Animorphs: The Hork-Bajir Chronicles. At the end of the story, all the Hork-Bajir except Aldrea and Dak are either infested or dead, the Andalites successfully sent out the quantum virus, and the yeerks are now ready to rampage around the galaxy to their heart's content.
Go Ask Alice is a story of this type. The main character goes through the gamut of the drug/sex underworld and then dies immediately after getting her life back in order - from a drug overdose.
1984 ends with the main character being brought down by the government, like thousands before and after. Not only was he scheduled for execution, he was happy about it. "He loved Big Brother." Of course, the plot in this case was just an excuse to describe Orwell's dystopia.
The (yes) 1984 film version is quite true to the book in most respects but fudges the ending by just having Winston Smith mutter "I love you", making it ambiguous as to whether it's Big Brother he loves or Julia.
In the section of House of Leaves entitled "Tom's Story," Tom Navidson recites a short story about a homeless man who was given shoes by a rich passerby that eventually wore away, leaving him barefoot once again. Only since he had worn the shoes for so long, his feet were now soft and uncalloused; they were cut by the ground, and the man died of infection.
The ending of Mostly Harmless is pretty much the ultimate Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending, as Arthur never finds his soul mate, who was cruelly taken from him in a freak accident, and at the end every Earth in every universe is destroyed, with virtually every character being killed in the process. Douglas Adams has admitted that the ending was "rather bleak," and was a result of his depression. He would have probably fixed it... if he hadn't gone and died.
The Quintessential Phase, the section of the radio plays that follow Mostly Harmless, have everyone's Babel fishes rescuing them at the last second by teleporting them to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where Fenchurch has been working.
The same book has the in-universe example of Bartledan literature. Which, as Arthur Dent discovers when he reads some, always ends at the 100,000th word.
And the main character died of dehydration three chapters before the end, because of never calling a plumber after a minor sink malfunction early in the book. (I honestly don't know why I spoilered this), thus not only shooting the dog, but also mentioning that it's not that shaggy in several thousand words. Though a book within a book, it is certainly a magnificent reference of this trope.
The Marquis de Sade's Justine tells the story of a young, virtuous girl who is subjected to a ridiculously unending series of tortures, rapes, degradations, and humiliations, with each of her tormentors more depraved than the last. In the end, she is finally reunited with her sister, and freed from her life of misery, only to be killed by a lightning bolt.
The Eagle Has Landed features a squad of German paratroopers sent to kidnap Winston Churchill. Putting aside the fact that they're only having to do suicidal missions for not playing along with the whole Holocaust thing, their cover is only blown because one of the Germans does a Heroic Sacrifice to save two children, all but one of the Germans end up getting gunned down though the sequel reveals that the leader is Not Quite Dead and it's ultimately revealed that the Churchill they were after was just an impersonator.
The Trial is the story of a man shuffling endlessly through a bureaucracy to try to stave off his execution for a crime that is never explained to him.
The Castle tells a similar story of a man trapped in an endless bureaucratic maze. The book ends halfway through a sentence: Like Jorge Luis Borges said, if Kafka did not finish many of his novels, it's because they do not end.
However, since these two books are unfinished, because he didn't complete them before he died, his true intent is unknown.
In Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan, it is revealed at the end that all of human history was manipulated in an attempt to send a missing spaceship part to a Tralfamadorian robot named Salo who is carrying a message, and that his message is only a single dot that means "Greetings."
That's the only aspect of the ending that fits this trope, however. The end of the main character's arc is a great wrap-up to his bizarre life and character development, and a real Tear Jerker to boot.
Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", a dramatic story in which the hero's noose snaps, and he escapes his execution only to instead snap out of his fantasy and die without a fight. Whether you walk away thinking this is infuriatingly cheap or a brilliant deconstruction depends on how well your high school English teacher explains the point of the thing.
Deadhouse Gates: After a continent-wide rebellion breaks out, a horribly outnumbered army manages to travel the entire breadth of said continent toward the only remaining refuge for the Malazans, all the while defending huge numbers of civilians. After fighting and winning over 2 dozen large scale attacks alone through all manner of obstacles they get within touching distance and the bulk of the army fights to the death in order to get those they escorted to safety. The commander of the refuge then listens to his treacherous adviser and marches out his 10,000 troops where they are forced to surrender and are all crucified. If it hadn't been for some others acting on their own to secure the city the last refuge and all its inhabitants would have been lost as well. For the bulk of the characters involved it was still this trope though. Understandably the Malazans are pretty pissed when they retaliate, though as the first example shows the shaggydogness was not over for them.
The first half or so of The Bonehunters: After chasing Leoman of the Flails halfway across the continent to Y'Ghatan, the Malazan army gets their ass handed to them as Leoman walks away with a goddess at the last moment before turning Y'Ghatan into a death trap by turning it into an inferno.
However, in the self-sacrificing act of killing the others to release them from their endless torture, the narrator has regained a measure of humanity. It's a happy ending, by Harlan Ellison standards.
Subverted in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, which ends with the entire supporting cast dead, the protagonist faced with an enormous moral dilemma, and the entire world seemingly falling apart, only for the main character to realize that he can just leave. He does so, and the reader is left unsure whether he should laugh or cry.
The Warhammer 40,000 novel Eldar Prophecy features a civil war on an Eldar craftworld that is slowly drifting towards a warp rift and certain destruction. As all the sympathetic characters are killed off one by one, the Designated Hero finally kills the villain, presumably saving the craftworld. Then, in the last two pages, we learn that all of this was an Xanatos Gambit by the real villains, whose Evil Plan involved feeding the souls of all the war's dead to a daemon and send the survivors straight into warp rift. No matter which way the war fell, people would die, the daemon would be feed, and the villains would win. Even for 40k, this is a Downer Ending.
