Is the Happily Ever After Ending a Meaningless Trope?

A recent Smithsonian article (“Why Can’t Romance Novels Get Any Love?”) discusses the lack of academic and intellectual respect given to the romance genre. It’s an interesting read, but just as illuminating were the comments, some dismissive not only of the genre but specifically the “happily ever after.” (HEA) The article offers many points for discussion, but I’m going to focus specifically on the HEA element.

Is the HEA a product of our deluded imaginations – our desperate grasp at a world in which everything turns out well in the end? Or does it point to a divine hope – something more profound than a feel-good conclusion? Is it a meaningless trope or does it point to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love?Happily Ever After

Perhaps the love of feel-good endings is indicative of a simple mind (not entirely a bad thing; see Matthew 19:14), but I don’t think so. And I’m not alone. Author Jennifer Senhaji writes of the sheer joy found in love and romance.

People are flocking to see Kenneth Branagh’s adaption of the classic Cinderella fairytale. Fairytales, replete with their HEAs, are not to be dismissed as simply children’s bedtime stories. Author, Christian apologist, and intellectual giant G.K. Chesterton defends fairy tales in his classic work, Orthodoxy.

Reflecting on Chesterton’s remarks, Author Travis Prinzi touches on the wonder of the fairytale, the wonder of life – and by extension – love. “Without the magic of the fairy tale, the magic of life disappears in a morass of strictly rational, naturalistic facts, theories, propositions, experiments, and arguments. The fairy tale frees us from the law-based, unchangeable world of the scientific fatalist, where explanations are everywhere but wonder is lost.

Less important than the strict HEA, in my opinion, is that a story ends with hope. Nihilism is rejected in favor of the divine virtues written in our hearts. Even if only a glimmer, hope exists and persists.

In a series of blog posts on The Happily Ever After Ending at All About Romance, author Jennifer Cruise says it better than I could:

“I think romance novels, like any genre stories, must provide a reader with catharsis at the end, and that catharsis is usually found in a ‘just’ ending; that is, characters get what they deserve. The bad guy gets punished, and the good guys get the happiness they’ve been striving for because they’ve suffered and grown and struggled. But a ‘just’ ending can also mean a ‘sadder but wiser’ ending (like Scarlett O’Hara’s) or a noble sacrifice ending (like the one in movie Sommersby) or a ‘pick-up-the-pieces-and-go-on’ ending in which it’s clear the characters will not have perfect, easy lives thereafter, but are better off because of the struggles they’ve won and the life lessons they’ve learned.

[The romance] offers hope, salvation and order through connection with others.

“So if HEA means a perfect marriage with perfect children in the offing, no, absolutely not, the romance doesn’t require this. But if HEA means all the pressing problems solved with hope for the future and a feeling of personal achievement and of justice served for both the characters and the reader, then, yes. Romance doesn’t admit despair at the end, nor does it posit the world as a cold, cruel, chaotic place. It offers hope, salvation and order through connection with others (not just the romantic connection with the hero). That’s why it’s so popular.”

So, not everything must end with an HEA, but it must at least include that mustard seed of hope. There is either the HEA or the possibility of one – as much as we can experience such happiness this side of heaven.

That’s why I’ll never apologize for the HEA. It points to the ultimate HEA, a place where faith, hope, and love flourish. The importance of the HEA is its role as a training ground for attaining the ultimate HEA, one for which, thankfully, there is no end.

Do you prefer stories with a  happily ever after ending? Why? If not, why not?


You’re invited to my Easter Blog Party: Bonnets, Baskets, & Bunnies.

Visit this site Easter Week (April 5 through April 12) and take part in the Easter joy. Share your blog post of your family surrounded by Easter flowers on the church altar, cute kiddies in their Easter outfits, what the Easter Bunny used to fill your baskets, or bunnies – of the chocolate or live variety. Don’t have a blog? That’s okay. Let’s hear about your Easter in only ten words.Bonnets, Baskets & Bunnies

5 thoughts on “Is the Happily Ever After Ending a Meaningless Trope?

  1. Happily Ever After is definitely not a myth. My husband and I ave been married 32 1/2 years. Has all of it been sheer bliss? Of course not! Life has tragedies, like the passing of one’s parents, or joblessness. It is how we weather these ups and downs that determine whether we will continue to count the years of overall happiness compared to the periods of sadness or stress.

    • Agreed. The tough times make you appreciate the good times more. Maybe “joyfully ever after” would be more accurate than “happily ever after.” That inner joy sustains you even through the rough times.

  2. Pingback: Romance Writer Manifesto: A Guest Post from Carolyn Astfalk | Erin McCole Cupp

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