Happily Ever After?October 13, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments
And they all lived happily ever after. A single phrase has become synonymous with Disney motion pictures and fairytales alike. I can’t remember a story in my early childhood where the princess wasn’t saved, where she didn’t marry the prince or find whatever enchanted object she was looking for. There is always a cleverly disguised moral, but in the end happily ever after is a given. I suppose when we are young, we don’t want to think about all those details. Cinderella gets the prince, lives happily ever after… the end… full stop…
Let’s face it: did I, as a child, want to be read to sleep a story of the prince being a pyromaniac or the enchanted crown turning the princess into a toad? Of course not. When I was six, it was happily ever after or else.
But then I started to grow. With that growth came the sad realisation that life didn’t always imitate fairytales, and my book choices reflected that. Generally it was still happily ever after: the bad guy has a convenient exit, and the princess still becomes queen. But by this time it’s hidden. It’s no longer a specific “and they all lived happily ever after.” By now it’s taking the form of life somehow returning to normal, or better than normal. The best friends who were fighting are best friends again. The lost puppy is returned unharmed.
But by the time we hit the YA range, happily ever after is not a given. Generally something happens to make it seem more real to life.
**SPOILERS AHEAD: In Harry Potter, we got hit with the death of half of the decent characters. In the Hunger Games, Rue dies along with all the other tributes, and in To Kill a Mockingbird – well, we all know what happens there.**
By this time, while we still want a happy ending, we accept that a happy ending does not always come without strings attached. Not everybody will survive; some conflict will remain unresolved. It is the ultimate metaphor for a teenager’s life. Life isn’t perfect, and we young adult writers know exactly how to capitalise on the fact.
I’ll admit it to you all now. I thrive on the angst, the guilt and the tension as I sit on my bed rushing through the pages hoping for a happily ever after – but not too happy. There has to be a realistic balance.
There are, of course, stories that buck the trend and decide to go with the clearly unhappy ending. As much as the unhappy ending could be the difference between a good book that ends in a warm fuzzy feeling and a great book that has you thinking for hours about why you suddenly don’t have the warm fuzzy feeling, it’s a personal thing, but I find myself hoping for that warm fuzzy feeling.
Back to what I’m actually supposed to write about: writing. I more want to pose the question to you readers out there. How do you feel about happy endings? Do you prefer sad endings? Do you ever think about future reader’s thoughts when you write, or do you write how you feel the story ends?