Happy Endings or Not?

Do stories really have happy endings?

They do if we choose to stop the tale at the point where the prince slips a golden ring on Cinderella’s finger, or where Beauty kisses the beast, or the princess kisses the frog and he is instantly transformed.

But what about the happy ever after?

I’m reminded of the closing lines of a song – The Ballad of Erica Levine by Frankie Armstrong:
And a happy ever after life is not the one they got
But they tended to be happy more often than not

You can hear the song here::https://youtu.be/oFGj_bXhZb8

Did Cinderella and Prince Charming really have a life without arguments, disagreements, silent tension with neither of them saying what they really wanted to say, in case the wrong word shatters their fragile relationship? What about illnesses or accidents? Might she have a dangerous pregnancy and deliver a stillborn child, or deliver a healthy child but suffer terribly from postpartum psychosis? Might he fall from his horse, hit his head and turn into a very different man from the one she married. (This is a theory about what happened to Henry VIII to change him from the dashing young king into the man who changed his wives more often than his socks.)

Even if the happy couple have a wonderful life together, in the end everybody dies. But that’s OK, we don’t need to put it in the story. It’s all a matter of perspective. Stop the clock on this story at the time of most hope for the future.

One of my favourite books is Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, in which Cazaril, a broken man at the beginning, rebuilds himself and in doing so rebuilds the lives of those around him. He breaks the curse, brings two nations together and (almost incidentally) gains the love of a good woman, and there the story ends. It’s a hugely satisfactory and well worth reading because though I’ve told you Cazaril succeeds, you’ll have to read the book to find out how and why. But that’s not quite the end of Cazaril because the next book set in the World of the Five Gods is Paladin of Souls which features Ista, a minor character in The Curse of Chalion, given free rein here to complete her own story. Cazaril does not appear in person, but several times Ista mentions him as being the Chancellor, successful and highly regarded. Though I’d love to read more about Cazaril, I’ll take what I can get. He lives on in my head, well and happy, doing the job he was meant to do.

Because that’s what happens to happy-ever-after characters; they live on in the reader’s head. And they live on in the writer’s head, too. I don’t know what happens to Valdas, Mirza and Lind after the end of The Amber Crown, but I’ve set each of them on a new path, redemption delivered where it was due. It’s a standalone book, not part of a series, so the rest of the story is up to the reader.

When I wrote Winterwood, I wrote it as a standalone, but with an idea that if I managed to sell it to a publisher, I had a follow-up book in mind. Ross and Corwen could have ridden off into the sunset together at the end of Winterwood, but the story hadn’t finished with them. In Silverwolf there are unforeseen consequences from Ross’ actions in Winterwood, and she and Corwen have to deal with them, which leads into the third book, Rowankind. The story came to a solid end with Rowankind, but Ross and Corwen still have a lot of living to do. I imagine they are currently tearing their hair out with an unruly brood of infant shapechangers. Will I ever write that story? Probably not, though Great-Great-Great-Grandpa Corwen’s journals get a brief mention in a YA story that I’m working on, so we know he and Ross lived to a ripe old age and were the ancestors of at least one young witch.

At the end of the Psi-Tech trilogy (Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus) the universe, or rather humankind’s place in it, is very different from the position at the beginning. I can’t tell you exactly why without spoilering it. (Is spoilering even a word?) The reason for the change is threaded throughout the trilogy and takes centre stage in the third book. I leave Ben and Cara in a secure, but very different place from the one they once imagined they would end up. Will I write more? Possibly. Two secondary characters, Max and Gen (and their daughter) get their own short story – Plenty – in Brave New Worlds, the upcoming (2022) anthology from Zombies Need Brains Press. You can order it here: https://zombies-need-brains-llc.square.site/

I don’t mind a few loose threads, but just for the record, I’m not a lover of cliffhanger endings in series. Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden books (Ill Wind etc.) drove me nuts. Each book would almost resolve and then right at the end another problem would crop up. I was reading these in real time, so I’d have to wait for the next book to be published to find out what had happened, by which time I’d forgotten where the cliffhanger left me. Now that the whole series is available to binge-read, that might not be too much of a problem.

Do endings have to be happy to be satisfying?

I don’t think they do. Heroes can die, and as long as it’s in a good cause, or a death concludes a solid redemption arc, that works for me, though I confess I prefer a happy ending of some kind. I’m trying to think of books that everyone knows as examples, and apart from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, all I can think of are TV and movies. So what do you think about the ending of the most recent Bond movie, and the ending of Game of Thrones? Have your rant in the comments section.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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2 Responses to Happy Endings or Not?

  1. Jacey Bedford says:

    Exactly. All sorts of ramifications. A good deed can have bad consequences. ‘The End’ is just a point where you stop, but it’s rarely the real end.

  2. even back when i was a child reading the “happily ever after” fairy tales that bugged me. I was always seeing the ramification of stories. wasn’t it possible that someone’s “happy ending” shattered the world for someone else? whose happyily ever after? why did THAT person deserve one, and THAT OTHER PERSON did not? HEA endings have always given me a slight itch between the shoulderblades. Stories CONTINUE. or at least good stories do. and happiness is a journey, not, perhaps, the final shining “destination” at which you arrive somehow and then stagnate in it while you shrivel and mummify with beatific grin on your face… (I’ve written stories with happyish endings, to be honest about it – but on the whole I don’t ever want to meet my characters in a dark alley somewhere because they would probably beat me up. I give my characters “real lives”, not just a quick trip between Once Upon A Time and Happily Ever After…

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