Saturday, 16 August 2014

Happily Ever After

I'm currently finishing a two month bout of performing Shakespeare so this seemed appropriate.

The crowds had finished their cheering for the time being and the women with the prompting signs had sat down and were enjoying a well earned roll up. 
Ran Dom McGuffin, the Hero of the Age, Toppler of the Dark Lord and Thickest Living Entity in the Known World was making his halting way through a speech that he had learnt over the course of the last six months. 

"...without...whose aid. We." He paused as something shiny in the gathered crowd caught his eye and derailed his already wobbly train of thought. Gudguff sighed and nudged his Hero with the butt of his staff. There was a drawn out pause in which Gudguff considered nudging the Hero of the century once again before the halting voice started up again.
"Would be...unable...to have." The monstrous man's eyebrows pulled down in a grimace. "Acc. Hie. Ved..." He sighed in relief for a moment. "Our, glorious...stuff?" He finished weakly and stood staring at the shining thing in the crowd once more. 
Gudguff sighed to himself. I suppose I should be thankful the cretin didn't shit himself this time.
The Wizard stepped forward and gently ushered the towering Hero off of the small stage with his staff. 
The girls with the cue cards hurriedly dropped their half smoked cig's and stood before raising their cards and waving the audience into noisy motion. 
"Good...people!" The pause was noticeable but not to most of the slopmongers in the crowd. "Today we are gathered here to celebrate the over throw and general victory over the Dark Lord Sorebum!" The crowd cheered on cue, if slightly raggedly.    

Happy Endings
So, this week I am talking about the endings which are happy, the ones which make us smile and in which everything is good. Now, don't get me wrong, I actually like Happy Endings, they make me happy!

Happy Endings? What are they? I've been into Game of Thrones for too long and can't really remember what joy feels like.
Ah, a common problem these days. Well, a Happy Ending is the culmination of the struggles of the characters and various schemes concocted by the lead Wizard. They are often filled with joy and the celebrations of the local slopmongers who are happy that their lot in life may be about to change for the better. Or, more likely to change in such tiny and pointless ways that they wont even notice.

But why do we have them?
We have Happy Endings because after the horror and struggle of the bulk of the plot, after the loss and the forced growth undertaken by the Hero and their travelling therapy group, we, the readers, deserve to have our expectations and hopes fulfilled. On top of that, with some plots we need to have a break from the horror and the slog, much like a man being dragged around the lingerie section.

What does an ending need in order to be Happy.
Well, I shall compile a fairly straightforward list of the things that must be present to create a Happy Ending.

  • A finish- All of the major tasks that were required to be completed must be finished. 
  • No looming consequences- There can be no impending problems on the horizon. Any hint of such a thing is bar to an ending, in such a case it is more of a pause. Happy or no.
  •  All of the protagonists need to get something good out of it- Personal growth, wealth, the resolving of previously awkward issues like acne and body odour. 
  • All of the villains must be either killed or converted- The daughter of the evil lord needs o have finished falling in love with the Hero and have betrayed her evil parent/s, the slightly dodgy henchman must have done all acts of kindness and then either converted or dissipated into the dew.
  •  There must be no more plot points to resolve- If there are then it not really an ending, again, more of a pause.
Ok, I think I get it. 
Good. Now I'm going to tell you what annoys the shit out of me about Happy Endings.

What!? I thought we'd escaped the rant this time?
Not A Chance!

What happens next?
This is a point of irritation for me. I know that a writer is meant to leave a reader wanting more but at the same time you really need to have some sense that things are going to be alright. Some sense that the world will continue in an ok fashion or you get the following.
  • Dark Lord is toppled.
  • The People Rejoice.
  • The Prophecied Hero becomes King.
  • End of Book.
  • Three days into the new King's rule it becomes apparent that a farming background is no preparation for ruling a nation.
  • Two weeks in and the new King is forced to re-instate the Tax system he/she demolished because the nation is on the verge of bankruptcy.
  • Half an hour after the Taxes are brought back in the slopmongers rebel, this is not what they voted for.
  • The New King is forced to recall all of the former Legions of Doom to squash the rebellion.
  • Somewhere in the following chaos the New King turns out to be as much of an arsehole as the old Dark Lord.
  • Assuming the New King manages to put down the Rebellion and survives for long enough to learn how to rule the Nation undergoes a famine brought about by the lack of manpower to harvest or plant crops.
  • The Nation goes from poor to worse and is eventually invaded by a neighboring Dark Lord.
  • If the New King did not recall the old Legions of Doom they go over to the invading forces.
  • If the New King did recall the old Legions of Doom they probably go over any way as the invading Dark Lord has a functioning economy and pays with actually money and rations rather than paper IOU's which have become the main economy in The Nation. 