This also happens in the last book of the first Dawn of War series from Warhammer 40,000. During the second book, a Blood Ravens Librarian performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save a new recruit. In the third book, he is found to be alive on a deserted Eldar world, suffering from Laser-Guided Amnesia. He wanders around trying to figure out just what the hell is going on, being led around by Chaos Marines who are subtly trying to sway him to join them, while an Eldar pushes him to think for himself about what they're really doing. Just when his actual chapter arrives, and he begins to realize just what is happening, the Eldar who had talked to him kills him for no visible reason, and is in turn killed by the Chaos Marines before he could explain himself, if he was even going to bother...
And in the second book of the Word Bearers trilogy. A minor Imperial character fights desperately to save a young boy, even managing to lead him across the icy wastelands and through a battle between Chaos Space Marines and Dark Eldar unscathed. At the end of their story, he successfully fights his way through a seething tide of millions of refugees to ensure that the boy is one of the last accepted onto a shuttle, calmly leaving and accepting his impending death via Exterminatus because it means the boy is safe. And then we get a single line that the boy is actually a Genestealer infectee and so will end up leading the Tyranid invasion deeper into the Imperium.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley climaxes in a scathing critique of the very system the world runs on by the three main lead characters, only to end with one of them choosing banishment, the second being forced back into the system, and the third hanging himself in frustration.
In the eleventh book of the Wheel of Time series, the Shaido-affiliated Aiel who was developing a flirtatious relationship with Faile, and who were in the process of rescuing her, are also unceremoniously bludgeoned to death by Perin...who is not even responding to this relationship, but killed them simply because they were apparently threatening Faile by being around her. So far, he still doesn't know about what was going on. One sees clearly that the author finally intended to wrap up the series soon.
Of Mice and Men in a particularly famous example. And The Grapes of Wrath. AND In Dubious Battle. Heck, can we save time and say anything by Steinbeck probably has one of these?
The Grapes of Wrath is an interesting example in that the protagonists acknowledge that they've fallen under this trope, and almost seem comforted by it. As Ma and Pa look back on how their family has slowly torn apart, they can't think of anything they could've done differently. Their fate was inevitable, and they seem to find comfort in that. It's like "Well, our actions were completely futile and what's left of our family are all probably going to die soon, but hey, at least it's not our fault".
The Pearl too. All that happens after finding the pearl is that they get their boat broken, their house burned, and their baby, ie the proverbial shaggy dog, shot.
Bios by Robert Charles Wilson ends with every last person on the planet dead, and all of their work revealed to be irrelevant.
The Red Dwarf book series does this to a certain extent. Throughout all adaptations there has been one consistent goal for the Red Dwarf crew: get back to Earth. No matter how terrible things got out there, Lister and company had the knowledge, that somehow, some way, there would be a way back home... however, in the book continuity, it's revealed that the entire Earth has been turned into a garbage planet, abandoned to be covered in garbage till the end of time.
For a Junior Fiction example, Goosebumpsloved this trope. Every single book had a twist ending, and more often than not, Stine shot the shaggy dog, albeit offscreen. Killed a monster and are escaping into the swamp? Uh-oh, looks like his extended family is still out there! Won the Most Dangerous Game (of tag) by convincing the monsters who forced you to play that you're in an advanced team? Uh-oh, now the advanced team wants to play! You've managed to convince an evil witch who turned you into a chicken to turn you back into a human? Uh-oh, now she's turned you into a pig! Seriously, there was no way out for these kids. Depressing as hell to a seven-year-old.
And for a double example, there's Legend of the Lost Legend. The kids go through a series of hellish trials to win a priceless artifact their father has been searching for, only to discover it's the wrong priceless artifact in the last ten pages. Shaggy Dog. They then are directed to the right priceless artifact...which has a curse on it that dooms its holders to wander lost for eternity. Shaggy Dead Dog.
Thomas Hardy's work, especiallyJude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in which the moral of both of is that life is a horrible never-ending series of tragedies inflicted upon you by a cruel God which culminate in you dying alone and unloved.
And for Tessy, you die alone and unloved while the love of your life walks off to marry your sister. And that's supposed to be the happy part.
Literary critic John Sutherland commented that Hardy had evidently gone for the little-used Clementine Ending: So I kissed her little sister, awful sorry, Clementine.
Mal Considine in James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere spends the whole book struggling to make a name for himself to get custody of his adopted son from his mother, both of whom he rescued from the Holocaust, when it turns out the mother was a collaborator and was lying to him the whole time. He finally manipulates a union conflict into the perfect way to make his money, only to get caught up in a related murder case and unceremoniously shot by the killer. His partner Buzz Meeks later tries to send the kid a sizable nest egg, but the person he makes the deal with is less than trustworthy and we never find out if he followed instructions or just kept it for himself. And then Meeks is killed in the prologue of the next book, but at least it's with a blaze of glory Bolivian Army Ending and his death continues to affect the plot.
What, doesn't Upshaw's story count for anything? Comes within inches of apprehending the Wolverine killer when Dudley shows up and threatens to out him to the rest of his squad. Cue suicide, posthumously framed for murder and the Wolverine killing Mal later in the book. And of course Dudley gets away with everything.
The Magic: The Gathering Shadowmoor anthology includes a tale of five Kithkin brothers. Each of the first four wanders out in turn and meets a grisly death. The fifth and most competent and powerful goes about avenging his brothers, and is not yet finished this task when he is squished to death by a passing giant. What do you expect from a culture of paranoia? The moral is "All outsiders want to kill you". Of course, in Shadowmoor that's almost true.
