When I was about ten years old, I read Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, for the first (and I think only) time. Of the four March sisters, Jo, the book’s protagonist, was my favorite. I identified strongly with the gawky tomboy who had a love for writing and a close friendship with the neighbor boy, Laurie. I eagerly turned page after page, completely captivated by the story until…Laurie proposed to Jo…and she turned him down. My ten-year old heart was, as Brennan would say, crushed. I held out hope that Jo would one day come to her senses, agree to marry Laurie, and live happily ever after until the sad, bitter end. And so I was devastated when Laurie fell in love with and eventually married Jo’s beautiful, spoiled younger sister, Amy. I’m not sure I ever forgave Ms. Alcott for that transgression.
I was sixteen when the most recent movie version, starring Winona Ryder as Jo, came out in 1994. Yes, it was insanity, thinking that anything…the story or my reaction to it, would have changed…but like Booth, I went into it hoping for a different outcome. It was worse. Much worse. Watching Jo reject Laurie was ten times worse than reading about it. After that I think I swore off Little Women forever.
Even today I am bothered by this story that, for me, ended so tragically. It’s been more than twenty years since I read Little Women, and yet I still can’t bring myself to want to read it again because I know that nothing has changed. After all, a story, once told, cannot be untold. Jo will still say no. Laurie will still marry Amy. And I will be devastated today just as surely as I was at ten, and again at sixteen.
But Little Women is a much-loved children’s book. So there must be people out there who accept that Amy and Laurie belonged together and that Jo married the right man (the professor); people whose perceptions were not forever tarnished by their own silly fantasies. People who understand that not all happy endings look the same. That happiness is partly a matter of perception. What some people love, others simply don’t. But that it’s also a matter of choosing to look past the moments that break our hearts in order to focus on the moments we tend to overlook.
For example, I was thirteen when I first read Gone with the Wind. For two straight weeks during the school year I read every spare moment and far into the night until I finished all 900+ pages. I’m pretty sure I cried when Rhett Butler, rogue that he was, walked out that door for what I knew was the last time. It didn’t matter that Scarlett was selfish and mean and that she had spent her entire adult life loving another man. I cried. I cried because it was a love story and love stories are supposed to have happy endings, right?
What I tend to forget is that the story didn’t end there. The story ended with Scarlett’s realization that, “tomorrow is another day.” It ended with her resolution to return to Tara – the one constant in her life. And if the prospect of returning to the one thing she loved more than life itself didn’t bring happiness, at the very least, it brought hope. And for some, that’s enough. (For the sake of full disclosure, I have read, and very much enjoyed Alexandra Ripley’s sequel, Scarlett).
Sometimes I wonder if, in this age of instant gratification, we have been trained to demand the Disney ending (from sad to happily ever after in ninety minutes or less) to everything. Hans Christian Anderson penned the original story of The Little Mermaid, and yet his version is nothing like the Disney classic. In Anderson’s version, the little mermaid doesn’t win her prince. In this story there are no singing crabs, talking seagulls, or avenging ocean wildlife that swoop in and save the day. The day her beloved prince marries another, the little mermaid, unable to take his life in order to save her own, throws herself into the ocean and turns to foam. Sounds depressing, right? I read my copy, an adaptation for children that I have had and loved since I was young, to my five-year for the first time about a month ago. I cried as I read the ending. And then I noticed something that I had never noticed before: even in death, the little mermaid didn’t lose everything.
You see, the little mermaid wanted two things more than anything: the prince and a soul. The story tells us that only humans have souls and the only way the little mermaid could obtain one was to marry a human. When the little mermaid lost her prince, she thought she lost not only her life, but her only shot at a soul as well. But, as it turned out, Mr. Anderson believed in second chances. When daylight came, the little mermaid, now a spirit of the air, discovered that she had been given the opportunity to, “fly to hot countries and bring cool breezes,” to “bring peace and happiness” and in so doing, to win a soul. For years I had focused on the tragedy of lost love and as a result, missed the point entirely.
So what does any of this have to do with Bones? Just this. Is it possible that we are so tightly wrapped up in our own silly fantasies, our own perceptions of the way the story should be told, that we are missing the beauty in the way the story is being told? Are we so convinced that we know the way Booth and Brennan’s story should play out that we’ve lost our ability to just sit back and enjoy the journey?
So Brennan rejected Booth.
But she held on so very tightly as they walked away.
Why? Because she was cruel…or because the act of saying no broke her heart more than she was willing to admit?
So Booth rejected Brennan.
But he had just followed her to a bad part of town in the middle of the night.
Why? Because it was his job…or because she still matters more to him than even he is willing to admit?
Pardon the pun, but Bones…it has good bones. No matter how shaky it seems at the moment, the story is built on a solid foundation. And we all know that story isn’t over yet – not by a long shot. You see, I wouldn’t have been so affected by Jo’s decisions in Little Women if I hadn’t been so completely invested in the story. It was precisely Ms. Alcott’s skill as a storyteller that sparked my irrational response to her book. That we are so affected by the current storyline on Bones is proof, in my opinion, of how very completely we have been drawn into the lives of the characters. And that, my friends, is good storytelling.
So what do you think? Am I on to something or have I been drinking a little too much of Hart Hanson’s Kool-Aid? What’s your definition of a happy ending? Are there any books or movies that you thought had particularly troublesome endings? Let’s discuss!