I’ve been thinking once again about happy endings since I’ve been spending a bit of time over on the BioWare Social Network where the grief over the end of Mass Effect 3 is still prevalent now that we have reached the one year anniversary. Somebody said something about Tolkien talking about “illusion” so I went looking and found his essay on fairy stories. It’s fascinating reading, and some of it went right over my head, but toward the end he talked about happy endings. I’m going to quote a bit here because while I tried to voice my belief that they are under-appreciated, I think Professor Tolkien summed it up rather beautifully.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale) (H): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.”
I found the entire essay here it anyone would like to read it in it’s entirety. Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.htm