Adding artificial happy endings to a story completely ruins it
Two years ago in November, a prank similar to an April Fool's Joke was carried out by a group calling themselves the 'Happy Endings Foundation' . They demanded that authors of children's books come up with happier endings and even proposed that offending books be burned! While this group never actually existed, they were taken seriously by the BBC and newspapers until it was discovered to be a hoax. Disney in particular have a habit of adding happy endings to traditional fairy tales that definitely weren't happy in the original. With the recession doom and gloom, do we need more happy endings to lift morale or are they watered-down twaddle that is more vomit-inducing than uplifting?
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Realistic endings prepare children for actual life scenarios
In a recession, what we need is advice on how to save money, not assurances that we won't have to. A recession won't magically get better again and neither will any other life situation. Many original versions of fairy tales were designed to teach important life lessons, like 'don't go out in the woods alone at night' or 'don't trust strangers'. The consequences are bad because the characters made stupid decisions that should be punished, or because they were in situations where life wasn't ever going to go perfectly for them. Making the consequences to the actions positive instead of negative ruins the entire point of the tale.
Happy endings can teach more about desired behaviour than other endings, by associating good feelings with prudent behaviour. The reader learns to associate the good feeling of a happy ending with the kind of happening that led to that.
Taking the example given by the proposition, a book ending with 'Johny learned how to save money, and was no longer at risk of losing his home' is the better ending to a story, and it is certainly not the ending of a story that tells you you you won't have to save money.
If the story associates constructive behaviour with a happy ending, it is perfectly ok.
Teaches us that morality isn't black and white.
Many 'happy endings' in films leave me feeling sympathetic for the villain. I automatically look for their motive and find ways in which their actions aren't purely evil, and where the situation could have been resolved without killing them or completely wrecking their life's work. In films where 'the hero wins' and 'the villain loses', the morality is entirely bipolar, teaching children that some people are good and some people are evil and we shouldn't question this. This kind of thinking isn't what we need in a situation where it has already caused wars. In original versions of fairy tales, the morality is often quite complex, with main characters performing evil actions, the most unsympathetic people turning out not to be evil and nothing being as it seems. Fairy-tale magic isn't something 'good' or 'bad', its something untrustworthy, a bargain that you don't know the conditions of, with dire consequences if it isn't kept.
The complex morality inherent in the original fairytales is unsuited to the nascent minds of the children who are the target audience of such tales contemporarly. Creating clear juxtapositions between good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral is simplistic but it will not have an egregious impact. Learning is a slow process, and one small step in that process is establishing a foundation on which complexity can be built.
Happy endings in stories provide hope and teach readers that doing the right things, being a good person has its rewards. This may not be true in real life, but that is no reason not to advocate the pursuit of such ends.
A more interesting story
Stereotypical Disney 'happy endings' are very formulaic, shallow and, to be frank, boring. Young children, when you discuss a film or book with them, often enjoy changing the ending - I know quite a few young children who invariably change it into a bad ending. Young audiences want something fresh and exciting just as much as older audiences. Drawing more from the original, which a young audience probably has never heard before, would provide them with something new to think about.
Young audiences don't necessarily want to be blown away by the complexity and verisimillitude of their stories. Above all, they simply want a story, a beginning, a middle and an end with a clear moral point so that they can enjoy it relatively passively and get on with their lives without lasting questions.
Books should be kept the way the author dreamed them to be.
When disney change the ending of a fairy tale or other child's story they are changing what the author planned for the story. These so called "happy ever after" endings are unrealistic, unexciting and pointless! When a great children's story is produced it shouldn't be changed simply because it might make a child cry. Children have to exposed to the real world some time, you may be able to change the end of a story but you can't change the ways of life and most certainly can't shield your child from them forever!
Let's not feed any more fake happiness to our children please!
Adding superfluous happy endings to stories do not necessarily make them better stories, it just turns them into an unbelievable, unrealistic load of tosh. However, while it is necessary people, especially children should be provided with happy endings to convince them that life is indeed full of joy and merriment, it is ill-advisable that writers come up with happy endings that seem to occur through chance or miracles.
Children need to be taught the murkier aspects of life as well as the brighter aspects. Happy endings are of course welcome, but not when the path to the happy ending is unrealistic and achieved through impractical and coincidental circumstances.
The definition of happy ending will change.
"Happy" is en emotion that we put in comparison with other feelings. Remove those feelings and what is "happy"?
Basically... you need tragedy to value happiness
Hopeful endings are important for morale
Morale is vital to overcome any crisis, including the financial crisis we live in now. Humans need mental well-being in order to survive just as much as they need physical well being. According to the article on the BBC news website about the hoax, the obsession with happy endings in films began in the 1930s. Entertainment is also used widely to boost morale in wartime. What better way to inspire feelings of hopefulness than to consistently show images of situations having positive outcomes?
It's true that a lot of happy endings turn up in war time, but it's also true that this tends to be orchestrated by authority as propaganda. There's nothing wrong with feel-good entertainment, but when it's all that's available it would end up feeling manipulative and undermining the intended effect.
In times of stress it can also be cathartic to experience non-happy endings. They allow you to express the fear and sadness you've been feeling safely, and leave you understanding that you're not alone in suffering. Confronting your own fears is an important part of coping with a stressful situation, and pretending the worst can't possibly happen is rarely healthy.
When terrible things happen humans tend to gravitate towards bleak entertainment. King Lear was revived after WWII because when people were struggling to understand the terrible things that had happened, they searched for an interpreter. Sometimes sad and tragic endings are what we need to cope with the horrors of the world.
Seeing better endings encourages us to produce better endings.
The purpose of showing a happy ending isn't only to say 'look, happy endings exist', it is also to say 'This is how it should be. Why isn't it? Maybe you should go out and make it like that.'. By only showing actions resulting in the consequences that they have now, stories don't leave the possibility of things ending differently. This is both unimaginative and doesn't encourage children to aim to change the faulty system they're living in and create their own endings. The aim of original fairy tales was often to teach children to stay in the community, not to question their elders, to grow up to be responsible – all well and good, unless your elders are oppressive and the system they're setting up for you isn't working!
Purpose and effect are often not one and the same. The observation that happy endings exist may also have the corollary effect of reassuring readers that everything turns out OK in the end, when reality demonstrates that such blind optimism is misguided. Happy endings are often long, dire struggles, it is not enough to wait around with the vain knowledge that 'happy endings' eventually occur.
Truly faithful versions of fairy tales would be unsuitable for young children.
Many original versions of fairy tales involved the kind of gory violence and (often bizarre) references to sex that would get a film an 18 rating today. Partly this is because the story would have been passed on by word of mouth, with the storyteller able to moderate the story themselves depending on how resilient the particular child was to such things, whereas a film or a video game with good graphics – the media children are most likely to be interested in - requires you to explicitly show everything that is happening.
Older stories were intended for children as morality tales. Replacing the negative consequences of bad/stupid actions with good consequences can make them a lot less suitable for children. Gore isn't a problem either. It is quite easy to imply a messy ending without actually showing much.
What do you think?