“Stories go wrong when people think their own happiness is bigger than anyone else’s.”
– Lancelot, The Last Ever After
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
I find it most poetic that the author of this story chose Lancelot to deliver this line. In the classic Arthurian story, Lancelot’s ill choices played a pivotal role in ending a golden age, making him possibly the single most legendary example of these words. In this version of the story, he’s as much a victim as anyone else, particularly as his once-best-friend, King Arthur, had gone mad. Arthur’s insanity, and all the tragedy surrounding it, was because the man tried to control his happy ending, deliberately running roughshod over the potential happy endings of others, especially his dearest friends. So, in both versions of the tale, Lancelot has learned the truth of these words the hard way.
Similar tragedies have befallen other classic fairy tale characters in this story, and even more are currently suffering and dying horribly as the forces of evil are hunting them down. To stop this, everything hinges on a single choice, to be made by one of the main characters, Sophie. She has the power to stem the slaughter of heroes, but she keeps delaying, dilly-dallying, trying to force a happy ending of her own. All she wants, really, is to be happy, to be loved, to have things and be a queen and so on and so forth. In short: she wants something very basic, but she’s let it become a wanting for everything, and she keeps making excuses to herself for what she does to try and get that “everything.”
How many times have people wanted something that was good, like Sophie wants her happy ending, and done terrible things for it? How many times have people tried to avoid or control the consequences of their actions, and escalated relatively minor offenses into serious crimes and other sins, just because they were trying to hold on to what they had? How many times have people found “happiness,” but lost sight of the people they stepped on to get it, only for it to come back and bite them?
It’s a truth as simple and brutal as any other: no one’s happiness outweighs that of anyone else. Everyone has the right to live their lives as they see fit, and to trample on them is to invite disaster.
However, that also means we have the right to pursue our own happiness. We don’t have to let others trample us, we just have to be careful not to do the same to them, and respect their right to choose their own happiness as well. The balance between the two can sometimes involve making a personal sacrifice, or it can mean fighting for what we want, but that’s the point: balance.
It is when we go out of balance that our stories go awry.