A Guest Post by Jarrell Waggoner
[A word from Mr. Pond: This week, I’m away to present an essay at Anti-tales: The Uses of Disenchantment, so there’s not my contribution to the blogalectic. Read Jenna St. Hilaire’s magnificent webpartee, though.
For the rest of this week, we’re delighted to welcome back Jarrell Waggoner. His article ‘Soundtracks and Extraterrestrials’ has previously appeared at Paradoxes. In his present conversation, he explores the power of a happy ending—or something like that, I think.
Is it part of the blogalectic? Strangely enough—perhaps.]
Once Upon an After
“Well…” said I.
“Yes?” said it.
“I don’t understand what you mean by ‘happy endings’ at all.”
“Every single of your stories is one.” It seemed insistent. It couldn’t have meant what it sounded like it did; its slightly strange phrasing being (I assumed) an artifact of adapting to our complex language.
“Surely you don’t believe all of our stories have a happy ending?” I added, trying to clarify things.
“Surely I do.”
“Because they end, happily.”
I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere without examples. “But what of stories that leave all the characters expired or cadaverous?”
“But they end.” Its reply so very matter-of-fact.
“Well, yes. But what of stories of lost love and unhappiness?”
“They still end.”
The monotonous reply, coupled with its already colorless voice, was starting to grate me wrongly. “But what still of stories where the miscreant escapes justice?”
“They come to an end, still.”
Now it was just trying to get under my skin. “You can’t be serious! You can’t call a villain triumphant anything but a travesty; a champion dead anything but a loss!”
It raised one of its arms. “Certainly the events are allowed less than happiness, but the story itself is still happy.”
I didn’t know what it was getting at. “What are you getting at?”
“Perhaps I misspoke,” it said, clearly recoiling from my words (it understood verbal frustration so much more clearly than nonverbal frustration). “What I mean is that the nature of your stories is happy, by virtue of the fact that they end.”
“Ah, now we are getting somewhere,” I uttered, relieved. “I thought you meant that our stories end in a happy way, while you actually meant that our stories end, which is happy… right?”
“Yes, that would be it, if I understand the nuances of your language correctly.” It was considerably calmer now.
“Because they happily end.”
“No, no, no… I mean, ummm…” I sputtered, trying to get into words what I was asking of it. “Why is the nature of an ending story happy?”
“That’s a bit difficult to explain to beings subject to death—”
“Mortal,” I chimed in, knowing it appreciated my attempts at improving its vocabulary.
“Yes, mortal beings. For you, endings are natural, expected, even necessary. We are not mortal, you see. Endings aren’t normal for us. They’re… redundant.”
Its last word choice confused me, but I decided to focus my query on what was really bothering me. “Ah, I see. I understand the unfamiliarity, I suppose. But what makes them happy?”
It thought for an uncomfortable minute, trying to get its thoughts into its own words. And then from its own words into my words. “You see, the lot of us have lived for a very long time. And we have a surprisingly limited vocabulary–only a handful of what you would call ‘words’–and a very rigid set of actions we are capable of performing.”
It paused, wondering if I had taken in the significance of the limitations it had just explained. After a moment, my nodding acknowledgement was finally satisfactory, and it continued. “After but an armful—”
“Yes, handful, thank you. After a handful of your lifetimes–about four hundred billion–we have, each of us individually, lived out all possible combinations of any reasonably finite series of actions that can be taken, and words that can accompany them.”
“Well…” said I.
“We’ve lived them all,” it continued.
This I did require a moment to soak in.