Happy endings

If you have not read my story, “Thinner Than Water“,1 and you intend to, you might want to skip this post for it is full of spoilers and thus the rest of it it below the cut.

I’ve had several people write to me to complain about the ending of this story. They hate the fact that it has a sad ending. Most recently this comment was left by Sarah Wilhoit on the thread that goes with an excerpt from the story:

This is the sadest Story i have ever read. i wish all the people in the villige DIED or she went with him to the kingdom; or he stayed i wish somthing good would have happend. She did have that baby; that was sweet. sheww i cried through this hole book. well when the mob part came. 🙁

I’m sorry so many readers found the ending sad because I did not intend it that way. I think it’s a hopeful ending and I think Jeannie made absolutely the right choice. I think the so-called happy ending that readers seem to want would have been a disaster for her.

For those of you who haven’t read “Thinner Than Water” and don’t care about spoilers, the story’s protagonist Jeannie and her dead lover Robbie are from a horribly backward and repressive village that caters to tourists’ taste in celtic kitsch. Robbie is killed by the villagers mid way through the story for not being like them. After several years he returns from the dead to demand that Jeannie follow him into what he claims is a fairy kingdom. She refuses.

Let’s look at her two choices:

    a) eternal life in what Robbie claims is a fairy kingdom but which could also be hell with a boy she once loved but hasn’t seen in years who seems quite cross with her

or

    b) escape to the city with her best friend, Charlie, and the possibility of education (finishing high school and going on to university to become a doctor as she’s always wanted) and a real life and maybe in the future some other boy (or two or three—in the real world it takes ages to find your one true love if you ever do at all)

Now, choice b) is not going to be the easiest path in the world. Neither Jeannie nor Charlie have any family or friends in the city. Also she’s pregnant and even with her best friend’s help being a single mother is really hard. Especially when you’re still a kid yourself. Plus I don’t think Jeannie’s kid is going to be a normal kid what with its undead/possibly faerie father.2

On the other hand, choice a) is death. Even if what Robbie tells her is true, odds are the folk of the fairy kingdom are going to be hostile to Jeannie. Look at how they convinced Robbie she was cheating on him when she wasn’t. She’s going to be sealed off from the world of humans and stuck in a world without any change where everyone considers her to be inferior to them. Not my idea of a good time. Also what happens if Robbie gets bored with her? What happens if she falls for some other fey person? Or they for her?

I do not foresee a happy end with this choice. Which is why I don’t think choice a) is a happy ending.

I’m truly sorry that some readers were upset by this story. That’s not what I intended. But one of the truths of being a writer is that your work won’t always be read the way you intended.

Perhaps you can put “Thinner Than Water” out of your mind and go read How To Ditch Your Fairy which I guarantee has a happy ending. Truly!

  1. The full story can be found in the anthology Love is Hell published by Harper Collins []
  2. At one point I was going to write a novel about what happens to Jeannie in the city with her alien child. []

16 comments

  1. Brendan Podger on #

    A pet peeve of mine is when a story has that perfect happy ending that doesn’t ring true. Congratulations on not going for the easy ‘happy’ ending. Peoples lives are complex and sometimes the choices they are left with at the end of a story are complex too.

  2. Sherwood on #

    I’m wondering if some of these are younger readers, who expect fantasy stories to adhere to certain rules, one of which is that faerie is wonderful and eternal youth and prettiness and happiness.

    I’ll bet this story sticks with them in mind, and evolves as life experience shows them that not all choices are black and white, but gray, dun, beige . . . and sometimes silver.

  3. Shveta on #

    I agree with Sherwood. I’ve read the story, Justine, and I thought the ending suited the circumstances nicely. And I very much liked the feminist slant. 🙂

  4. Alexa on #

    All the stories seemed to have that slightly wistful feel to them.

    She made the right choice, I wouldn’t have fancied going down into a world ruled by a Queen who was in love with my man. I can imagine life may have been a little awkward!

    When Robbie came back I did think I was about to hate it. I loathe people coming back from the dead (Heroes is driving me crazy – just kill someone already!) but it was a good ending.

  5. DavidT on #

    I’m going with Sherwood here. I haven’t read the whole story (cardinal sin for providing criticism or comment, I know), but with the excerpt you posted and then the explanation of Robbie and the ending, I think I can see what it would be like. It seems to me a retelling of the old fairy stories about changelings and the party under the hill — characteristically light on the surface, and in the beginning, and very heavy at the end, and when you probe deeper. The perpetual faery party always ends up really being death; hell that looks like a never-ending good time. Depending on how sledge-hammery you were with that trope, it could take quite a bit of thinking-time for that to sink in, particularly with younger readers. As is the case for the protagonists of those sorts of stories, probably not coincidentally. Robbie, like other fae characters in these type of stories, is emotionally immature, demanding, and unable to see how giving in to the call of the neverending party (particularly with him in it) could possibly be a bad choice. Jeannie represents burgeoning maturity that learns to see that choices and endings are always mixed. I expect that the story will stick with your younger readers and they’ll remember it from time to time, as I did with other versions of the same thing, with increasing understanding of Jeannie’s choice – making it a much better story than all those ones with happy endings, at least on some criteria.

