I love fairy tales. My poor mom used to read me one of my favorite books, a collection of Armenian fairy tales, over and over again, until she was good and tired of the book and it disappeared. To be fair, the tales were all pretty much a variation on one theme — that of a hero choosing either a white ram or a black ram to rescue a damsel from the underworld. As I got older, I read The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and other volumes. I never tired of them, and still re-read them from time to time.
People who have only seen the sanitized, modernized versions of fairy tales as presented in a Disney movie don’t really understand how dark and disturbing some of these tales were. Not all of them had the happy endings, and some of them were bloody and brutal. And, as I get older, I am less inclined to enjoy a happy ending as much as a merely hopeful one. Perhaps it is because I have become more pessimistic or more realistic. Perhaps my tastes simply changed. But now, happy endings make me think of a cop-out and a formulaic cliché. I would rather have a heart-broken hero or heroine looking at a future not too bright and happy. I can go for slightly optimistic — that it might get better (or maybe not, it’s not up to them to find out).
It’s not just the happy in a happy ending that rankles me. It’s the “happily ever after” that chaps my hide. My mind reels in that blankness. Because the very truth of everything is that we make our own “ever afters,” to a large degree. One fairy tale, in particular, slugs me in my metaphorical gut — Beauty and the Beast. The great truth of life is that majority of the time when Beauty marries the Beast, he stays the Beast. Love from another person doesn’t change their bestiality. That change has to come from within — and most Beasts don’t want to work that hard. You can love the Beast with all your heart and with all your soul, but unless the Beast wants to hold his own lantern a little higher, change is not going to happen. For too many Beauties, this truth is learned way too late and the hard way. It would have suited me better if the Beast would have changed and become the Prince, but only with his dying breath. Then Beauty would have mourned him, knowing that he died a true human — a person, and not a creature. Then, Beauty could have got on with her own life.