So you're watching, reading, or listening to a work of fiction, and it's pretty much wrapped up. The good guys win, the hero and his significant other are getting married, and all that's left is to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s in this Happy Ending.
All of a sudden..."Stop watching. Now. We mean it! It's for your own good!" The narrator has intervened to warn you about an upcoming unpleasant plot twist!
If the work in question has more minutes/pages/episodes left than strictly necessary to write "And they lived Happily Ever After" over a beautiful sunset as they ride into the distance, odds are that it won't. Whether it's a Mandatory Twist Ending or a Diabolus ex Machina, the end result is a supreme Downer Ending as the heroes' good fortune is yanked out from under their feet. Normally, this happens without warning, but a Snicket Warning Label will politely inform you beforehand that if you prefer the happy ending, perhaps it's best for you to quit now.
The Snicket Warning Label could also occasionally be used as a 'meta' form of Schmuck Bait. Because really, after a warning like that, who doesn't want to find out what really happens?
A variant can occur when characters are viewing a Show Within a Show, and one character delivers a warning to the other.
Note: Unless there is a warning in the work itself, it is not this trope. "This-or-that movie would have been less tragic if it had ended 10 minutes early" is not this trope. A narrator telling you to stop watching? That's this trope.
This trope is named for the warning the "author" of A Series of Unfortunate Events gives at the beginning of each book, suggesting that you will likely be much happier if you read something else. Perhaps about a happy little elf?
Warning: As an Ending Trope, here be SPOILERS, potentially unmarked! Stop reading now or have your favorite stories spoiled!!!
- The end of the 13th episode of Princess Tutu appears to be a bog-standard romantic happy ending to the series. Except it's only half finished. The (in-universe) author from beyond the grave gives off the warning.
- Saikano's fansub had a variant of this. Episode 10 of this Thirteen Episode Anime ends with "A friendly warning from the team: This is the ending of happiness in Saikano. If you would prefer the anime to have a happy end, consider stopping here and pretending there are no more episodes. Continuing will only bring misery and pain. You have been warned." at the bottom of the credits.
- It's even worse in the manga, where a similar warning is placed. In the middle of the second volume. Out of seven.
- The above warning in the fansub was so notorious that English releases of the DVD booklet referenced how Chise and Shuji's Blade Runner style running into the distance together had been passed around the fans as the unofficial happy ending.
- In Cowboy Bebop, in the little preview for "Black Dog Serenade", Jet Black says that most shouldn't watch the episode because it's depressing.
Jet: So I have to admit: the next episode of Cowboy Bebop is... kinda depressing. Very depressing, actually. The only characters that show up are a bunch of musty old guys. I hate to say this, but it's kinda heavy-handed. Children shouldn't watch it. Ladies should avoid it too. On top of that, it's better if you young guys don't tune in either. Next episode, "Black Dog Serenade". Oh, all you old guys, I wouldn't miss this one if I were you.
- This happens pretty early on in Qualia the Purple, where we get a page saying "Be warned. The story hereon will take a sharp turn." This is the point at which Hatou, according to her own words, stops being human.
- A variant of this happens in Episode 9 of Plastic Memories. Michiru delivers such a warning to Tsukasa after she learns that he knew Isla only had a month to live when he confessed his love for her.
Michiru: You know youre just going to end up hurting yourself! You know there cant be a good ending to this! Do you still think you can face it without running away?!?
- The "Season of Mists" story arc of The Sandman ends with a (fictional) G. K. Chesterton quotation about how any story can have a happy ending if you just stop reading in the right place — and if you want The Sandman to have a happy ending, that's not a bad place to stop reading.
- The Multiversity was advertised with warnings not to read the comic, with the fate of the universe depending on it. The end of the first issue also has the narrator shouting that it's not too late if you stop reading right now. The plot is about a multiversal invasion by Eldritch Abominations coming through comic books, which are actually windows into different universes. By the way, it is too late.
- Kieron Gillen's run of Journey into Mystery is "comedy in 30 parts, and tragedy in 31" which also has the courtesy to tell you in the narration to stop reading around the end of the 30th issue (and express its disappointment that you won't).
