This discussion is partially inspired by Shannon's recent discussion regarding the "Pickiness of Endings" (a must read). I was thinking about Shannon's discussion and I feel the same -- endings, especially series endings, disappoint me so often. And then I thought about the fact that some of my very favorite books don't have a "happy" ending. Sometimes this works because it feels more authentic for the story, for the characters and particularly, as Shannon pointed out, in a dystopian. This led me to think about what a "happy" ending even means and so today I ask:
How do you define a HEA?
I often think of endings in simplest of Shakespeare's terms -- if it ends with a wedding, it's a comedy; if it ends with a funeral, it's a tragedy. But maybe that is too simple. As you know, I hate spoilers and so I am going to try to talk about endings without referencing any particular books. As I intimated above, some of my favorite books don't necessarily have a "happy" ending. But what even is a happily ever after or a happy ending? In romance, for me, a non-happy ending is one in which the characters aren't together. If the characters are together, even if it's not straight-forward, then the ending is happy. I don't want, especially in YA, a wedding, an engagement or a birth -- that's too easy. When you read outside of romance, however, endings become blurrier. For example, if an important character (or even non-important but not necessarily a villain) dies at the end of a book -- does that mean it's not happy? Not necessarily -- maybe that's the way it was supposed to happen or maybe there's a message in the ending of things, even lives. I guess my point is that I think we sometimes are too focused on happy endings, especially in romance. A romance can still be a great romance even if the characters aren't together at the end -- without overt spoilers, Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are both great examples of this. A romance can still be great romance without a HEA and sometimes that's exactly what I want because real life isn't HEA -- it's messy and complicated; it's imperfect and unapologetic for it. And a book can still be great even if it has a heart-wrenching ending. I will say that I think Tarryn Fisher, Donna Tartt, and Emily St. John Mandel are all amazing at endings -- I think this is also why they are some of my favorite authors. Their endings aren't always neat, tidy or, for lack of a better word, happy. But they are right -- right for the story, right for the characters, and right for the ultimate message of the book, and sometimes that is more important than the fiction of happily ever after.
As always, this is just my opinion. How do you define a HEA? Should we always expect a HEA, especially in a romance? And is that what you want? Can a HEA be something besides all hearts and rainbows?
LET'S DISCUSS! WHAT DO YOU THINK?