The first book I ever had published was a collection of three fairy tales of the Oscar Wilde-ian kind – ones with a thread of sadness, even tragedy, weaving through the story and no Happily-Ever-After scene.
After reading the book an annoyed friend asked, “Haven’t you ever HEARD of a happy ending?”
I learned early to question happy endings. In order for someone to win, somebody else usually has to lose – and then it becomes a question of WHOSE happy ending we are talking about – and from there it’s one short step to the lesson that history is always written by the winners, and the losers’ stories are lost or distorted beyond understanding.
When I began reading fairy tales, I tended to prefer Hans Christian Andersen’s dystopias than ache to be in Cinderella’s wedding party. I might have cried bitter tears at the fate of the Little Mermaid (the ORIGINAL Little Mermaid, not Disney’s red-haired sea princess with a chorus of singing sea slugs) but I had more in common with her than I ever had with Sleeping Beauty.
Sleeping Beauty almost literally sleepwalks her way through her life but the Little Mermaid makes her own choices, lives with her own pain. One of these protagonists is in control of her own life; the other is not. Even as a child, I saw the difference.
There is no such thing as a complete happy ending. The best we can hope for is a resolution, and perhaps an epiphany. The wedding, in real life, is not the end of a story, it’s the beginning of one. And the rest of one’s life is always more hard work than the glitter of a wedding can ever prepare you for.
What can be a happy ending? The knowledge that you have done what had to be done, and that although sometimes the price of this can be high, you were strong enough to pay it. The knowledge that sometimes there is nothing that you can do at all – but you know that you have tried. Sometimes the happy ending is not one of coming together, but one of letting go.
Be happy – right now. There’s a happy ending.
This an abbreviated version of an article on SF Novelists. The full article can be read here.