I want a happy ending. When I read a book or watch a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending, I feel cheated and I certainly don’t feel entertained. I can recognize the artistic quality of a work without really liking it, but I will only read or see it once. Books that I read multiple times or movies that I watch over and over are those that make me feel better not worse.
Romance is all about the happy ending. It is about true love, noble actions, and character redemption. It is about inspiring us to be better, achieve more, and love deeply. Like so many others, I do get obsessed with “romantic” relationships resolving into a lifetime of true love, but I am also drawn to romantic heroes, relationship or not. Lord of the Rings, for example, is chock full of noble, romantic characters, Frodo being the most unlikely. “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Don’t I hope so. In spite of my generous girth, I am cosmically speaking a small person. I hope that I can be brave and noble like Frodo when fate calls on me to be so. He sacrificed himself to save the world; would I do the same?
Romance has a long and distinguished tradition. There are too many forms of it to deal with in anything less than a doctoral dissertaion, but some come readily to mind.
1. Beowulf, of course, one of my personal favorites. Yes, I know it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, but it does in the heroic sense. He lives to be an old man with a lot of contentment and success, and he ends his life as a hero should, fighting for his people and eliminating the threat to them with the sacrifice of his own life.
2. There are the Arthurian legends, though I confess I avoid the whole Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot triangle. My poor heart can’t take the betrayal and the pain it causes. I do like the movie King Arthur with Clive Owen; it gives me an ending to the tale that I can live with.
3. If you like romantic poetry, check out John Donne. He writes the most beautiful quotable lines such as:
(Excerpted from A Valediction Forbidding Mourning)
If they be two, they are two so
As stiffe twin compasses are two,
Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the’other doe
4. Shakespeare has lots of trouble with romance. He had a hard time with the happy ending. You can make the argument, however, that plays like Romeo and Juliet are still romances because the main characters die to be together and are joined, presumably, in an afterlife that removes them from their parents petty arguments.
5. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of my very favorite books of all time. Jane transforms the unhappy Rochester with her love and devotion, and they do wind up together, after a significant bump in the road.
6. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Do I need to say more?
7. Luke Skywalker of Star Wars is a classic romantic hero. He saves his friends, saves the universe, and saves his father. Who wouldn’t love a man like that?
This is getting so long, I think I’ll save the rest for another post. If anyone should read this and feel so inclined, I would like very much to know who your favorite heroes are and why.