Thursday, June 22, 2006

Happy Endings - Love 'em or Hate 'em?

A lot of people sneer at romance novels because of the HEA (happily ever after) ending. Romance Writers of America defines a romance novel ending as emotionally satisfying or optimistic. Though I know a lot of romance readers, myself included, who would consider a novel with anything short of an HEA or at least an implied HEA, a wallbanger. You don't hear that many people sneer at movies with an HEA.

Lasting marriages/relationships do still happen in real life. I've been married over 20 years, my brother over 30, my nephew over 10. My parents were married for over 40 years. And it actually happens in Hollywood--Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell, Meredith/Richard Viera, Joy Behar/Steve.

I'm sure a lot of people think Clarissa is emotionally satisfying. Some probably think she gets what she deserves. It's NOT the sort of ending I look for. Written in 1747-48 by Samuel Richardson, it was made into a movie in the '90s starring Sean Bean. Clarissa is in the public domain and can be downloaded free at sites like Project Gutenberg (

Personally, I don't like the HEA tag. It implies a perfect world like a fairy tale. But I like to think the characters are committed enough to work through their problems and remain together. At the first sign of trouble, they're not going to run out and get a divorce, which seems to be so prevalent nowadays. (Don't get me started on those Hollywood folks, who change spouses quicker than some of us change shoes.) Then, some people will think I'm crazy since they're only fictional characters.

We all have expectations for the books we read. In a mystery the murderer is caught and justice is done. Villains are stopped. In a romance the hero and heroine stick together through thick and thin. So what are your expectations for endings? Can a character's death satisfy you emotionally?


Carla Swafford said...

Every book I read must end with the hero and heroine emotionally involved and expect to continue to explore what they found attractive about each other. It doesn't have to infer marriage, but I like to think they rode off into the sunset together.

Back in the 70s, I invested my time and emotion in reading a book that had the heroine die in the end. I didn't just throw that book against the wall, I tore it to pieces and took pleasure in throwing it into a garbage can. For those people that know how much I love books (they are alive to me), they would be horrified to see me to do that. But that author had betrayed my trust and killed someone I had vested my emotion into. See, thirty years later and it still makes me angry. It was a big fat book!

There is only one movie (never a book so far - since I'm careful with what I buy now) where the hero died in the end and I still loved it. I wasn't happy about it, but considering I'm a Christian and believe in Heaven, I figured the hero was with his wife and child in the end. So strangely I decided it was okay. The movie was GLADIATOR. Between macho Russell Crowe and sexy (though crazy) Joaquin Phoenix, the movie had too much eye candy to ignore the whole thing. Plus it had guys fighting with swords. There’s just something about it that makes my heart beat harder.

Deborah Matthews said...

I was halfway through THE HORSE WHISPERER when I read the end. I know, I know, but somtimes I just have to read the ending. Needless to say, I never finished the book and I never saw the movie even though I was told the ending was different. I find neither death nor adultery romantic.

Paula said...

I hated the movie SOMMERSBY because of the ending, even though I'd love all of it to that point. Bleah. And I can't see how Inman's death in COLD MOUNTAIN made the story any better than allowing him to live.

Why does something have to be so darned depressing to qualify as meaningful literature?

Gina Black said...

>> Why does something have to be so darned depressing to qualify as meaningful literature?<<

Romance is uplifting. We live in a cynical world. What's happening here is the longstanding struggle of good against evil. Instead of working to make themselves happy and positive, many people find value in dark depressing books that justify the dark, depressing lives they have created for themselves.

At least that's my take on it.

Deborah Matthews said...

I'd forgotten about SOMMERSBY. You're right, Paula, it has one of those endings. And haven't seen COLD MOUNTAIN, but I guess I won't bother. (g)

I've found the ads for THE LAKE HOUSE interesting, but wonder how it will end.

jennifer echols said...

Paula! You read my mind. I read COLD MOUNTAIN and felt so cheated. The hero was a VERY thinly disguised author who does all these heroic things AND gets the girl AND dies at the end. Same thing: Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS.

When I saw the end of SOMMERSBY, I had a violent reaction. I cried for about an hour--not just for the characters, but because Richard Gere's character was SO STUPID! His death was completely needless! Why in the heck didn't he DO something??? And I also cried because I was angry, again, that I'd been led to invest myself in these characters, only to have one of them kick the bucket.

I think there are two reasons you see these types of movies that appear to be a romance but have a sad ending. One is that the HEA would make it less "literary" and more pop-culture, at least in the eyes of people who don't normally go for a HEA genre. The other is that it's easy to write characters into terrible situations, but getting them out again is HARD! So authors and moviemakers take the easy way out. I am serious. Have you read or seen THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG? *shakes head*