It’s not just fairy tales that end “happily ever after.” The majority of narratives and mythologies espoused by humankind, including religion, have a “happily ever after” built in. That’s become troubling to humans living in the 20th and 21st centuries, because we realize that, for many people (maybe even most people who’ve ever lived) there is no way their personal stories can be classified into “happily ever after.” Life is hard work. Life is a long fight, sometimes to the bitter end. Life can feel like a desert with all too few oases. The narrative arc of a person’s life doesn’t flow the way a fairy tale’s does.
But I firmly believe in the importance of continuing to tell narratives with a sort of “happily ever after” ending. It can be bittersweet. It can indicate that there are still struggles ahead for our heroes. But we, as a human race, as a society, need to tell one another stories that inspire. If we don’t believe that some sort of “happily ever after” can be attained, why would we keep fighting? We may begin a fight just for the ideal, for the principle, but if we’re going to continue on in a fight, a journey, or a committed task, we must believe that the goal is attainable. And belief in the outcome stems from the narrative you believe you can live.
Not only do we need to believe justice can win, we need to believe it can win here and now. It’s no good walling ourselves up in ivory towers, propping our feet up on the grate, and assuring one another that once we die, we’ll go to heaven & the bad guys will go to hell, so really it’s all okay. That’s escapism at its laziest. I don’t want to just be told that I’ll have a good afterlife. I want to know that right here, today, I can shout out loud for justice and truth and someone will hear me and it will make a difference. It's common to say that all that's necessary for bad people to win is for good people to do nothing. That's true. And a promised win in the afterlife is no reason to let evil win here on earth.
Sometimes, I lose faith in that “happily ever after.” Sometimes, when the chips are down, nothing comes through the way I think it should. But although I may rant and scream in pure, unproductive frustration for a short time, I need to remember that it’s just a setback. That I should keep fighting.
Frodo didn’t give up when he realized he had to take the long way around into Mordor. Harry didn’t just roll over and die when the Death Eaters took over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie didn’t just throw up their hands in despair when they discovered they were in a garbage compactor. I could go on, but you understand what I’m saying. These narratives all end happily despite the appearance of an apparently insurmountable obstacle. Frodo makes his way into the heart of Mordor and accomplishes his quest (and, by the way, only afterward achieves a peaceful afterlife). Harry Potter, I’ll admit, ends a little too happily for my taste, a little too abruptly, with too few long-term consequences mentioned. But the point is, Harry and his friends do finally defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters. With some outside help, Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie made it out of the garbage compactor and eventually destroyed the Death Star. What’s my Black Gate? My Hogwarts takeover? My trash compactor?
In the interest of realism and artistic integrity, I’m not discounting narratives that end tragically. 1984, a cautionary tale, ends with our hero having given up his integrity and individuality, being in the end conquered by “Big Brother.” I love that ending because it is straight-up horror. We need to see how things are now, and how things could be if we lose our battles for justice and freedom. I need those alternative, dystopian narratives to provide a contrast. But I can’t only surround myself with dystopia. I have to have faith (and shockingly enough, being named “Faith” doesn’t mean I have an automatic supply).
So, when it appears that we’ve lost, or are losing, when injustice is the order of the day, we need to keep on telling one another “happily ever after” narratives. Not the unadulterated “happily ever after” of fairy tales; we’re too old for that. We’ve all experienced too much. We need a believable “happily ever after.” A “happily ever after” that says, it’s possible for us to win this fight. There will be casualties. Our lives will not be the same, we may be irreparably damaged. But justice can happen, if we continue to fight. That’s how we’ll strengthen each other, remind each other not to give up. Remember all those stories. The hobbits, the Rebel Alliance, and Dumbledore’s Army all won in the end, and so can we.
What's your favorite story when you're tired of working for all the right things and running into brick walls and dead ends? If you were sitting around a campfire with Dumbledore's Army right now, what tale would you tell?