"Almost true" is an understatement.
K. A. Bedford's Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait ends with the main villain declaring victory while the defeated protagonist thinks to himself that it doesn't matter anyway because Eldritch Abominations will soon Ret Gone the entire Universe, and he for one can't wait for it all to finally end.
In Things Fall Apart, after reading pretty much the whole book about the life of a deconstruction of the Proud Warrior Race Guy named Okonkwo and the complicated culture that he lives in, the Europeans come over and start destroying the culture, and Okonkwo is driven to hang himself. To make it more of a Shoot the Shaggy Dog, a European who saw his body thinks about Okonkwo and how he might make a whole chapter in his book, or if not a chapter a decent paragraph. He then decides to name his book "pacifying the primitive tribes of the lower Niger".
Stephen King's The Dark Half. The entire book revolves around Thad Beaumont trying to save himself and his family from his dark twin George Stark. He succeeds, but in Needful Things we learn that Thad, unable to cope with everything that's happened to him, has become an alcoholic and his wife has taken the children and left him. And then, as if that wasn't enough, in Bag Of Bones the protagonist tells us that Thad has committed suicide.
Also by King, The Dark Tower series. The hero spends a whole book and a half 'drawing' the three heroes who will assist him on his quest to reach the Dark Tower. Every force in the universe seems to be working against them: A sorcerer named Walter, the almighty Crimson King, Susannah's hell-child Mordred... In the last book they ALL die in an incredibly melodramatic manner; the three peripheral heroes, and all the villains, leaving Roland to face the Tower alone... After which he is taken RIGHT BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE QUEST. Jeez, Stephen...
There is a bit of hope at the end though, as Roland's past has been changed subtly. He now has an item he wished he had through the whole series, indicating the loop may not be infinite.
Susanna didn't die, and meets up with the other two in an alternate Earth.
Pretty much everything written under King's "Richard Bachman" pseudonym shot the shaggy dog:
Rage ends with Decker shot and committed to a mental institution, likely for life, and Ted Jones in a state of profound trauma-induced catatonia.
The Long Walk comes off this way. The titular Long Walk seems so grueling that it's a wonder why anyone would choose to do it in the first place and at the end Garraty watches 99 people die in various horrible ways, some of whom he made friends with and he himself just keeps on walking long after winning and presumably dies. What was the point?
Roadwork: We know, almost from the start, that things are not going to work out well for Bart Dawes. We're right. His sacrifice accomplishes absolutely nothing.
The Running Man: Ben Richards' wife and daughter are dead, and he dies as well, crashing a jet into the Games Building. However, while the Games Building is destroyed, the government that runs the Games is still around. It doesn't seem that Richards actually accomplished much. Stephen King called this "the Richard Bachman version of a happy ending."
Thinner has the protagonist track down the gypsy who cursed him, manages to make him reverse it at the cost of a friend, and passes it on to his wife via a pie. But his daughter also eats the pie, which pushes him to eat a slice and retake the curse.
The Wind on Fire series subverts this. After three plucky kids save the city in the first book, the second opens with it being completely destroyed and all the citizens enslaved—because after they saved the city, it demilitarized itself leaving it vulnerable to attack by the Mastery. However, in the third book Kestrel realizes that two things survived from their epic quest of the first book: the voice of the "wind singer" and her brother's pollution by a spirit called "the Morah", both of which are needed to renew the spirit of the world.
"The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde. Young man is mopey because some girl doesn't like him, wants to give her a red rose, and can't find one. A nightingale feels sorry for him and travels around the world looking for a rose, and can't find one either. The nightingale sacrifices her life, brutally and painfully, to create a red rose from her own blood. The young man finds it and gives it to the girl, but she dumps him anyway, and he throws it in the gutter and decides love is stupid. End of story.
In Gregory Maguire's Wicked, Elphaba's story is like this. Of course, those who have done their pop-culture homework know what's going to happen before the story starts, but, after witnessing her journey, it gets downright depressing. The play changes outcome. Making the book a bit of a Downer Ending after seeing the play first.
My Sister's Keeper - Fight your battle for medical emancipation, win it - and it's the same result, only you get to DIE.
To elaborate, Kate has aggressive leukemia, so her parents conceive Anna so Kate can have healthy blood, marrow, etc. When Kate's cancer returns and she needs a kidney, Anna has had it and sues her parents for control of her own body after getting encouragement from Kate, who's also getting tired of this. Anna wins the long and heart-rending court case, only to get hit by a car and put in a coma. After being declared brain-dead Kate gets her kidney, which finally helps her beat the cancer. So they Shoot the Shaggy Dog and harvest its organs!
Doesn't really apply to the movie, though. Kate was the one who talked Anna into the lawsuit. She was ready to die, and they both knew it would be the result.
Handle with Care - Charlotte, mother of another Ill Girl, Willow, attempts a Batman Gambit to pay for said Ill Girl's medical bills: Sue her ob/gyn, who is also incidentally her best friend, for not informing her that she was going to give birth to a severely disabled child (in other words, getting up in court and saying in front of Willow that if she'd known she was going to be born that way she'd have aborted her). She wins. But then Willow dies in a freak accident and they put the cheque in her coffin.
The Ergoth Trilogy, of the Dragonlance world: The hero goes from a farmer to a hero, fights everyone and everything (sometimes twice) for his love. Then, everyone and everything join him as allies for the final book, all for his love, and when he finally reaches her - surprise! He realizes he doesn't love her. So he goes back to being a farmer.
