Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fairy Tale Endings

Current Reading: Best New Fantasy, ed. by Sean Wallace

Inspirational Quote: "The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy." -- John Galsworthy

"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." -- Maria Robinson

Happily ever after.

That's the way fairy tales always end, with the witch defeated, the princess rescued and prince having earned her hand in matrimony. That's it. Story over. Close the book. We're done. Nothing more to see here, move along.

It's the nature of human existence that we see everything in terms of our own mortality. We are born, we live, we die: beginning, middle and end. The stories we tell reflect that, but that's about as accurate as the reflection gets.

The stories that we live rarely come to an end. One "adventure" just leads to another, and the chapters of our lives don't come to an abrupt stop. If they stop at all, they trail off. Friends lose touch, events become memories. The chapters terminate in an ellipsis.

There's really only one period in a life, the full stop, "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns," as Shakespeare put it. It's an ending, but it's not often a happy one.
By that definition, human life is a tragedy. Everything ends with a death, whether deserved or not, a passage that is mourned by those who are left behind to carry on. In the story of their life, the end of the protagonist's story eventually becomes a memory, a chapter that trailed off and is left behind.

But, as Santayana said, "There is no cure for birth or death, save to enjoy the interval between."

I think we write stories to change all that, to present a world with happy endings. We put periods in. We write the end. We give characters a happily ever after that trails off into imagined bliss. When death occurs, it's necessary for some higher purpose. It serves the plot by spurring action, provoking sympathy or punishing the villain. More often, the end of the story is an affirmation of life, of the potential of human existence. The reader is given the illusion that the characters have a blissful life beyond the end of the book, an immortality of sorts.

It's a nice illusion.

Other things on my mind:

The 2nd was my twentieth anniversary. Ulysses took twenty years to return to Ithaka, where Penelope waited. I've been around the whole time, but I still look forward to coming home. It hasn't exactly been twenty years of bliss, because you can't tell how strong something is unless it's stressed. It has, however, been strong and comforting. It's a refuge in which two people who know each other as thoroughly and intimately as two people can somehow still manage to think better of each other than they do of themselves.

Telemachus started high-school today. That can't be right. He's only... what, nine? Ten? Who the heck is this stranger who left my shaving stuff all over the bathroom and set off for school this morning with his hat on backward? Nope, sorry. Aliens arrived last night, took my boy and left a young man in his place.

When I catch them, I'm going to give them such a kick...

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