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On Tragedy

Warning! Spoilers ahead! Along with a great number of other people, I’ve been sucked into the TV drama, Downton Abbey. I cried when Sybil died in childbirth. But when Matthew died, I was so mad I wanted to throw my shoes at the TV. I couldn’t believe it! He and Mary were so happy. They’d just had a baby. How could this happen? Whatever the story is behind the scenes, (such as Dan Stevens wanting to do something else with his career besides play Matthew for the rest of his life), the larger reality is that tragedies do strike our lives, and in the literary world, tragedies move us and cause us to reflect deeply. We seek to find the meaning behind the tragedy, and if that meaning is simply the manipulation of the writers and producers, it makes us angry. In real life, unless we remember that this life is only act two in a three act play, we can become very gloomy about how things are turning out.
We tend to read books with a happy ending. We have a deep need to see the good guys win and things work out in the end. I mean, how many tragedies do you really enjoy? In high school English, we are bombarded with writing which is brilliant and highly polished, yet which is also tragic and depressing. How many of us go back and read it for pleasure?
The first time I saw the movie Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes, I was really upset. I asked, why did Shakespeare write it this way? Surely the two poor lovers could have had a happy ending if somewhere along the way they had just made better choices, or been more informed, or if they had been smarter in planning. I went to the library, checked out the play, and read the whole thing, searching for some way there could be a happy ending. I was forced to admit that Shakespeare had foreshadowed their deaths from the beginning. They were stupid and foolish and dogged by bad luck. It was really sad. I did better with Hamlet. He at least had a noble cause and was able to fulfill it. There was a reason behind his death.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I love this story! When Bryn and Chase find each other, it is right. When the sequels came out, I eagerly read each of them. But when she kills off Bryn’s true love in book three, I was so sad. I cried all day. It just goes to show what a good writer she is, that her characters have become so real to me. I really hope there is a fourth book that will resolve things satisfactorily. Poor Bryn had better have some happiness in store for her!
So, yes, I know there is a place for tragedies, and some of them are beautiful stories. They might be very well written and move us to think about life and our purpose here, but all in all, I prefer a story with a happy ending.

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