-A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
If I had been creative enough to write the Winnie the Pooh books, and if I was writing this post in the same Manner, it would very probably read something like this:
“What are you writing about today?” said a growly voice behind me.
“Well, I thought I’d talk a little about happy endings,” I replied.
“For? Or against?” Pooh wanted to know. “Because with you,” he explained, “it could go either way. Or both ways. In fact, it frequently does.”
I smiled, and said gently, “You know me all too well, Silly Old Bear, don’t you? But as it happens, I think today it will mostly be for.”
“And what made you think about happy endings?” Pooh wanted to know.
“A television program called Downton Abbey,” I said.
“Oh,” said Pooh sadly. “Not me?”
“Well, actually,” I said reassuringly, “you were in there, too. Look at the top of the page.”
Pooh nodded thoughtfully as he looked over my shoulder at the final sentence from The House at Pooh Corner. “And is that a happy ending?” he asked.
“I believe it qualifies as one,” I replied.
“Well, I was going to explain that a little later on,” I said.
“Then, could you get on with it very sweetly, so a Bear of Very Little Brain could understand?”
“I’ll try,” I said.
So I tried.
The other night, I finally got ‘round to finishing the sixth and last season of Downton Abbey. For the uninitiated, this has been the immensely popular UK television series (shown in North America on PBS) dealing with the life events of the wealthy Crawley family and their servants in the sprawling English manor house called --- yep, you guessed it --- Downton Abbey (actually Highclere Castle in real life) from 1912 to 1926. If you’re a hardcore Game of Thrones type viewer, you might find Downton Abbey a little sedate for your tastes, but you should nonetheless give it a try... the life situations are always interesting, and some of the dialogue is both wickedly clever and wickedly amusing (particularly the lines given to Maggie Smith as Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess with the razor sharp wit and acerbic life outlook). But I digress.
We all knew season six was to be Downton’s last. Creator/writer Julian Fellowes had cast some pretty wide nets over the years, putting out some widely disparate plot lines that it was plainly time to reel in without getting hopelessly tangled or cut in the process. The show has an enormous fan base who wanted some resolution --- because that’s what we all want in life, isn’t it? Which is rather funny in a way (both funny humorous and funny peculiar) because life frequently refuses to oblige us. In our myriad journeys, life often leaves us hanging with all kinds of unresolved endings, half-finished stories, and unsatisfactory conclusions. It’s maddening. Ah ha! But... this is television, and so we’re not bound by the strange conditions life imposes on us. (Although there have been numerous television series which end on enragingly inconclusive notes. I think there must be a special place in Writers’ Hell reserved for writers who do things like that.) And fortunately, Mr. Fellowes spared us that agony.
So Downton Abbey concludes on a happy note. I won’t include any spoilers here, other than to say that there are a plethora of weddings and virtually everyone gets their little piece of the plot arc tied up in a most satisfactory manner. In fact, the only way things could have ended more happily would have been if all the characters declared themselves collectively vegan and pledged with their lives to protect all the pigs, sheep and other consumable animals on the estate. (However, since the story ends in 1926, that really might be stretching credulity.) Some of those plot resolutions felt just a tad contrived, but... on the whole... I think we all watched the final fade to black with a warm glow in our hearts.
But is this a good thing? You know, I think it is... as long as writers don’t make it Too Much of a Good Thing and do it Too Often, which, of course, as Pooh might observe, would make it a Decidedly Bad Thing. We do need to see our characters going through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but at the end of the day, it’s also nice to see things ending well --- mainly because they don’t always, in fiction and most definitely in real life. There’s an awful lot of angst and bad stuff happening both to our characters and to ourselves, so it’s rather nice to see things end well once in a while. I sometimes wonder if we’ve become so hung up on all this dystopian literature that we read and write in this modern world, we’ve forgotten the “and they all lived happily ever after” endings that we were (hopefully) exposed to as small children. For example: Katniss’ ending is really not happy or redemptive; Harry’s ending is --- I think --- meant to be a happy one, but there are times when I look at it and I’m not very sure; and Frodo’s ending is really not very happy. Perhaps we could do with more happy endings.
“But what about the ending at the beginning of this post?” said the growly voice. “You still haven’t explained how that’s a happy ending.”
“Well...” I hesitated. “It is a happy ending, isn’t it? It speaks to the child in all of us, even cranky old adults, and that’s surely a happy ending.”
“Then why did you hesitate?” Pooh inquired innocently.
“There. You did it again.”
I pursed my lips. “I did, didn’t I? Well, you see, it is a happy ending... although the passage immediately preceding it is decidedly bittersweet.”
“Because Christopher Robin is coming to some Rather Uncomfortable Realizations... and he’s not sure he wants to face them.”
“I see.” Pooh thought this over for a moment. “And will he?”
“Well...” I hesitated. “I don’t mean to hesitate, Pooh Bear, not really, but that’s a chat for another time.”
Pooh nodded. “All right,” he said agreeably. “After all, it is nearly Luncheon Time.”
So he went home for it.