Tales from Watership Down has a pair of related stories, "The Story of the Great Marsh" and "The Story of the Terrible Hay-Making". In the former, El-ahrairah leads a friendly warren of rabbits away from certain annihilation through the titular marsh. In the latter, the warren rabbits make a nuisance of themselves to the humans living near their new home, against El-ahrairah's advice to lay low and stop causing trouble, and literally get mown down by the humans after going too far.
Appears in Faces of Deception, a probably-obscure Forgotten Realms novel by Troy Denning. The protagonist Atreus is a deformed and spectacularly ugly man who is sent on a false quest by the priesthood of the goddess of beauty, to whom he has gone looking for divine interference to fix his appearance so that he could live a normal life, and who like his money but want to be rid of his face. Eventually he finds the legendary valley he's looking for, and at the same time finds love for the first time in his life, because the locals are able to see past even the most horrific of appearances. He can't stay at the valley forever, however, so he's tempted to fulfill the quest supposedly given to him by the goddess and steal an important source of the valley's special power. He knows he will never be able to have a remotely normal life without being cured of his ugliness, and he's shown as being too weak not to try (partly understandably and partly just because it's his character). This is built into a very interesting dilemma, and how it could be solved isn't evident to the reader before the ending. Nor to the writer, it seems; the novel ends with no resolution, with Atreus disappearing down a river leading to a place unknown and possible death on a boat he did not intend to board. He may or may not survive the river, but it actually makes no difference for the story whether the main character lives or dies.
There's also the subplot related to one of the protagonist's sidekicks, who dies shortly before the end. "You know that secret I've been keeping from you for your entire life?" "Yes?" "I'm still keeping it. [dies]"
Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day. Arthur spends the entire book trying to create and maintain a peaceful, unified kingdom. Mordred spends it trying to escape the prophesy that says he will be Arthur's doom. In the end, through a series of unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings, they both fail catastrophically and end up killing each other.
Perry Rhodan has a lot of these. Since it's written by a team of authors, it's not uncommon for a character introduced at the end of one issue to immediately die at the beginning of the next - sort of like a Murdered Arc. Note that Nominal Importance doesn't protect you in the slightest. There are at least three particularly glaring examples:
Near the beginning of the series, a (supposedly) brilliant scientist gets introduced via a very elaborate Sob Story, and it's obvious that the author had a lot in stock for him, given how fleshed out he was. Next episode? Killed by falling tree on Venus. (Science Marches On. It's old Sci-Fi.)
A little later on, in an early "epic" arc, a common-if-Angsty soldier is introduced to us, with name, background, musical ability and everything. He dies offscreen ("To Atlan's grief, Mauve Shirt von Forgothisname was among the casualties.").
It also happens to technology. In one issue, there's a lot of fuss about how a species is obviously centuries ahead of humanity because they have got an energy-draining "Raptor Ray". Later on, the species is unceremoniously genocided (or at least vanishes entirely), and the technology is literally never even mentioned again.
Even entire species aren't exempt from this. The Body Snatchers, for example, are made up to be a gigantic threat even to The Empire... and are subsequently defeated by humanity, with 1960s technology, and never mentioned again.
Worst offender, though? John freaking Ellert, a time traveller with the ability of leaving his body and not being confined by time and space (as much). He is shot twice. First time, he loses his temporal focus point on his second mission, and appears doomed to float through time and space forever, unable to find back. However, at least two other authors liked the character enough to bring him back several hundred in-universe years later, with (again) a lot of Sob Story and even more Informed Ability and Informed Badassery. He is then mind-killed by an AI. Painfully.
Das Boot, same as the movie: after impossible perils, the submarine makes it back to harbor... only to have everyone aboard except the narrator killed by an air raid.
Child of God is an almost textbook example; the novel is about a societal outcast who slowly descends into madness in his loneliness and eventually becomes what could best be described as a human troll. The book ends with him dying in custody after being arrested for murder and necrophilia.
At the end of Ring, Asakawa realises that he was spared because he copied the tape and showed it to Ryuji, and he goes to get Shizu to do the same for herself and Yoko. Then, in the sequel, Spiral, we learn that while he got them to copy the tape again, their time had run out and they both died anyway; while trying to save them, he ends up crashing his car and ending up catatonic with grief. Then we find out that Mai's own attempt at halting the spread of the virus was utterly pointless, as Ando contracted it by reading Asakawa's notes on the video.
The short story called The Eyes is about a pair of private investigators, Hill and Flint, who are hired by a teenaged girl, Heather. She needs them to protect her after she witnessed a murder perpetrated by a member of the most notorious gang in Camille, New Jersey, The Nocens. After a few chase scenes, some shootouts, and even a torture scene, Hill and Flint manage to kill just about everyone in the gang's headquarters, including the leader. While walking back to their office with Heather, they are suddenly shot at by a large number of gang members. Heather is shot in the leg, Hill has his head blown apart by a shotgun, and Flint is rammed into a wall by a truck. As the driver gets out, Heather futilely tries to crawl away from him. The driver points his gun at her face, says "You didn't think you killed all of us, did you?", and shoots her in the head. Ouch indeed.
An example from the Grimm Brothers' Household Tales, entitled "Cat and Mouse in Partnership", can be summarised as follows: A cat and a mouse get married (which, ordinarily, would be the weirdest part of a story, but it gets weirder). They buy a pot of fat to see them through the winter, and decided to stash it in the local church, reasoning that nobody would steal it from there. Over the course of the year, the cat fabricates a few christenings as a pretext to go to the church and eat the fat. When winter rolls around, the cat and mouse go to the church to retrieve the fat; the mouse, discovering it empty, suddenly realises what the cat has been doing. Then the cat eats the mouse mid-sentence. It even goes so far as to end by declaring "Verily, that is the way of the world."
