Happily ever after first began as a stock phrase in modernized fairy tales signifying a happy ending. I specify modernized because the original Little Mermaid and several other tales were not happy endings. Modern culture watered down many popular fairy tales to make them more palatable and easier to swallow. The Brothers Grimm spun some rather gruesome and deliciously dark tales that to this day creep me out.
Modern fairy tales, particularly the Disney-esque ones that are popular, all have a happy ending. Of course, the characters do go through a lot of trials and tribulations to actually GET to that ending. It’s not very satisfying if everything comes up roses for a character. Viewers like conflict and angst, the more of it, the better.
Romance novels are a lot like that. For a story to fall under the category of romance, one of the stipulations is that a happily ever after (or happy for now) ending must occur. Some of the most satisfying romances that I’ve read are when the characters are put through the wringer. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and I believe that real love is worth fighting tooth and nail for. I do not, however, enjoy a HEA where the characters are stupid. I want the characters to LEARN from their mistakes. Doing the same things over and over and expecting the same result is not learning or growing.
While I do enjoy a good romance and a happy ending, sometimes I just want to read something darker. I’ve read books where I was so angry that the heroine’s boyfriend was killed off. I’ve cried when characters I adored didn’t end up with who I just KNEW was their soul mate. Where would the literary world be if everything was only about happy endings and riding off into the sunset? Readers need substance and variance, at least in my opinion.
Do you enjoy happy ever afters? Or do you reach out for the darker stories? Is there a combination of both out there? I would love to know your thoughts on happy endings.