Thursday, March 02, 2006

. . . And she/he/it/they lived happily ever after.

Today's Guardian cites a poll that shows most people like their books to have happy endings. Top three favorites Pride and Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Jane Eyre - while rife with tragedy, struggle, and death throughout - have satisfying (read: happy) endings, according to readers.

And the endings folks would change? Gone With The Wind (c'mon Rhett, cut Scarlett some slack), Wuthering Heights (stop brooding, Heathcliffe, and marry Cathy), and 1984 (don't be such a panty-waist, Winston - overthrow Big Bro').

On one hand, I understand readers' need to have everything turn out okey-dokey at the end of a ripping yarn, especially since that doesn't always (often?) happen in real life. Elizabeth Bennett's a smart cookie and deserves her Mr. Darcy. Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Boo have been through hell throughout the story and have earned reconciliation. And who would deny poor, plain Jane her happy ending?

But I don't agree that the books that don't prettify the ending are less satisfying. In fact, it seems to me that "satisfying" and "happy" aren't necessarily the same thing. Satisfying also can mean humorous, dramatic, scary, or open to interpretation. Sure, Rhett stomps out on Scarlett, but we know their paths will cross again somewhere beyond the book, don't we? And I always thought it was a proper ending for Anna Karinina to be on those train tracks. Put her out of her misery. Please.

What I require, I think, is an interesting ending. And I can't really define what I mean by interesting. I just know I don't want the book to sort of sputter out. Give me something that either resolves the main threads - happily or not - or surprises me in some way. Don't wimp out, in other words.

How about you? Happy ending or not? And feel free to give examples or the good, the bad, and the interesting.


Liz Hinds said...

I read Little Women about a million times and never understood why Jo didn't marry Laurie.

I don't like books that have what I would call a cheat ending. I've read a few recently that do it: Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman; Ian Mckewan's Atonement; and almost Life of Pi, but I chose not to accept that.

Gone with he Wind has a perfect ending.

Peter (the other) said...

I am with liz, hate those fourth quarter... "oh, I better end this, maybe I can have some Martians land, uh, a world war, uh... etc.". Life is nothing but loose ends, they come in every flavour from sweet to bitter.

I just want to thank you, Ms. PJs, for mentioning my fav-0-rite dance (the panty-waist, I like to do it around the kitchen when I am cooking). I would share more, including good luck, but it is too hard to type with my fingers crossed.

Unknown said...

I invariably find endings an anticlimax, I would much rather be on the journey rather than arriving.

The best ending ever was to the film 'Birdy' - excellent.

Chris said...

I love a good book and don't really mind what the ending is as long as it is enthralling. The only thing about good endings, though, is that it's the end and I always have that slight feeling of disappointment that I've finished a good book and now have to find another.

BTW, Mary, have just finished Simon Winchester's 'The Surgeon of Crowthorne' and can't recommend it highly enough. A really good read and a true story to boot.

Anonymous said...

Reading, like watching movies, is done for entertainment. I'm with you on wanting the major threads resolved. Just make it interesting, be it warm and fuzzy, sad and melancholy, angry as hell, whatever... Just don't leave me hanging and "sputter out" as you say. The hanging part is OK if anticlimactic to resolution of the storyline, AND if it leaves/leads to opening for a sequel. I hate watching a movie that builds a story, gets you to the edge of your seat, and then the credits start rolling. I feel cheated. This is not whay I invested the last 2 hours. Give me an ending! I view books the same way.

MaryB said...

Ooh, Chris - thanks for the Winchester suggestion. I do love his books.

So, I guess we've all pretty much squelched the "happy ending essential" theory here. But then, we're waaaaaaaay brighter than the folks in the survey, I bet. ;-)