- And The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl's footnotes advise you to not read the later parts of Loki: Agent of Asgard if you want the happy feeling considering Thor and Loki to last.
- In Doctor Who (Titan), "The Fourth Wall" opens with the Twelfth Doctor attempting this and failing in both the in-universe and meta senses. He's trapped in an in-universe comic book thanks to the Boneless and knows that its reader will end up another prisoner if she turns the page, which is exactly what happens to her when she ignores his warning; this is represented by the actual next page of the comic being given over to a full-page panel of the Boneless reaching out to the reader(s).
- Cavewoman: There is an Overly Long Gag regarding Cavewoman messily relieving herself in a McDonald's bathroom off-panel in Cavewoman: Reloaded #6, as part of the Updated Re-release. The author mentions the exact point where the reader may wish to skip it.
"WARNING! If you're easily offended by EXTREME TACKINESS then quickly turn..."BRAPFF!"TOO LATE!!"
- The One Piece Deconstruction Fic Marie D. Suesse and the Mystery New Pirate Age! starts off with this encouraging note from the narrator:
"Now before I go any further, I should mention that if you are looking to read one of those stories where a girl from the real world falls into a fantasy world and maybe falls in love with one of the characters there, you are probably looking at the wrong story."
- The film (500) Days of Summer begins with the narrator stating "This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, this is not a love story."
- The film I Stand Alone is interrupted before the climax by a full-screen caption saying 'YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO LEAVE THE CINEMA.' It then counts down the 30 seconds on screen before proceeding with the plot, which takes a turn for the worst.
- In the framework of The Princess Bride, the grandfather abruptly stops reading right before Westley's (temporary) death and tells his grandson that it might be a good idea for him to stop here.
- A variant: Adam Cadre's Varicella has an Easter Egg which allows for the only even remotely happy ending in the game. One can have Primo Varicella dispose of all those horrible rivals, and then type WAKE UP to get an ending where the whole scenario is All Just a Dream. If you don't, then you're stuck with a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending where Primo Varicella is tortured to death by the prince, whose nasty experiences at the hands of the rivals has caused him to cross the Moral Event Horizon himself and become a horrible, Caligula-like monster who, in addition to torturing Varicella, kills his own mother and starts bloody wars on other nations.
- The 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition game Deadline Enchanter (not to be confused with Infocom games of similar names) has a warning in it towards the end, where the text implies that completing your mission will result in the death of the being who sent you on the mission in the first place. You're then told that there won't be a happier ending, and that if you can't handle it, you should turn the game off and go do something else.
- The 6th arc of Umineko: When They Cry is the closest the story gets to an outright happy ending. The seventh arc then provides two different warnings that to continue reading is to get a much more depressing end. The first is in the description when the game is opened. "Things you become able to see with love. Things you become unable to see because of love. By knowing love and believing in magic, the door to the Golden Land was opened. However, the tale of love ends here. What will be told from now on is only a tale of cruel tragedy and harsh truth..." At the end of the seventh arc, just in case the audience was still holding out hope for a happy ending to be yanked out of everything during the final arc, Lambda and Bern then warn you in red that This story will not have a happy ending. The ending of the eighth arc itself is an improvement over the seventh, but only from "bad" to "bittersweet."
- The Book of Adventure Games, a third-party hintbook to multiple Interactive Fiction titles, suggests the player create their own "alternate ending" for Infidel, as the intended ending is your character's Karmic Death.
- Trope Namer: A Series of Unfortunate Events lampshades this by pointing out where you can stop reading and imagine a happy ending. See Schmuck Bait.
- And fandom was split on the actual ending of the series in The End. Many plotlines were unresolved at the end, but on the other hand we had been warned all along...
- Older Than Print: The last part of The Divine Comedy opens with a warning to readers not to follow the journey further unless they have already turned their minds to the "bread of the angels." Anyone who hasn't done that should turn back and not get lost in the vast ocean of Paradise.
