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Esoteric Happy Ending / Literature

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  • The plays and stories of Anton Chekhov are ostensibly comedies, and they are still considered comedies in Russia. However, many other cultures tend to miss the unsentimental amusement Chekhov takes in his myopic characters and their future, and consider his works much darker, even tragic.
  • Most of Flannery O’Connor's works share this trait—but she herself insisted that she was a writer of comic stories, rightly regarded. Again and again, her protagonists (often ironically and grotesquely) lose everything they thought they wanted and valued—their possessions, their dignity, their self-image, even their lives. Burned down back to the foundations, they are left unarmored, often ridiculous and humiliated, but finally open to the terrible incursion of God's grace. O'Connor famously claimed that Wise Blood had a "very hopeful" ending; this reading, though, absolutely depends on understanding the author's and protagonist's priorities, which many readers have trouble internalizing.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's works:
    • "Celephais," which ends with the main character finally returning to the wondrous dream-city that he created in his youth where he is appointed the chief god of all of the regions of Dream; and all he had to do was fall off a cliff and let the tides cast his corpse upon the rocks. Lovecraft lampshades this later in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath when that story's protagonist meets this exact character who's since come to regret his decision but obviously can never go back.
    • The sheer Values Dissonance of applying this trope to "The Street" is why it's almost impossible to find it in print, as it involves treating the spontaneous collapse of an overcrowded slum that kills everybody living there as a good thing. Why? Because A: it used to be a beautiful Colonial country lane line with rosebushes and is now a dirty slum, and B: all of the people living in it are dirty non-WASP immigrants ungratefully plotting revolution against America for taking them in... at least, so the narration says they are.
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  • Harlan Ellison claims that the ending of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is intended to be happy. Sure, the narrator ends by saying the title line in utter despair, after mercy-killing every other remaining human in the world, but he's so unreliable he hasn't realized that his actions represent the final triumph of the human spirit. The game makes it into more a Bittersweet Ending, with the humans finally taking down AM and settling into the duty of being a watchdog for the AIs as they await the reawakening of the humans on the moon.
  • By all accounts, Hans Christian Andersen was a very depressed man. Out of all his fairy tales, there are only a few with unambiguously happy endings.
  • Robert Silverberg's stories fall into this occasionally because his personal philosophy is so different from how most people (or at least most modern Western readers) view life and humanity. A particularly jarring example is The Face Upon The Waters—the main character spends most of the story trying to maintain his cultural identity after the destruction of Earth and the scattering of its people, but ultimately concludes that people should adapt to whatever culture they live amongst... and joins up with The Corruption/Assimilation Plot, which has a stated goal of assimilating everyone it can and killing everyone it can't.

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  • The Arabian Nights stories end with Scheherazade living happily ever after with her husband the king. A king who, when he first met Scheherazade, hated women so much that he married a new one every night and then had her executed after sleeping with her. Sure, Scheherazade put a stop to all this, but after his past serial killings, many readers wonder "Why Would Anyone Take Him Back??"note 
  • At the end of Atlas Shrugged, Galt's Gulch is the only non-Crapsack place left in the whole world. Which is great, because all of the looters and moochers are gone and the good people can rebuild the world, right? Then you remember the millions of innocent children who were left to starve... (Then again, by the book's morality, this is the looters' and moochers' fault rather than anything to blame on the protagonists...)
  • The Beast Within: A Tale of... Beauty's Prince does this to the happy ending of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The curse is broken, the Beast is human again, and he and Belle are together... except the novella adds a backstory for the Beast that involves dumping his first fiancee for being poor, horrifically abusing his second fiancee and gleefully allowing her family to go to ruin, and ordering a hit on a painter because he didn't like the fact that the painting reflected the curse on him. Belle never learns about any of this, which means she's unwittingly ending up with someone considerably worse than she thought, while the Beast himself has forgotten his past for reasons never fully explained, meaning there's no chance of him learning from his past or making amends. The ending is still treated as completely happy, but more than a few readers have expressed a wish for Belle to leave the Beast altogether.
  • Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov ends with the protagonist arrested by his nation's totalitarian government, and his young son horrifically killed by a crowd of mental patients—on film!—due to a clerical error. But then Nabokov reaches through the layers of reality and gives his main character the gift of insanity to make him forget all his pain. The novel ends with Adam Krug, as a result of his insanity, rushing the dictator and being shot to death. Nabokov, however, refuses to write this conclusion (after implying its inevitability) and instead describes his room and decides to go mothing. It's a strange case of being incapable of giving Krug a happy ending (even the insanity so benevolently bestowed upon him results directly in his being killed), and so at least giving him the consolation prize of not writing it at all, and therefore not allowing it to happen. It's about as esoteric as a 'happy ending' can get.
  • In the gothic fantasy novel The Binding, it's strongly implied that the main characters will get to be together, but thanks to some What Happened to the Mouse? it's implied that Lucian's father is going to go on sexually abusing his maids and getting away with it and there's also the rather awkward fact that Lucian left his fiancée at the altar without a word of explanation, probably ruining her reputation for life. Plus with the binding library burned down, a lot of people may end up saddled with memories they paid a lot of money to forget about.
  • Quest for the White Witch, the final novel in Tanith Lee's Birthgrave trilogy, ends with Vazkor finally meeting his neglectful mother. And the two decide that they like each other enough to enter into an incestuous mother/son marriage. This is considered “all right” because they are both essentially deities.
  • At the end of The Book of the Dun Cow's Peace at the Last, almost all of the named sympathetic characters are killed in a Last Stand by a mob of corrupted animals. Meanwhile, Wyrm's Hate Plague has corrupted the world and divided its animal inhabitants beyond repair. But it's played as a happy ending since they're reunited in the afterlife, along with characters who died in the previous books.
  • Whatever Evelyn Waugh may say about God's love and the power for redemption in Brideshead Revisited, the facts remain as such: Sebastian's a hopeless alcoholic, Julia and Charles, having gone through with their respective divorces, decide never to see each other again, and the entire world is going to be inherited by the likes of Mottram and Hooper.
  • Chris Adrian's The Childrens Hospital ends with every single adult left on Earth dying, as the global flooding recedes and the children leave the eponymous hospital to inherit their new Earth. The final image is the main character screaming as her newborn child is taken away and she dissolves into ash. Lampshaded throughout the book by the narrator who, as an angel who was once human, is supposed to wholeheartedly accept the end of the world as righteous, but can't quite do so.
  • Some of the "good" endings in the Choose Your Own Adventure books merely consists of the main character surviving, stopping the Big Bad temporarily, or implying that perhaps you will have success in the future, leaving many plot points unsolved.
  • The ending of C. S. Lewis's final The Chronicles of Narnia's book, The Last Battle, qualified as this for many young readers. Narnia ends, and everyone except Susan dies. Some minor characters are tormented and destroyed by a horrific many-armed God of Evil, while others are judged unworthy and vanish forever into Aslan's shadow. But the important people don't care about that because they all go to the "real" Narnia (a stand-in for heaven) as the Christian subtext becomes text. It can be uplifting or inspire nightmares, depending on which scenes stick with you. (Neil Gaiman brilliantly deconstructed this in his short story The Problem of Susan, in which he shows what happened to Susan after her siblings died in a train crash and she had to identify their corpses.)
  • The end of The Dark is Rising sequence is unsatisfying in several ways. The forces of the Dark have been beaten back; all the main characters are OK and have forged a close bond; Bran has grown up normal, decided to stay with his foster-father, and has realised he's attracted to Jane. But not only do five of the Six have to forget that magic exists and never see their beloved Merriman again, the lovely magic of the Light is going to withdraw from the world altogether. And poor John Rowland is going to believe that his wife has suddenly died (which is presented as better than knowing she was an agent of the Dark). Will gets to remember everything because he's an Old One, but he'll have nobody to talk to about it for most of the time.