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, The Emperor publically appointed twelve Grand Admirals who would wield more clout than mere Admirals in the Imperial Navy. One of them, Grand Admiral Teshik, was known for actually having compassion, which wasn't really common among the Grand Admirals - Grant respected his enemy, Tigellinus was charismatic, and the thirteenth, secret one was morally ambiguous, but only Teshik actually refrained from committing war crimes, or doing anything more reprehensible than fighting for the Empire. His flagship was actually named Eleemosynary, which apparently means "benevolence"; very odd, considering how Star Destroyers are usually named. When he failed a task the Emperor set to him he was sent on an impossible mission as punishment; he came back so badly wounded that seventy-five percent of his body had to be replaced by cybernetics. The Empire is heavily prejudiced against cyborgs who aren't Darth Vader; it's a verse where most scars get healed by bacta, and those who end up with heavy cybernetics are seen as weak and repulsive. The abuse Teshik suffered made him close off and become hard-hearted, but during the Battle of Endor, when he was pinned by a falling column and a construction worker helped him escape, he changed again, and after the Emperor died he tried to rally the fleet and fought on in the battle, refusing to retreat. Eventually his flagship was disabled and he was captured by the Rebel Alliance / New Republic, who put him on trial for "inhuman atrocities committed against the citizens of the galaxy," convicted him, and sentenced him to death. He could only laugh mechanically at the irony of this. Here's what Word of God had to say.
"Teshik's execution was nothing necessarily just, just politics as usual. Someone prominent had to take the fall for the atrocities committed by the Empire, but with Vader and Palp both already dead, only the GA in charge of the Core and that held off the Rebels for hours after the Death Star's destruction made a suitable showstopper. Tragically, Teshik was perhaps the least 'evil' of the GAs. Life's tough."
What makes it go over the edge from Shaggy Dog to Shoot The Shaggy Dog is that another Grand Admiral, Grant, known for antialien bias, retreated and later surrendered instead of being captured. He got to live in luxury under New Republic supervision.
Another Star Wars Expanded Universe example is Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves. The plot concerns how Maul has to hunt down and kill several beings who've gotten advance word about the Naboo blockade (from The Phantom Menace). Maul does so, until the last good guy, Lorn Pavan, badly hurt and running from Maul, finally manages to get the information to someone he knows is honorable and trustworthy: that nice Senator Palpatine. Then, for good measure, Maul catches Pavan in his room and beheads him.
One of Stanislaw Lem's novels, Fiasco, plays this dead straight. With a title like that it'd have been disappointing if the shaggy dog had not been shot instead of it being Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
There is a Spanish novel called Dime Quien Soy about a woman named Amelia Garayoa who abandons her family for a French communist in the Spanish Civil War, which takes this trope Up to Eleven almost every good character die except the protagonist and a few others, and, of course, all of them are totally ineffectual, because the bad guys are very powerful (this novel takes place in the XX century, when totalitarianism were in full force). Oh, and this book is also Karma Houdini Heaven when some of the most horrible villains ever created (and a immense number of jerkasses) make atrocious things without repercussion. This book, by the other hand, is a very well written shaggy dog shooting story, but is also too depressing to read. Julia Navarro, the author, even tells that this is a novel about losers, not heroes or heroines.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel GarcŪa MŠrquez, the entire course of the story follows the creation and growth of a town, and the plight of one family in particular - the BuendŪas - over the course of (as you might have guessed) about 100 years. While the storyline plays out through dozens of characters, the tragedies and successes pile on one another, with quite a bit more of the former. However, it all comes to an end when the previously booming town is ravaged by four years of constant rain, a character marries her nephew (unbeknownst to her) and, although they are apparently the first truly happy couple in the book (and the only surviving members of the family), their child is born deformed (with a pig's tail), the mother dies and the baby is devoured by ants. Oh yeah, and then a divine wind wipes the town off the face of the Earth, erasing every effort by the characters and any record of them.
The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar: It takes the last year in the life of its main character. In that timespan, said main character travels from place to place, revisits old friends, tries to carry out many different plans but ultimately dies with what little he has been able to accomplish (such as his marriage) pretty much nullified or worse. Sure, he has immortalised himself with prior achievements, but the novel itself is very much an example of this.
In probably the biggest Base Breaker in the entire series, the Red Wedding is seen as this by some fans, who felt a central conflict was ended and their favourite characters killed for little reason other than to provide a huge emotional shock. Others praised the shocking turn of events and effect it had on the story, feeling that the Red Wedding was not the dead-end that it might seem and that the conflict actually does continue amongst the remaining characters.
Quentyn Martell's arc is a straight example, though. Entire chapters are spent on his journey to meet Daenerys and marry her. He meets Daenerys once without leaving any real impression on her and then gets roasted by a dragon. Neither his journey nor his death accomplished anything.
It's actually much worse than that. His death did accomplish something: he accidentally lets loose two of Daenerys' dragons into the city she sacrificed so much to protect and reform, causing mass death and pushing it closer to war, both with the enemies outside the gates and with the many factions within it. Many, many innocents die, and because Dany herself is missing, no one can calm the dragons. Then the Yunkai start executing hostages...
Rickon's pet direwolf is named Shaggydog. Foreshadowing?
