Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Happily Ever Afters Don't Make Me So Happy...

Okay, so this post may make me sound like a total pessimist.  Glass half-empty and all that.  Acknowledged, but I have a point to make here.

    First thing's first:  the perfect ending doesn't exist -- for me, anyway.  Because if it really is a perfect ending, in the conventional "everything's wrapped up and happy" sense, it's automatically imperfect for me.  I don't want a happy ending -- I just want it to be tolerable. 

    By "tolerable," I'm not saying I think endings should stop at acceptable, that they should just be ho-hum.  Definitely not; I like explosions and betrayal and fight scenes as much as the next reader.  But I want endings to be bittersweet and slightly painful -- I want the "we missed Happily Ever After by about ten miles" version. 

    Everything can't just work out.  That, unfortunately, is what Disney movies are for. 

    Maybe that's why I don't like the happy endings so much.  Maybe I watched too many Disney movies when I was younger, where Sleeping Beauty and Snow White woke up and Prince Charming found the shoe and Beast turned back into a human, and everything worked out.  (Extra points go to Pocahontas, since John Smith got hurt and shipped back where he came from.  Negative points go to Pocahontas 2, because that movie was moronic and nobody likes John Ralfe or whatever that punk was named.  I guess you can tell I'm more of a John Smith fan.) 

    Anyway, some more examples of endings that had some element of bittersweet in them?  I think yes.  Technically, I guess I can't talk about the endings if you haven't read them already, because that would just ruin life, but it's understood that I highly recommend the books listed below. 
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  Love this book.  I'm normally not into this genre or time period, but this is tied for first in my All-Time Favorites list.  (Team Phineas all the way.)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Lots of people probably read this in school, so the ending's not as big of a secret, but I thought it was so refreshing that it didn't end very well.  How many other stories out there had an ending to a similar effect?  Plus, it had characters like Jordan and Gatsby.  Nick wasn't bad, either.
  • The Cay by Timothy Taylor.  My mom read it to me when I was sick in the fifth grade.  I hadn't thought about it in a while, but when I was thinking of bittersweet endings, it popped into my brain.  Must reread this....
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell.  This was one of my favorite books.  I need to read this one again, too. 
    Okay, that's probably enough, because I think you get the point.  At this point, I'll also slip in a quick apology for my blogging failures in this past month.  Bad me. 

    Do you agree, or are you more on the Happily Ever After side?  What are some books with bittersweet endings you've read, and did you think the books pulled them off?


Alison Miller said...

I just need a satisfying ending. It doesn't have to be "happy," I just need a bit of closure and something believable. I just finished By the Time You Read This I'll Be Dead - the ending left me with way too many questions.

PS - agree about Gatsby - very bittersweet.

Josiphine said...

Ah, Island of the Blue Dolphins! Wonderful book.

I want the ending of a book to make me cry, and feel satisfyed at the same time. There are very few that do so.

Sunny Smith said...

Haha, I read The Cay in grade five also. I just remember my grade five teacher reading Timothy's lines in her attempt at his voice. The ending was pretty bittersweet, now that you have me thinking about it. Thanks for the reminder of a great book!:)

Angie Cothran said...

I agree with Allison, I need satisfying. But I will say I love a good cliffhanger ending, especially in a series.

What I hate in endings is no consequences. To me that is more unrealistic than happily ever after.

Jenna Cooper said...

For me it depends on the genre. Something meant for more MG-aged kids, I'd want a happy ending. I think the saddest I'd want is a Flipped type of deal. For YA and adult, I like a sense of the goal was achieved, but not everything is perfect (which may be why I didn't jump for joy in the epilogue of Harry Potter).

I think that Five for Fighting sums it up perfectly in their song Nobody: "And I know, as the world goes round and round, though endings are never, ever happy, it's the happy moments along the way, that in the end, make it okay."

Shayleen said...

I both agree and disagree with you...

I personally am a pretty big fan of happily ever afters... :) Hopefully my ending/beginning will be happily ever after!

But I do agree that sometimes a bittersweet ending is better... Two of my favorites are:
The Brethren by Haggard
Rebecca by Daphne D'Maurier.

I really love those two books and they both have partially happy partially sad endings.

I still do love a good happily ever after and the warm fuzzies they give me. :) And sometimes real life truly is that way.

Anonymous said...

thanks! add me on nanowrimo if youre doing it. :)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I like just about any ending a book throws at me. Bittersweet, happy, sad - usually, I'm like, "WOW, what a good ending!" It all depends on the book. :)

And sometimes, a bittersweet ending is the best. It's not perfect and happy, but it's not horrible either. For instance, I think the ending of "Mockingjay" was bittersweet. I mean, things kind of worked out, but there was a lot of loss, too, and things weren't all perfect afterwards. Katniss had to heal, and even years later she wasn't the same. Do you agree, or is that just me?

I haven't read "A Separate Peace" or "The Great Gatsby", but I think they're classics, right? Must try them. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" used to be one of my favorite books, though! I'm probably due for a reread as well. ;)

Lynda R Young said...

I'm a happily ever after kinda girl... ;)
But I also love variety and a few deeply satisfying not-so-happy endings also work for me.

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Alison -- Good point about the satisfying ending. And I hate endings where there isn't enough answered, but I like to have a few gaps to fill in on my own.

