The “happily ever after” ending, or HEA, is a relatively new invention in storytelling. If one had tried explaining the concept to a Greek poet, the well-meaning individual would have most likely been laughed out of the country. Shakespeare showed he had no problem with tragedies and let’s not even mention the great Russian authors.
It has only been within the past two hundred years or so that the HEA became commonplace. While one could find non-tragedies before then, they were for the most part rare and lesser known than tales that ended in mass murder and general mayhem. Then came along the stories where the characters you loved survived to the end, got married, had babies, and lived to be surrounded by adoring children and grandchildren and old and fat and happy beyond imagining—the ultimate HEA.
But lately, I’ve seen the tragedy cropping up again just like a plague. Writers seem to be getting kicks out of killing off dearly beloved characters. From John Greene’s teary endings to George R.R. Martin’s the infamous slaughters, J.K. Rowling’s massacre to Suzanne Collins’ end-of-trilogy herd thinning, authors are going rogue.
Sad endings can be beautiful in their own way. Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne was one of these. Rhiannon Paille’s The Ferryman and the Flame epic fantasy romance series is basically one tragedy after another and the reader becomes all the more emotionally involved for it. I concede that sometimes a tragedy at the end can be more powerful and in some cases more believable. My favorite movie of all time ends with pretty much everyone either dead or fleeing for their lives. Still, in general I prefer happy or bittersweet endings.
I don’t want everything to be sunshine, puppies, and daisies. There have been one or two series that I finished thinking “more people should have died” because I think that would have fit the tone of the stories better. But the books I fangirl over and have hope for an HEA—the ones that I preorder months in advance and keep me up late at night—those had better end with my OTP’s getting together and the bad guys getting their just desserts. So long as that happens, I am content. If not, I sink into a cesspool of emotions and rot there for days or weeks until I find something to distract me.
Books are supposed to get your feelings into play and when feelings are involved, there’s bound to be sadness. I suppose I can’t call foul when an author breaks my heart or a story doesn’t turn out quite the way I want. Still, when a story is written well I end up caring about the characters, so of course I want them to find what they’re searching for in their lives. That might be too much to ask in some cases, but to authors everywhere I would like to point out that happy endings are good. Of course, they have to be believable, but there is nothing wrong with happiness!