Defeatism and the Fairy Tale Ending

Art by ~beti123

Art by ~beti123

I have been fascinated by myths, myth-cycles, and fairy tales for a while.  They all have an almost universal touch, they become tropes and memes and filter across humanity, percolating over the ages.  They morph and change with the times. They become the backing track of storytelling, repeating and reincarnating.  Melinda Snodgrass talks about the power of myth, fairy tale endings and reader expectations over at A Dribble of Ink and gets at some important points.

In todays post-post-modern world it is almost cliche when a story falls into senseless tragedy. It is an easy, defeatist way to force shock onto a shock-proof audience. The best of story tells us something about humanity. It can look internally at who we are as living beings, it can look into our souls. And it can look around ones self, tracing and exploring the links between us all, flittering over the complex web of interconnected souls. And it can look outward, it can look at how we deal with the universe around us in its awe and power and at the loss of control a human has when one extends beyond the immediacy of the self.

In asking, “is a fairy tale ending really all that bad?” Melinda says,

After all, David does defeat Goliath, and Odysseus gets to come home to his wife and son, Cinderella does go to the ball, Elisa spins nettles into shirts and saves her brothers and her marriage. We know the Little Tailor will outwit the giants and the king and win the princess. Things don’t always turn out badly, and people tend to remember the good things that happened to them rather than the bad. So why not celebrate that?

We know what to expect from these stories because the ending has been promised by the beginning, and if you don’t pay off that promise you are going to upset your listener/reader/viewer/player. Perhaps we all know the parameters of the promises because humans have been telling each other stories across numerous forms of entertainment for thousands of years. The tales have “grown in the telling”, as Tolkien said — from blind poets around fire pits in ancient Greece to stone hearths in castles where the tales were sung by bards, to a Dickens novel serialized in magazines, to movie palaces and finally on televisions and game consoles.

She believes there is nothing wrong with the “happy ending,” and I agree. There is a reason these stories have lasted so long. They speak to something about human existence. If our lives are defined only by tragedy then there is little reason to explore life itself. Instead humanity has thrived through its constant hope. It has advanced by reminding itself through story that life has joy, that the burdens of the everyday are often blinders to the life around us.

These stories, void of the senseless tragedy and a defeatist view of humanity, are a communal chant across the ages. They are the story tropes and memes and myths and fairy tales that have stood the test of time. They are not the exclusive bastian of the literary elite, but by all humanity, across culture and language, education and wealth. They are universals, and they often speak to hope and ethics and morality and justice and yes, sometimes they ends with “and they all lived happily ever after.”

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Matt Yslesias on What Makes Star Trek Great

Matt Yglesias at Slate has a nice review of the various iterations of Star Trek and why the seminal science fiction franchise is better as a television show than a movie.

In the second episode of the seventh season of the fourth Star Trek television series, Icheb, an alien teenage civilian who’s been living aboard a Federation vessel for several months after having been rescued from both the Borg and abusive parents, issues a plaintive cry: “Isn’t that what people on this ship do? They help each other?

It’s an unremarkable episode in one of the worse iterations of the franchise, but the need for an isolated and impressionable young man to offer his assessment of the situation brought a certain clarity to the whole project. The Star Trek oeuvre is immense. Five television series adding up to many hundreds of episodes plus 11 films (so far) and untold novels, comics, and other licensed material. Even restricting myself to TV and movies, it’s an awful lot of material to process. But angsty teen Icheb hit the nail on the head there, plaintively begging Captain Katherine Janeway and the ship’s holographic doctor to let him undergo a dangerous medical procedure that just might save the life of another ex-Borg on the ship who has served as his mentor. They let him go forward, because he’s right: People on the Federation StarshipVoyagerdo try to help each other, as did the people on the various other vessels named Enterprise and even the staff of the Deep Space Nine station.

Starfleet officers help people. And God bless them for it. 

The entire article is well worth reading.

When you take a look at how the different television shows were able to explore so many different questions about humanity and existence and being and morality and justice and all the other unknowables that encompass the great questions of life it is pretty clear that Star Trek deserves a place back on the small screen.

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