Kittie Howard

Friday, August 26, 2011

German Fairy Tales and Great Expectations

Updates:  Thank you, thank you for your get-well wishes!  They greatly helped.  After a challenging week (we had a bit of damage - not structural - from the earthquake), yesterday was the first day I felt like my ole self and jumped into the day - to prepare for the hurricane that's barreling up the East Coast.  Please, please, if you're in the zone, take Irene seriously!!  This Louisiana gal doesn't trust hurricanes.  Those things are trouble!

Anyway, the prelude to a question that bothers me: some years ago I decided what knowledge I possessed of the German language required an infusion and registered for an intermediate course at Georgetown University.  The course description, which I carefully read, built upon my level one abilities.  Pleased, even excited, I traipsed to the bookstore, only to learn the instructor would provide the book in the classroom for students to purchase.

Two weeks later, German fairy tales and quaint words focused my life. 

Instead of much-needed conversational scenerios, I struggled with headless horsemen and forest witches.  With my head bombarded by verbs I'd probably never use at the Haufbrau Haus, I thought to drop the course.  This urge to take flight disappeared, however, when reality dawned:  People died in some of these fairy tales.  I wanted to know how this could be.  Unhappy endings didn't occur in Cinderella's world!

Over cups of coffee, I asked a German friend visiting the States, "How can you have fairy tales without a happy ending?"

"Because life is life," she replied and went on to say, basically, that if one always expected a happy ending, this expectation magnified the impact of even the slightest bump on the road of life.

By the end of my German course, I felt a sense of academic accomplishment:  I'd survived rather nicely. In the personal sense, I had a stronger grip on my mother's favorite saying:  "Life isn't a fairy tale."  A U-turn back to basics kept my hands on the wheel whenever life's road got bumpy. 

Now, I mention this today because, during the past six months, I've noticed more and more crisply written book reviews in various newspapers conclude with, "The ending wasn't what I expected."  

True, a book review reflects what the reviewer thinks. Some reviewers live in the first person.  That's okay; the ground rules are laid out.  It's when a crisp, third person review concludes with tacked-on personal sentiment that I wonder what's going on.  Even if the reviewer says the unexpected ending 'worked,' a tiny cloud hangs over the entire book.  In a tight market, this cloud can turn into the kiss of death.

So, okay, who's in charge of a novel or story's resolution, the author or a reviewer's great expectations for sugar-coated, fairy tale-like endings?

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