Happily Ever Apples

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I hate to say this, but I think we've all been poisoned.

Yep. All of us.

You. Me. And any other unsuspecting people and/or cats, dogs and gerbils that may have been subjected to movies the last few decades.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about sex, violence, and crude language / behavior in films that may or may not impact the public at large. No, the poison of which I speak is much more insidious and slow acting. You see, unlike the kid who might repeat an off-color joke at his Grandmother's 84th birthday part, this poison doesn't have any overt effects.

By the time you realize it's wormed its way into your system, it may be too late...

The poison, in this case, is from eating too many Happily Ever Apples. You know the kind I mean - they're what common vernacular calls "Hollywood endings" or "Disneyfication".

Indoctrination starts young, long before your average drool-bomb is able to form coherent sentences. They watch all manner of brightly colored, vibrant, and hyper-kinetic animated thing-a-ma-jobbies dance and sing on the TV while their parents go about their daily lives.

When they wake up and get ready for school, cartoons are on. When they do their homework, there's more. Parents line up in droves to take their kids to see whatever the highly-marketable cuteness of the minute happens to be.

And every friggin' one of them has a saccharine sweet ending that leads kids to think that's how stories are supposed to end.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a horror story, but...

Not anymore.

The Little Mermaid is supposed to die...

Not anymore.

Snow White and Cinderella are dark, twisted stories involving amputated toes and heels and much blood...

Not anymore.

That's the poison at work, you see. It makes people accept that the "only" ending for a story is a happy one. The worst part about it is that most of us know we're being poisoned by the Happily Ever Apples, yet we just keep chomping away on them, thinking 'what could it hurt'. I didn't realize how far gone I was myself until I read someone's review of Mockingjay, the final installment of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is not a happy book; it's not supposed to be. It's violent and ugly at times. It's heavy and grey in a way not many YA writers dare to be. I know this, and yet, as soon as I started to read about the resolutions of the story in the early reviews, I got upset.

'No!' cried my inner apple eater when she heard that by the end of Mockingjay, readers would be wondering if it wouldn't have been kinder for all considered if Katniss had simply allowed her sister to take her chances in the Games.

I've said it here before that the happy ending isn't always the right ending, and yet I still got upset with the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy. There's an inherent futility to the story's arc that triggers all of the side effects of Happily Ever Apples. Indignation, anger, and a feeling of being somehow cheated... but why?

Does the ending make the journey to reach it any less compelling?


Does the lack of that maudlin happy moment where the heroine and her hero pronounce their love for each other and end on a new beginning make the story any less complete?


Did the author accomplish her goal?


And there it is. THAT'S the driving force behind the poison. It's not the authors pushing Happily Ever Apples, it's the readers. People conditioned to believe that unless their heros and heroines die for the masses or get their dreams handed to them, they (as an audience) have been robbed. But sometimes, that's not how the story ends.

Respect the author enough to know how their own tales should be told. Understand that they are the creators of their universes, not you. (That's what fanfic is for ;-P ) To many writers, characters aren't just pieces on a playing grid, they're real people without bodies, and by writing their stories down, the writer is telling those people's history.

The Little Mermaid dies and Pocahontas was a fourteen year old kid who didn't end up with John Smith. If you tell the tale of Jean D'Arc, she's going to meet a fiery end whether you like it or not.

Bad things happen - in fiction as well as real life, and it detracts from the story if you ignore that fact in favor of making everyone smile on the last page. The RIGHT ending is ALWAYS the best ending. It may be happy, it may be tragic, but even in fiction, that's life.

Good ending =/= Happy ending. They are not synonyms.

Sure you can hope for the best when you start a new novel, but you shouldn't automatically expect it as your due payment for cracking the spine.

If you don't like the way a story ends, then just wait. Maybe Disney will buy it, animate it, and then Jean D'Arc can exist forever with a trio of singing cherubs and a convenient Fade-to-Black before the first embers fly.

4 Chiming In:

Simon Hay said...

Lol! I agree. I've not read Hunger Games, but I have it on my to buy list. I like the dual ending of loss and survival. Leif Enger's Peace Like A River is the most recent I've read that does this.

Unknown said...

I tend to agree with, Josin. A few years ago, I was involved with a crit group. I wrote a short story with an uphappy ending - the main character dies alone from what amounts to a broken heart (although heat stroke is blamed), and the group just flipped out. They didn't like it blah, blah, blah.

Now, maybe I didn't write the ending well. But I didn't intend for the story to have a happy ending. Real life doesn't always have a happy ending, so why should fiction?

Jen said...

Agreed! And don't get me started on all those Disney princesses who sit around waiting for their prince to come...

Michelle said...

Ahh, so that's why Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars left me wanting more!

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