Today I want to talk about endings, and why I like sad ones. And because I need an example, I'm going to talk about the movie The Labyrinth. (If you don't think the Labyrinth has a sad ending, my 12-year-old self would like a word with you.) Do I need a spoiler warning? If so, consider yourself warned.
So, when I was younger, I loved The Labyrinth. I was a fragile little escapist, and it's a movie about escapism, and I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the Labyrinth and never come out. Sarah's growth arc didn't interest me in the least. And that sop at the end where all her friends from the Labyrinth appeared in her room? I didn't buy it for a minute. No. She'd given up magic, and I knew she could never get it back.
I worried at that ending like a toothache. She said no to Jareth. How could she say no? I knew what I'd do in her place. I'd tell Jareth I didn't want his stupid globe. I wanted to stay. He could have Toby too. Why not? He seemed to be taking perfectly good care of the baby, and I'd be there to help. And, to make sure I didn't make my family sad, I'd have Jareth erase their memories of Toby and I. And then I'd live happily ever after, forever.
This whole line of logic is especially distressing because I had two Toby aged siblings at the time.
And yet, even though I came up with this elaborate imagining of how it should have ended, I could never get it to click. It wouldn't tie up into the neat bow I needed. I kept thinking about it, kept trying to make it work, but it wouldn't. Because, of course, while that movie didn't end the way I wanted it too, it ended the way it needed to. (Except the bit at the end in her room. I still don't buy that for a minute.)
Happy endings feel good. I like them. In novels, particularly, where one travels the long and winding route with a protagonist, there's great satisfaction in seeing things end well. But happy endings don't linger. I don't reflect back on any of the stories I've read that ended with a tidy little bow and wonder, "what if" or "why not." Everything's fine, so the story settles easily in my mind.
Mind, there are plenty of sad stories that don't evoke curiosity. When the monster shows up and eats our fair heroes, there's not much space left for wondering. A sad ending is not synonymous with a good ending.
But I love stories where I get to walk in the protagonists footsteps and see every difficult, reasonable, painful decision they make. I love it when, for all their efforts, they're still hurting in the end. They've still lost something, even if they've won it all. My mind holds on to these stories. It builds and rebuilds them, trying to fit a new key in the lock, trying to make everything ok. And when it can't, when the ending is so tragically right there's no way around it, that's when I know I've found a story I'll never forget.