I recently discovered something interesting about myself. If a story has a lot of tension, the characters experiencing harrowing events – even violence or life-altering disasters or trauma – but has a happy ending, I like it. But if a story contains bright spots inside it, even insights I find to be personally helpful, but ends on a generally tragic or depressing note, I hate it. That’s even if it ends positively for one of the main characters.
I must have happy endings to any story I consume, whether it be written or on-screen.
Poisonwood Bibles and Green Miles of the world, stay back!
I will gladly go on record as saying that The Poisonwood Bible is an excellent specimen of literary fiction. Barbara Kingsolver is unarguably a master of her craft. But the ending of that particular novel of hers is a mix of tragic and depressing, so I don’t like it.
I recently made the traumatizing mistake of watching the movie The Green Mile. At least, I watched it up until halfway through Del’s execution. My reaction to that scene shall be the topic of another blog post. Suffice to say I didn’t finish the movie. And when I went to Wikipedia a couple days later to find out how it ended, I was glad I didn’t. The ending is totally depressing.
Just before that, my husband and I watched a BBC production of Oliver Twist. Back in my twenties, I read all – yes, I said all – of Charles Dickens’ novels, and I remember loving every single one. Either I wasn’t as sensitive then as I am now, or words on a page aren’t nearly as heart-wrenching as the same story played out by real people on a screen.
The ending of the movie – true to the novel – was completely disheartening and depressing. (SPOILER ALERT!!) So what if Oliver Twist found his wealthy family? What about Nancy? The Artful Dodger? I even felt sorry for Bill Sikes when I realized he was obviously remorseful over accidentally murdering Nancy, and what did Dickens do to him? Made him hang himself!
I hate Oliver Twist, and despite loving the mini-series Little Dorrit (which we’d watched just prior), I am now wary of watching any other screen production of any of Dickens’ other novels.
On the other hand, a few months ago I read a thriller novel that had quite a bit of blood and gore in places. I could stand it because about halfway through, I began to suspect that what was happening was all in the main character’s mind (I was right). Still, it was very tense and the protagonist’s internal struggle ripped at the heart.
BUT! The novel ended happily. Very happily. So, guess what? I like it!
Happy endings are a must.
It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. I never had a good reason before then to explain my need for happy endings.
Now, I do. See, HSP’s tend toward anxiety and depression. We feel everything more strongly than non-HSP’s. We’re not trying to overreact or by drama kings and queens. It’s just how we’re wired.
So we experience the tragedies and struggles and traumas of both our own lives and other people’s – even complete strangers we only read about – more deeply than the average person. This makes finding silver linings around clouds analogous to finding a needle in a haystack. (Kindly excuse the metaphor mixing. 😉 )
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I believe I consume stories with happy endings as a kind of therapy. “Okay, life can’t be all bleak and gray – look at how this story turned out.”
Happy endings give me hope.
The subject of a soon-coming blog post. So, stay tuned!