I have, in the past year, read several books which I absolutely adored until the last chapter which completely underwhelmed me and totally put me off. These are Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Rules of Fate by H. Gor and Ruby’s Choice by D.F. Jones. (SPOILER ALERT)
Well, then, let’s take a look at these endings and why they fall flat. Please, if you have any intention of reading the books and don’t want the ending spoiled for you, don’t read any further.
Children of Blood and Bone is an African Fantasy where some people have magic and others don’t. Those who don’t have magic have ruled the kingdom under a brutal dictator who wiped out magic users in a recent past. Zélie, the MC, has magical powers, but no training and is a second-class citizen. Her journey is an adventure working to redress the imbalance caused by the king’s tyranny against magic users. The book ends (SPOILER ALERT) with Zélie taking a fatal wound while performing an entirely new and powerful spell. She travels to the other plane where she meets her mother and other ancestors, all of whom are magic users, and is then sent back to finish what she has started in the physical world. It turns out, her spell worked and she has turned everyone on her planet into magic users, removing the cause for hate between the peoples and rendering everybody equal.
Ruby’s Choice is a Romance with a so-called “paranormal twist”, although this paranormal aspect is only really of any importance for the final twist in the last chapter. The book follows 20-year-old Ruby on her first experience with love with a love triangle between her, Brent and Reed. She eventually comes to the conclusion that Reed is the one for her and does marry him, but in a final twist (SPOILER ALERT), it turns out the entire plot was a prophetic dream and she can get it right from the start when she then meets Reed the next day.
Rules of Fate is a contemporary Fantasy about Sam and Scott who can see peoples’ fate lines and manipulate them along with the other Fatelists. However, Sam and Scott end up becoming rogues, hunted by the society of Fatelists. The penultimate chapter ends (SPOILER ALERT) with Sam getting fatally shot and dying, so Scott uses his special technique to turn back time, saving not only Sam, but also his father (who died a decade before) and getting the bad guys arrested.
Yes, we all like a good happy ending, but what we don’t like is meaningless, cheesy, candy-fluff.
Allow me to compare. The Harry Potter series, for example, has a quite happy ending (SPOILER ALERT), but nonetheless, Neville dies in the big battle against You Know Who. This is a big deal. We get the emotional trauma of Harry passing into the in-between, but he comes back which gives us the happy ending we wanted. However, life is also suffering and we humans experience emotional trauma all through our lives, and that is why not everyone can survive the final battle in the Harry Potter series. Another example is Lord of the Rings (yes, I know, all Fantasy examples - I am a nut) where although Sam and Frodo survive, Frodo is scarred by his experience and cannot find peace, so he joins the elves on their journey home. There is no happily ever after for Frodo, not really.
The difference between the older novels and the newer ones is that escapism has now been tainted by the concept of fragility. Readers, especially young readers, are considered "fragile" and need to be protected. Furthermore, our modern life-style has removed us so far from death and any psychological distress, that even reading about such things may “trigger” “sensitive” people. This is a worrying trend, and I refer to The Coddling of The American Mind by Lukianoff and Haidt. However, the dictum “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is actually true and psychology research has proven that in recent years. Therefore, good literature should also be able to reflect that.
We all know life is suffering. It is a deeply-rooted knowledge because throughout the history of our species this particular truth has proven itself time and time again irrespective of one’s background, or historical era. Death, in particular, is a part of life and it has been a visible part of life until very recently. In the not too distant past, children died of horrible diseases we now have vaccines for, they died from accidents, mothers died in childbirth and people died from war and famine and disease. Death was everywhere. If you were lucky, your only exposure to death was related to the old or the animals on the farm (but that was very rare). Now, things have changed. Our modern, westernised life-style is removing death from our immediate experience. Our pets get put down by a veterinarian, we do not see the slaughter of animals for meat, we do not lose our children to measles (unless you’re an anti-vaccer and let’s not get into that now). Our removal from direct experiences with death means we aren’t engaging with those resulting feelings anymore.
Grief is a necessary process, because death is a hard experience. Hard, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic. We can gently prepare ourselves, strengthen ourselves by facing what those emotions look like, even when we don’t lose a close relative. This is where fiction comes in. Fiction is escapism, yes, but it is also an opportunity to take a step back from reality and get a more objective approach to difficult topics. Fiction helps prepare us for those blows life gives us. What with our exposure to death reducing, it is more urgent than ever for fiction to offer us an opportunity to prepare by allowing us to engage with these difficult feelings so they don’t overwhelm us when the time comes in the real world.
Since we know, deep down, without a doubt from millennia of proof resting in our subconscious minds, that life is suffering, the new trend of fluffy happy endings where everything works out perfectly in the end feels flat. It underwhelms because we cannot relate to it. I’m not saying literature should be harsh and real and that we can’t have happy endings, but what I am saying is that happy endings have to be bitter-sweet. That is when we absolutely love them, hence Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings have stood the test of time.
Thank you for reading. I would love to know what your thoughts on this topic are. Please leave a comment, and do subscribe to my newsletter to get my next blog post right in your inbox. You can subscribe here.