In conjecture with the post I made two weeks ago about opening sentences in fairy tales, here’s some thoughts on closing sentences from those exact same fairy tales.
But it was the breaking of the other bands from faithful Henry’s heart, because he was so relieved and happy.
-The Frog Prince
This is a weird ending because it isn’t about the main characters. After the frog retrieves the princess’s golden ball from the water, she eventually agrees to bring him home. Increasingly frustrated by his disgusting appearance, she throws him at a wall, at which point he turns into a prince. Henry, a former servant of the prince’s, was so distraught by the prince’s disappearance that he put three bands around his heart. As the couple rides off, the bands break.
Henry is introduced three paragraphs from the end, which is not generally considered good narrative form. He certainly doesn’t add much as a character. However, this is the story that starts with a personified sun looking down on the princess. It certainly isn’t trying to be tightest narrative, but rather is creating moods and a world with a variety of strange details. So the story finishes on a rather sappy and blissful note as a faithful servant becomes so delighted at his master’s return that the bands on his heart break (loud enough for the prince to notice and think the carriage is breaking down). Having the bands physically break means that we get hit very hard with Henry’s building happiness.
And so the tailor remained a King all his lifetime.
-The Gallant Tailor
The ‘and so’ ending is about as popular in fairy tales as the ‘once upon a time’ opening. It’s a way of creating the sense that the story is over, everything has been resolved, and the rest of a character’s life will go ‘happily ever after.’
The Gallant Tailor is a typical quest of cleverness, wherein he tricks giants and thieves and others into thinking he is much stronger than he is, eventually winning the hand of a princess. Thus by the end of the story he has tricked his way into power and is rewarded with the summary statement that he will be king for the rest of his life.
So perished all the proprietors of the village, and the Little Farmer, as sole heir, became a rich man.
-The Little Farmer
The opening and closing sentences of The Little Farmer almost perfectly frame a rags-to-riches story, very clearly establishing the arc we’ve been taken us on. The Little Farmer starts poor and disrespected and ends rich, having gotten back at his enemies. These two sentences are the whole story. All the rest is details and specifics about how that happened. I’m not sure I’d recommend this for a whole book because it does make the story pretty simplistic, but fairy tales are often about their blunt, clear statements and their well-defined plot arcs.
And they gave him something to eat and drink, and a new suit of clothes, as his old ones were soiled with travel.
Tom Thumb finds himself rather far from home and must be clever enough to escape many dangerous situations. Eventually he finds his way home and his parents are delighted to see him.
Tom Thumb ultimately has a very straightforward, simple ending. The falling action is comprised of Tom summarizing his adventures and then being cleaned up. We’re told he gets a new set of clothes and that’s it. In some ways it’s a rather abrupt ending, but after you know his parents are happy to see him, there’s very little else to say. Without reading in too much, I do think the fact that we end on his clothes is reflective of the fact that the story is all about Tom traveling and it’s a nice detail that applauds Tom’s persistence.
And he called out to him to stop, but the guest made as if he did not hear him; then he ran after him, the knife still in his hand, crying out, “Only one! only one!” meaning that the guest should let him have one of the fowls and not take both; but the guest thought he meant to have only one of his ears, and he ran so much the faster that he might get home with both of them safe.
Clever Gretel borders on a long joke. Gretel is tasked with cooking two fowls for her master and his guest. However the guest takes so long to arrive that she eats both of the birds. When he finally does arrive, Gretel tells him that her master means to cut off his ears and then tells her master the guest has run off with the fowl. As a joke, it essentially ends on the punch-line, with a few more details to wrap up the story part.
Fairy tales also love their misinterpreted dialogue. Most of The Gallant Tailor relies on a similar misinterpretation of the statement ‘seven with one blow.’ The fact that Gretel is a servant also makes it funnier, because she managed to trick both her master and his guest into making themelves look like fools.