"O you who are within your little bark,
eager to listen, following behind
my ship that, singing, crosses to deep seas,
turn back to see your shores again:
do not attempt to sail the seas I sail: you may,
by losing sight of me, be left astray."
- In the last book of The Dark Tower, Stephen King tells the reader to stop right before the coda because the story is really about Roland's journey to get to the Dark Tower, and not what happens within. It's also used several other times in that book: just before the deaths of Eddie and Jake, King warns the reader that they should stop because the next part was very painful to tell, and will be very painful to hear.
- Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub suggests at the end that the reader stop and not read the epilogue.
- Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs has one of these at the start of the book. He warns you that the songs within will get stuck in your head and drive you insane, so please don't do it! Another full-page warning precedes the lyrics of "Muskrat Love."
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish contains a section in which Douglas Adams advises the audience to skip the middle of the book if they aren't interested in Arthur's love life, and instead go right to the end "which is a good bit and has Marvin in it."
- The original The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has an inversion of this trope: Due to the innumerable health and mental wellness concerns caused by the increasingly large accumulation of narrative tension, the narrator is quite pleased to note that the two missiles heading towards the Heart of Gold will not, in fact, kill anyone, and in fact things will turn out quite well for the cast. Of course, someone will get a bruised arm, but you can't remove all the tension.
- In Anne Rice's The Tale of the Body Thief, the second-to-last chapter is only a few paragraphs long and consists of Lestat warning the readers that they really ought to stop now, and if they don't, will probably wish they did. He says that the book should end here, and although it doesn't, the reader is welcome to pretend it did.
- Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief has a horribly depressing Everybody's Dead, Dave sort of ending, in which, yes, everyone in the book except for two characters die suddenly and without meaning. Luckily, the book gives ample warning from chapter one - namely, by telling you the setting is World War II Munich, and by having Death narrate. The first chapter is Death listing off all the times he'll meet the Book Thief, so you have time to turn away.
- In Lloyd Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, the point after which Prince Jen and Voyaging Moon have declared their love for each other is the point when the narration says "You can stop here if you want." Fittingly, the next chapter starts with a) reminding you that it's dangerous to read the book, b) deciding that he's going to stop writing but then being threatened/bribed into continuing, or c) reminding you that the names of all the characters have been changed for their own safety.
- Cat's Cradle. Seriously, that Bokonon is ADAMANT about preventing people from reading his real-deal world-ending book.
- Bokonon: STOP! DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! This book contains only lies.
- Some copies of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle bear the label: "Warning! This shit is not for kids!". He's not kidding.
- The entire plot of Clive Barker's Mister B. Gone. To summarize, the demon narrator tells the reader to close the book and burn it, at first asking, then begging, then moving into genuinely terrifying threats. Given what he does for the whole second half of the book, his descriptions of what he will do to torture you and his noting that he could be right behind you, that you could turn around and not have time to scream are not easily shrugged off. No reader, even the firmest of cynics, would want to finish the book. In the end he admits it was all a trick. He WANTS you to burn the book, and set him free. He can't really do anything to you after all. He even asks if you will give the book to someone you don't like.
- Chuck Palahniuk's Choke starts out with "If you're going to read this, don't bother."
- The Fae of The Kingkiller Chronicle series have a custom whereby dark, tragic plays begin with the malicious oracle known as the Cthaeth depicted in the scenery as a warning to the faint of heart. The Cthaeth appears in The Wise Man's Fear which just happens to end at a Hope Spot. Kvothe also tells the Chronicler in before telling his story that it can be boiled down to, "I lived, I loved, I lost."
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians has one on the very first page. Hardback copies of The Lightning Thief also have this on the back of the book/as the blurb:
"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
"Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways. If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened. But if you recognize yourself in these pages-if you feel something stirring inside-stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you. Don't say I didn't warn you."
- Wayside School is Falling Down begins chapter eight, "Warning: Do not read this story right after eating. In fact, don't read it right before eating either. In fact, just to be safe, don't read this story if you're ever planning to eat again.
- Roger Ebert's zero-star review of The Human Centipede warns the readers multiple times before describing what happens to the victims.
