Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Happily Ever After, or Not?

“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force.” Dorothy Parker

            I was reading a book on the beach one morning. I had been deeply engrossed in this book for several days, and upon coming to the end of it, I stared at the last sentence in horror. It read thusly:
  “They may or may not have escaped. Dear reader, what do you think happened?”
          What do I think? I think I just wasted three days on your useless book! So enraged was I, that I threw the offending volume across the sand and into the waves, where the book floated soggily for a second and then sank.  That did not quell my indignant feelings. I thought to myself, that it was as though the author had grown sick of it, and sought the easy way out, committing literary suicide.  
I’m not saying the end of a story has to be all unicorns and rainbows. It doesn’t even have to be happy. But readers, I think you will agree, that it needs to leave you satisfied. Loose ends need to be tied up. There needs to be a glowing note of satisfaction upon closing the book. The reader needs to believe it was time well spent. Perhaps some writers think they are daring and inventive, when their book has a dark and terrible ending, leaving the reader in despair. I myself have finished books and felt depressed afterwards. My heart heavy, as though I would never be happy again.  This is not how readers want to feel. There are enough sad endings to real life stories, I don’t want my fairy tales ending badly too.
If authors feel that “happily ever after” is overdone, they may revert to the “bitter-sweet” ending.  There are many books that pull this off beautifully, for example:

The Notebook-Nicholas Sparks (Yes! That was actually a book, my god!)

The Book of Lost Things- John Connolly (Fabulous book, highly recommended).

Bridge to Terabithia-Katherine Paterson ( I was very soggy after this.)

Some only have bittersweet endings because you don’t want the book to be over (or the series). The ending of the Harry Potter saga for instance, had many a fan in happy tears.
One of the greatest series of all time: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, has a very bittersweet ending. Nearly every time I’m torn between being sad and happy. (Frodo is leaving his friends and it’s so sad, but then he’s going with Gandalf to frolic with the Elves for ever and ever….such confused emotions!) Bittersweet is good, it leaves the reader satisfied, and appeases the writer’s artistic temperament. I have to admit, sometimes I  want a plain old ride-off-into-the-sunset, “glass shoe fits and she goes to live in the palace”, type ending.
   “And she married the prince, and they had lovely babies that never cried, and she never got old or fat, and they lived a fabulously wealthy life with no taxes. All their subjects loved them, and the weather was always splendid and it never rained.”

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