The best stories are often book-ended by Once upon a time and They lived happily ever after. Once upon a time there were Three Bears, who lived together in a house of their own, in a wood. Once upon a time there was an old sow with three little pigs…. A vain emperor who loved beautiful clothes … an east wind blew through Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane. Once upon a time Gepetto found a piece of wood, Tom and Huck a robber’s treasure, Aladdin a lamp. A wisp of a happy ending waltzes in the wind.
That’s it, isn’t it? What most of us want, deep-down inside? Isn’t that why something stirs within us when a great and noble struggle winds up with a superlative conclusion in which Good triumphs over Evil? Aslan vanquishes the White Witch. Kidnapped through the machinations of his Uncle Ebenezer, David Balfour claims his inheritance with the help Alan Breck Stewart. Dorothy Gale discovers “there’s no place like home.”
Don’t such endings make you want to pump your fist in the air, stand up and cheer? “All is well” endings to wonderful stories bring sighs of satisfaction. Where does that come from? And what about the stories that end with “all is not so well”? Capulets and Montagues take pot shots at each other from opposite sides of the Verona tracks; Romeo and Juliet are caught in the cross-hairs. Anna Karenina leaves her husband for the dashing Count Vronsky and a train. Quasimodo grieves himself to death, clinging to the dead body of his beloved gypsy girl, La Esmeralda. Don’t they leave us feeling a little… bereft? Like our map has been misplaced, or we wandered into the wrong tale?
What is it within you and me that sighs when we read or hear these stories? It’s almost as if “happily ever after” is a yearning etched into the wet cement of our souls at birth. And maybe it is. Have you ever wondered why? Have you gone ahead of your story?
Excerpted from chapter 1 of Once Upon a Story, by yours truly.