Tag Archives: Novels

What happened to ‘happily ever after’?

I finished reading novel, I’m not happy with the ending, and that might be a good thing.

With the success of G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (better known by the name of its first book, also the television namesake, A Game of Thrones), in today’s young adult fiction genre, gritty – or “realistic” – fantasy is all the rage.  And gritty fantasies do. not. end. happily.

Gritty fantasies are about being unpredictable in a way that real life might be – killing epic heroes in mundane ways. If Homer’s Odyssey were a gritty fantasy, Odysseus, after winning countless impossible battles and won against all odds may step on a rusted nail on his way disembarking his ship and die of a tetanus infection.  Lord of the Rings may end with Frodo getting forever lost, having never travelled outside the Shire.  And Ron in the Harry Potter series, being prone to magical misfires and misfortunes, may have ended up losing a few limbs in a gritty fantasy.

It is almost as if the author is trying to create a world that simply lives on parallel to our own – a world with different physical and magical laws, but somehow operates in the same ruthless and moral-neutral manner as our own.  A world where good guys don’t necessarily win, trying hard doesn’t necessarily lead to success, and being lawful doesn’t protect against a guilty verdict.

What makes a character live successfully in the world of gritty fantasy reflects that in the real world: power, money, exploitation.  No one likes to read the endings of dark, gritty novels, but there is something about the deeply unsatisfying ending that makes us ruminate about the journey itself, the little flakes of joyfulness that are scattered variously in fiction and in real life.

It’s a lesson about appreciating life in spite of the possibility for an unhappy ending.