Monday 18 February 2008

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Why do people read fantasy? What is it within this genre that engages both adult and child readers alike? In part the answer lies within the world of myth making. In the creation of a story there is a dream like quality not only in its imaginative style but also in the sense that it contains wish fulfillment. That is to say what we dream of is what we hope for. When the reader engages in novels of fantasy such as The Never Ending Story and The Last Unicorn we are moved into another world. This takes place literally in Michael Ende's work but it happens as an experience to the reader. Thus the novel is as much about the interaction of the reader and story, the imagination process as it is about a trip to Fantastica. In part when a reader picks up the story he/she is hoping that they will encounter an "And they lived happily ever after" tale. This may seem childish but it betrays and portrays a deep human belief in the power of hope healing, restoration and the triumph of good over evil.

In evaluating the endings of the two works there are a few preliminary questions that need to be investigated. The questions in question are as follows. What is the purpose of story? If we know the purpose of story then we can begin to inspect the endings. Yet we also have to look at the purpose of the specific genre. Once we have studied story, genre and purpose of
endings then we can look at The Last Unicorn, and The Neverending Story. Then scrutinize the endings of the two works in comparison with each other, and with the intent of their genre of Fantasy. If the purpose of Fantasy is to provide hope, then the endings of these stories will be evaluated upon that criterion.

The intent of story is to provide hope. It is to entertain, and
challenge the reader to see anew the world around them. Madeline L'Engle sums it up this way: "We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes.

In literature the longing for home is found in the many stories of paradise, of the forgotten place where we once belonged." This longing is filled, first through fantasy, then in life as we experience the recovery of that which was lost or that we were seeking for. Thus the intent is to help us to see our place in the order of the universe, in part through the renewal of hope. This hope is renewed through truth. Again L'Engle states: "I am using myth in its ancient meaning - That which was true, that which is true, that which will be true, that strange truth which is as elusive as home." As such, story as truth, helps to ground us in the real. For each person this is accomplished through different genres of literature. Then an analysis of this role in fantasy is now in order.

To look at the purpose of story in the genre of Fantasy or as Tolkien would say Fairy-Story. Lets pursue to J.R. R. Tolkien and his essay "On fairy-Stories", in it he states "But fairy-stories offer also, in peculiar degree or mode, these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation, all things of which Children have, as a rule, less need than older people." In order for a story to be good fantasy according to Tolkien, we must have some or all of these elements. Fantasy as a type is so popular, because it gives us hope. Good often triumphs over evil, the princess is rescued, the dragon defeated. Through these victories we regain hope and discover the strength within to continue on in our quests. Since this hope is the target, the end of the story must establish that purpose in the heart and mind of the reader.

If it is to be an effective ending it must meet the sentiment echoed by Tolkien a story that provides recovery and consolation. However the ending is just the conclusion of the text we have. If like Bastian muses in The Neverending Story, "I wonder, what's in a book while it's closed. Oh, I know it's full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there's a whole story with people I don't know yet and all kinds of adventures and deeds and battles." Then the story is going on weather it is being read or not. Yet the story also continues past the ending, and must leave that option open to the reader. For a reader can become friends with the characters in the story. Then the story does not end at the finish of the written record of the book. Madeleine L'Engle stated "One day at dinner I looked up and said, 'Meg just got married', my family looked at me bewildered for a moment, and then realized I was speaking of one of the characters from my books." For her the characters continue to live and grow and develop, outside of the written chronicles she has penned about them. The same can be true for a reader, the stories can continue, and new adventures develop for the characters that we have encountered. The stories continue both within our minds, and within our hearts. Then if this is the case, the ending must work to fit these requirements. It must meet Tolkien's requirements of consolation and recovery. It should also allow for the possibility of the story continuing on, or at least the characters continuing on. And it must also fit the goal of the specific work. With that in mind an examination of the two works will be our next task.

To discuss the ending of a book called The Neverending Story is an unusual task. For in fact the book has two endings in the text, both of which, leave open the story for further adventures. The first is when Bastian leaves Fantastica, and returns to the attic in the school. But in the end, the end of his stay in the secondary world, the story continues for Atreyu has the task on finishing the stories Bastian has begun through his time in that realm, so that Bastian can return home. The second is the ending o
f our text, where Mr Coreander states:
"'Bastian Balthazar Bux,' he grumbles. 'If I'm not mistaken, you will show many others the way to Fantastica, and they will bring us the Water of life.'
Mr Coreander was not mistaken.
But that's another story and shall be told another time."
Both of these endings help to meet the criteria discussed earlier. We have recovery, in that Bastian has recovered himself, he has returned to the primary world, and it is new and fresh and alive to him in a way that it never was before. If the intent of fantasy is escape and diversion, then Bastian has avoided it becoming a prison.
Through that recovery, we have consolation, in that Atreyu will continue the stories in Fantastica, and Bastian will continue to make up stories in the primary world. We also the restoration of both the primary and secondary world, through the actions of Bastian in Fantastica, both worlds have been righted again. As well we have the possibility of more, more adventures in both worlds. This book in it's ending is very reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, in both it and our story, we have an adult who has also passed into a secondary world, and who believes the child(ren) about there adventures. "And that is the end of adventures of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right it was only the beginning of the adventures in Narnia.". Like Coreander's prediction above, the story continues, yet the tales ends. This technique works in that we have resolution, without closing off the story or the characters. The didactic and the ludic purposes are fulfilled, we have been taught a moral lesson, yet had a fun adventure in working out the moral lesson. That lesson being that Ontogenetic, the process of self-growth or understanding of an individual, development cannot come about by wishing, but through transformation and growth through work and experience.