- Just before the ending of Lord Dunsany's short story "The Two Bottles of Relish," the narrator suggests that the reader stop reading so as to imagine a better ending and not learn the truth behind what happened to Nancy Elth.
- In Good Omens, a baby is switched at birth with The Anti-Christ by a cult of Satanists, and the narration pauses for a moment to allow the reader to contemplate the possibility that the cult had this child discreetly adopted by a perfectly lovely family, whereupon he grew up to be a perfectly normal and lovely boy who developed an interest in tropical fish. Because you don't want to know what could have happened to him. It's subverted; we do in fact meet that boy later in the narrative... and he's a perfectly normal and lovely boy with an interest in tropical fish. Because the Satanists had him discreetly adopted by a perfectly lovely family, because of course they did, what were you thinking?
- Machado de Assis' novel "Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas" ("Posthumous Memoirs Of Bras Cubas"), has the narrator saying that Chapter VII will be only about his own delirium, so the reader may skip it and go straight to the narrative.
"If the reader isn't given to the contemplation of these mental phenomena, he may skip this chapter and go straight to the narrative. But if he has the slightest bit of curiosity, I can tell him now that it's interesting to know what went on in my head for some twenty or thirty minutes."
- In the prefaces to his four parts of Harmful Advice, Grigoriy Oster insists that the advice given is really harmful and that the book is simply horrible. It should only be given, he goes on, to children who dont behave themselves so that theyd read it and do the exact opposite. Obedient children are allowed to read only three pieces of harmful advice per day, and the author recommends binding them to their chairs for safety, or they might really follow the advice and wreak chaos
- Handled uniquely by Gödel, Escher, Bach in one of the narrative dialogue sections. One character laments that you always know how close you are to the end of a book's plot by how many pages are left, and wishes they would put extra pages at the end. If those pages were blank or full of nonsense, it wouldn't fool anyone, so they have to be about the same characters and in the same style. The real end of the book would have to be hidden, but an astute reader could recognize signs that marked where the reader should stop, such as weird events, out-of-character behavior, extraneous characters, and hidden messages. The dialogue then continues on for two more pages ... of weird events, out-of-character behavior, extraneous characters, and hidden messages.
- The entirety of The Monster at the End of This Book consists of Grover begging the reader to stop reading so the two of you won't run into the monster. The monster at the end of the book is of course Grover, who is also the monster at the beginning of and throughout the book.
- When showing something graphic like the aftermath of a bombing, some news stations will say "Some viewers may find the upcoming images disturbing" or something like that.
- Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs has done this on occasion, such as during the episode on rendering, where a dead cow is lowered into a grinder where...
"I don't ever want to tell you not to watch this show, but..."
- Future Ted in How I Met Your Mother does this on occasion: for instance, he warns the reader about the breakup of Ted and Victoria in "Cupcake" and the breakup of several couples in his reference to the "Autumn of Breakups" in "The PreNup".
- The first trailer of the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events features a literal Snicket Warning: Lemony Snicket warning the readers that, when the series does come out, they should not watch it. As a Mythology Gag, a clapboard in the scene is labeled "The Littlest Elf", which is what Snicket offers as an alternative in the book's Snicket Warning (the show suggests Fuller House). Snicket also gives Snicket Warnings in many of the episodes.
- The theme song of the series is essentially a two-minute, musical Snicket Warning from Count Olaf, of all people, in which he implores the viewers to look away in a surprisingly out-of-character moment.
- In Friends, Phoebe's mother would stop movies saying "The End" before the sad endings "to shield us from the pain and sadness. You know, before she killed herself.", something she discovered after learning... well, the episode's name is "The One Where Old Yeller Dies".
- A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder warns the audience at the start that Monty will be doing bad things throughout the play, and advises them to leave the theater if they dont want to watch the show.
- In the first Hadestown song, "Road to Hell", Hermes outright warns the audience that they're about to watch a sad tragedy.
- La-Mulana warns you against entering the final room of Hell Temple:
The one that must not be seen. The one that regrets seeing. Leave before thou becomes such. Before thy time comes to naught.It's a provocative bathing suit for the protagonist.
