Unhappy Endings

Wesley Hill contributes to Call & Response, the blog of Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership online magazine. A friend was disappointed in the unhappy ending of a novel he recommended. Hill replied to him:

“I think you know me well enough to know I’m not opposed in principle to what Tolkien called the ‘eucatastrophe,’ that joyous turn at the end of a story that foreshadows God’s ultimate making-right of all things. And yet I also think — and I’m sure you’d agree — that there is a place for stories that end mid-sentence, as it were. Mark chose to end his Gospel on a note of fear (16:8). The book of Ecclesiastes ends on a note of protest rather than peace. Psalm 88 articulates only despair, and I think the only hopefulness to be found in that psalm is the fact that it’s addressed to the Lord who alone can dispel its darkness.

So, I’d be prepared to make a theological case for unhappy endings. If unresolved discord can exist in real life, then it’s worth portraying that in a novel. If there is a moment of pain before the dawning of God’s new day, it’s worth having artists who force us to own up to the specificity of that painful moment and not rush unduly to the resolution. Bonhoeffer says somewhere that he thinks it’s un-Christian to want to get to the New Testament too quickly, and I know what he means. In order to feel the hope of the fulfillment, perhaps we need to linger in the moment of the unfulfilled promise.”

The End With No Pretty Bow, Call & Response


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