The Privilege of the Happy Ending is a fairy tale alternate history that sees a 12th century England ravaged by monsters, following a small girl and her magical chicken as they outrun the hordes of beasts laying waste to their home. It’s masterfully written, using the fairy tale form flawlessly, with the uniquely witty addition of an omnipotent narrator who comments on the pitfalls of reader’s expectations and the stories that don’t always have a happy ending.
THE PRIVILEGE OF THE HAPPY ENDING
Clarkesworld Magazine, August 2018
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A fairy tale at heart, the story follows a young girl and her talking hen through the terror of outrunning hordes of monsters, and the tragedy of outliving everyone she’s ever known. Johnson treats the tragedy matter-of-factly as so many fairy tales do, brilliantly using the form to tell this strange story of an alternate history set in the 12th century. Most interesting is the insertion of himself into the narrative, breaking the fourth wall to comment on authors and their usage of plot devices to make the readers feel things. I love the final stories made up for each minor character, giving readers the ability to fill in where they want in order to please themselves. All-in-all, it’s a masterfully crafted guardian and ward story pitting good against evil.
The hen is the best part of this story, her stoic words and sage wisdom propelling the young girl out of danger and giving her a chance to live. It braves the monsters, taking on the leader of the pack with no fear. The girl adds realistic human reactions to each of the terrifying scenes, the hen having to work overtime just to get the girl out of crying in the middle of a field and into a safe place. As stated above, the narrator is a great use of omnipotent storytelling, taking on a personality of his own and influencing the future of the story. The ultimate terror comes from these monsters who destroy everything in their path, finding it impossible to sate their endless hunger. They tear through animals, people, all structures in their path. I pictured them as roving bands of Stitch’s (like Lilo & Stitch) and, no matter how many details were put forward, I just couldn’t get that out of my head. I feel as though the narrator/author would understand.
We’re taken to the 12th century English countryside, roaming between villages that house no more than the basic tradesman and small groups of people huddled in their homes. It’s your typical run-of-the-mill medieval set of towns with this horror tearing through them. The final showdown takes place in decaying ruins, adding a gothic undertone to the concluding pages. Darkness is used as a horror device, and used well at that.
Fairy Tale, Monsters, Alternate History, 12th Century, Magical Realism, Anthropomorphism, Magic, Fantasy
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