Why We Still Need “Happily Ever After” (1 of 2)

Cinderella…Snow White….Fairy Tale Ending:”Happily Ever After.” There have been a number of recent articles that I’ve come across and conversations that I’ve had that seem displeased with the “happily ever after” made popular by fairy tales.  Of course, it gets me wondering why. In fact, some of these conversations are almost hostile to the notion that any movies or books should end this way. The more I read and the more I listen to these arguments, it becomes clear that there are two major oppositions against these type of ending:  they are overused and they aren’t realistic. Both points are valid, but I don’t think that both points should make us distain the happily ever after ending and more than we should distain the cold porridge in the Three Little Bears. Let me explain.

I’ve seen my fair share of romcoms. My confession is that I don’t actually hate them (probably shouldn’t tell that to my wife), but there are definitely better romcoms than others. The ones I don’t like are the ones that seem like the writers purchased a script from a grade 9 girl right before prom and then replaced the names.

Here’s an example. When was the last time you say this movie?

Boy A meets girl B and are initially attracted to each other through a series of seemingly random events. Unfortunately, Boy A is seriously dating Girl C who just so happens to not be so good for Boy A. Girl B is busy dating Boy D who also turns out to be kind of a jerk. Boy A and Girl B go on with their lives after the meeting, but they occasionally flashback to the magical moment when they met. Time passes, leaves fall, and both relationships press

forward like the rising sun–nothing special. Then, one day, Boy A and Girl B are surprised by another moment of happenstance when they bump into each other again and are shaken from their relationship slumber. Sparks fly, fireworks burst, and their shrivelled love lives grow like the Grinch’s heart after saving Christmas in Whoville.

Boy A and Girl B share a coffee, find a random carnival to win a stuffed animal, and generally have the deep emotional-connected time that they both so desperately crave. Then at the peak of the night, when the music softens, they kiss. Cue crescendo, close up that draws back to an aerial shot and then pulls back in for the hallowed whisper”I love you” moment. Tears fall, hearts break, and we have the moment that we have been waiting for from the opening scene (you can grab a Kleenex here if you need to).

Now Boy A and Girl B are faced with difficult decisions–leave what they know for an uncertain but exciting future, or slide back into their complacent relationships.  After a mild bit of tension, Boy A and Girl B break it off with with their respective partners and come together for the grand final scene that fades to black with the new couple smiling and embracing, with the maxim “happily ever after” written all across their faces. And scene

I get it–this type of happily ever after is overused, but we live in 2014 and that ending is so 1995. Flash forward.

The couple still kisses, still says “I love you,” but goes back to their perspective relationships to stay. The movie goes black leaving its viewers with an uncanny sense of “WTF.”

Now I am the last person to condone leaving a relationship to pursue “true love” with someone you hardily know, but I do promote something in the 1995 romcom that seems to have been edited out of the modern scripts–the happy part.

Now, I am not a movie critic, nor have I seen every romcom (this is where you roll your eyes and say “sure”), but I have noticed a trend in a number of newer romantic comedies/dramas. I have found that these movies are either littered with obscene attempts at humour while taking a few stabs at what happily ever after might be, or portray an overwhelming nihility as we watch the gritty and harsh underbelly of relationships and lead to conclude: “hey, were all screwed up, so the best thing that you can do is find another screw up like you to live life with, and then things might work out.”

I take no issue with romantic movies showing reality: whether it be the light-hearted banter of When Harry Met Sally or the harsh yet surprisingly  hopefully Silver Lining Playbook. Both stories exaggerate some aspect of relationships and magnify it to evoke laughter or tears. This is good storytelling. But, both of those stories are “unrealistic” in the sense that they only portray a small aspect of relationships.

I do take issue when readers or viewers apply the overused or unrealistic argument to stories that have an altogether different purpose than romantic comedies or dramas; namely those of fairy stories.

Problems abound when we take a fairy tale and try to smash it into the mold of a realistic romance. Inevitable, corners of the original story break off and break on the ground when this happens. I think this comes from a confounded and shallow misunderstanding of romance–and more importantly–love. There are so many distorted examples of romance that many people have been convinced that a story with a boy and a girl must be about love; and not just love as one theme, but love as the only theme. To read Cinderella as a “love story” with Prince Charming is ridiculous! Maybe we are trying to push a square peg through a round hole…or trying to shove a size 13 foot into a size 10 shoe:

cinderella

“the older one took the shoe into her bedroom to try it on. She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, ‘Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot’…the other sister should try on the shoe. She went into her bedroom, and got her toes into the shoe all right, but her heel was too large. Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, ‘Cut a piece off your heel. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.’ The girl cut a piece off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince.”

It’s understandable why people might find distain in fairy tale endings if they expect them to come true in real life. For where a romantic comedy or drama may zoom in to magnify a certain aspect of how life is, the lens of the fairy tale pulls far back to a picture of something entirely different in order to give us a glimpse of what life might be. To disregard this transcendent picture leaves us only with the gritty underbelly or the candy-coated shell of love.

In the end, I think we must accept the “happily every after ending” for what they are–a bigger picture of a different world. Instead of trying to emulate the actions of the fairy tale characters–which we can never do–we should imitate the morals and values taught in these tales. From there, we might find the happily that everyone is always after.

But the prince insisted on it, and they had to call Cinderella. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the prince, who gave her the golden shoe. She sat down on a stool, pulled her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, and it fitted her perfectly.

When she stood up the prince looked into her face, and he recognized the beautiful girl who had danced with him. He cried out, “She is my true bride.”

Author: Josh Withrow

I want to help people creatively tell their stories by giving them the tools to engage other people with captivating ideas. My 14 years of classroom teaching and my master's degree in English Literature give me the experience to make my classes both creative and informative. People don't need a degree to enjoy learning -- but sometimes a little guidance goes a long way.

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