Happy Endings

Posted on Monday 14th May 2007 at 00:00
It's 1:39am and my mind is buzzing. Far from falling asleep, even as I type, I'm full of energy and my brain is threatening to literally bounce out of my head and off down the road. I've just finished reading The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry, and I loved it. Like all Fry's books, both fiction and non-fiction, it is extremely well written, funny and imaginative. It is such a page turner that I've read three quarters of it in just the last two evenings.

The reason why this book has got me in such a happy state of excitement is that it has a happy ending. Without a long epilogue, everyone is better off by the last page than they were on the first and everybody's lives are shaping up to be much better (unlike this keyboard which is currently amusing itself greatly by randomly missing out a letter or two in every third word that I type).

This elation; this high that I'm currently on has got me thinking about why it is that we are all such suckers for stories that end happily. Read a few books, watch a film or two and go and see a play and you will be unable to miss the fact that most stories, regardless of their structure or genre have happy endings for at least some of the sympathetic characters involved. Not all stories of course, but most. It seems that we really can't stand to become attached to these fictional entities without vicariously experiencing their happiness and knowing that they will be ok in the end.

Nowhere is this more evident of course than in a romantic book or film, where the entire story focuses around that feeling of pure ecstasy when the protagonists walk off into the sunset to live happily ever after. It is the feeling that allows Mills and Boon to survive in a world where everybody's a literary critic.

Yet even in action films, horror stories and sci-fi adventures, writers seemingly can't resist throwing in a bit of the magic that is ensured to boost their creation to the top of any box office sales or Readers Digest best sellers list. So, why do we love it so much? Well, quite simply it is all to do with hope. I heard a programme on Radio 4 the other day in which some author or other was saying that in order for a main character to exist they have to go on a journey of learning and must somehow be better for it at the end.

This is the case with all happy ending stories, no matter what their plot is. A character with a not very good life goes through an experience which makes them happy-ever-after. In the case of The Hippopotamus, the protagonist was an aging, drunken, failed poet who, as the book goes on begins to see himself a little more as others see him, and gradually his alcoholism and cynicism melt away and his writing inspiration returns to him. By the end of the book he's making an effort to be a good father and godfather, he has got himself a date with a pretty girl and he has just handed himself a publishing deal to write a novel, a full 20 years after his entire life went down the drain.

This brought hope to me, because my life, while nothing like as bad as his, has as much potential as anyone's to wind up on the rocks (if it hasn't already) and the message of the story was that such lives can be turned around and that the bad things in each of us can be fixed. Perhaps it is just my own neuroses that are satisfied with such endings, but I really do think it is the message of hope; that things will get better, that appeals to all those who feel that their lives are incomplete in some way.

Perhaps one day my hopes and dreams will be fulfilled, but in the mean time, I can highly recommend Fry's book (or any of his others) to anyone who really loves a good story. Utterly fulfilling, vexing, compelling and thought provoking.

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