Josiphine -- No kidding. I think I could count the books I've read with those kind of endings with one hand.

Sunny -- That's funny! I bet her impersonation was hilarious to hear. No problem, and thanks for the comment. (:

Angie -- Agreed. I hear a lot of people complain about cliffy endings, but I like them. Great point about the consequences -- the thought didn't even occur to me when I wrote this post, but I think that's a big issue. Thanks for pointing it out.

Jenna -- Very true; I didn't even think about MG. I definitely want part of the goal to be reached, but maybe not in the way it was supposed to, or with sacrifices to achieve it. I wasn't a fan of the epilogue, either; I would've wanted to figure out my own version of the ending, and I didn't like how out-of-place the perfect new world was, compared to the relative darkness in the rest of the books. And I've never heard of that song, but you're right, it explains it amazingly. Thanks for sharing it!

Shayleen -- You're right; sometimes a happy, lighter ending is a nice change of pace. As for the bittersweets, though, I'll definitely have to check out those books you mentioned.

Juliet -- Okay!

Taylor -- Good point. And this is really weird, but I actually had *Mockingjay* on my list at first. But when I was reading them out loud, my mom said she didn't really think it was bittersweet, so I went with *Island* instead. So I definitely agree with you. Great minds think alike, I guess. (; And yes, you've got to try those books! They're some of my favorites.

Lynda -- Haha, good point with the variety. I think half the reason I like the slightly bittersweet endings more is because they don't come along as often.

Liz. R said...

I have to say that I'm definitely a fan of happy endings :). I tend to get really emotionally attached to characters, so sad or bittersweet endings usually really upset me, and it lasts for ages! Though I do enjoy some bittersweet or sad endings (Ptolemy's Gate, a brilliant book, comes to mind), I generally prefer happy endings, because at least that way I'm not completely depressed for a week after I finish reading :P. I will admit that happy endings are less believable - but then again, reading for me is an escape from reality! So most of the time I don't mind. Great post though, I love seeing everyone's different views :).

RaShelle Workman said...

I'm more of a Happily New Beginning sort of girl. I don't want to see everything tied up in a pretty pink bow, but I want it to end with hope. Those are my favs.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind an unhappy ending or a mixed ending, because I don't expect perfection.

I read all the books on your list except The Cay. I must get to it.

I had problems with one of my latest wips, because it didn't end so happily. I left the ending as is until I revise it again.

Kari Marie said...

You know, I like a happy ending, but I think they can be taken too far. I think I'll put a vote in for satisfying endings. Those can be happy or bittersweet and the biggest deal for me is that it must fit the story. I do hate unresolved endings where the story just stops like the author ran out of words. Drives me nuts.

The Story Queen said...

Ha, interesting! I'll be reading A Separate Peace for school next semester - glad to know it has your seal of approval ;)

I agree with you about the unrealistic aspects of these types of endings, but I have to say that I'm a total sucker for a HEA.

You get a cupcake for liking Pocahontas though - that's always been my favourite Disney movie.

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Liz -- I'll have to check out Ptolemy's Gate, and I know what you mean about getting attached to characters. Seeing all the different thoughts has been interesting to me, too!

RaShelle -- Great point, and I love how you put that.

Medeia -- *The Cay* is definitely worth looking into. Best of luck with your revisions!

Kari -- I'll agree with that. You're right; the story is the bottom line. And incomplete endings -- no kidding. I hate it when I try to turn the page at the end of the book and it's just one of those blank pages that comes with the binding, when it seems like there should've been more story.

Story Queen -- Haha, it totally does...more like a seal and stamp and sticker. (: Hopefully you'll enjoy it -- it's wizard that your school has you guys read it. And a cupcake for liking Pocahontas? Sounds like a steal to me, but I won't be complaining.

Thanks for the comments!

Rebekah Brielle said...

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I just found your blog, and I love it!
I followed you :)
Check out my blog, It’s a Love Story and follow me! Please :)

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Rebekah -- Thanks so much! Now I'm off to check out your blog and return the favor. (:

Mirriam said...

I'm so glad you like my artwork!!
I LOVED "Island of the Blue Dolphins." It was one of my favorites for a long time. I was SO sad when her brother died!!
~ Mirriam
(Though I do love a good happy ending :)

Christina Farley said...

You really mentioned some amazing books. I loved The Giver for this reason too because those books make you think and we as humans are desperate for the happily ever after. Personally, I like happy endings but those that leave the character with the consequences of life. I think it's more of a perspective of life and what you take out of the horrors that life hands us. How do we deal with the reality of life? Do we let it overcome or do we overcome the bad? Great post!

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Mirriam -- I know what you mean; that book sent me into a Native American frenzy for several years. I even made a rock grinder. Haha.

Christina -- Good point. I haven't read *The Giver* yet, but I'll definitely have to sometime soon. It's now on my ridiculously long TBR list. Thanks!

Alistar of Woodland said...

I've always kind of felt the same way. I always sort of thought I was alone in that though! :)
Usually, I say that if something hasn't been lost by the end of the story, then it's one of those, "tra-la-la-stories,".
Sometimes I like a happy ending though. It's thinking about it on the other end that does that to me; what if all stories ended up really depressing? I think I'd be tempted to write Disney-type stories. :)
Anyway...thanks for the post! It's so fun to hear from fellow writers!