Timing is everything. More specifically the timing of the end is everything. The place that the director calls cut, the moment that the movie cameras stop rolling, the place that we leave our characters in the last chapter of the book define how the story ends for the viewer, but not so for the characters on the journey. Fairy tale endings, the ride into the sunset has been criticized and rightfully so. However it is not the ride into the sunset that should be criticized but rather our sustained notion that they continued this blissful ride with the sun held perpetually at a romantic angle above the horizon ad infinitum. That if we were to revisit our favorite characters they would remain as happily on their journey decades or centuries into the future as they were at the moment that they first set out. Unfortunately for the characters in our fantasies, they must continue their journey even after the documentary crew has wrapped and retired to their trailers for the night.
Let us mention the fact that sunset is a terrible time to begin a journey. If the sun is beginning to kiss the horizon you have less than an hour before things slide into the cold and darkness. Travel, especially on poor roads and without electric lighting is slow and dangerous with a high likelihood of injury. Once you arrive, if you arrive, at your chosen destination setting up camp in the dark is a miserable experience. Much of it is stumbling around in the dark, trying by feel to identify the necessary piece of equipment and a semi-flat surface to lay upon. Starting a fire is out of the question since gathering wood and kindling will take more time than you have, and the prince seems to have forgotten to pack any of the presto logs and matches that were on the list. Instead of warm cocoa and biscuits while trading stories around the fire while your well groomed steads graze nearby, you fold yourself into the canvas tent that remains half set-up and dream about being back in your soft bed… in the castle in the tower… owned by the evil queen… who maybe was not as evil as you thought… after all she gave you a soft bed. You may awake in the morning to discover that you have bedded down in a healthy bundle of poison ivy or within the main drainage pathway to the nearest stream when it rains. You may awake to find a cliff nearby or evidence that your tent obscures a game trail frequented by predator and prey alike.
If you set out at sunset and hope to stay at an inn you have no idea if they will have room. At least one King has ended up in the stable due to lack of quarters and you should expect no different. At the late hour of your arrival the innkeeper may have gone to bed; did we really expect him or her to stay up all night, every night just in case someone came traipsing in at any hour of the night? So merely several hours after their ride into the sunset our fairy tale heroes would be cold, hungry, without good shelter, stumbling around in the dark, likely trying to remember where exactly they were trying to get to in the first place. How was your wedding night?
Waking the next day, stiff from their ride, sweaty from trying to set up camp the night before, tired from getting in so late, and hungry since horses laden down with saddlebags filled with the necessary provisions aren’t romantic enough for the final shot of the film, our now hapless heroes have to have their first discussion of where exactly they are going and what exactly they are hoping to accomplish in the next 50 or so years of their lives. Perhaps we better take an intermission and rejoin them in a couple of decades after they have sorted this out and thought through their actions a bit better.