Played straight in The Children of Hķrin by J. R. R. Tolkien. The human warrior Hýrin is captured by the Big BadMorgoth during the devastating Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Morgoth wants to know the location of Gondolin, and when Hýrin dares to defy the Dark Lord, Morgoth places a curse on Hýrin's family, and proceeds to make their lives a Trauma Conga Line. He succeeds; by the end of the tale, both Týrin and NiŤnor are dead. What makes things so much worse is that when Morgoth releases Hýrin, the first thing Hýrin does is travel to the approximate location of Gondolin and call out to its king, Turgon ... which is reported back by Morgoth's spies. Which makes the suffering of Týrin, NiŤnor, and Morwen (and countless others) entirely pointless.
Oh, and he finds his wife...but she dies in his arms a couple hours later.
Quite a few stories in The Simarillion are this, The Children of Hurin is just the most depressing one. At the least the characters were warned it would turn out this way.
The whole point of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Conqueror Worm": the mimes, who represent mankind, spend the entire play chasing after a phantom they can never catch and in the end, die and are eaten by the eponymous Conqueror Worm.
Consider Phlebas is about Horza, a Changer, attempting to retrieve a damaged Culture Mind for the Idirans to assist them in their war effort against the Culture. Everything Horza does ends in disaster. Horza dies while retrieving the Mind, effectively all of his ship's crew is killed, and a Culture agent on the ship rescues the Mind. A post-war report then goes on to say that said agent offs herself, and that the Changers ceased to exist as a species during the war.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not only is Esmeralda hanged, but it happens right after her reunion with her long lost, long-suffering mother (who dies trying to defend her from the very guards she had called after she realized that Esmeralda was a gypsy fugitive but before she had realized that she was her own long lost daughter). Man, Victor Hugo really knows how to twist the knife in those stories he writes, doesn't he?
In the Woods by Tana French, at a glance your standard crime thriller in which a troubled detective tries to solve the murder of a young girl. Over the course of the book we come across 3 unrepentant psychopaths, one of which is only mentioned during a monologue, all of which manage to do ruin the lives of people around them and get away scot free.
Cathal Mills, who as a teenager held his girlfriend down so that one of his friends could rape her, at Cathal's urging. Then he manipulated her into forgiving him and they continued to date until he got bored and discarded her. 20 years later he still openly gloats about how his friend went to prison while he ended up a successful businessman. In his own words, he is "delighted" because he knew then he was smart enough to get away with it. And judging by what he says to the protagonist regarding his female partner, Cassie, rape is still something he considers his duty to mankind. We don't hear from him again after that.
Then there's the unnamed student from Cassie's college years. Master of the Wounded Gazelle Gambit, he convinces all of Cassie's friend that she threatened to accuse him of rape if he broke off their relationship (a relationship that never actually occured). Having destroyed her credibility, he leans over and whispers to her something along the lines of: "If I raped you now, who do you think would believe you?" All because she politely turned down his offer of sex. We are told that he is currently living happily ever after.
And finally, there's Rosalind, the victim's sister and the one responsible for her death. Manipulating both her own family and the protagonist, by the end of the book she has succeeded in convincing her idiot boyfriend that her father and younger sister were abusing her, persuaded him to kill the sister then let him take the fall for the murder. Her actions also result in her father being branded a paedophile and her other sister attempting suicide. Did we mention that by this point she has driven her mother borderline insane? Or that she'd been slowly poisoning her sister for years before the murder, all out of spite that the parents were spending money on sending her to ballet school and Rosalind felt 'underappreciated'? The revelation is especially jarring considering that the character had seemed utterly grief stricken and fragile beforehand. Well, at least she gets her just deserts in the form of an engineered confession... oh wait, nope! The evidence is inadmissible in court, rendering every effort by the protagonist throughout the last 600 fucking pages a colossal waste of time. Then Rosalind sells her sob story to the papers, effectively making money by pretending she was abused. Probably the most triumphant example of The Bad Guy Wins ever recorded.
And the main character tries to keep his connection to a previous case hidden. He fails, and gets demoted. He also has an especially close friendship with his (female) partner, which is described at length - then they sleep together. Their friendship is ruined by the one night stand and she ends up getting married to someone else and he ends up alone. Oh, and there's some drama over whether a priceless archeological site will be destroyed by the government's singleminded desire to build a roadway. It is. With the suggestion that the protests we see throughout don't make a whit of difference.
There is one last thing though. Throughout the book the troubled detective is struggling to find out what happened to him in the woods when he was a kid. All that he remembers is that he came out bloodied and battered, and the two friends who went with him were never seen again. Guess What?! WE NEVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED. EVER.
So for those of you keeping track at home, the main plot and all of the subplots go absolutely nowhere.
Les Misťrables features the June Rebellion, which much of the main cast takes part in. After much buildup it's quickly crushed by the French government, with the only rebel survivors being Marius (unconscious) and Valjean.
The Mysterious Card: A woman gives the protagonist a card containing a French sentence. Anybody to whom he shows the card suddenly becomes hostile (the hotel concierge tells him to leave within 24 hours; his wife leaves him). Finally he meets the woman who gave him the card: She suddenly dies and when he examines the card again, it is blank.
In her book The First Four Years Laura Ingalls Wilder chronicles the early years of her marriage, and it's one long case of Shoot the Shaggy Dog: their crops fail every year, she and Almanzo both almost die of diptheria (which gives Almanzo a stroke and leaves him dependent on a cane for the rest of his life), their son dies within a week of his birth and then their house burns down. One could understand why that book wasn't published until after she'd died.
A very depressing case of this in The Chocolate War. The plot focuses on the main character deciding to "defy the universe" and not participate in the school's Chocolate sell, which also happens to be sponsored by The Vigil's, an underground mafia-like group. Long story short, the Universe wins.