  • The "Susannah in New York" epilogue of The Dark Tower series has Susannah going into an alternate reality version of New York where Eddie and Jake are still alive and in fact are brothers. She appears in Central Park at Christmas time, alternate-Eddie greets her with a cup of hot chocolate, and it's clearly supposed to be her happy ending... Except many readers feel that Susannah abandoned the quest and is now trapped in a world that isn't her own with a couple of Replacement Goldfish who aren't really the people she loved.
  • The final book of The Demon's Lexicon has the surviving magicians pulling a mass Heel–Face Turn and joining the Goblin Market. Except we're given no reason to believe that it's genuine with all or even any of them, and they're probably just planning to destroy the Market from within.
  • Discworld:
    • It's explored in Witches Abroad where Lilith gives what is usually considered to be a happy ending to people whether they want it or not. This includes convincing a wolf it's human so that it nearly starves to death and goes insane, since it can't live as either human or wolf now, so that it would eat a grandmother and dress up like her a la Little Red Riding Hood. By the time the three witches arrive, all the Big Bad Wolf wants is an ending.
    • Intentionally played in Eric which ends by saying that three wishes provided a happy ending for most of the people they've affected and giving as examples the Tezumen, who continue to slaughter people but no longer do so because of religion so they don't need to get up so early; the Tsorteans and Ephebians, whose war is over, allowing them to prepare for the next one; the demons and damned souls, who get back to inflicting/experiencing material punishment on immaterial spirit in the knowledge that at least it's not Astfgl's psychological torture; and Astfgl himself, who as Life President of Hell gets to spend his time writing policy statements entirely unaware that the rest of the demonic lowerarchy is completely ignoring him. What happened to our actual protagonists, we don't get told beyond "It could be worse". Lampshaded by the last two lines "And this too was happiness. Of a sort."
  • Fifty Shades of Grey is meant to have a happy ending, but many would argue that marrying and starting a family with a controlling abuser is NOT a happy ending.
    • The first book actually has a potential inversion; it ends with Ana deciding she and Christian are incompatible and leaving him, which the book treats as a Downer Ending, but many readers see this as a good thing because the relationship is unhealthy and disproportionately skewed in Christian's favor.
  • A Girl Called Blue is about girls growing up in a strict home for children in 1960s Ireland (run by Sadist Nuns). The book ends with Blue rejoicing that she's finally found a family of her own. Except the "family" is two people she's met twice and they're not allowed to adopt her so she has to wait three years before she's old enough to leave the school with them only allowed to visit her twice a year. Also three of her best friends have now left, one being drowned, another going back to live with her father and the last being sent to another school and she has been forced to sleep alone in a cramped room, and will likely still have to endure plenty more abuse from the nuns for the next three years. Oh and she never finds out who her real mother is either and the nuns will keep abusing children for many years in Ireland.
  • Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is deliberately written to be this. Amy finally has someone she can be herself with and Nick has the child he always wanted. They may eventually kill each other but, at heart, they're both sociopaths. This is averted in the film version, where Nick comes across more sympathetically.
  • The Goosebumps books were famous for featuring Cruel Twist Endings, but The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has one that's played as happy and upbeat despite being utterly horrifying in implication: After repairing the titular clock and returning to the present, the protagonist discovers that he has inadvertently erased his Annoying Younger Sister from existence. This is played as a good thing for him because the girl is portrayed as a real Enfant Terrible and the vast majority of fans despise her. To them, the ending is a straight-up Karmic Twist Ending that works out happily for the protagonist. Still, it is Disproportionate Retribution to have her actions result in her complete disappearance. While he does say that there's probably a way to use the clock to revive her, and he'll probably do it someday, given that he himself was nearly erased the first time he used the clock, what guarantee is there he'll even survive trying, let alone actually succeed?
