...and they lived happily ever after.Within the last three decades, a specific genre has gradually emerged into the public consciousness: the alternate-take fairy tale. Novels like Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Seventh Swan or David Henry Wilson's The Coachman Rat, story collections like Tanith Lee's Red as Blood, movies like Maleficent, even smash Broadway musicals like Wicked (I could make the argument -- in fact, the Library of Congress already has -- that L. Frank Baum's Oz books are American fairy tales) all provide variations on a well-known story, often told from another point of view. Some are silly, some shocking, but nearly all are compelling. But what I've come to notice is that most of these alternate-take stories don't end with the well-worn six-word phrase at the beginning of this piece.
--the ending of way too many fairy tales to count
Because most familiar stories look very different when they're told from someone else's point of view. What would A Christmas Carol be like if told from the point of view of Jacob Marley, or Scrooge's sister Fan, or his former fiancee who broke off their engagement because Scrooge was becoming too miserly? What would Gone With the Wind be like if told not from the point of view of vivacious, spoiled, conniving Scarlett O'Hara, but the slaves of her father's plantation? (If you're really curious, you can find out.) What would the Harry Potter books be like if J.K Rowling had written Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, or even Draco Malfoy as the primary protagonist? Simply changing the point of view can alter a story dramatically, even without changing any of the events that took place in the story.
Perhaps that's the reason why so many alternate-take fairy tales are shot through with melancholy. Many traditional fairy tales are about a protagonist going through terrible hardships and emerging victorious -- but if that victory involves, for instance, a scullery maid achieving an unlikely marriage to a royal ("Cinderella and the prince were wed and lived happily all their days"), one person's triumph can translate to many other people's tragedies. It's not that difficult to imagine the reactions of the other princesses invited to the ball, the king and queen horrified by their son's choice, the stepmother whose brooding ambivalence about her stepdaughter's good fortune could hardly be kept hidden, the tradesmen who had noticed with quiet delight the kindness, generosity and beauty of the scullery maid with the tiny feet, or the little palace chambermaid who had kept up a secret friendship with the prince and who had to be kept from throwing herself off the castle tower when she learned he was to be married to someone else. There are always other people in a story, and their feelings are never as clear-cut as "happily ever after" suggests.