by Noelle Hay
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In One of Tolkienís widely recognized essays "On fairy stories" he
emphasized that the happy ending, the "eucatastrophe", is an essential element
of Fantasy, necessary for it to fulfill its major functions: Recovery, Escape,
Consolation. It is ironic then, that fantasy finds itís roots deep in
mythology. The themes in the two genreís are distinctly different.
While Fantasy is optimistically uplifting, mythology is largely tragic and
filled with themes like, unrequited love, revenge and the triumph of deception.
The gods of Rome and Greece were as greedy and spiteful as any human could be.
The heros of Celtic myths often died horrible and tragic deaths. These tales of
oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation, resulted in a
corruption of the original story - biased by the times and circumstances of the
teller. As texts began to appear in place of oral tradition and an authors tale
was safe from corruption. Heroes like Ulysses were born.
This does not mean that all fantasy is true love and avenged wrongs. The
idea of the tragic hero is still very much alive. Russian tales are still very
dark and Asian stories are full of martyrs and unrequited love. Japan thrives
on fantasy and science fiction. Their Manga and Anime reflect uncertain and
even tragic endings of unfulfilled dreams and incomplete quests.
There may be a connection between the happy ending and the history of the
country the tale evolves from. In Great Britain, during an uncertain outlook on
the future, with the scars of WWI barely healed and the horrors of WWII
haunting him, Tolkien created the Lord of the Rings. There's no real ending in
it at all. The uncertainty of the nation reflected in his conclusion - hopeful,
but not happy. It's for this reason I can never put LOTR in my top ten. Even
with the appendices it feels unfinished.
American film and book publishers alike are more likely to demand a happy
ending before funding can even be considered. It is not unusual to find the
popular fantasy media reflect the same expectations of the consumers. People
around the world call American's arrogant, but perhaps they are not so arrogant
as people think. I believe they are "blissfully optimistic." It reflects in
their media. Bestselling novels, top ten movies, number one t.v. show
proliferate in this atmosphere. Where the "American dream" is not only possible
but expected we see optimistically happy and even comedic Fantasy like Xanth
and Shanarra. David Eddings Belgariad had a very similar theme and context as
LOTR, with a history almost as complete and complex, but in Belgariad we end
with a wedding, not a parting. It feels right that the hero should not only
enjoy the fruits of his labors, but that the story end on a happy note. Not an
ending... but a new and *hopeful* beginning.
To want a happy endings in movies or novels reflects the desire for it in
ones own life. Man is forever seeking for signs of hope in his future. It is
natural that he would continue to seek hope out in other venues. This is what
draws fantasy fans into the genre.
I like fantasy fans. Which makes sense since I am one. There is something
eternally optimistic in the genre that appeals to me and the thousands of fans
like me. Itís the "happily ever after" we all crave in real life that makes us
come back again and again to fantasy novels. The uplifting themes like: true
love conquers all, is what we crave. We live in the real world. We know there
is injustice and corruption. We know there is evil. What we want from fantasy
is what we want from the real world, true love, justice, integrity and good.
There is something so incomplete in an "unfinished" or tragic ending. It's
not the fact that happy endings breed sequels that makes us love them, it's
that "ahhhhh" feeling that lets you sleep at night. Disney has a song: "It's a
great big beautiful tommorow." That attitude shaped Disney's classic flims,
based entirely on fairy tales and legends. It allowed the studio to outsell any
competing movie ten to one and made Disney a name no one in the world can
escape. Personally - I'm glad the Little Mermaid gets her prince in the end.
Their optomistic view is something Fantasy fans share.
I like happy endings that make you smile wide and toothy while you are
finishing the last paragraph in the book or watching the closing credits in a
movie. And that is what makes me a fantasy fan.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Noelle Hay, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.