  • Nearly all of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books have one of these. Save the Green-Sky Trilogy, and only because she was deluged with mail, realized she made a big goof, and authorized a sequel in the form of a video game, possibly the first video game to be acknowledged as Canon for something written in another medium.
  • At the end of The Goddess Test, Kate's beloved mother is actually the goddess Demeter, so she and her mother can be together for eternity. Sounds great, huh? Except if you think back to the prologue, where we hear Demeter outright telling Hades that she's going to have her second daughter take the goddess test and be his wife, even though eleven girls have already died in the attempt and Hades says he wants to just give up rather than see anyone else die for him. There's also the fact that the last girl who was manipulated into an arranged marriage with Hades later begged for death. Throughout the story, there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that being there is Kate's choice. However, the reason she made the deal with Henry in the first place was to save Ava and then the reason she kept the deal was so that he could keep her mother alive and she could spend time with her before she died. Except you find out that both Ava and Diana are Goddesses and were never in any real danger. So that means that while it was technically Kate's choice, her entire choice was based on a lie. Plus the ending reveals that Diana put her daughter through four years of emotional turmoil by making her think that her mother was on the verge of death for years and forcing Kate to take care of her for no reason other than to set her up for the test.
  • One of the major reasons the epilogue of Harry Potter is so divisive is because of this trope, as it ends up being almost tooth-rottenly cheerful despite the many issues from the book that remain apparently intact. That nothing seems to have substantially changed in the Magical Society from what is shown hasn't helped, either. The House system at Hogwarts, which has been demonstrated many times in the very last book to be needlessly divisive and breeding a toxic environment of tribalism, hasn't changed one iota, The Masquerade remains firmly in place, and slavery of the House-Elves is still so accepted that Harry has one. This means that the systems that allowed Voldemort to rise to power and cause such devastating damage to the Wizarding society both times are still in place. Add in the likely massive death toll from the events of the last book and the established low numbers of wizards in general, and it could be likely that British wizards are heading towards extinction.
  • Hush, Hush has a great happy ending, if you ignore the fact that part of Nora's house was burned down, there's a Clingy Jealous Girl of a fallen angel after her, and that she is blissfully dating the guy who spent the book stalking her, sexually harassing her, and outright attempting to murder her.
  • Back when The Iron Giant was a book instead of a movie, it ended with an encounter with a dragon-like alien that sang in a hypnotic manner. It sang loud enough that the entire world heard it, and everyone in the world spent the rest of their lives alternately taking care of necessities and listening to the song. It's specified that all war was completely eliminated, and the implication would be that art and culture vanished too. If the wording is to be taken literally, people didn't even converse with each other. Now, does this sound Utopian, or more like a nightmare?
  • Left Behind gets this a lot for its ending where not only are all non-Christians sent to Fire and Brimstone Hell, but the paradise where all the protagonists end up is depicted as a faintly creepy commune where you can no longer eat meat or form relationships with anyone you want, and nobody experiences any strong emotions other than love of God. The writers treat this as a utopia.
  • Coupled with Values Dissonance for A Little Princess. The book ends with Sara being restored to her wealth while Becky becomes her personal attendant. Oh and Miss Minchin gets away with treating them like prisoners. However, if one takes into context the period the story is set in (Victorian London) then Becky going from little better than a slave to a powerful position in the household (with a kind and generous mistress too) where she would get a roof over her head and financial security, it's a happy ending for Becky indeed. And while Miss Minchin doesn't get an over-the-top instant comeuppance (save in the film adaptations, which pretty much need one) it's worth remembering that not only has she irrevocably lost her chance at a pupil who could've single-handedly ensured her school's success and her own financial comfort for life; once Sara's story becomes common knowledge in her social circle—as it inevitably will—Minchin's reputation will be in tatters and her school likely ruined. There's also a What Happened to the Mouse? for Melchisedec the rat and his family; one hopes kindhearted Sara will remember them and send Ram Dass over there with bread crumbs.
