The short answer is that sadness sells. It is easier to be shocking and suddenly destructive than it is to be complex and subtle. Think of the newspapers and how they use headlines. “Frodo Dooms Middle Earth” would sell many more copies than “Frodo Struggles to Return to Normalcy in the Shire.” It’s human nature to look at the car wreck as you drive by. To talk about the scandal, the murder, the mass mayhem. Using tragedy to sell books and make money is not new.
But there is also a deeper shift. I think that most authors have quit believing in happy endings. They look at history and see an endless chain of incomprehensible events. They look at their friends and family and see them succumbing to disease, divorce, death. They think about life as the here and now, and say “There are no happy endings.” Maybe they don’t say it out loud. And not everyone who writes a sad ending believes that a happy ending was impossible. Maybe they just believe it to be improbable. Besides, who wants a happy ending, anyway? Don’t people want realism? Isn’t escapism dead?
I believe in happy endings. Not everyone has to survive. Not everyone has to get the girl. But I believe in happy endings nonetheless. I’ve had enough of reality, and all of its stark and deadening tragedy. I see a book as a wonderful place where an author can share something of immense value: hope. The villain will (eventually) be vanquished. The heroes will (eventually) be rewarded. Maybe they will never be the same. Maybe that is a good thing; to learn from your hardships and grow as a person is one of the makings of greatness.
Bad things are going to happen. That is a realistic expectation. But I would warn you against deciding that the bad is your ending. Being bedridden and facing death could have been a very sad ending for me. But I decided to look to God, and trust that there was more after. Bad things always happen in the climax. The happy ending comes after, when the hero has pushed through.
I am living the happily ever after part of that chapter of my life. I’m publishing Hobo Stew and inspiring others to tell their stories. But I wrote the happy ending of Hobo Stew long ago, because even then I believed that happy endings weren’t just possible. In the hands of my good God, happy endings were probable.
What are some of your favorite happy endings in literature? Is there a book that is tied to one of your happy endings in real life?