Dark Endings Vs. Happy Endings?
I had a very interesting discussion last night with an online friend and a regular reader of this blog (and is he still sane, I hear you ask). Anyway the topic of our discussion was my previous blog post -(here) which was absolutely trashed by my friend. The post is a contest between a man and the devil with a single throw of dice determining the fate of the world. Rather fanciful I agree, but I didn’t expect that it would provoke so strong a reaction. To quote my friend the first Para was brilliant, it started well and it went all the way downhill from there. The first Para my friend loved was about setting the atmosphere, a mood of gloom and doom hanging over the world as the dice game starts with the fate of the world in balance. I thought it was an atmosphere of despair tinged with hope, but my friend thought otherwise (different people/different perspectives). Anyway my friend offered me the advice that I should have gone with the natural flow of the plot – of death and destruction rather than end it with the game of dice being won by mankind and the devil being defeated. In short an ending with hope and happiness, especially such an easy ending was not what he wanted, he wanted an authentic ending.
I confess I was intrigued by what he said. I had gone with the most natural time tested ending of all- a triumph of good over evil- a cliché if ever there was one. It’s the way of all bestsellers and hit films- from Tolkiens the Lord of the Rings, to Rowlings Harry Potter to Vijayakanths Ramanna and Vishals SandaKoli….introduce the villain first- the badder the better- show that people everywhere are in despair and at their wits end with a dark and dominating evil threatening peace and happiness and then the lone hero, an ordinary man, one of us and nothing special, he comes forward to save the world and all is peace and joy by the end. It’s THE success formula for all authors. The only way most of us prefer to end- with hope rather than despair. Oh throw in endless strife and trouble and almost insurmountable odds, but in the end the hero should scrape through, shouldn’t he? Even if just to restore the status quo instead of achieving anything outstanding. There is a comfort in a familiar happy ending rather than a grotesque climax which shocks just for the sake of it or in a heart-wrenching, tear-rending tragedy of an ending.
Off hand, I can count with my fingers (in single digits) the number of books I have read which end in total and complete tragedy and the destruction of all hope at the end. Of all such authors I have read, I would rate Shakespeare the highest in writing such doom and gloom books. Who else but Shakespeare would write a book starting with the death by assassination of the main character (after whom the book is named) in the first chapter and then goes on to show all the various and myriad ways in which complete destruction conquers the conspirators- all honorable men till the foul deed is done- a must read book, Julius Caesar. He does not show us Caesars triumphs, his battle field victories, his crowning even, but only his death and Caesar is the hero even though he disappears off the story in the first fifteen pages. Or let’s talk about King Lear. When the book begins Shakespeare shows us King Lear reigns happily on his throne. By the end of the book he is driven mad, penniless, and friendless and his favorite daughter is dead. How’s that for a tragedy? Still not convinced about my point? Then how about Coriolanus? The hero is as good as they come- a complete hero in the beginning, but because he is quite unable to make up his mind as to what he is, he is turned into a villain and then a quasi-comedian and by the end he is just a pathetic loser. All for the lack of a firm mind and sticking to ones decisions. A lesson if there is ever one. Anyway Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus are never popular compared to the more lighthearted Twelfth night or a Midsummer’s night’s books. And that’s a lesson we all can learn from Shakespeare- more Falstaff and Prince Hal type of characters, rogues though them may be than the stately Henry fifth or gloomy Prospero.
As an ardent reader of books I would prefer to not read tragedies, given a choice. The last one I read was Bridges of Madison County and after drying my tears I decided not to touch the genre again. Even if they made a movie of it- as they later made with Clint Eastwood. And as a writer or author I can vouch for the fact that most of us can’t or won’t write tragedies. I personally prefer to leave my readers with at least the faintest glimmer of hope by the end, rather than total and complete despair. Even if the villain is the badass of them all, even the grim reaper himself, he should be somehow defeated and the hero prevail in the end. Nine/tenths of the book can be dark and forbidding but the last part should be pure sunlight dispelling the storm laden clouds and everyone should walk away from my book with the satisfaction that goodness prevails, hope triumphs and all is right with the world in the end. Just like Frodo survives to come to the shire, just like Harry Potter survives death to marry Ginny, just like Arnold Schwarzenegger kills a ten feet tall Extra-terrestrial hunter all by himself and Bruce Willis never dies in the Die Hard movies. That’s the kind of hero I want, that’s the kind of stuff I will write, even if no one likes it or how clichéd it is. Hope wins- always in my book. Happy endings everyone.