In Defense of Happy Endings

What an angst-ridden world we read in.

No, that’s not a typo. Merely an observation on the preponderance of books that explore the dark side of life.

Let us begin by stating that we don’t object to books that delve into that part or any other part of life. Life is meant to be explored by all the mediums available to us. But why the over-emphasis on tragedy, sadness, despair? That is not all there is. In short, what’s wrong with happy endings?

We posed this question to several writers we know. The responses ranged from “Happy endings are old fashioned” to “Nothing, but no one will really take your work seriously if all your books end well”. One writer claimed that “Good literature is not meant to be fun. It is meant to explore, expose, enlighten, engross, and enrich.” The string of “E” words made us blink. But they also made us ask why a lighter tale could not do all of those things. “Nonsense!” was the reply. “You can’t illustrate a serious point by having fun!” This reminded us of one of our elementary school teachers who was fond of yelling, “You’re not here to have fun! You’re here to learn!” When did fun and learning become mutually exclusive?

We then posed the same question to readers. In our highly unscientific poll, we discovered that the writers and readers from whom we received responses are miles apart on this issue. We heard a lot of: “I love happy endings”, “I like books that leave me feeling good”, “Happy endings are more satisfying”. One reader summed it up beautifully:

I don’t mind reading books that end in a way that most would define as unhappy, but I like to know what I am getting.  When I pick up a horror novel or a book that is obviously a tragedy, I expect a sad outcome. I don’t like it when a book is entertaining and fun and then has a sudden twist at the end that results in a bad ending. I feel like the author pulled a fast one on me for no other reason than to add pathos.

We happen to like happy endings. We totally agree that not all stories should have them. But why the dismissal of stories that do? “Happy endings aren’t realistic” one writer said to us. We feel that consistently unhappy endings aren’t realistic, either. Life is not one-sided, never has been, never will be.

So here’s to happy endings and the books that provide them. They illustrate the points that occasionally you can win one, that life is not all bad, that hope and happiness are obtainable. If nothing else, a happy ending to a story can make you smile. And what’s wrong with that?

About jmdattilo

J.M. Dattilo is our pen name. We are the authors of the Time's Edge sci-fi/fantasy series.

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Authors, Books, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with happy endings, but there are a lot of times when it feels like writers include happy endings just to have a happy ending. I see this problem more in movies than in books, but it exists there too.

    The biggest problem I see is that in a lot of books there really is no way that the character could live happily ever after. I use The Hunger Games as an example – I won’t spoil exactly what happens, but talk about it in general terms. At the end of the third book, Katniss is essentially a broken person, she’s getting by in life, but I don’t think she’s living anybody’s definition of “happily ever after” and I don’t think she could. After all that she had been through in the three books, giving that series a happy ending would have felt wrong.

    It’s like anything else in writing a story, putting anything into a story – from a happy ending, to a character death, to a love story – just to have it in there is the wrong reason.

  2. I think you can explore life, have enlightenment, become engrossed and definitly enrich your experience through joy, happiness and creativity! I am all for happy endings and I believe we need more of them in our literature and big screen experiences. It is through joy that life is truly understood.

  3. We agree that having an inappropriate ending can ruin a good story. When you read the Hunger Games, you understand, as the story develops, that a good outcome is not a possibility, so you are not prepared for one. A happily ever after in that case just wouldn’t work. Improbable happy endings (such as many movies offer) are also disappointing. But when a reader has been led to expect a positive outcome, a last-minute disaster is as unacceptable as a falsely positive resolution.

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