The Ice Harvest ends with the main character surviving the worst night of his life, only to be killed when an RV accidentally crushes him backing up.
The film changes this, with the RV only knocking him over, but an alternate ending where he's killed does exist.
The Interlopers by Saki heavily implies one of these (read: is a prime example). The heads of two feuding families are pinned by a falling tree. Pinned there, they talk it over and realize they have no idea why the families are feuding. Just as one thinks that the family feud will be ended by the only two men in the family who can, wolves howl nearby.
The Ruins by Scott Smith mostly plays this straight. Four american college students along with a couple of similar foreigners wander through the jungles of Mexico and end up trapped on a hill with some ruins of a mine and carnivorous vines that hunger for their flesh. Played straight in that none of the characters accomplish anything but dying. Only slightly averted in that there's never really any positive spin or serious hope for escape to begin with. The characters just get set up in this bad situation, things actually get worse, and they all die one by one. It's like the equivalent of having a story that opens up with a skydiver whose chutes fail and then the story ends by him going kersplat on the ground.
There is, however, the fact that the carnivorous vines are contained and don't escape into the world.
The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle is basically made of this trope (and White Guilt). The Mexican main characters get robbed, run over by a car, raped, beat up, lose their unborn baby and nearly die of starvation, only to be washed away by a friggin landslide in the end after the white protagonist tries to kill them in a homicidal racist rage.
Michael Moorcock seems to like this trope, throughout The Elric Saga but most memorably in the Runestaff, when D'Averc, after fighting his way to the throne room to be reunited with his love Flana, is shot to death before he reaches her
The Jonathan Kellerman novel The Butcher's Theater is about a serial killer in Jerusalem. One of the subplots involves Elias Daoud, an Arab-Israeli police officer trying to earn the respect of his Jewish colleagues. At the end of the novel, he has helped solve the case, and one of the other detectives, the one who had been most prejudiced against him, calls him up to ask him to assist on another investigation. In a later Kellerman novel, it is revealed that Hamas judged Daoud to be a collaborator, killed him and his wife, and took their kids and raised them to hate Israel.
Keystothe Kingdom seems like a light-hearted series, doesn't it? For 6 books, no one has died, except for the bad guys, who are clearly defined, and they are done in off-screen, so as not to stain the protagonist's hands. There has been little permanent damage to the human world, and anything in the other world can be easily repaired with magic. But a contrived sequence of events reveals in Book 7 that Sunday was actually a pretty nice guy, and all the protagonist managed to do was accidently get his own mother killed returning everything to the status quo. He resists any of the "villains" attempts to improve the world not because they're obviously evil, but out of sheer fear that any change would be bad. This has been fed into by the alleged "Big Good," who just wanted her own demise. The only hope is that he'll make things better several years down the road now that he's stuck with her position, which he didn't even want.
The ending that didn't make the cut of The Jungle was this. Jurgis has discovered Socialism and finally got himself a steady job. The finished product ends here. There were originally, however, two extra sentences that involved Jurgis being sent to jail again.
This is the case with one short story, as told in one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, where there are three elderly men living in a hospital room together. All three are mostly bedridden and the oldest of the three is the only one whose bed has a view of their room's window. Every day, the oldest man tells the other two about how beautiful the view is, how he sees the park outside with people going by and children playing. So eventually, the youngest of the three men gets a hold of the medicine and poisons the oldest man. Once this happens, the middle of the three men is moved into the oldest man's bed and begins bragging about the window's view in the same way. The youngest man poisons him too and is finally able to lay in the bed with the view. Once he lays there, he discovers the window actually looks out at a brick wall.
Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy fits this to a tee. In the first book, Katniss volunteers for the Games to save her younger sister, Prim, who is chosen in the Reaping, which sets all of the events of the series into motion. In the third book, Prim dies anyway as a casualty in the war between the rebels and the Capitol.
While on the surface this appears to be an example, it is strongly debatable. Prim's death, through motivating other characters (especially Katniss), changes the course of history. Without it, Coin becomes president, The Hunger Games continue, and status quo is restored. With Prim's death, Coin is assassinated, a democracy is installed, there are no more Hunger Games, and everyone tries to pick up the pieces of their lives with a much more hopeful look towards the future.
Finnick's death is a better example, since it is pointless and changes nothing.
The original stories of Jason and the Argonauts are an extreme example of this. The titular Jason attempts to reclaim his throne after years of mentoring by the noble Nestor, and is told by the despot who's taken the kingdom in his absence to go on a pointless Fetch Quest. Along the way, the nominal "heroes" do horrible deeds including but not limited to chopping up the younger brother of one of them and throwing his remains into the sea purely to delay their father, the king's, pursuit. Then it turns out it was All for Nothing because the whole point of the quest was a Xanatos Gambit with a touch of The Uriah Gambit: either Jason dies on the quest or he's out of Greece long enough for the Despot to clean up some loose ends (i.e. kill Jason's family, including his mom's newborn kid and his brother. Jason's mom ends up killing herself out of grief.) So Jason and Medea (the sister of the aforementioned kid, who was the one who decided to chop him up.) decide to kill the despot by tricking his daughters to chopping him up and boiling him in a soup. When it's revealed that they're the plotters, Jason gets driven out of his homeland, but gets to rule another kingdom, Corinth. Happily Ever After? Nope! When he gets tooattached to one of local noblewomen, Medea, now his wife, sets in motion a plan to burn her alive, which in turn burns down the entire palace, with all its occupants including their two sons.note The sons' fate depends on the narrator. In Corinthian version she murders them to spite Jason, in non-Corinthian versions she tries to take them with her, but they get killed by locals, in some Georgian and Persian versions she rides the dragon chariot with one or both sons. Thanks to godly intervention, Jason barely survives the events but ends up an old and broken old man, who eventually dies when reminiscing under the prow of his old ship...which falls off and strikes his head, instantly killing him.
