Most of the classic fairy tales and children’s books have happy endings, and this is no accident. Most people prefer a happy ending as it settles the mind and puts the book down in peace rather than in a turmoil of questions. There may be times when a book that raises many questions is stimulating, but these are not suitable bedtime reading. Children who are read to, or read to themselves, at bedtime, seek a satisfied and settled mind to lead them to pleasant dreams. In this, happy endings play an essential role.Real life can never have a truly happy ending. All lives end in death, and even those who experience the ideal biblical end of ‘sleeping with their fathers,’ leave behind sorrow for their loved ones. But for children, death is, or should be, far away, and their thoughts, especially at bedtime, should not be drawn in that direction. So children’s stories with happy endings leave the infant mind full of positive thoughts about long life and pleasant experiences. Are not the good characters all promised happiness ever after?
Stories with happy endings need not be devoid of adversity and suffering. The heroes and heroines must experience hardship and overcome wicked adversaries before their everlasting happiness is achieved. And the greater the adversity, the more the happy ending is greeted with relief and satisfaction. Some of the best tales are those in which the central character escapes from a seemingly impossible situation brought about by an all-powerful foe. In others, the hero or heroine must solve an insoluble question or overcome an insurmountable obstacle, and the greater the impediment, the more intense the eventual happiness.Violence is always an issue to be considered in stories for children. Some might argue that some degree of violence is permissible as long as it is overcome in adversity or used only against evil. But many children have sympathy for the victims of violence in any context. Parents are often surprised, when putting aside the book and administering the goodnight kiss, to be asked what will become of the villain who has befallen a just but painful fate. Many children naturally prefer a reformed villain to a dead one, and this is a useful sentiment to be preserved into adulthood, as it is the essence of modern systems of justice.
It can be argued that both violence and unhappy outcomes are parts of life which children must come to understand, but they are better introduced gradually with advancing years. Childhood was always said to be the happiest period of life, and parents and teachers strive to maintain this tradition in increasingly difficult times when the news media thrive on bad news and popular entertainment exploits gratuitous violence. Good children’s books avoid these pitfalls, and by providing happy endings, play an important part in preserving happy childhoods.