It’s generally known (by those with Internet access) that the traditional story launch “once upon a time” comes from Charles Perrault’s French translation (“il etait une fois”) of Hans Christian Andersen’s Danish translation (“dar var engang”) of the Brothers Grimm’s customary opening words “es var enmal” (“it was once.”)
Looking for something to think about except what I was supposed to be thinking about today, I thought about this equally traditional story ending: “And they lived happily ever after.”
Happily Ever After. The HEA. In romance writing it’s more important than gravity. It has the same sort of comforting inevitability. That which goes up must come down and lovers who are confused, contused, confounded, and/or incarcerated must, in the end, live happily ever after.
I’m all for it. I spare compassion now and then (not often) for literary fiction writers. They think nothing of ending stories with everyone dead (Hamlet), friendless and despondent (Flowers for Algernon), or committing self-immolation in the ruins of a plundered nation (Daughter of Lir.)
When it comes to reading that sort of fiction … Well, I defend its existence on the basis of creative liberty, but I’d rather have a root canal.
I like the HEA. Yes, I sometimes question the road an author takes to get there (because how likely is it that a duke will throw himself at the feet of a scullery maid?), but when I arrive I always feel it was worth the trip.
My rationale is simple. If I feel a burning need to experience unhappy endings all I have to do is open my front door.
Since neither I nor anyone can stay locked in the house forever, we’ll open the door, walk down the front steps, and collide—sooner or later—with unhappy endings. They are as common and as painful as gallstones.
In the meantime, please don’t take my HEAs away from me. Don’t argue relevance or realism or social conscience or the snobbery that says a book’s no good unless the reader is sobbing into a glass of Glenfiddich at The End.
Now about that scullery maid …