When Bridge to Terabithia came out a few months ago, Sugar Daddy wanted to take Princess Zurg and Mister Bubby to go see it.  (The Onion must have given it a thumbs up.)  I asked him if he’d ever read the book.  He hadn’t.  I hadn’t either, but I knew it had a major plot point that was usually described as “tragic.”  I didn’t think it was a good idea to take the kids until we knew what we were getting them into–especially Princess Zurg, who has a low tolerance for tragedy.  SD didn’t really share my view, but he humored me for about a week and then we compromised:  he and Mister Bubby went alone.  (Mister Bubby, after all, had already seen Revenge of the Sith–minus the parts he covered his eyes for–so what harm was a little tragedy going to do him?)  They both enjoyed the movie very much, and MB was not at all traumatized by the tragic parts.

Meanwhile, I read the book–which is beautiful, by the way.  (I’m from the school of thought that says you should read the book before you watch the movie.  My father is from the school of thought that says, “The book is always better than the movie, so why not see the movie first and save the best for last?”  SD is from the school of thought that says, “What difference does it make?”  Which is the main reason why our children almost always see the movie first.  The good news is that my children are usually still interested in reading the book, too.  They must get that from their grandfather.)  It’s a wonderful story, but after reading it I was really, really glad I talked SD out of taking PZ.  For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, let’s just say that an hour with a thesaurus could not yield a more appropriate term than “tragic.”  I  was traumatized, and I saw it coming a mile away.  I’m perversely fond of sad stories, but PZ, as I’ve already said, has no such perversion.  She is not only not fond of sad stories, but she hates, hates, hates sad stories.  She’s from the school of thought that says real life is sad enough–why would you need your entertainment to depress you further?

We’ve been through this before.  She knows that we dislike Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid because, frankly, they ruined it.  Three hours with a thesaurus could probably not provide me with enough words to convey how egregiously Disney bastardized that fairy tale.  Someone is going to hell for that one, if there’s any literary justice in the universe.  Anyway, I misspoke earlier when I said she knows we dislike it.  She knows that we hate it and that we refuse to buy it because it has that insipid happy ending instead of the original (and perfect-the-way-it-was) sad one.  No offense to us, but she thinks that’s screwy, and she doesn’t mind telling us.  (And telling us.  And telling us.)  Why would we like a sad story better than a happy story?  It makes no sense.  We’ve tried to explain it by telling her that the moral of a story is as important as the plot.  The original “Little Mermaid” teaches you that true love requires great sacrifice, that there’s nobility in such sacrifices, and that it is more important to do right than to be happy.  The Disney movie teaches you that if you disobey your father and run away from home, all your dreams will eventually come true.  (And what dubious excuses for dreams are these–having your body mutilated by black magic in order to please some man?  Hmph!  I digress.) 

So we’d been through it with The Little Mermaid.  We went through it with “The Little Tin Soldier.”  For a while we thought we’d gotten through with “The Little Tin Soldier.”  She was intrigued by the sad version of that story (as opposed to the triumphant swill on display in Fantasia 2000), and she seemed to enjoy reading the book well enough.  She didn’t freak out at Charlotte’s Web.  She certainly took the opening of Finding Nemo in stride.  Well, anyway, SD thought that, viewed in the right environment, under the right circumstances, with us there to talk to her about it afterwards, PZ could appreciate Bridge to Terabithia.  I figured he was probably right.  After all, she’s matured a lot in the last couple of years.  And it would be great if she learned to appreciate stories with sad elements and even sad endings, because otherwise she’d be missing out on a lot of great literature.  And as every English major knows, that would be the real tragedy.  (Of course, every English major knows you also don’t get children to appreciate literature by showing them the movie before you’ve made them read the book.  But why don’t you get off my back already?)

So last night we all watched Bridge to Terabithia (“we all” meaning SD, PZ, MB and I).  SD had informed PZ that there was a very sad part, but that the ending was happy.  We watched the movie.  PZ was enjoying it.  The tragic plot point happened.  PZ seemed okay.  //SPOILER ALERT:  If you haven’t read the book and don’t wish to have the tragedy revealed, you should not read the rest of this blog.  Maybe you should just go and read the book and come back later.//  Then the rest of the movie played out.  And the credits rolled.

And that’s when PZ burst into tears and was inconsolable for the next half hour or so. 

“You call THAT a happy ending???” she wailed. 

Yes, it was very, very sad, we told her.  We understood.  But as sad as that was, look at all the good things that came out of it.  You see how Jess took all of that sadness inside him and used it to create something beautiful?  Do you see how Leslie helped to make him a better friend, a better artist, a better brother, all those things?

“Yes, I know, I know, but–SO WHAT?!”

Ah, indeed.  So what?  She has a point.  Tragedy really does suck.

I must say, it was hard not to feel guilty with my nine-year-old bawling her eyes out and saying things like, “Why?  She was so young!  It’s so unfair!  I’m afraid I’ll never be happy again!  Go away!  I want to be by myself!” 

The good news is that SD was able to cheer her up with an encore screening of Bumbo Two on YouTube.

But all those things aside, SD still thinks it was a good idea to expand PZ’s appreciation of the arts.  After all, what is Bridge to Terabithia without the tragedy?  A book not worth making into a movie.  (Not that that would stop anyone, of course.)  As distressed as I was upon learning character-in-question’s fate, as much as I didn’t want it to happen, I knew that was what made the story significant and meaningful, as opposed to a series of mildly entertaining vignettes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with mildly entertaining vignettes (although I prefer enormously entertaining, personally).  PZ would have thought the story was perfectly lovely without the tragedy.  She really just doesn’t require superfluous conflict in her life, even of the fictional variety.  Perhaps it’s a question of maturity, but I don’t know.  Plenty of adults don’t like stories with sad endings and have no desire to immerse themselves in a fantasy world only to have their hearts ripped out and stomped on, regardless of how nice the moral is.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on Amazon.com reading customer reviews, and in the middle all these four- and five-star reviews, there’s always a handful of one-star reviews that take the author to task for writing such a depressing book.  “It was a good story, but TOO SAD.”  “My husband recommended this book to me and when I finished reading it, I had to throw it at him.”  “DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE DEPRESSED.”  That kind of thing.  The uncharitable take on those reviews is that anyone who would give a book one star solely because she (sorry, but it’s almost never a he) felt sad after reading it is not much more mature than my nine-year-old.  But charitably speaking, it takes all kinds to make a world, and if you prefer happy endings to sad ones, so what?  Life’s too short not to read what you like (provided you’ve graduated from high school, of course).

And now, for extra credit, class:

What is the saddest book you’ve ever read?  The saddest good book?  The best sad book?  And most importantly, have you ever read a book that was so sad that you regretted reading it, or at least felt compelled to throw it at the person who told you to read it? 

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