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A happy ending is an ending of the plot of a work of fiction in which almost everything turns out for the best for the main protagonists and their sidekicks, while the main villains/antagonists are defeated.
In storylines where the protagonists are in physical danger, a happy ending mainly consists of their survival and successful completion of the quest or mission; where there is no physical danger, a happy ending may be lovers consummating their love despite various factors which might have thwarted it. A considerable number of storylines combine both situations. In Steven Spielberg's version of "War of the Worlds", the happy ending consists of three distinct elements: The protagonists all survive the countless perils of their journey; humanity as a whole survives the alien invasion; and the protagonist father regains the respect of his estranged children. The plot is so constructed that all three are needed for the audience's feeling of satisfaction in the end.
A happy ending is epitomized in the standard fairy tale ending phrase, "happily ever after" or "and they lived happily ever after". ( One Thousand and One Nights has the more restrained formula "they lived happily until there came to them the One who Destroys all Happiness" (i.e. Death); likewise, the Russian versions of fairy tales typically end with "they lived long and happily, and died together on the same day".) Satisfactory happy endings are happy for the reader as well, in that the characters they sympathize with are rewarded. However, this can also serve as an open path for a possible sequel. For example, in the 1977 film Star Wars , Luke Skywalker defeats the Galactic Empire by destroying the Death Star; however, the story's happy ending has consequences that follow in The Empire Strikes Back . The concept of a permanent happy ending is specifically brought up in the Stephen King fantasy/fairy tale novel The Eyes of the Dragon which has a standard good ending for the genre, but simply states that "there were good days and bad days" afterwards.
A happy ending only requires that the main characters be all right. Millions of innocent background characters can die, but as long as the characters that the reader/viewer/audience cares about survive, it can still be a happy ending. Roger Ebert comments in his review of Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow : "Billions of people may have died, but at least the major characters have survived. Los Angeles is leveled by multiple tornadoes, New York is buried under ice and snow, the United Kingdom is flash-frozen, and much of the Northern Hemisphere is wiped out for good measure. Thank god that Jack, Sam, Laura, Jason and Dr. Lucy Hall survive, along with Dr. Hall's little cancer patient."
The presence of a happy ending is one of the key points that distinguish melodrama from tragedy. In certain periods, the endings of traditional tragedies such as Macbeth or Oedipus Rex , in which most of the major characters end up dead, disfigured, or discountenanced, have been actively disliked. In the seventeenth century, the Irish author Nahum Tate sought to improve William Shakespeare's King Lear in his own heavily modified version in which Lear survives and Cordelia marries Edgar. Tate's version dominated performances for a century and a half and Shakespeare's original was nearly forgotten. Both David Garrick and John Philip Kemble, while taking up some of Shakespeare's original text, kept Tate's happy ending. Edmund Kean played King Lear with its tragic ending in 1823, but failed and reverted to Tate's crowd-pleaser after only three performances. Only in 1838 did William Macready at Covent Garden successfully restore Shakespeare's original tragic end – Helen Faucit's final appearance as Cordelia, dead in her father's arms, became one of the most iconic of Victorian images and the play's tragic end was finally accepted by the general public. Most subsequent critics have not found Tate's amendments an improvement, and welcomed the restoration of Shakespeare's original. Happy endings have also been fastened – equally, with no lasting success – to Romeo and Juliet and Othello .
There is no universally accepted definition of what a happy ending is; such definitions can considerably vary with time and cultural differences. An interpretation of The Merchant of Venice 's forced conversion of Shylock to Christianity is that it was intended as a happy ending. As a Christian, Shylock could no longer impose interest, undoing his schemes in the play and ending the rivalry between him and Antonio, but more important, contemporary audiences would see becoming a Christian as a means to save his soul (cf. Romans 11:15). In later times, Jews (and non-Jewish opponents of anti-Semitism) strongly objected to that ending, regarding it as depicting a victory for injustice and oppression and as pandering to the audience's prejudices.
Similarly, for Sixteenth Century audiences, the ending of The Taming of the Shrew - a formerly independent and assertive woman being broken and becoming totally submissive to her husband - might have counted as a happy ending, which it would not under present-day standards of women's place in society (see The Taming of the Shrew#Sexism controversy).
