine going through incredible personal challenges but who struggles through them and becomes a better person for it by the end of the story.

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