Friday, 12 November 2010

And They All Live Happily Ever After... Then What?

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, MOCKINGJAY, CITY OF GLASS & BREAKING DAWN. You have been warned...

“We all remember the bedtime stories of our childhoods. The shoe fits Cinderella. The frog turns into a prince. Sleeping Beauty is awakened with a kiss. Once upon a time. And then they lived happily every after. Fairy tales. The stuff of dreams. The problem is, fairy tales don't come true. It's the other stories. The ones that begin with dark and stormy nights and end in the unspeakable. It's the nightmares that always seem to become reality.

The person that invented the phrase 'Happily Ever After,' should have his ass kicked – so hard.”

I thought I would start this blog with a quote from Grey's Anatomy that had been in my head due to an email conversation I had with Sya, the lady behind The Mountains of Instead.

The lovely Sya had lent me a copy of The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen and, after reading a few chapters, I emailed Sya to talk about the love story between protagonist Maura Isles and Father Daniel Brophy. The story with this love story is that Father Daniel is a priest and for him to be with Maura, he has to leave the church. So, we have a problem. If Daniel decides to stay with the Church then both his and Maura's hearts will be broken. However, if he leaves the Church to be with Maura, there would always be the possibility that he might end up resenting her because of his decision. Either way, there will be heartache.

Mine and Sya's discussion about this swiftly led on to the issue of romance in Young Adult books and how rushed it often feels, as well as how many of these books end with everything feeling like the end of a fairy tale... And They All Lived Happily Ever After. After much chat, we decided it might be fun to blog about it. The Mountains of Instead will cover the issue closer to her heart, which is the pace of romantic relationships in YA books (and look here! She has it posted! Check it out!) while I'm going to look at the fairy tale endings particularly wondering why we rarely see books end in with the central characters broken up or in a shaky relationship.

So, let me try and figure this out.

Who among us was read fairy tales as a child? Or watched a Disney film? Yeah - all of us. So we all know that evil is defeated, good triumphs, the prince handsome prince falls in love with the admirable heroine and...guess what...they all live happily ever after.

However, we're older now. We are teens or adults who have a better handle on the darkness of life. We can deal with it if a relationship ends badly. We can handle it if our hero/heroine ends up in a questionable relationship. We can handle it if our hero/heroine makes a mistake. Of course we can - that's life!

So why is it that, even with books that deal with dark matters like death, war or dystopia, the endings seem lighter than the story itself?

For example...

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the book ends in a battle where people die. Iin the epilogue, we see Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny nineteen years later and they are happy, which is fair enough. They are married, they have kids and they are sending their children off to school – at Hogwarts! The place where the battle happened! Where their fellow classmates and relatives died. Would you really be A-OK about this? Surely there are other schools they could send their children to? But no – because they had to live Happily Ever After...

This is kinda the same as Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, although not to quite the same degree. Katniss and Peeta are together, they have children and everything seems OK. The only time the author hints that it may not have been plain sailing is when Katniss says “It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree” to her and Peeta having children. But apart from that, there seems to be no hint of Katniss or Peeta fighting or suffering from Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. Which they would! I mean, come on... but no, they also lived Happily Ever After...

Then there's City of Glass by Cassandra Clare. There is an epic battle where the bad guy dies (not telling you how!), Clary and Jace find out that they AREN'T brother and sister (as first thought) so they can date each other. This is great, but then they toddle off with their friends to watch some celebratory fireworks at a great big party. Wait a minute... didn't Alec and Isabelle lose someone they loved deeply? Shouldn't they be grieving? Clearly not! Alec is busy opening up about his feelings for Magnus (am such a shipper for these two) and Isabelle is love triangle-ing it up in the corner.

Again, they all live Happily Ever After (although Cassandra Clare is writing another trilogy with these characters so I sense it's not going to be all plain sailing . But how much are you willing to bet that, by the end of this trilogy, there will be another Happy Ever After)...

Now, what about Breaking Dawn? Through out the book we have dark twisty plot with Bella, Edward and Jacob. We also have an approaching battle, built up to massive proportions with the expectation that people are going to get hurt or die. So, how does the book end? No battle, no deaths. BLISS! Jacob imprints of Bella and Edward's newborn and EVERYONE seems OK about that. JOY! And then, Bella and Edward go off into the sunset, ending with the sentence, “And then we continued blissfully into a small but perfectly piece of our forever.”


To be fair to the Twilight Saga, this is more a ROMANTIC story than a SUPERNATURAL story. But compare it to the last line in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: "All was well” and you have to wonder why these books, filled with death, war and evil always ends with Happily Ever After?

Perhaps the key is those childhood fairy tales, so ingrained in the communal conciousness. We, as humans, need fairy tales We need to know that good triumphs over evil, the ugly ducking turns into a swan, that love conquers all.

Perhaps we need this because life doesn't always tie in with the Happily Ever After ethos... but is that such a bad thing? I'll end this blog with how I started, another quote from Gray's Anatomy, and let you decide...

“Once upon a time. Happily ever after. The stories we tell are the stuff of dreams. Fairy tales don't come true. Reality is much stormier. Much murkier. Much scarier. Reality. It's so much more interesting than living happily ever after.”


  1. You need to see/watch the musical 'Into the Woods'. It's all the fairy tales and what really happens.

  2. Haha! This is a brilliant post! It's so true! Another thing that annoys me is that while it helps you to fall in love with the characters - THEY'RE ALL ABOUT BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE :| Beautiful people and happily ever after just isn't fair! I really want to find something a little more real - despite the paranormal...