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Saturday, October 6, 2007

No more sad endings

There's a lot of press at the moment about The Happy Endings Foundation, or THEF, a group of people who believe that all children's books should have happy endings. As stated on their website, their aim is as follows:

To quote from the website, "THEF was originally founded in 2000 by Adrienne Small after she read the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket to her daughter. As well as making her feel thoroughly miserable, Mrs Small noticed her daughter seemed to take a more negative approach to life. Sadly, this situation worsened substantially, as her daughter subsequently read all 13 books in the series."

Perhaps she should have stopped her daughter from reading the other 12 books then. Instead she started a campaign to abolish sad endings from ALL children's books so that other parents never have to decide for themselves what's suitable reading for their children. Whew! That's a load off my mind. I was getting a little worried there, as I'm utterly incapable of choosing suitable books for my own daughter. Thanks to the Foundation, I can be assured that my girl will grow up prepared for all the happiness in the real world.

In November, the Foundation is holding their annual Bad Book Bonfire and Fun Fireworks Party on the common in Richmond upon Thames, where parents and children are invited to bring along "an unhappy book" to burn. The Foundation will also be judging the Lemony Snicket Guy competition on the night. Presumably the Guy will have an unhappy ending as the children watch him slowly burn to death.

I wonder about all those nursery rhymes we grew up with. In my opinion, a great deal of them are not just "sad" but pretty horrible. Humpty Dumpty, for instance, was never put back together again. When it was raining and pouring and the old man was snoring, he fell out of bed, bumped his head, and couldn't get up in the morning. What about poor Jill, who fell and broke her crown while Jack came tumbling after? But if that's not bad enough, what about fairy tales? It's true that Hansel and Gretel have a happy ending in that they kill the witch and escape... but only after she planned to roast them alive and eat them. A happy ending, yes, but a horrific idea for a children's story when you really stop and think about it.

Still, these fairy tales never did me any harm. After all, they all seem to have happy endings, and that's what's important — right?

Thankfully, Enid Blyton's Famous Five series has been singled out and heartily approved by the Foundation, so we won't see updates there. (Well, apart from the updates we're already seeing thanks to the PC Brigade.)

All this makes me wonder what it would be like if some of the Famous Five books had sad endings. What if they DIDN'T find the treasure each time, and for once the baddies escaped with it? Would it be so terrible for impressionable young readers to know that the good guys don't always win through in the end? After all, that's life. I think Julian would have a few choice words to say on the matter though, something about "what comes around goes around" and "comeuppance" and so on, and that would probably make everyone feel a little better.

Yes, it might be interesting for the Famous Five to have a more realistic ending from time to time, that will teach young readers something about the real world where things are not quite so black and white. I might start a campaign, The More Realistic Ending Foundation.

This post has 9 comments

POSTED BY MING ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2007...

*shudders* The mere thought of burning a book, however cruel or sad it is, makes me cringe. Books should be left the way they were - unless they're reference books, in which case the more updated, the better (I guess). Thank goodness the Famous Five were approved by the Foundation! If I ever have to grow and work, I'll make sure I don't work at that Foundation - now The More Realistic Ending Foundation is quite a different matter. :-D

POSTED BY INKYGIRL ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2007...

It turns out this whole things a PR/marketing hoax. I was taken in, too:

http://www.inkygirl.com/happy-ending-foundation-lemony-snicket-hoax-in-poor-taste/

POSTED BY KEITH ROBINSON ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2007...

Ha!! Thanks, Inkygirl, for the info! I don't feel too bad about it since almost everyone else was taken in too, and you do have to marvel at the ingenuity if it is indeed an elaborate hoax. Very clever, and like you said, we all accepted the idea without blinking because this sort of thing just isn't surprising anymore!

Oddly enough, your initial article was one of a handful I came across when reading up about this subject yesterday. Nice to meet you! :-)

POSTED BY ANITA ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2007...

Heh - I smelt a rat when I read what you'd written about The Happy Endings Foundation, Keith, but I thought it was something *you* had made up to see how we'd react!

I don't mind whether a book ends happily or unhappily as long as the ending is satisfying for that particular story. It's not necessary for everything to be wrapped up neatly but the ending must address the main issues in some way even if certain things are left partially unresolved. (If they are, it should be clear that that was done deliberately and the reader should be left with some idea of why the author chose to do that.) However, I think it's especially important in a children's book that the story, however bleak and gritty, does ultimately offer at least a glimmer of hope or promise. After all, in real life most people do find the strength to keep going even through the toughest of times and it's important to show children that people can survive and cope with hardship and tragedy.

But as for the Famous Five not finding the treasure, or Blytonian baddies getting away scot-free, that really would be just *too* traumatic!:-)

Anita

POSTED BY ANONYMOUS ON MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007...

I would have believed it if I had not known beforehand it was an hoax. Why? because there have already been a real campaign about "non sexist and violent tales" that have changed the classical tales for children on the grounds that they should not been reading this sort of things.

That's right, let's believe the parents who buy these books don't let their children watch any program of tv but how do they do to ab stract them to the cotidian violence surroinding us? I don't believe in hiding things from children. I just believe in teaching them the facts of life they will need to be responsible and happy people at the pace they naturally have.

Don't let's manipulate them more..:)

POSTED BY ROGOZ ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 6, 2008...

'Happy endings' only applied to the middle class -- a careful read of the lower class shows some quite different outcomes. There's little hope for Yan [ Five go down to the Sea ] who starts & finishes the novel as ill-cared for & unschooled. I'm surprised such a bleak tale got published. It's a sensible convention that children's tales are upbeat & happy reading to balance the daily press output of children found in the most appalling circumstances.

POSTED BY SPOOLLASOMB ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 13, 2008...

Make peace, not war!

POSTED BY ANONYMOUS ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 20, 2008...

It was nice to read some happy endings in a story because then, the readers will be in huge relief because their hero or heroine is happily glued together.

But then, it was some sort of okaaayyy @ alllllriiiggghhhttt to read some sad endings. I could swallow the bitter ending just fine all this while without stamping for the director or the author or the mindmaster (or mastermind, whichever).

Firstly, it will be VERY boring if the story is about fineness and happiness all the way until the end. Secondly, the reader will never mind to chuck the book without reaching the end. Thirdly, what the heck is the author trying to express by telling a similar plot in every single chapter? Fourthly, the readers will have some sort of trauma to buy a book signed by the same author who wrote a 'very interesting indeed' book. Fifthly, it will be a waste of money to buy any books by the boring author. So, to avoid this 'boring symptom', NEVER buy a book by the boring author.

Nah, that's all I could think -- right now, for at least.

Sad Endings vs. Happy Endings,
Mimsy

POSTED BY HOPE189 ON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2009...

Some of the best books I've read have sad endings. For example, "I shouldn't have to say goodbye" ( I forgot the author's name! So stupid of me). As a child, I think kids should be educated about what the real world is like.



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