Should Books Have Happy Endings?

Here are a few quotes from, of course, the Lord of the Rings to which I will refer shortly.

‘What’s the matter, Mr Frodo?’ said Sam.
‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’
The Return of the King: Book 2, Chapter 9: The Grey Havens

In the film, this was slightly adapted to –

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.
– Frodo Baggins, The Return of the King (movie)

And finally –

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I though you were going to enjoy the Shire too, for years and years, after all you have done.’
‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lost them, so that others may keep them.* But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Golidlocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.’
– The Return of the King, Book 2, Chapter 9: The Grey Havens

*only up to this point is the quote really relevant to the post, but it’s one of my favourite parts of the Lord of the Rings, so I’ve written it all down.

A brief summary then; at the end of the Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves Sam and the other Hobbits, and sails over the Sundering Sea with Bilbo, Gandalf and the other Ringbearers. There he lives out the rest of his years in bliss and peace. Note: Many people believe that when the few mortals that travel to the Undying Lands in the LOTR history live there in immortality. Tolkien has mentioned in his letters that this is not the case. The mortal will not outlive their normal span of years, but they will live without the hurt they had in the mortal realms. The ringbearers of course, though, had an extended life. Frodo does not settle in peace in the Shire, the home he set out to save.

I think that this is the best ending that the story could’ve had, and Tolkien was very clever with it. Frodo had to give up something very dear to him in sacrifice ,but he also gained an unrivaled honour – a journey to the Undying Lands of the Immortal, where few mortals had trod before. Thus, the book has neither a ‘happy’ nor a ‘sad’ ending. For me, it has a realistic ending.

Now let me share with you one last quote from The Return of the King –

1482: Death of Mistress Rose, wife of Master Samwise, on Mid-year’s Day. On September 22 Master Samwise rides out from Bag-End. He comes to the Tower Hills, and is last seen by Elanor, to whom he gives the Red Book afterwards kept by the Fairbairns. Among them the tradition is handed down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over the Sea, last of the Ringbearers.
The Return of the King, Appendix B: The Tale of Years

That, for me, is where the happy ending lies in Lord of the Rings, that Sam and Frodo might be reunited in Valinor. I believe it was placed in the Appendices by Tolkien so that only those who really cared for his story to read the lists of dates and beyond where the story finished might find this particular ending.

But I have not finished there with that beautiful artists rendition of a Telerian ship coming to the far green country, though perhaps I’ve said my most already.

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