Phillipa Bornikova: Happy Endings

Phillipa BornikovaToday we welcome Phillipa Bornikova whose first novel This Case is Gonna Kill Me has recently been published by Tor. Phillipa has been the story editor of a major network television series, a horse trainer, and an oil-company executive. She lives in the Southwest. And she likes happy endings. Comment below for a chance to win a copy of  This Case is Gonna Kill Me which Kelly has reviewed here.

Why do happy endings get such a bad rap? I’m not talking about sappy, unrealistic endings, but honest endings in which people get what they need even if they may not get what they want. I know it’s fashionable for critics to sneer at the happy ending as if only grief and suffering have value. As if only a hopeless conclusion filled with pain can be serious or have any meaning. I think that devalues the things we celebrate as humans — friendship, love, laughter and triumph.

Endings are the emotional catharsis for readers, and a book will succeed or fail on the strength of that ending. Some people argue that a good journey will compensate for a crappy ending. I don’t agree with that. If the ending fails then the journey seems pointless. So, what books and movies have handled endings well?

Let’s start with THE LORD OF THE RINGS, one of my favorites. The ending is certainly bittersweet. Middle Earth has been forever changed. The elves are passing away, and the age of men is beginning, but the entire world has not been completely destroyed and warped into a new shape. Beauty still endures, and Mordor will ultimately be cleansed. For the characters, Frodo finds peace, and Sam returns home to love and marriage and children and honor and respect. Tolkien didn’t massacre Frodo and Sam because both of them had earned their happy ending through great sacrifice.

King Lear. A tragedy yes, but for Lear and Cordelia ultimately a happy ending because they found each other once more and were able to be reconciled.

Casablanca. A brilliant ending once your realize it’s not a love story. It’s a story of redemption and a return to life for a man who had lost all hope and faith. There is loss, Rick can never be with Ilsa, but he gives that up to reclaim his soul.

Happy endings are satisfying. Life is hard and we don’t necessarily want our entertainment to be as hard as life. We want something that gives us hope. Tells us that if you try hard and give your all, things just may turn out all right. Suggest that love will triumph. Friends will be true, heroic deeds will make a difference. They are especially satisfying when the main character(s) have earned their happy ending. They have struggled through sadness and loss, but ultimately they have emerged into sunlight.

I think urban fantasy does this rather well. It lives in the dark forests and dark alleys where strange creatures can threaten the light, but in the end the heroines and heroes celebrate the best of humanity rather than focusing on the worst. And I like that.

How do you feel about happy endings?

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  1. I agree with you — I prefer a bittersweet ending. I like happy, but I don’t want to feel it coming. I want the story to be tense and exciting and if I know the ending will be happy, that takes away from the tension and sometimes it requires some unlikely events to make everything come out right. If all stories had happy endings, then we’d never really suffer with the heroes because we’d know it was going to be okay, so that means some stories have to have sad endings, I think.

    I like the ending to Robin Hobb’s FARSEER stories (which you have to read TAWNY MAN to get to). Perfectly bittersweet. Fitz got some of what he wanted in the end, but he sure lost a lot along the way.

  2. I like happy endings. I like the cover of this book too. As I said over at the review, I have some misgivings. But. I’ll enter. I’m good for a game or two of chance.


  3. Midnight /

    There are times when I enjoy a happy ending and other times where it just kills the mood because I know everything is going to end up perfectly in place. I like endings that leave me wanting more.

  4. sandyg265 /

    I don’t mind an occasional happy ending. But I don’t want everything to have a happy ending – it would be boring to read a book and know that that’s how it’s going to end. That’s always been one of my problems with romance books.

    • I totally agree with you about romance books, Sandy. That’s exactly why I don’t read them. You always know how it will turn out.

      • I don’t read a lot of romance, but the whole point of it is the JOURNEY. And the happy ending. It’s like comfort food. I don’t eat chocolate to get FULL, I eat chocolate because I Enjoy Eating It. Rather a lot, I’m afraid.

        Just like any other genre, there are good “journey” romances, there are cliched ones, there are …bad ones. I’ve read some very romantic romances. It isn’t the ending that made me smile, it was the laughs and personalities–and yes, usually the plot because I almost always read ones with a mystery of some sort! But even without the mystery, you can have those other things and they aren’t a bad journey.

        • Oh, I know it’s the journey. I just always feel like I know where it’s going to end. But I do actually like romance in the books I read, but I just don’t want it to be the whole point of the book. Then it’s just too obvious for me.

          • Agreed. But that can be said of a lot of mysteries and cliched fantasies too…there are just some themes (the heir who was hidden at birth) that are pretty dang obvious as well. Which, of course, is why I avoid certain themes…we all do it! It’s a hazard of reading a lot.

  5. I’m a bit fan of the bittersweet–the happy ending with a bite. I just like the richness and complexity of emotion it leaves me with. The effect tends to linger longer for me. Tolkien is a great example. One of my favorites is The High King by Lloyd Alexander, not just a book ending but a series ending and one that is achingly bittersweet. Farseer is another good example Kat.

    • I agree, Bill. I think the Farseer books are another example of a bittersweet ending.

      And maybe it’s just me, but I think happy endings have got to be easier to write. Bittersweetness requires a level of complexity that must be harder to pull off.

  6. Sandy, you win a book of your choice from our stacks, provided you haven’t moved out the US in the past couple of months. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and address.

  7. Keep it up, wonderful job! This was the information I had to know.

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