Let me start off by saying that this post will refer to the fantasy genre, as opposed to other genres. I’m not asking whether tragedies should have a happy ending because – hey – that’s a silly question really isn’t it?
This is something I’ve been thinking about recently. We all know the sort of stories where the knight in shining armour saves the beautiful princess from the dangerous dragon, takes her back to the glorious king who gives him her dainty hand in marriage. Happily ever after (and what a depressing use of adjectives, if I may say so!). Is that how a story whould always be? Should a fantasy author mould himself to the happy ending, giving absolution to whatever hurts the hero has gotten (I couldn’t find a synonym for ‘gotten’ beginning with a ‘h’ to get that alliteration flowing, my apologies [I seem to be waxing prose today!])?
For me, the answer is no. It’s something that really gets to me in a fantasy novel, when everything has been so dark and the protagonist has been through enough to damage even the staunchest of souls, yet as soon as the bad guy has been’done in’, everybody lives happily ever after and all goes back to normal in an instant. Hang on, wait a second and hold your horses. I though that civilisation was on the brink of starvation and death not two chapters ago, and now they’ve brought out a choice feast to celebrate the downfall of Lord Evil! Where did all that food spring from, eh? Just things like that.
In some cases, it just can’t be that way. Something has to be permanently scarred as a memento to what has passed. Whether that’s simply something such as parts of the land being inhabitable and blighted, or something dark like the strong protagonist committing suicide because they can’t integrate back into normal life (too much? Not for me.) I think that brings a sense of realism to the story. A sense that it isn’t just a happy ending, that those things did really happen.