And they lived happily ever after…
I was convinced as a child that “they lived happily ever after” was just a ruse by the parent reading the story to suddenly snap the book shut, announce “nightnight” and slink off to the secret after-children’s-bedtime world of adults. I’d lie in bed afterward, mulling over what I’d just heard, and think no way!
Back then – and ever more so as I grow older – I was never content with the idea of a destination. I wanted the journey there and the journey afterward. All the gritty stuff and the subtle drama in the crevices of the mundane. Because after having narrowly escaped being the dinner of the local dragon, or having pushed an old lady (witch or otherwise) into an oven, could you forget all that high drama and just live happily ever after?
Beyond the ever after is fertile ground for stories. Just when the peasant princess thought she’d escaped her wicked stepmother, she found herself living with her inlaws (and no castle is large enough for that).
Failed pregnancies were bookended by a pigeon pair of cherubs, who’d had their own share of close-call illnesses and injuries, and who still fight like cat and dog.
Then the mundane stuff: the forgotten days in bed with menstrual cramps; sagging boobs; too much to drink and the subsequent hatchet being pulled about “what really happened between you and the Snow Queen, c’mon, you can tell me”; impotence; snoring; receding hairlines; disgruntled siblings; menopause…
The characters who once found themselves in the traumatic and abject circumstances some fairy tales describe, would certainly be in need of regular consultations with a therapist. Light counseling at the very least. After seeing a room filled with the butchered bodies of your husband’s first, second, third (and so on) wives and almost joining them, or having held tight to your paramour while he turned into a bear, a wolf and a snake in quick succession, there’s certain to be ongoing issues – for you and your loved one – even if he had been under the spell of The Faerie Queen. Is there residual Stockholm Syndrome?
Between the night terrors and the tales that flies on walls might hear during those therapy sessions, it would be enough to petrify the wiliest of trolls.
Certainly times of satisfaction, glee, joy, schadenfraude occurred – but what happened with the ever after? The satisfaction, the disillusionment, the mid-life lusting for further quests? These ever afters are in fact fertile ground for stories left open by the likes of Charles Perrault, The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen – although their endings have been altered numerous times (In Red Riding Hood, for example, the happy ending once upon a time fell to the wolf). And while Angela Carter fostered well-known fairytales and rewired them, translating them into delicious feminist retellings, transforming the heroines, motives, and outcomes, it’s the endless possibilities of the ever afters that intrigue me more so. There are worlds of unfinished stories ready for us writers to dig our pencils into. I want to peer over the edges of the pretty postcard endings we were read as children and see the dirt and disillusionment, I want to be that fly on the wall, I want to wish I could unhear those therapy sessions. I’ve begun my hunt; I want to know what other stories are out there that have tackled the ever afters left cold by the fairytalesmiths and those who thought to tame the endings. If anyone has recommendations for fiction or research papers on the subject, I’d love to hear from you.