This is not going to be a post about love, marriage, hearts and/or flowers. The kind of romanticism I’m talking about is the kind you find in most fictional stories.
The hero wins, the villain gets what they deserve, good triumphs over evil and love conquers all. This kind of romantic ideal is why we read stories. We have a picture of the way the world should be, but it stubbornly refuses to live up to our expectations. So we create our own worlds where things turn out right.
That said, things can go too far the other way. When everything comes up smelling of roses and all dreams come true it can feel a bit too much like wishful thinking.
However, sometimes we need the good guy to get the girl, save the galaxy, win a medal and take home a lightsaber. And the worse things get in the real world, the more attractive fictional perfection becomes.
So then why write anything other than that? If everyone loves a Hollywood ending, why not just stick to what works?
Mainly, I think, because eventually perfection becomes unconvincing. And then it becomes annoying.
Happily ever after? Really? Just because you hook up with the person you pined after doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of bliss (or even seven minutes in some cases). Killing dragons doesn’t mean it won’t rain tomorrow. Catching a serial killer doesn’t stop the bus stop down the road being vandalised.
In fact the bigger and more all encompassing you make the happy ending, the less believable it feels. We just can’t stop the harsh truths of real life from creeping into our fantasies.
Escapism, it turns out, isn’t quite as satisfying when the hero rides off into the sunset and you’re still sitting on the sofa with bills to pay and dishes to wash. There’s a limited kind of happiness you can get from reading about how it all turned out great for someone who isn’t you.
A really satisfying story, I think, isn’t one where the hero wins it all and loses nothing, it’s one where someone who tries hard gets something out of it. Not necessarily what they were hoping for, or without sacrifice, but something that made it worthwhile.
Because in the end you can work hard and be good and do your best and there’s no guarantee it will work out for you. I think anyone over the age of 12 probably understands that. But there should be hope that it could, that it might, that other people also think it should.
So that while stories where characters get everything they could possibly hope for and an impossibly bright future to boot are fun to read and pleasantly distracting, it’s the stories that have characters who struggle but never give up and end up in a place better than the one where they started, that enable us to go back to our awkward, annoying, exhausting lives with a smile and a belief it can and will get better.
Mind you that’s just how I see it, and I’ve always been a bit of a romantic.
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