Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Happy Ending Or A Good End

Fictional characters can either have a happy ending or make a good end but can hardly do both. For heroic characters, a good end means:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
  The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
  Death cometh soon or late.       
And how can man die better
  Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
  And the temples of his gods
-copied from here.

Hrolf Kraki almost does manage to do both. His peaceful, prosperous reign of seven years would have been a happy ending if the narrative had ended then. But we know that a happy ending has to be followed by the character's death. The only question is how he will die. Hrolf, of course, makes a good end.

 A legend is complete when it incorporates death:

"All our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse Legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarok, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo...
"With Dark Knight, time has come to the Batman and the capstone that makes legends what they are has finally been fitted."
-Alan Moore, "The Mark of the Batman: An Introduction" IN Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, The Dark Knight Returns (London, 1986), pp. iv-vii AT p. vii.

A Ragnarok-like "last battle" awaits Hrolf.

Let us pause to list our names to conjure with:

Lord Macaulay
Poul Anderson
Alan Moore
Frank Miller

Hrolf Kraki
Robin Hood
the Norse gods
Davy Crockett
the Batman

Another quiz question: where does Anderson mention Crockett?


  1. Paul:
    In response to your quiz question, Carl Farness told the Teurings tales of "Crockett the hunter" as well as others in "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth." He trusted that the stories would die out within a few decades or generations at most, thus not causing paradoxes (and evidently he was right), but I still find it funny to envision people in the early 4th Century singing about "Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier."

    1. Hi, David!

      True, but Carl Farness also talked about things the Goths knew about. Such as Rome the great and mighty (but troubled) and about Diocletian and his stern laws. Rome meant more, in many ways, to the Goths than some legendary "king of the wild frontier."


    2. Sean:
      True, but cool stories CAN endure even when they're not of real significance to the listeners. Why else do non-Australians know the words to "Waltzing Matilda," for instance? (Even if we don't always know what some of those words MEAN when Australians use them....)

    3. David,
      "Waltzing Matilda" is full of social commentary, apparently.

    4. Hi, David!

      Yes, I agree with you. Stories can endure, and thus still MEAN something, even to those who don't understand everything that is found in a story.


  2. Kaor, Paul!

    Just a tiny correction. King Hrolf reigned for a good deal longer than seven years. That merely refers to the seven years he lived after his humiliation of King Adhils. Since Hrolf lived long enough to have two adult daughters with children, I would guess he was aged about 40 to 45 at the time he was killed in battle.


    1. Sean,
      Yes. I meant just the last seven years, which were particularly peaceful and prosperous, but did not make this clear.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I fear I was being pedantic! (Smiles)