Friday, January 21, 2011

Do You Need a Happy Ending? Ender's Game

What I'm writing: Assignments for F2K class
What I'm reading: Tough Cookie - Diane Mott Davidson
What I'm knitting: Sweater

My younger son, Mark, is an avid reader, but he doesn't recommend books for me to read. So when he said, "Mom, you should read Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card)," I wasted no time in doing so. Now that I've finished it (but there are others in the series), I'm really glad I did.

For those who aren't familiar with the book, it's the tale of the Earth after it's been attacked by aliens twice. A third attack is expected, so some humans are bred specifically in the hope that a much-needed military genius will be found. Couples are only allowed to have two children, but if those children are close to what the government needs, but not quite right, they may be allowed (compelled?) to have a third. These Thirds are looked down upon by society.

The main character of the book, Ender, is one of these Thirds. He's taken away from his family (and oh, what a family) when he's six and put into training school. What happens from there is a web of training, lies, machinations, and violence. The adults all have an agenda and they'll push the children as far as they think they can to achieve their goals.

Without giving too much away (because if you haven't read it, you really should), I will tell you that the book, overall, is dark, with a few bright spots here and there to remind you there is still at least a little humanity.

Which brings me to the end of the book and the topic of this post (took me long enough, didn't it?). The book doesn't have a tie-it-in-a-yellow-bow happy ending. I don't think it could - not really. The ending is satisfying in a way that left me thinking: What would I do in Ender's shoes? Would I make the correct choices? Are there any correct choices?

Oh, how I love a book that  makes me think!

Anyway, there's no They lived happily ever after or All was well. There's only resolution (some - but questions as well) and a hope that's so slight, and so far in the future, that it is, perhaps, negligible. For me that's enough.

I don't need sugar-and-spice endings. I need endings that fit with the story, that are a natural progression for the lives that were affected, the storyline that was created. In other words, I need realism. Even in science-fiction, even in fantasy, the ending has to be realistic to the world created and the characters' motivations. That doesn't mean it has to be realistic to this world, this time, this place, but it does have to ring true to its own canon.

Now, I love the Harry Potter books, but I think we could have all done without that epilogue to book seven. It never seemed quite reasonable that a child who was put through what Harry was - who was neglected by his family, used by nearly every other adult (whether they wanted to or not), expected, really, to be a killer - would grow up to be a well-rounded family man. Wouldn't he have issues? Wouldn't he have trouble trusting? And what would his parenting skills be??

Ender, on the other hand, is shown as broken. Not broken beyond repair, not someone who has no hope, but still, we can see the scars on his soul. Realistic. That's why I loved the ending. I could 'feel' a truth to it.

And don't get me wrong. I love a happy ending. But only when it fits, and only when we know that the happiness is for this moment, that there are still battles and worries... and LIFE out there waiting.

How about you? Do you crave a happy ending for every book you read? Do you enjoy a 'happier' novel or are you satisfied reading something darker?

And if you're a writer, do you feel like you have to create a happy ending? Are you always conscious of the realism of your characters' actions, reactions, and story?

Let me know what you think....


  1. Ah, dang it, Amy, I had a minute and wrote a long comment which just disappeared. I'll be back to add my comment again later. It was a work of art, blast it. (LOL) This is an excellent post and very though-provoking. You really make me think and I love the way you write. See ya' later. Jackie

  2. Hi Jackie! Oh, I hate it when comments disappear - so frustrating. Thanks for reading and I'm looking forward to reading your comments on the topic!

  3. Okay, Amy - I'll give this another try. I admit, I'm a wuzz and love happy endings, probably because I read to escape from reality. That being said, however, I have to admit that a couple of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck and Earnest Hemingway, were not happy-ending guys. They were, though, hope-filled ending guys. Who can forget the ending in Grapes of Wrath...omg. I can't. Sad, haunting, realistic, yet glimmering with hope, all at the same time. Along with a healthy does of celebration at the triumph of the human spirit. I think there's an art to writing realistic endings that don't frustrate or depress the reader. So, I guess I have to say, I prefer happy endings because writing realistic, non-depressing, hope-filled, Steinbeck-ish endings is a skill that few authors have mastered. For example, I detest the writing of Joyce Carol Oates and find her totally depressing, yet she's wildly popular. I can be depressed without well enough on my own, so I read to be inspired and entertained and maybe learn something about myself in the process. So, I do like realistic endings only as long as there is a sense of triumph or hope portrayed as well. Maybe I just haven't grown up enough to read the stuff kids read these days! But then, when I was growing up we didn't have Columbine school tragedies or anything remotely similar either. This is a great post and I love the questions you ask. I wish we were closer so we could meet frequently over a Starbucks and talk writing and soul stuff and knitting. I'm so glad we've connect in cyberspace...Jackie

  4. Well, sorry, Amy. I should have proofread my previous comment better. I meant to type "dose of celebration" and I didn't mean to write "I can be depressed without well enough on my own..." but rather scratch out the "without." Talk about sounding like an idiot...sorry. = ) J

  5. Jackie,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. There does seem to be a trend right now of YA Dystopian literature, and I think it's an offshoot of the violence in today's world. Kids need to thing (read) that even after a disaster life (though harder) will still grind on.

    I agree with you on needing that hope. And even the ending of Ender's Game had that glimmer, it was just faint and relied on SO much to fall just right into place. In fact, at the end, Ender makes a choice that, depending on who/what he trusts, could either be monumentally good or horribly bad. At least at the end of that book, we don't have the answer to that - though we hope his humane choice is the correct one.

    Now movies... don't give me a movie with a sad ending. I have always refused to watch Titanic because I know how it's going to end. Why put myself through that? I get too emotionally connected to characters to want to witness them suffer and die.

    In fact, my hubby and I Million Dollar Baby. All I knew about it was that it was about a female boxer. Well, by the end I was sobbing and snuffling and told my husband, "If I knew it ended like this..." *sob* *sniff*... I would have never watched it."


    I've found that the short stories I've been writing lately don't have happy endings - but I'm really liking them. Go figure....

  6. I know what you mean about sad movies, Amy. I'm no better with them than sad endings in books. I think sad endings in books upset me more, though, because of the time invested to get there and I want to feel good! I need to grow up... LOL. Hugs, J~~

  7. Oh, I'm a sucker for character death and sad endings if they are logical outgrowth of the plot. I read a lot of fanfiction and I'm always happy to have my heart broken and my soul shredded for a while.
    I often follow those fics with a hopeful-ending chaser, just so I don't top myself.
    JKR's happiness for happiness's sake Epilogue really soured me. She'd been writing about young people in a very adult world for seven books, and went all fairy tale right at the end. I console myself by saying that Harry got the wife and kids he always dreamed of, but he's screaming inside from dysfunction. Also, he nodded across the platform to Draco Malfoy because they both attend Potions Anonymous meetings at the Leaky Cauldron.

  8. bk,
    LOL! Potions Anonymous. Of course! They're both hoping to see Snape arisen from the dead.

    That epilogue always felt tacked on to me. Too cutesy for what those seven books had been. I think just leaving it at the end of that last chapter would have been perfect. It had a tired-out, worn-out, but life goes on feeling to it. And what could truer.

    I don't want endings without any hope- ones that would rip my heart out without remorse, but I do NEED it to be realistic. Saccharin sweet is often a let-down, really.

    And now I shall go live happily ever after. ;)