  • Inverted with Edmond Hamilton's 1932 short story 'The Man Who Evolved', which is traditionally interpreted as having the soul-crushingly nihilistic ending of learning that the human race is doomed to devolve into primordial ooze, and there is nothing that anybody, not even a Sufficiently Advanced super-intelligence, can do to prevent it. However, Fridge Logic shows that there are two ways in which the ending can be interpreted more optimistically: either Pollard continues down the path of Hollywood Evolution, ascending to a higher plane of existence and becoming an Energy Being while leaving his body behind as protoplasm, or the story can be interpreted as set in the same universe as Hamilton's later short story, "Devolution", in which microbes are the most advanced forms of life, which developed an interstellar civilization and only got stuck on Earth after they de-evolved into all other forms of life (in which case Pollard could conceivably have retained his augmented intelligence). Note that neither of these interpretations alleviates the horror of Pollard's steady Loss of Identity as he travels through the Evolutionary Levels, however.
  • The Maximum Ride series ends this way. The apocalypse that the main characters have been trying to prevent comes to pass, killing off the majority of the planet's population (including the protagonist's biological mother and sister, the latter of whom was also the love interest for said protagonist's adopted brother), and the new world is a dangerous place inhabited mostly by mutants...but hey, the Flock survived! And Max gave birth to a daughter! At about sixteen...and this is all before Hawk came out and hit it with a Happy Ending Override.
  • Mindswap by Robert Sheckley. The protagonist is in the corrupted world but believes he has succeeded in his mission and has returned home.
  • The Quantum Thief trilogy ends with Mieli breaking the Planck Locks with the aid of the Kaminari Jewel and using her newfound power to create an entirely new universe to all the people on Saturn, including the uploaded minds of Earth's remaining population. Unfortunately, this also means that the heartless Sobornost collective is left to rule the rest of the Solar System unchecked, now that their worst enemies are out of the picture, and it's only a matter of time before they consume all the remaining small civilisations in the System, including Mieli's own people, the Oortians. On the other hand, the story ends with another copy of Jean le Flambeur being released, which could result in another wrench thrown in Sobornost's plans — maybe.
  • The Revelation Space Series ends with humanity (with some help) defeating the Inhibitors, at the cost of fleeing the Milky Way as humanity's rogue Greenfly terraforming robots - now uncontained by the Inhibitors - overrun the galaxy, breaking apart worlds and anything artificial to turn into greenhouse habitats orbiting stars. Galactic North shows that the Greenfly has begun to expand outside the galaxy. The Shadows in Absolution Gap explain that their entire local cluster has been effectively overrun by the Greenfly. The author said that this ending was "actually quite optimistic"
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Shu, Wei, and Wu are united into one at last and peace throughout the entire country of China can finally begin. Unfortunately the victors are a splinter group of Wei who usurped the throne, conquered Wu and Shu who at the time were being ruled by Liu Shan (a truly incompetent ruler who defiles everything Shu originally stood for) and Sun Hao (a tyrant almost as bad as Dong Zhuo). The kicker? When these two surrendered they were given lucrative positions and the readers were told they lived out their remaining lives in luxury. To be fair though this novel closely follows the real-life events in history and not a lot could be changed. And historically, the hard-fought reunification of China ended a decade or two later with a new barbarian invasion. Also, the war to unify China was itself one of the bloodiest in human history, killing (by highest estimates) 74% of China's population, more people than the Second World War. The victors ruled dust and ashes.
