Fairy Tales, Happy Endings and False Hope

Everything doesn’t turn out okay in the end.  That’s just the truth, at least in terms of this world.  So why are we all so insistent that happy endings are the norm?

Christians believe that God has the final word, that all that we grieve and groan over on this planet will one day be redeemed, that we can live hopefully because of that, and that it’s incumbent on us to do our part each day (in whatever realm we choose) to see that “(His) kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”   All of our lives, decisions, choices, and actions really should be under a banner that says, “Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”  It’s not my party.

So if that is true (as I believe it is) why do we have such a desire to act as if everything is okay now?  Maybe in a sense we think that if there’s no hope beyond all this crapola, then we better act like this life and all it holds are fabulous.  To admit otherwise would sink us entirely.

Thus the posters with kittens, balloons, and sappy sentiments. Thus the requirement that everyone be happy-clappy.  Thus the churches where people are afraid to show up if they can’t be sunny and positive.   Thus the addictions, because we have to hide somewhere from a reality that isn’t, well, true.

Yet we need true stories.  Many of them give a glimpse of redemption after telling the reality of what is.  Some of them, equally powerful, do not show that overtly; the author likely doesn’t feel the need to wrap everything up with a bow and prove something.

My contention is that those people most acquainted with God’s power, who most believe that He and His kingdom are real and will triumph over evil, are those most able to stomach true stories and eschew fantasy.  And thus should be on the front lines of the battlefields with addressing pain and unhappy stories.

King David, who penned many of the Psalms, did not act as if life was luminous and unclouded.  He ranted.  He railed.  He wished his enemies harm.  He addressed reality. And then continued until, wrung out, he could admit again that perhaps God was bigger than all of that.

I went to a baby shower last week.  We were asked to bring children’s books for the voracious reader who is due to give birth soon.  I chose psychiatrist Robert Coles’ The Story of Ruby Bridges (the true story of the ugly, untidy integration of William Frantz Public School in New Orleans 50 years ago) and “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,” a lovely story about the elderly, memory loss, and loneliness; it’s by Mem Fox.

I realized in my choice of gift that I had spent most of my reading time with my children, when they were young, teaching them true stories.  I never really went for Peter Rabbit and its ilk.  Perhaps my imagination is simply lacking when it comes to anthropomorphism.  But often, lovely as some stories are, I think reality is the best story that can be told (especially when seen through the lens of — eventual — redemption).

At heart I’m a documentary and non-fiction fan.  One of my daughters recently described one of the art forms I leaned to and exposed my children to when they were young: “all those films about Selma.”

Our children in America and other parts of the privileged world are starving for meaning, for purpose.  They are coddled, watched pots that don’t have the chance to boil.  They need to be raised knowing and being a part of a grand story, the biggest story ever — Jesus’ redemption of all things and the setting right of our broken lovefest with God.  Instead they are playing Wii, trying to manufacture some adventure as they are kept inside away from the messy world.

And we adults aren’t much better.  We are drawn like moths to a flame to the tabloids so that we can find out the latest about the reality stars whose lives we have decided are interesting by virtue of being televised.

And then we are surprised when it’s not “happily ever after.”  It never is in the stories that are cheap substitutes for the “greatest story ever told.”  As I read on a greeting card once, “Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Hold on; there really will be a final happy ending when every tear will be wiped away and all pain will cease.

That’s what makes us able to wipe tears now.  And read sad stories.

The shelf I gravitate towards, at my local Child's Play toy store.



~ by Cary on December 8, 2010.

One Response to “Fairy Tales, Happy Endings and False Hope”

  1. You make a good point. Parents should not limit their children’s stories to those with happy endings. But consider the valid reasons that so many popular stories are those with happy endings: (1) We are drawn to the beautiful (especially in art), and the happy ending sometimes gives us that; and (2) we are yearning for the “conclusion” of The Story when all will be well, and other stories with happy endings reflect something of that. They give hope to those who find waiting hard. (Peter Rabbit, who faced a difficult ending when given only a dose of chamomile tea whilst his siblings had bread and jam for supper, would well have been included in your realist children’s literature.)

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