That's a bit grim isn't it?  
Erm...yes, yes it is. 

You see, history is cyclical, Dark Lords don't just magically appear...well, sometimes they do, but a lot fo the time in Fantasy the Dark Lord is actually an incompetent leader rather than actually evil. 
Incompetence is the cause of more horror than evil in most cases. Mistakes and stupidity racking up a higher body count than Plague. 

You're clearly a believer in human nature.
Oh yes.

What about the Prophecy though?
Well, the problem there is that mostly they tend to concern the things that are going to happen in order for the Dark Lord to be overthrown, they usually don't say a damn word about what comes afterwards. They also don't have any built in instructions on what the Prophecied One is meant to do after. 
The rare exception to this is when the Hero-With-Attendant-Prophecy is there to restore the Rightful Ruler who has been raised in seclusion but educated with ruling in mind. 

Yeah, alright, but what about the absence of the Dark Lord? That's got to be a good thing, right?
Not really.
Dark Lords tend to stay in power by employing a pyramid of lesser bastards who do all of the actual physical evil. These Captains of Evil would have to be rounded up and...dealt with, after their lord's overthrow or they will be free to cause as much trouble as they like. Slowly but surely undermining the rule of the New King and creating unrest. The chief of these Henchmen might actually rise to power and command the loyalty of the others, becoming a new Dark Lord-in-Exile. 
These High Ranking Henchmen might even go so far as to be working toward the return of the original Dark Lord, giving them even more fear making power in the minds of the average slopmonger.
Without a sustained police investigation to track down these individuals the safety of the Nation would be at stake. All of the human supporters and sympathizers of the from Dark Lord would have to be collected and either re-educated or removed. 
All of which would sort of undermine the newfound peace and love which had replaced the old administration. Imagine the hysteria that might arise from not knowing who had supported the old regime and who might just drop you in the cacky. It would be a tense and paranoid place...much like Primark during a sale. 

So...there is no happy ending?
There is! There really is, its just a very specific Happy Ending for very specific people. 

Gudguff smiled up at Mogmush, on the other side of the towering Barabrian Bort was sorting out their saddle bags and humming softly.

"You're sure I can't convince you to stay?" The Wizard's smile was genuine and he found that he was genuinely going to miss the drunken flasher. "We still need someone to run the People's Army." 
Mogmush seemed to think about it for a long moment as he took a long swig from the bottle in his hand. 

"With all due respect Mr Wizard, the castle wine cellar is not large enough or varied enough to keep my interest." He nodded toward the packhorses that were straining under their burdens. "Besides, you've given me more treasure than I can spend in one city." 
Gudguff raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise and doubt. He knew that most of the coin would be gone by the end of the month. 

"Well, as long as you're sure."

"Oh, I am indeed. Besides, I promised the lad I'd help him home."  With a final blurry eyed smile Mogmush nodded companionably to Gudguff and swung himself into the saddle, shocking several of the noble ladies with rather more anatomy than they had expected to see when his loincloth shifted in an unfortunate manner.
"Open the gates!" Mogmush's  voice echoed around the courtyard and was shortly followed by orders and shouts as men ran to unbar the new iron gates.
In the light of the setting sun which began to stream through the slowly widening crack Mogmush grinned at his former travelling companions before draining his bottle and smashing it on the cobbles in the ancient Bahash Itin tradition. He belched and wheeled his horse to follow Bort out through the gates.
The golden light of the sun hit him full in the face like a hammer. 
"Gah!" He squawked and raised both hands feebly before his face and tried to wave the light away. "Bleaarh!" Without a hand on the reins his horse skittered nervously and in an acrobatic display that would have had the meanest circus hand weeping in shame Mogmush toppled sideways from his sadle, hitting the flagstones like a sack of wet cabbage. 
"Shit on me." His voice croaked up from the pile of limbs he had gracelessly become. "That's really bright." He carefully regained his feet and staggered out of the gate after his horse and Bort, now some hundred yards into the city. In his dazed state Mogmush walked into a tavern sign and fell to the floor in another bout of curses. 
Gudguff stared at the reeling figure as it slowly moved into the sunlit distance.
How the hell did we win?