  • The Soldier Son. After almost three books of stressing how bad it is for Nevare's soul to be split, he is finally reunited with Soldier's Boy and absorbed by an ancestor tree, together with his beloved Lisana. Is this the end? No, he is split again. Admittedly, that half gets back together with Amzil, marries her and inherits the Nevare estate, but wasn't it bad to have one's personality split? Other issues concern the discovery of gold that draw the Gernians away from the Speck lands: how long before they'll return? And finally, Nevare completely destroys the source of the Plainspeople's magic in the process, sealing their fate. This is given almost no attention.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God: So the great love of Janie's life is dead, she is socially stigmatized by her community, she had surrendered just about everything she had to be with her love, and now she returns to the place she had started from.
  • The Turner Diaries ends with all the world's Jews and non-whites eradicated in a long campaign of nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare, which has also killed 90% of the world's population and no doubt ruined the Earth's ecology beyond repair. Then again, what else could you expect from a poorly-written piece of racist, ultranationalist propaganda? At the very least, the world being bathed in nuclear fallout means that the protagonists are doomed as well.
  • Twilight:
    • The last book gave Jacob, who suffered from unrequited love for Bella and who vehemently hated imprinting, his own happy romantic ending by having him imprint on Bella's newborn daughter Nessie. Oh, don't worry; Nessie grows really fast, so she'll be physically 17 years old in 7 years and ready to start a relationship with her "Uncle Jake" then! And what of Jake's loss of free will? Who cares as long as he's still (forced to be) in Bella's life!
    • Also, there's apparently no good way to get rid of the Volturi or vampires like them. Given that the Volturi are growing more and more afraid of human technology, and more and more inclined to lash out at humanity, this is a very bad thing. Das-Sporking's MST, when it gets to the end of Breaking Dawn, points out that their "victory" at the end really isn't one, as while the Volturi are gone for now, they have been given all the information needed to defeat the Cullens should they come around again.
    • On a more personal note, Nessie is hardly the "perfect ending" for the rest of the Cullens that Meyer claims. Esme and Rose want biological children of their own to care for and raise. Nessie is already nearly at adult-level independence within weeks of birth, and she's Bella's daughter, not theirs. Nessie also can't bring back Alice's human memories, she has almost no relationship with any of the other male Cullens, etc. Meyer seems to think that Nessie fixes everything just by existing, but realistically she creates many, many more problems than she fixes for them.
  • Victoria: Yay! The heroes survive the collapse of the corrupt multicultural U.S. government and the warring successor states and are free to build their enlightened, traditional Christian society. Where heathens are banished or burned at the stake, Black people can be hanged for a violent crime within a week, and technology created after the 1930s is severely frowned upon, as are women working or getting higher education. Oh, and Victoria will be serving as a training center for a global crusade against Islam.
  • Roald Dahl's The Witches. The protagonist learns that he's stuck as a mouse and that mice don't live very long, but he's happy because he'll probably die near the same time as his elderly grandmother and doesn't care about living if he's not with her; they will live out their lives tracking down and destroying other witches together. The two also ponder Bruno's fate. One states that his mouse-hating mother probably drowned him in a bucket, but nobody seems very disturbed by this possibility. The 1990 movie has an unabashed happy ending where the last witch, who had undergone a Heel–Face Turn, undoes the mouse spell on the protagonist and is implied to do the same to Bruno. While many were appreciative of this happier ending, Roald Dahl was infamously not.
  • In The Worm Ouroboros, the 'good guy' princes have lots of battles and perform heroic deeds to overcome the 'bad guys'. Having done so, they're bored. So the gods recreate the bad guys so that the good guys can have fun beating them again. And so the world is condemned to an eternity of warfare because otherwise the princes would get bored. This was because the book is specifically inspired by Nordic myth and legend, retaining the original source morality.
  • The Wump World, a children's book by Bill Peet, ends with the Pollutians abandoning the titular planet, their cities being reclaimed by nature and the Wumps repopulating their world. It's a perfectly good ending for a Green Aesop... if you ignore the fact that the Pollutians are presumably still out there, doing the same thing to other planets.