Most interpretations of the legend of Don Juan end with the protagonist rake being dragged off to Hell, in just retribution for his many sins (for example, the ending of Mozart's Don Giovanni ). However, José Zorrilla - whose 1844 play Don Juan Tenorio is the version most well-known in the Spanish-speaking world - believed that a story should never end sadly, and must always have a happy ending. In Zorrilla's depiction, Don Juan is saved at the last moment from the flames of Hell by the selfless pure love of Doña Inés, a woman whom he wronged but who forgave him; she had made a deal with God to offer her own blameless soul on behalf of Don Juan's – thus redeeming Don Juan and taking him with her to Paradise.
The Octoroon , a 1859 anti-slavery play by Dion Boucicault, focuses on the tragic love between the white George Peyton and the Octoroon girl Zoe. Her one-eighth Black ancestry is enough to prevent their marrying. In the American society of the time, it would have been unacceptable to present a play ending with a mixed-race couple consummating their love. Rather, the play ends with Zoe taking poison and dying, the grief-stricken George at her side. However, when the play was performed in England, where prejudice was less strong, it was given a happy ending, culminating with the young lovers happily getting together against all odds.
In 17th Century Italy, Francesco Cavalli wrote the opera Didone , based on Virgil's Aeneid (Book 4 in particular) and set to a libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello. However, Busenello's libretto changed the tragic ending provided by Virgil, in which Dido commits suicide after Aeneas abandons her. In Busenello's version Iarbas, King of the Getuli, shows up in the nick of time to save Dido from herself, and she ends up happily marrying him.
Fifty years later, Tomaso Albinoni wrote the opera Zenobia, regina de’ Palmireni (Zenobia, Queen of the Palmyrans) - loosely based on the historical life of the Third-Century Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, who for many years defied the might of the Roman Empire until finally overcome by the armies of the Roman Emperor Aurelian. She was overthrown and taken captive to Rome, and her kingdom summarily annexed to the Roman Empire. However, Albinoni changed the historical ending of Zenobia's drama. In Albinoni' ending, after various plot twists the magnanimous Aurelian becomes impressed with Zenobia's honesty and integrity, and restores her to her throne.
Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake , as originally presented in 1895, ends tragically with the lovers Odette and Siegfried dying together, vowing fidelity unto death to each other. However, under the Soviet regime, in 1950 Konstantin Sergeyev, who staged a new Swan Lake for the Mariinsky Ballet (then the Kirov), replaced the tragic ending with a happy one, letting the lovers survive and live happily ever after. Similar changes to the ending of Swan Lake were also made in various other times and places where it was presented (see Swan Lake#Alternative endings).
A Times review of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold strongly criticized John le Carré for failing to provide a happy ending, and gave unequivocal reasons why in the reviewer's opinion (shared by many others) such an ending is needed: "The hero must triumph over his enemies, as surely as Jack must kill the giant in the nursery tale. If the giant kills Jack, we have missed the whole point of the story."
George Bernard Shaw had to wage an uphill struggle against audiences, as well as some critics, persistently demanding that his "Pygmalion" have a happy ending, i.e. that Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolitle would ultimately marry.To Shaw's great chagrin, Herbert Beerbohm Tree who presented the play in London's West End in 1914 had sweetened the ending and told Shaw: "My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful. Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot." The irritated Shaw added a postscript essay, "'What Happened Afterwards", to the 1916 print edition, for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why in his view it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza marrying. Nevertheless, audiences continued wanting a happy ending also for later adaptations such as the musical and film "My Fair Lady". As seen in one of his preserved notes, Shaw wanted the play to end with Eliza becoming independent and assertive and shaking off Higgins' tutelage: "When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse". This might have made it a happy ending from the point of view of present day Feminism. In 1938, Shaw sent Gabriel Pascal, who produced that year's film version, a concluding sequence which he felt offered a fair compromise: a tender farewell scene between Higgins and Eliza, followed by one showing Freddy and Eliza happy in their greengrocery-flower shop; this would have been a happy end from the point of view of Freddy, who in other versions is left trapped in hopeless unrequited love for her. However, Pascal did not use Shaw's proposed ending, opting for a slightly ambiguous final scene in which Eliza returns to Higgins' home, leaving open how their relationship would develop further. Several decades later, "My Fair Lady" had a similar ending.
The Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of Four included, in addition to the normal detective plot, also an important romantic plot line. While investigating the book's mystery, Dr. Watson - Holmes' faithful companion - falls in love with the client, Mary Morstan, and by the ending she consents to marry him. A fairly conventional and satisfying happy ending, which worked well for the The Sign of Four. However, Watson getting into matrimonial bliss with his Mary proved cumbersome for the normal format of the Sherlock Holmes stories in general, which involved Holmes and Watson setting out on a new adventure at a moment's notice. With Watson no longer sharing quarters with Holmes on Baker Street but having his own married home, a new adventure needed to begin with Holmes barging into the Watson family home and taking Watson off to an adventure after apologizing to Mrs. Watson for "borrowing" her husband. Rather than having to regularly initiate stories with such scenes, Conan Doyle summarily killed off Watson's wife. In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder Watson is seen back in his old Baker Street quarters and the readers are told that his wife had died some time before; the circumstances of her death were never told, nor were readers given a chance to share the widowed Watson's grief in the direct aftermath. Readers accepted Mary's death without serious demur, though in Sign of Four she had been a sympathetic and likeable character. In Sherlock Holmes stories, a happy ending usually consisted of Holmes solving the mystery with Watson's help and the criminal turned over to the police (or, in some cases, Holmes magnanimously lets him go), and readers were satisfied with that. However, when Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Homes himself, at the tragic ending of The Final Problem , readers refused to accept this ending, made strong and vociferous protests, and eventually forced the author to bring Holmes back to life.
Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein published the Future History , a series of stories attempting to depict the future of humanity (particularly, of the United States). Heinlein's plan included the writing of two interlinked novellas set in the Twenty-First Century (then a distant future time). The first would have depicted a charismatic preacher named Nehemiah Scudder getting himself elected President of The United States, seizing dictatorial power and establishing a tyrannical theocracy which would last to the end of his life and several generations after; the second - depicting the successful revolution which finally brings down the theocracy and restores democracy. In fact, as Heinlein explained to his readers, he found himself unable to write in full the first part - which would have been "too depressing", ending as it had to with the villain's total victory. Rather, Heinlein contented himself with a brief summary describing Scudder's rise, prefacing the novella If This Goes On— which ends happily with the overthrow of the theocracy and the restoration of a democratic regime.
In another Heinlein work, Podkayne of Mars, the author's original text ended tragically. The book's eponymous protagonist, an interplanetary adventuring teenage girl, flees the scene of an impending nuclear blast in the swamps of Venus, only to remember that an extraterrestrial baby was left behind. She goes back and gets killed in the blast, saving the baby by shielding it with her own body. This ending did not please Heinlein's publisher, who demanded and got a rewrite over the author's bitter objections. In a letter to Lurton Blassingame, his literary agent, Heinlein complained that it would be like "revising Romeo and Juliet to let the young lovers live happily ever after." He also declared that changing the end "isn't real life, because in real life, not everything ends happily." Despite his objections, Heinlein had to give in and when first published in 1963, the book had an amended ending, in which Podkayne survives though needing prolonged hospitalization. Heinlein, however, did not give up. At his insistence, the 1993 Baen edition included both endings (which differ only on the last page) and featured a "pick the ending" contest, in which readers were asked to submit essays on which ending they preferred. The 1995 edition included both endings, Jim Baen's own postlude to the story, and twenty-five of the essays. The ending in which Podkayne dies was declared the winner. Among the reasons why readers favored this ending were that they felt Heinlein should have been free to create his own story, and also that they believed the changed ending turned a tragedy into a mere adventure, and not a very well constructed one at that. This restored tragic ending has appeared in all subsequent editions.
