Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy endings

Sometimes you get to wondering about happy endings, the people who read them, the people who are disappointed when they are not to be found, the critics who make fun of them, and the people who write stories that contain them.

You suppose within your wondering what is really meant by a happy ending, particularly what it would take for an otherwise realistic ending to seem by degrees happy, very happy, and Disney happy. Such endings could gradually lapse from being a more or less believable narrative of human affairs into a denouement wherein everyone got what they'd set out to achieve at the outset and those who'd opposed them through some agenda of selfishness or self-aggrandizement came to see that all had turned out for the best. It could also be that certain generational and cultural scenarios played out in demonstration of the fact that there is some universal wavelength of wisdom and understanding to which we could all tune for a sermon in which our behavior was rationalized.

This already alerts you to the residence within you of some cynicism, some willingness to suspect and expect dark motives in many of your fellow humans even though you look upon yourself as a relatively happy person in whom the fires of suspicion need some considerable fanning to flare up into active flame.

The conceit of the happy ending opens doors within your imagination, bringing forth scenes related to the behind-the-scenes aspects of happy endings. You begin by imagining a few individuals working at a Disney amusement park which, although certainly oriented to making a profit seems also focused on providing something that could be called good, clean, family fun, centering on some employees wearing costumes which allow them to impersonate such Disney regulars as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and perhaps even the Duck nephews, Huey, Louie, and Dewey, all of whom with apparent good cheer work the crowds, expressing their willingness to pose for pictures. The employee portraying Goofy has long since wanted to be promoted out of his hot, stuffy costume and inside, where he might be working on a newsletter or doing statistical analyses of which rides were the most popular and which less successful ones needed some sort of enhancement or outright replacement. And suppose said Mr. Goofy was confronted by his manager relative to his quarterly performance review. Not nearly as many customers wanting their pictures taken with you as with Donald Duck. Let's set a nice respectable quote for the next quarter so that we can qualify for a merit raise and a promotion to a new assignment. How is this going to make Goofy feel, particularly in relationship to Donald Duck? Your own suspicion is that when the costumes come off and we're out in the employee parking lot, Goofy is going to have some choice words for Donald.

You happen to have known the late sales manager at Harpers when the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were selling so well, whence your reports that she was an extraordinarily nice person but also one who was more than willing to let someone else pick up the tab for whatever was being consumed. Accordingly it is easy for you, who actually read and enjoyed some of the Little House books to imagine another writer of such scope as being a mean drunk or downright abusive, moving from the world of the good time and happy ending to another more severe world altogether, and other writers of happy endings yet feeling utter disdain for his or her audience.

To be sure, there are happy endings in life, touching, inspirational stories in which remarkable humans and remarkable animals are represented as sought-after ideals. Such narratives work if they do not seem manufactured, which is to say overly plot-driven. Probably the best definition you can think of is one that comes when the story ends before the good times are over and, by extension, a sad or noir ending allows the reader to see the price that is left to be paid.

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