We look for happy endings. But there are no endings. Except, y’know, death. The story may stop, but it doesn’t end, only the narration ceases at a particular moment, a transition to some other event the author doesn’t record.
Everyone is looking for a little slice of paradise. No one finds it. At best it’s transitory, that blissful stretch in Margaritaville where the beer is too cold and the daiquiri too fruitiful. And then the bar tab arrives and you come back to earth, or the hangover arrives, or you roll over in bed and see that you just might have made a huge mistake.
It’s all cyclical. Every paradise contains the seeds of its own hell. And we’re all capable of creating our own individual circles of the inferno. James Branch Cabell knew this. Read “Jurgen.” Our humble protagonist, the pawnbroker Jurgen, is given a second chance at youth, a chance to avoid all the errors of his life. But of course he simply makes a similar sequence of mistakes, complicit in his own miseries. It’s what we do.
No true story has a happy ending. J.R.R. Tolkien writes of the ‘eucatastrophe’ in which the tides abruptly shift, bringing a wave of happiness. But even “Lord of the Rings” ends on a bittersweet note. “The Princess Bride” (the book, not the film) get it exactly right, cycling from ‘the happy ending’ on to the immediate difficulties that follow.
Of course some seem to like the problems. E.R. Eddison’s “The Worm Ouroboros” for example deliberately eschews peace exchange for an immediate reset to turmoil. Less boring, you see. I do see, but I for one could put up with the occasional stretch of boredom for a corresponding length of peace.
But, that’s life. We know it from infancy. Watch a baby through the day transitioning endlessly from delighted wonder to wailing despair. “And they all lived happily ever after” is rightly confined to children’s fables. Stories, if they are honest, reflect the fragile and temporary nature of happiness.
I suppose that’s how it ought to be. Things are defined by opposition. How could we recognize happiness without a bit of misery? What would we have to look forward to, to strive for? In that respect, the emotional cycle is a boon, right?
How’s that for a happy ending?