- Prince of Persia (2008): Leave Elika deceased, honoring her Heroic Sacrifice, or suffer the consequences. While there's no specific warning, the credits roll as the Prince carries Elika's body out of the temple, to much the same effect.
- In Fallen London, these warnings precede almost every action relating to Seeking Mr. Eaten's Name, begging the player to stop, and telling you that the quest only leads to ruin and death. The warnings aren't lying.
- Sunless Sea also has a couple of options that bluntly tell you "Do Not Do This". Appropriately enough, they're at a place that may or may not be where Mr. Eaten was betrayed.
- There's a very quiet one in Spec Ops: The Line. The first thing in the game that you see is a big red "STOP" sign. About halfway through the game, you find another one, this one filled with bullet holes. This comes immediately before the first huge twist that reveals the true, deconstructive nature of the game, the white phosphorus shelling and its civilian casualties. "None of this would have happened if you had just stopped." indeed.
- From Persona 4: "There will be dramatic turns in the story from this point. It is strongly recommended that you save. Save your game now?"Context
- In one ending of The Stanley Parable, the narrator repeatedly warns you that going down a particular hallway will lead to your violent death. This is completely true, although it takes long enough to get there that there's time for some other stuff to happen. When you eventually get to the point where you're about to be crushed into oblivion by a piece of industrial equipment, the second narrator urges you to turn off the game instead of letting it kill you.
- Early into Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Richard warns Martin there will be a "pretty big twist" at the end of the movie hes filming, that no one will like it, and that he should get out while he still can. While hes correct in that the movie ends with him being shot and killed (where as the script that can be found in the following area originally called for a different outcome) hes also hinting at the games controversial ending in which a nuclear war breaks out and everyone dies.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening hints at, then eventually flat-out reveals that all of Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish and you are being tasked with waking it up. Doing so will erase everyone in the world from existence. Some of the later bosses beg you not to continue (their opposition is based on self-defense since the success of your quest is tied to the end of their existence). The only way for the player to save Koholint and avert the annihilation of everything on it is to stop playing the game! At the same time though, the Nightmares are slowly corrupting the island, making it theirs, and creating more monsters. Waking up the Windfish will ensure that it will go to sleep again, but Link's permanent destruction would make the nightmare eternal...
- In-universe example in the webcomic Krazy Larry. Vicious misanthrope Larry idolizes the Grinch, so his friends go to great lengths to make sure he never sees the last five minutes of the TV special.
- Applied in the author comments in this chapter of Mortifer.
"No one is going to like this chapter. No one. Its going to be horrible."
- In the authors notes for penultimate strip of the zombie Halloween arc of Roommates we get the warning that those who want it to have an unequivocally happy ending should "cue credits here." The ending is a rapid switch from humorous to heartbreaking. (Warning for Zombieland spoilers!)
- Tolarian Community College's decktech for the universally reviled Leovold, Emissary of Trest is a homage to A Series of Unfortunate Events, with the Professor warning the audience at the beginning that the discussed deck should never be made, and that this video shouldn't even be watched for that matter if they don't want to become the pariah of their Magic: The Gathering Commander playgroup.
- South Park features one of these at the beginning of every episode, not warning of a sad ending, but of offensiveness:
All characters and events in this show-even those based on real people-are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated.....poorly. The following program contains coarse language and due to its content it should not be viewed by anyone.
- In the first through fifth Halloween Episode of The Simpsons, the episode starts with Marge (or Homer in the third) coming out with a message urging the parents not to let their children watch the Halloween episodes as they will all suffer from nightmares; however, she soon gives up, saying that no one ever listens to her. (This was discontinued starting with the sixth, partially because the length of each episode has been reduced since the first few seasons, and also partially because the current writers were sure that everyone was aware that the Halloween episodes were scary by then.)
- This actually returns specifically for the final segment of "Treehouse of Horror XXVIII", this time done by Lisa, because of the segment in question, "Mmm... Homer", being especially disturbing by the standards of the specials.
Now that you've read this, don't say that we didn't warn you.