The Last Unicorn, however, on the other hand ends very differently. Yet it also meets many of our outlined criteria for how a story should end specifically a fantasy story. In this selection, we have endings for many of our characters. The Unicorns are friend from the sea, and the red bull. Lir has become king, with a kingdom to heal and restore. He also has a princess in need of rescuing seeking his aid. Molly and Schmedrick are off on further adventures together, after both becoming more than they were before. Each of our characters comes into their full self in this work, in the concluding sections. Our Unicorn knows that others of her race exist, and that they are free again. Schmedrick becomes a magician of great power, with control over that power at last. Lir becomes a true hero, who has both lost, but has the possibility of restitution. Each of these main characters has changed and transformed, each has grown and each has suffered. Though both endings comply with the afore mentioned criteria. They both have Ontogenetic development of the characters. Both also have restoration and elements of recovery and consolation. Yet they differ in how they approach it. In The Neverending Story, the primary and secondary worlds are kept distinct, and though Bastian and we the readers go back and forth between the two, there is resolution in both. In The Last Unicorn the line between the two worlds is blurred and never made distinct, in fact there are instances of anachronistic events or elements, that leave the story hanging but the covering does not fit. As seen by when Schmedrick is offered tacos by Cully. The Unicorn has been mortal, and as such is changed and not fully a Unicorn any more. Her ending is the least satisfactory of any in this study. Also in The Last Unicorn Schmedrick and Molly head off together for further adventures, but those adventures remain in the fantasy world. With The Neverending Story, Bastian and his father begin the adventure of journeying or life quest together back in the primary world.

In the movie The Power of One, Yule Pete says to the PK, "To the people myth is stronger than love, stronger than hate, it gives them reason to do what they would never do." This is true of both of our works, yet in different ways. For Schmedrick is aware that he is in a story, and through he would break the rules of structure and form the tale does not allow him to, as seen by: "Tell that to Lir," he replied cheerfully. "Was it I who said that order was all? Was it I who said that she must challenge the Red Bull because it will be more proper and precise that way? I have no concern for regulated rescues and official happy endings. That's Lir." Even though he talks about breaking the mold or form of story and specifically Fairy Story, the story does not allow him, or any of the other characters to do so. They must all live up to the myth. As well in Bastian, he has traveled through the land of myths and been changed for life, but he returns to the primary world to use what he learnt in Fantastica to be a source of healing to the primary world.

In the genre of Fairy Story or Fantasy are the elements of imagination, hope, and restoration. According to Tolkien these elements include: consolation, fantasy, recovery and escape, then we can say that the stories as story work. It can also be said that in both of our stories we are left with further adventures yet to be recorded, our characters are alive, vital and real to the readers. Both stories provide us with hope, that good can win in the end, and that we to can grow and change, as we have seen in the characters. As such I would state that both of these works has met our criteria for story, for fantasy and for an ending that does work and fit the genre. Or in other words "They lived happily ever after".


  1. Madeleine L'Engle, The Rock of Higher: Story as Truth: Wheaton: Shaw, 1993. p.24
  2. Madeleine L'Engle, The Rock of Higher: Story as Truth: Wheaton: Shaw, 1993. p.24
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, 'On Fairy Story', In Tree and Leaf, London: Harper Collins, 2001. p. 46
  4. Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, New York, Puffin 1997. p. 16
  5. Madeleine L'Engle, 53rd Weekend, (Lecture Notes) London, June 6th 1997 Talk #1
  6. Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, New York, Puffin 1997. p. 445
  7. C.S. Lewis, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, New York, Collier, 1970 p.186
  8. The Power of One, Warner brothers Home Video, 1992
  9. Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn, Markham, ROC Fantasy, 1991. p.181


Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn, Markham
ROC Fantasy, 1991.

Tolkien, J.R.R. 'On Fairy Story', In Tree and Leaf, London:
Harper Collins, 2001.

Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story, Toronto
Puffin, 1983.

L'Engle, Madeleine The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth, Wheaton
Shaw, 1993.

53rd Weekend Tape 1, Talk #1,audiotapes of lectures given at London,ON.
June 6th 1997 (Audio Tape)

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, New York
Collier, 1970.

Kamen, Robert Mark screenplay. Avildsen, John G. director.
The Power of One,
Warner Brothers, video 1992

(First written for ENGL 208A Forms of Fantasy - Spring term 2001)

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