A central element in The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan is the developing relations of protagonist Sonea with the powerful magician Akkarin. At first she is frightened and distrustful of him, then she grows to understand his motivations and share his difficult and dangerous struggle - culminating with the two of them falling very deeply in love with each other. However, at the end of the final part, The High Lord, Akkarin sacrifices himself, giving all his power to Sonea and dying so that she could defeat their enemies, the evil Ichani. The grieving Sonea is left to bear Akkarin's child and carry on his magical work as best she can. Many readers were shocked by this ending. To repeated queries on why Akkarin had to die, Canavan answered "When the idea came to me for this final scene I knew I had a story worth giving up full time work to write, because at the time I was utterly sick of books where all the characters are alive and happily shacked up with a love interest by the end. If characters died it was in some expected way that left you feeling warm and fuzzy about their ‘sacrifice’. Death shouldn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Akkarin was a casualty of war. War is a cruel and random killer. It doesn’t kill based on who deserves it more or less. And, hey, you’re never going to forget that ending!". However, many of the fans refused to accept Akkarin's death as final. A fan identifiying herself as RobinGabriella wrote and posted an alternate ending letting Akkarin live: "The ending I really wanted but never got. Akkarin lives! This is for all you people who wanted Sonea to be happy at long last , wanted a happy ending, or just wanted Akkarin for yourselves. Enjoy!"
In numerous cases, Hollywood studios adapting literary works into film added a happy ending which did not appear in the original.
Septimia Zenobia was a third-century queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria. Many legends surround her ancestry; she was probably not a commoner and she married the ruler of the city, Odaenathus. Her husband became king in 260, elevating Palmyra to supreme power in the Near East by defeating the Sassanians and stabilizing the Roman East. After Odaenathus' assassination, Zenobia became the regent of her son Vaballathus and held de facto power throughout his reign.
Podkayne of Mars is a science-fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialised in Worlds of If, and published in hardcover in 1963. The novel features a teenage girl named Podkayne "Poddy" Fries and her younger brother, Clark, who leave their home on Mars to take a trip on a spaceliner to visit Earth, accompanied by their great-uncle.
Lazarus Long is a fictional character featured in a number of science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein. Born in 1912 in the third generation of a selective breeding experiment run by the Ira Howard Foundation, Lazarus becomes unusually long-lived, living well over two thousand years with the aid of occasional rejuvenation treatments. Heinlein "patterned" Long on science fiction writer Edward E. Smith, mixed with Jack Williamson's fictional Giles Habibula.
The Canary Trainer: From the Memoirs of John H. Watson is a 1993 Sherlock Holmes pastiche by Nicholas Meyer. Like The Seven Percent Solution and The West End Horror, The Canary Trainer was published as a "lost manuscript" of the late Dr. John H. Watson. In "The Adventure of Black Peter", an original Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes story from 1904, Watson mentions that his companion recently arrested "Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East-End of London." This Wilson is not related to the eponymous character of Meyer's novel. Meyer's "trainer" is Erik, the principal figure of Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera. It is from this unchronicled tale that The Notorious Canary Trainers take their name.
A plot twist is a literary technique that introduces a radical change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot in a work of fiction. When it happens near the end of a story, it is known as a twist or surprise ending. It may change the audience's perception of the preceding events, or introduce a new conflict that places it in a different context. A plot twist may be foreshadowed, to prepare the audience to accept it. There are a variety of methods used to execute a plot twist, such as withholding information from the audience or misleading it with ambiguous or false information.
"The Adventure of the Crooked Man", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom in July 1893, and in Harper's Weekly in the United States on 8 July 1893.
Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, named after a Greek mythological figure. It was first presented on stage to the public in 1913.
Juliet Capulet is the female protagonist in William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. A 13-year-old girl, Juliet is the only daughter of the patriarch of the House of Capulet. She falls in love with the male protagonist Romeo, a member of the House of Montague, with which the Capulets have a blood feud. The story has a long history that precedes Shakespeare himself.