  6. Jennifer on #

    People generally want the love interests to get together, period, no matter what, regardless of logic. (Or in the case of Twilight, also have a baby, regardless of logic.) That’s basically what you ran into here.

    Now, reading your explanation, I’d agree with you on this.

  7. Rachel on #

    Wow, I didn’t even notice this story had an “unhappy” ending. I was so glad she got away from the guy who was irrationally accusing her of cheating, even against all evidence, and seemed to have no love or respect for her.

    But that’s just me.

  8. Lizabelle on #

    I spent years of my childhood mourning the death of a certain character in LM Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside. These days I still mourn, but I understand and appreciate Montgomery’s thinking better.

    It took me a long time, and a fair few knocked-off corners, to realise that stories didn’t have to have fairytale endings – that sometimes, the fairytales were great, and sometimes the more realistic endings were better. I know which ending I’d prefer if I were reading your story now.

    That reminds me – I saw How to Ditch Your Fairy in my local (tiny) Angus & Robertson the other day! Stacked with the cover on full view, and everything. I was very pleased.

  9. marty on #

    After not finding HtDYF because it turned out I was looking for it before the release date (doh!), I bought one on release day and handed it to my 13yo daughter… who is still reading it allegedly. At least, she seems to be somedays, she has school books to read as well. At least she’s a reader, not like the son.
    I’ll have to steal it off her soon and have a read 😀

  10. Liset on #

    yay!
    this post made me happy,
    because I didn’t really like Robbie.
    He was creepy, and kind of a jerk…

  11. Ellie on #

    I loved the ending. Yes Jeannie lost the boy she loved but even when he came back he wasn’t the same guy anymore. She got to have a chance at having a real life which I think is one of the best things that could happen to her even if it was harder because she was young and had a kid, at least she got to have a little bit of Robbie forever.

  12. Justine on #

    Thanks for all the great comments. You has made me blush.

    Sherwood: I’m wondering if some of these are younger readers, who expect fantasy stories to adhere to certain rules, one of which is that faerie is wonderful and eternal youth and prettiness and happiness.

    You’ve hit the expectations bang on the head, but it’s definitely not just younger readers, I’ve been getting the same complaint from readers of all ages.

    I think Jennifer above is correct about the strong pull of the so-called romantic ending. I have several readers tell me that if a couple isn’t together at the end of the story they don’t consider it to be a happy story.

  13. Selena on #

    This was a heart wrenching story, but a beautiful one…life is full of choices, heartbreak, people and fairies are cruel, but life goes on and she got her freedom. Loved this story. Would love to read more.

  14. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    When I first read the story, I didn’t think the Robbie that came back from the dead was the same Robbie who died. I mean, I knew it was the same person, but he seemed completely changed.

    But then when I looked back at it, I realised he hadn’t changed that much, really. When he was alive, he didn’t want to go to the city, he didn’t want to go to school, and he couldn’t understand why Jeannie did want those things. Then when he was dead/fairy-ified, he couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to go live in happy fairy magic land with him. He always wanted her to want what he wanted, and he never did figure out, really, why she would want something else. (I’m pretty sure now that I’m misspelling the word “want”—it looks all wrong.)

    ~Mary

  15. Emmy on #

    The end left me feeling kind of sad, but I definitely think it was the best one. For some reason, I didn’t like Robbie that much. He kind of creeped me out, and I kept waiting for him to do something terrible to Jeannie. So when he came back, I was going, “She’s not really going to give up being a doctor to live with fairies, is she?” While I’m a big believer in happy endings, I would have been more unhappy if she’d given up her dreams and independence to spend eternity with a fairy guy.

  16. Jessica on #

    Before the explanation, I was actually thinking of how Jeannie would live her life like she always wanted and tell her kid stories of fey and how her/ his dad was. Since she’s also fey, when the time comes for her to die, she’ll also go into the ground and reunite with her Robbie. I had actually thought that the fey people wouldn’t accept her cuz she was an outsider, meaning it wasn’t her time to come to the kingdom yet. Because essentially, she’s fey herself. On another note, it would be hard on Jeannie if she were to meet another guy and explain to him why her child’s different. His/ her name wouldn’t help the situation either.

Comments are closed.