In House of Sand and Fog a recovering drug addict and Iranian immigrant fight for control over a Californian bungalow after the former loses it. In the end, they both end off worse than when they started.
The Evergence trilogy has the main character and her crew planning to help in the fight against the Sol Wunderkind, powerful super-soldiers programmed to destroy humanity. One of the members of her crew, in fact, is a Sol Wunderkind, but the series makes a big deal out of the fact that he's actually helping her in her goal, to the point of actually personally fighting and killing one of his own kind. And then in the last five minutes of the last book it suddenly turns out he was Evil All Along and kills the entire crew, save one that he drags off with him to a Fate Worse than Death, and the main character, who's stranded in a small space ship and decides not to help in the struggle anymore before she Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence (or just dies; it's left pretty ambiguous.)
Oh, Umberto Eco, how you love to utterly toy with your readers. As a professor of semiotics and a leading postmodernist, one of his preoccupations is the search for "meaning" through fiction and (purportedly) factual writing, and the astonishing and sometimes terrible lengths people will go to in order to prove that such truth exists in reality.
The Name of the Rose: Although William of Baskerville finds out who's been murdering monks, the sole surviving copy of Aristotle's book on comedy that everyone's been searching for is destroyed, and then the whole library is burned to the ground, resulting in the loss of countless irreplaceable manuscripts. And then, as a kicker, the reader finds out that William died a horrible, horrible death from the plague.
Foucault's Pendulum: Milanese editor Jacopo Belbo manipulates the Diabolicals, occultists searching for a divine plan that he and fellow editor Causabon completely made up, into murdering him just so he can recreate a spiritual experience he once had. Causabon, on the other hand, wanders through Paris paranoid and possibly insane, believing that the Eiffel Tower is an antenna for harnessing telluric currents. The books ends with him in the country, expecting "them" to follow him and torture him for the Plan. But hey, at least nature looks pretty.
The Island Of The Day Before: Italian nobleman Roberto della Griva, marooned on a deserted ship in the Pacific, slowly goes insane from loneliness and can no longer tell the difference between real life and the manuscript he's writing, about a fictional twin responsible for stealing his true love and interfering with his life. He ends the book drifting away on the currents, convinced by his warped understanding of Baroque metaphysics that he will float along the International Dateline, thus preventing time from ever passing and saving his true love, who's marooned on the other side of an island, from dying of thirst and hunger.
Baudolino: After the titular Baudolino finishes his (most likely spun from whole cloth) tale about an adventure to the kingdom of Prester John and rides away in search of that mythical land again, the historian Niketas is told to strike everything Baudolino told him from his forthcoming history book, thus negating the entirety of the novel and even erasing Baudolino himself from recorded history, just so that the good people of Christendom don't get any crazy ideas. On the bright side, there's a Hope Spot: one day, an even more outrageous liar than Baudolinowill tell his tale.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana: Yambo, who has spent the first 400 pages trying to reconstruct his memory and the events of his childhood years in Fascist Italy through newspapers and records, finds a copy of the First Folio, which sends him on a long Mind Screw journey involving fictional characters from his boyhood in search of an old memory. Then he wonders why the sun is turning black. The end.
The Prague Cemetery: Simone Simonini, the anonymous forger of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, writes in his diary a conversation he has with an accomplice about how to properly set up and arm a bomb so he won't blow himself up. The accomplice wants to come with him, but Simonini brushes him off. He then has a few shots of cognac and finds some cocaine he long ago cached for Doctor Sigmund Freud. That's the last entry.
In Perfume, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born as an emotionless misanthrope with a huge olfactory talent and spends his years wandering the country to find the perfect scent and complete his life's work. Everyone he comes in contact with has a habit of dying in short order, as if his very presence is toxic. He murders several girls to extract their scent as it has a compelling effect on normal people. However, when he completes his mission by killing the final girl he realizes that not even ruling the world will make him happy and he returns to the place he was born to commit suicide. Ultimately all the destruction and misery he caused was pointless even to Grenouille and his inconsequential existence is summarily forgotten.
in Laughing Winds: all of the characters attempts to escape the death camp fail, the ten friends are reduced to just five before the concert they have to play in even begins, then Daavid dies as well just before the concert, Eleny has a mini breakdown as a result, and after the concert all of them are forced into a gas chamber.
Robert H. Wilson's Out Around Rigel is a story of genius physicist/fencer Garth and his best friend Dunal testing Garth's new hyperspace starship drive to the nearest star and back. Turns out Garth set up the encounter so that he could duel his friend to the death for the love of a woman who had already chosen Garth; the exotic locale was just to give Dunal a fighting chance. Their duel is interrupted by local aliens and Garth dies helping Dunal flee. Dunal returns to their home planet to discover that Garth had misinterpreted the effects of relativity: what felt like a monthlong voyage was over a thousand years and their entire civilization is ashes. Dunal wanders until committing suicide.
Lemony Snicket's Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid opens with a short story about a woman who leaves home to travel for months to inquire a wise man who lives on top of a mountain about the meaning of life. At the top she finds he's not a wise man but a wide man. The woman returns home with no answers, then finds her mother has disowned her and stolen her fishing pole, her husband left her for her former third-grade teacher, and she's flunked third grade. The end.