The tragic mulatto is a stereotypical fictional character that appeared in American literature during the 19th and 20th centuries, starting in 1837. The "tragic mulatto" is an archetypical mixed-race person, who is assumed to be sad, or even suicidal, because they fail to completely fit in the "white world" or the "black world". As such, the "tragic mulatto" is depicted as the victim of the society in society divided by race, where there is no place for one who is neither completely "black" nor "white". This trope was also used by abolitionists in order to create a mixed-race, but white-appearing, slave that would serve as a tool to express sentimentality to white readers in an effort to paint slaves as "more human".
Happily N'Ever After is a 2006 computer-animated family comedy film directed by Paul J. Bolger, produced by John H. Williams, and written by Rob Moreland. It is based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. The title is the opposite of a stock phrase, happily ever after; the name is contracted with an apostrophe between the N and the E. The film stars the voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Andy Dick, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton, George Carlin, and Sigourney Weaver. This film was one of Carlin's final works before he died. The film premiered on December 16, 2006, was theatrically released on January 5, 2007, by Lionsgate, and was released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 1, 2007, by Roadshow Entertainment. The film was panned by critics and audiences and was a box office disappointment, grossing $38 million worldwide on a production budget of $47 million.
Sherlock Holmes has long been a popular character for pastiche, Holmes-related work by authors and creators other than Arthur Conan Doyle. Their works can be grouped into four broad categories:
The Octoroon is a play by Dion Boucicault that opened in 1859 at The Winter Garden Theatre, New York City. Extremely popular, the play was kept running continuously for years by seven road companies. Among antebellum melodramas, it was considered second in popularity only to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).
Pygmalion is a 1938 British film based on the 1913 George Bernard Shaw play of the same name, and adapted by him for the screen. It stars Leslie Howard as Professor Henry Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle.
The Black Magician trilogy is a fantasy novel series written by Australian author Trudi Canavan. The books follow a slum-dwelling girl named Sonea who, although born and raised in the slums of Imardin, discovers that she has natural magical abilities usually restricted to the upper classes. They describe her attempts to escape capture by the Magicians' Guild and gain control of her powers, her struggle to fit in and learn magic, and ultimately her attempts to save Kyralia using the one type of magic forbidden from use. In the early parts, she is frightened and distrustful of the powerful magician Akkarin, eventually coming to trust him, and the two of them fall deeply in love - with Akkarin finally dying in battle with the evil Ichani, the grieving Sonea left to bear his child and carry on his magical work. Although the series is composed of only three books, it is accompanied by a prequel entitled The Magician's Apprentice and a sequel series, called The Traitor Spy trilogy. All the novels together that share the same setting of the fictional world of Kyralia are by fans often referred to as "Kyralia series".
"Happy Endings" is a short story by Margaret Atwood. It was first published in a 1983 Canadian collection, Murder in the Dark, and highlighted during the nomination period for the 2017/2018 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize.
The History of King Lear is an adaptation by Nahum Tate of William Shakespeare's King Lear. It first appeared in 1681, some seventy-five years after Shakespeare's version, and is believed to have replaced Shakespeare's version on the English stage in whole or in part until 1838.
John Willoughby is a fictional character in Jane Austen's 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility. He is described as being a handsome young man with a small estate, but has expectations of inheriting his aunt's large estate. He is in love with Marianne who is also a character from the novel.
Emmeline, The Orphan of the Castle is the first novel written by English writer Charlotte Turner Smith; it was published in 1788. A Cinderella story in which the heroine stands outside the traditional economic structures of English society and ends up wealthy and happy, the novel is a fantasy. At the same time, it criticises the traditional marriage arrangements of the 18th century, which allowed women little choice and prioritised the needs of the family. Smith's criticisms of marriage stemmed from her personal experience and several of the secondary characters are thinly veiled depictions of her family, a technique which both intrigued and repelled contemporary readers.
Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze is a novel by Eliza Haywood published in 1725. In it, the protagonist disguises herself as four different women in her efforts to understand how a man may interact with each individual persona. Part of the tradition of amatory fiction is to rewrite the story of the persecuted maiden into a story of feminine power and sexual desire.
Eliza Doolittle is a fictional character and the protagonist in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1913) and its 1956 musical adaptation, My Fair Lady.