Or…And They All Lived Happily Ever After.
I have recently finished reading ‘Don’t Skip Out On Me’ by one of my favourite authors, Willy Vlautin. And what a wonderful, heartfelt book – exactly as you would expect from such an awesomely gifted writer. But oh my God, the shock of the ending! Out of nowhere, on the very last page, came a kick to the guts that left me reeling and chastising myself for actually reading those last couple of paragraphs, because if I hadn’t, I could still believe in my desired fairy-tale finish.
It affected me in the same way that the brilliant film ‘Remember Me’ did the first time I watched it. You know the one: the 2010 movie where Robert Pattinson plays a young man left bitter and rebellious after his brother’s suicide, struggling to maintain his family ties until he falls in love with Ally (Emilie de Ravin) who slowly starts to thaw that ice-cold heart of his. If only I had got up five minutes before the end, I could tell myself that everything was actually going to be OK for the Hawkins family. But first time round you don’t know this! How can you? Endings like that should come with a warning. (I have since watched ‘Remember Me’ three or four more times and now will routinely exit the room before the last five minutes, just so I don’t have to suffer that agonising finale again.)
So is this just me or are we all programmed from an early age to expect a happy ending? Is it something we learned from Disney which means that we now can’t help but yearn for the simple nostalgia of yesteryear? Or perhaps it is just a natural longing to escape the harsh realities of modern life with a dreamy denouement, and who could blame us in these totally crazy Trump-tastic, Brexit-burdened days?
You do, after all, invest a lot of time in the worlds (and words) created by your favourite authors. Had Harry, rather than Voldermort, died in JK Rowling’s ‘The Deathly Hallows’ I suspect I would have felt royally cheated that I had lived with – and cared about – him for so very long. In David Nicholls’ ‘Us’, having travelled the train around Europe with nice-but-slightly-boring Douglas Petersen, watching as his marriage unravelled and his teenage son became increasingly despondent, I couldn’t have come back to England with him without some glimmer of hope for his poor middle-aged love-life. Because let’s face it: that might have been too close to reality. And I don’t need to be reminded that things may not work out for the best in the end. If I wanted that level of depressing realism, then I would switch over to the crime investigation channel and get my voyeuristic thrills following murder cases in small town America. For me, that’s not what escaping into a good book is all about, thank you very much!
It seems my much loved fairy-tale finish even has its own acronym: HEA (for Happily Ever After) so I suspect I am not alone in wanting an upbeat ending every time (let’s call it that because “happy finish” smacks of what some ‘special’ massages are all about…allegedly). Interestingly, and moving swiftly on from the image of the obliging masseuse, a number of books with less than HEA endings have been made a little more ‘sunny’ for the big screen. Take ‘Jurassic Park’, for instance (yes, it was a book first!). In the film the main characters are all able to safely flee the island after the park’s T-Rex kills the raptors who had been hunting them (phew!) deviating somewhat from the book in which the island is nuked by the Costa Rican Air Force and Richard Attenborough’s rather hateful character (or John Hammond as he was solely at that point) is a gonner.
In Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, the doctor’s wife is killed by the monster but the couple are allowed to live happily ever after on screen. Similarly (if there can be any similarity between them) in David Morrell’s 1972 novel ‘Rambo’, John Rambo dies from gunshot wounds yet ten years later he survives to advance Sylvester Stallone’s acting career with a further four sequels. I can’t say whether that is four too many…I only survived the first.
With Jodi Piccoult’s book ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, it’s not so much a sunny ending as a cloudy one because the road from page to picture kills off the other sister and sees a more black-and-white HEA outcome, (though with one sister having succumbed to cancer, it’s perhaps stretching it to list this as a typical Hollywood HEA ending). And finally, let’s talk about ‘The Little Mermaid’. We all know how that turns out (collective aaahh). But what you may not know is that Disney’s animation is based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale in which the little mermaid fails to get her man (and ends up killing herself) which according to Disney just wouldn’t do!
So clearly me and Walt are not alone in our desire for the HEA. For me, a happy ending is the perfect finish. It’s the coffee and after eight mints that follow your meal, the red sky at night as the sun slides out of the day, and the joyful tune played to me by my Samsung washing machine at the end of each wash cycle. For Walt Disney it’s money in the bank.
Let’s remember that brilliant quote from Deborah Moggach’s ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. “Everything will be alright in the end so if it is not alright it is not the end.” I hereby give myself permission to re-write unhappy endings in my own head so that I can live HEA.
Over to you. What ending would you like to rewrite?