It’s the ‘ever’ that bothers me. I mean, if you’re always happy, is it possible to appreciate the fact that you’re happy? And doesn’t it get a bit boring, constant happiness? Basically, if you’re going to be prosaic about it, I can’t see how ‘happy ever after’ is realistic.
So first, let’s think about fairy tales. The first thing to say about fairy tales is that they are not fully worked out narratives. The characters are pawns in the plot, ‘a princess’, ‘a king’, ‘a third son’. They have no depth. On the whole we are not asked to wonder too much about their happiness or otherwise during the plot, although we may become concerned about their happiness due to their circumstances, if for example they are lacking a baby or forced to spin straw into gold or thrust out into the world with a piece of bread and a cat who wants a pair of boots. So they get through the story and they reach the end where they have survived whatever fate has thrown at them and ended up in a better position than they were at the moment and then we are told that they ‘lived happily ever after’. But what it means, surely, is, simply that this story is finished and everything is as it should be. It’s not really telling you anything about the future, except perhaps, that it has left the main character in a secure enough position that whatever problem they’ve solved or strife they’ve undergone can be forgotten and whoever the story’s antagonist is has had their comeuppance and won’t be a problem again. So, happily ever after, as far as this problem is concerned.
So now, consider the same problem from the position of my young adult novels. I spend quite a lot of time thinking about what it is like to be a young adult. Mostly, from my old adult perspective, what I think is, phew! thank goodness I never have to go through that again. But the thing I think when I write is this: there is no possibility of ‘ever after’, happily or otherwise, not when you’re a teen. Everything is beginning. You don’t know who you are or where you fit or where you want to go or what you want to do. It’s much too soon to think of ‘happily ever after’ as any kind of a positive. And that is why I always leave my characters in a position where the future is open ahead of them, where what has happened in the story may influence what they decide to do next, but nothing is set in stone. Readers may want to decide what happens next, but I’m not telling them.
‘Ever’ is a very long time.