When I was a teenager, my aunt recommended I read Gone With the Wind. I remember the dreamy look on her face, the sigh as she told me how romantic the book was. She said: “Every time I read the book, I pray that it will end differently, that he will not leave, that something will make him stay.”
As a reader, I love happy endings. I am not usually fond of books that end like wisps of thread in the wind, without a satisfying conclusion. I rarely read sad books. In books, as in life, I love the romantic, happy ending, the hero and the heroine rambling barefoot on the beach under the smiling full moon, their hands swinging together in tune to the beat of a faraway melody.
As a writer, other forces are at work in me. The happily-ever-after romantic ending grates on my nerves. I watch my strong-minded, smart, independent protagonist and think: She has to end up with a guy? No way. She has grown so much in the book. She has found confidence in herself. I don’t want her to give that wonderful freedom away. My readers disagreed. “She has to find a prince,” they argued. “Any prince. Some kind of prince. But the story must end with a prince.”
What is it about the romantic happily-ever-after that appeals to readers? Even picture books have their share of romance. I think, really, only middle grade novels are free of it. My nine-year-old daughter certainly expresses the “ew” factor if anyone tries a smooch in a book. I can think of some beloved books that do not end hand in hand, but my favorites, the ones that I read again and again, all have bells ringing for the beau and his belle. Elizabeth marries Darcy. Ivanhoe marries Rowena. Lord of the Rings? Yes, romance. War and Peace? Of course.
Truth be told, I don’t think the ending of Gone with the Wind is sad. Faced with Rhett leaving, Scarlet realizes that she loves him. As the spectator to her heart’s misadventures, however, I am not sure that I trust her love. I want her to grow, to expand her horizons, to learn who she is inside. She has been silly the whole book through. The ending is Scarlet’s opportunity to grow up.
I’ve been lucky to have the latest chapter in my life wrapped up in romance. My daughter’s “ew” resounds in our house a lot, as does: “No kissies and no huggies!” But one chapter of life leads into another, all merging together into one story whose end is never in sight. I like the idea of the independent heroine walking with confidence into the sunset, ready for whatever experience comes her way. But I admit, I like it too when she walks off into the sunset, confident and assured, and there’s a man’s arm linked in her own.
How do your favorite books end? Do you too have s soft spot in your heart for the happily ever after?
Hi Sigal, In a past life I gave speeches pooh poohing the need for a prince to rescue a princess. Stand on your own two feet. Be smart, successful, fulfilled. If love comes to you, great, but to live one’s life waiting for prince charming, no no no. That said, I won’t watch a movie that I know has a sad ending. (I was tricked by Message in a Bottle; I was satisfied by the Notebook, for example.) If the dog dies in the end, it’s not a good ending to me. If the master dies, then the dog is broken-hearted. Also not a good ending. As for books, I’ve read so many — still the tragedies stick with me. Why couldn’t she have Mr. Right? Why not let the heroine have her true love? The books that make you think are the ones like life, which isn’t all neatly wrapped up. I hope it will be all good in the end, but for now, we make our own beginnings and let time sort them out. I like happy endings, because so much of life isn’t like that. I love books where the hero/heroine triumphs over incredible odds or surmounts insurmountable obstacles to achieve their goals. But whether they find true love–I don’t care all that much (though a little romance is nice.) Finding a true friend, saving the world, or the rainforest or the animals, that’s all good. I like middle grade more than YA stories because I don’t want to be grossed out, kill too many or suffer too much. Oh, in The Giver, I remembered a happy ending, did you?
I really like this post. I typically like a happy ending, but not when it comes as a detriment to the growth of the main character.
I think so many of us gravitate toward happily-ever-afters because reading offers us a form of escapism from reality. We get enough of that in our daily lives and through the news.
I’m so with you in loving books that end well and remembering forever the ones that don’t. That’s partly the reason why I don’t like sad/violent books. There’s so much of it in real life. I want to enjoy books. I want a break from the real world.
I think the ending in the Giver is by your own interpretation. Do they die on the snowy hill and it’s their memories that make death seem like rescue? Or do they actually find that sled and slide down to safety in the houses below where people are celebrating Christmas? I think Lois Lowry leaves it for us to decide. And I guess, in a way, though I’d very much like the happy ending, I don’t quite believe in it. For me, at least, in a weird way, it is not real enough.
You know Susan, as I read your comment, I immediately thought of Superstitions. In a way, to me, the ending of your novel is a perfect example to what I mean when I say that I have completely different tastes as a writer and as a reader.
As a writer I think the ending of Superstitions is true to the character’s growth throughout the novel, to where she finds herself at the end. As a reader, can I confess that I did wish for her the happiest ending possible?
I like the idea of a novel being just a peek into a character’s life, and that other stories continue it until perpetuity. Like in Gone with the Wind: tomorrow is a new day, and there’s always the hope that Scarlet was successful in getting Rhett back.