Sunday, May 9, 2010
TSS: And they did NOT live happily ever after
A traditional happy ending is one in which the main character ends in a happy frame of mind. This is often associated with fairy tales and romance novels. YA books used to end happily most of the time, though not so much any more. Many of the old school Disney cartoons involving princesses being saved from evil women by stiff and not very exciting princes end with the phrase, "And they lived happily ever after." And so we are made to believe it, to feel that they must be happy because the story says so.
But what if you don't believe it? Then is it really that happy an ending?
Many fairy tale retellings (particularly those of my favorite, Cinderella) are based on the presumption that, whatever we may be told, those princesses and princes become disenchanted with each other pretty quickly. And it's easy to see why. After all, Snow White was woken up by a kiss. Ditto for Sleeping Beauty. I put more faith in Cinderella's story because she and Prince Charming at least danced and had an entire evening together before marriage. But it's easy to see why people don't buy it. Just because we are told they live happily ever after, does that mean we actually believe it?
Another romance that has always made me skeptical is the one existing between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Henry Tilney is a pretty stellar male lead. He is handsome. He is witty. He is very, very funny. Catherine Morland is... nice. She doesn't even get his sense of humor. She is not particularly intelligent. In A Truth Universally Acknowledged, one of the essay writers states that she can't help but think that Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland will end up very much like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in several years, and I must agree. I am sorry, but I just can't believe that Catherine and Henry will live happily ever after. I think they'd be far better off going their separate ways, each finding someone else to marry.
Thus, I am vaguely dissatisfied with the book. My unease is that the characters end the book quite happy, but I am not happy for the characters. So, if the characters end the book happy, but I as the reader am not happy, then can it really be considered a "happy ending"?
What do you think? Does a happy ending require only the character to be satisfied at the end? Or does it also require satisfaction on the part of the reader? Do you have a book that left you feeling skeptical?