Sunday, May 07, 2006

Damn those happy endings (II)

(Part I here.)

Two months ago The Guardian reported on a truth "which keeps many true artists poor in garrets and many false ones rich in mansions": that most people want happy endings to the novels they read. Of those surveyed:

"41% per cent are overwhelmingly in favour of books with a happy ending, as against 2.2% who like it sad. Women were 13% more likely than men to say they want it all to end happily. Almost 1/5 of men expressed a preference for books with ambiguous endings....

"Young people were most likely to prefer books with a sad ending -- 8.6% of under 16s. Those aged 41-65, however, a group with more personal experience of sadness, dislike sad endings, with only 1.1% preferring books that end this way."

What a sad report. No wonder the fiction genre is so hollow these days.

5 Comments:

Blogger John Lyons said...

I watched The Perfect Storm a couple of years ago, not knowing the story behind. Right to the end I was expecting them to get away with it. The actual ending I found pretty stunning, but my wife hated it. I don't know what it says about me, but my wife works in Oncology. Maybe she just deals with too many 'unhappy' endings. If I had a pound/dollar/euro for every time she has come home and told me that someone my age died today, well you know the rest.

5/07/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

My wife works in Oncology. Maybe she just deals with too many 'unhappy' endings. If I had a pound/dollar/euro for every time she has come home and told me that someone my age died today, well you know the rest.

Perhaps this indicates why the teens have the highest percentage favoring sad endings (though 8% is still very low). If kids are shielded from unpleasantness in life, they may crave the experience on the page or screen.

I'm not a fan of C.S Lewis, but he had his insights when he was on the ball. One was the idea that "pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world". You don't have to be Christian (nor even deist) to appreciate what he was getting at. But it admittedly gets harder to appreciate the more one is exposed to too much pain and misery.

5/07/2006  
Anonymous Matt B said...

Happy endings aren't all bad. As PZ Myers stated in a post you discussed previously, the best fiction features protagonists who may achieve their goals but suffer a great deal to do so, making their victory seem all the more poignant and meaningful.

In my view, "Lord of the Rings" does have such a happy ending: the forces of evil are defeated, Aragorn reclaims his kingdom, and 3 out of 4 hobbits live happily ever after in the Shire. But the happy ending comes at a heavy price - the Elves leave Middle-Earth forever (leaving it much diminished), and Frodo, wounded beyond healing, goes with them.

Sad endings can be just as shallow as happy ones. I've seen all too many foreign films that wallow in despair from beginning to end, and whose only point seems to be that life is hard and unfair. No kidding - most of us already know this. Many people go to the movies or read books to escape from life's difficulties for a little while - and there's nothing wrong with that.

5/08/2006  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Many people go to the movies or read books to escape from life's difficulties for a little while - and there's nothing wrong with that.

There's obviously a place for feel-good stories (even if I can't stand them personally), but the point is that we're saturated with them these days. It's as much a reflection on our society as the fact that Harlequin romance novels are the highest circulating category of paperbacks at my library.

5/08/2006  
Blogger Elindomiel said...

We may be saturated in feel good, but don't read too much into that survey. I'd rather read a book with a happy ending, but some stories do have sad or ambiguous endings, and it doesn't mean I don't like those occasionally too. I like a mix. I think a lot of people are that way.

5/14/2006  

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