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The Bad Guy Wins / Literature

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  • The sequel to The Exorcist, Legion, Pazuzu scores a shutout win, undoing everything from the first book.
  • In The Silmarillion, after the fifth battle in the Wars of Beleriand, Morgoth has completely devastated the armies of the elves, and shortly crushes all of their kingdoms into dust, reducing their domain to a tiny island off the coast and becoming the undisputed lord of all of Arda east of Valinor. It takes the intervention of the god-like Valar in the War of Wrath to even achieve a Bittersweet Ending.
    • It's worse in The Children of Húrin, even if the reader knows about the eventual intervention of the Valar. Glaurung may have been killed but he has caused Hurin's children to kill themselves. Hurin unknowingly sets into motion events that will destroy two Elven Kingdoms. Though it is not in the book, Hurin ends up killing himself.
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    • No Valar intervention in Akallabêth. Sauron manages to corrupt the Númenóreans' minds and causes eventually the destruction of Númenor, a paradise on Earth. To make things even worse, Eru - the Supreme Deity - does the actual destruction for Sauron. Yes, the physical form of Sauron dies with the cataclysm, but he reincarnates quickly. Unlike in Quenta Silmarillion the Valar do absolutely nothing to achieve even a Bittersweet Ending.
      • To be fair, the last time the Valar intervened, it destroyed half the known world. The maps in the Silmarillion show that the world as of The Lord of the Rings books used to be way off to the east, rather than the extreme west of Middle Earth. They thus swore never to directly interfere again, though they do send emissaries to help guide the peoples of Middle Earth; the wizards.
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  • 1984: Winston and Julia are captured by the Thought Police, betrayed by the one man they thought was a friend, viciously tortured, broken by their worst fears (embodied by Room 101) and everything that ever gave them hope crushed without mercy, up to and including their love for each other. Winston in the end is so destroyed that he comes to love Big Brother.
  • As mentioned in the Film example, No Country for Old Men.
  • Ditto with American Psycho and the disclaimer in its own film example above.
  • In Graham McNeill's Storm of Iron, the Imperial Guard not only lose and are slaughtered, their last ditch effort to prevent the Chaos forces from claiming what they were seeking failed — and they knew it.
    There was no way they could destroy it all before the Iron Warriors came to kill them. But they would try. It was all they had left.
    • See his Dead Sky Black Sun for reappearance of some characters and things from this work.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, the betrayed Space Marines manage to survive the first bombardment. Which means they get brutally hammered by an assault, and then bombarded again, wiping them out. Their only consolation is having hurt Horus's forces and not Dying Alone — and the assault, Horus points out, was a Shoot Your Mate that ensured that his forces were all committed.
    • The later novel Know No Fear does this as well. While the Word Bearers are eventually driven off Calth offscreen, the planet's surface has been pretty much destroyed, and the Ultramarines have been taken out of the fight as far as the greater Heresy goes, so technically the Word Bearers did what they set out to do, which was remove the Ultramarines as a threat.
  • Stephen King has said that he understands that the good guys usually win and the bad guys usually lose, though it often costs the good guys dearly — hence his fondness for the Bittersweet Ending. His alter-ego Richard Bachmann, however, doesn't feel the same way, which is why King's Bachmann stories tend to come with a Downer Ending. Nevertheless, King has ended many of his own novels with triumphant bad guys:
    • Pet Sematary. By the end of the novel, Rachel, Gage, and Jud are dead, while Louis is on the verge of a mental breakdown when Rachel comes back from the dead after the former buried her in the titular cemetery, leaving his ultimate fate ambiguous. Also, the fate of his daughter Ellie (who was left in Chicago with Rachel's parents) is left in the air. The film leaves Louis' fate less ambiguous by having Rachel attack Louis with a knife as the film cuts to credits.
    • The end of the first The Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger. Roland is forced to choose between saving Jake or catching the man in black. Roland chooses to drop Jake. While he does catch the bad guy, one can argue that he destroyed himself doing so. Especially if you read it when it was released originally and did not know there would be sequels. And the bad guy still ends up getting away soon afterward anyway before the book ends.
    • 'Salem's Lot ends badly: though the Count has been destroyed, the entire population of 'Salem's Lot has been vampirized, while the hero and the only other survivor, a child, live new lives in Mexico. There's an epilogue which suggests hope, but later short stories by King reveal that the attempt to destroy the town didn't work, and the vampire population is slowly growing as lost travelers fall prey to them.
    • Cujo. Although it is somewhat of a Pyrrhic Villainy in that the mad dog dies as well as the child (who lives in the movie version), it is strongly implied that the dog was possessed by the ghost of Frank Dodd (the serial killer from King's novel "The Dead Zone") who was apparently just coming back from the dead for one more murderous rampage.
    • Averted in The Shining. King's original plot had all the main characters succumbing and Danny ruling the spirits trapped in the hotel, including his own parents. But he started to like Danny too much to kill him off and changed his mind.
  • This happens in some of King's short stories as well.
    • "Children of the Corn", not the 1984 film, but the original story ends with He who walks behind the rows continuing his control of the children and the heroes dying.
    • In "Gramma", the child realizes all too late what's going on and fails to escape being possessed by his recently deceased witch of a grandmother, who rises, possesses him, and lives again through his young body, apparently to harass or wreak revenge on her hated family anew.
    • In "The Bogeyman" (published in the collection Night Shift) the protagonist tries for years to escape the bogeyman who killed his offspring and stalked him endlessly. At the end of the story it turns out that the therapist he's been telling the tale to was the bogeyman in disguise, who evidently gets him.
    • In "The Road Virus Heads North," the main character fails to destroy the magical picture or evade the murderous entity it brought to life who's been stalking him, and he dies a bloody death as a result.
    • In "The Rainy Season", the visiting couple is eventually killed and eaten by the killer frogs, guaranteeing continued prosperity for the town.
  • At the sudden conclusion of Daphne du Maurier's short story, "The Birds" (on which the film was loosely based), it seems, from the fact that the BBC did not resume broadcasting that morning, that the title antagonists are overwhelming human civilization.
  • The entire point of Steve Stirling's Draka Trilogy.
    • Except the New America escaped and now the Draka and Samothracians are fighting through time and alternate realities...
  • Animal Farm ended with Napoleon securing rule over the farm, with the other animals being treated worse than they were by the human farmer at the start of the novel. Unsurprisingly, since the whole thing is a metaphor for the Russian Revolution. This was changed for the Animated Adaptation.
  • Several novels in Space Marine Battles series end like this:
    • The Orks are undisputed victors of the Siege of Castellax, scattering and killing off all other forces present.
    • Fall of Damnos ends with Necrons taking control over the planet and Ultramarines performing a disappearing act with as many survivors as they could lift.
    • Veil of Darkness subverts it - the Necrons manage to take the Temple of Hera and slaughter most, if not all Ultramarines present, but it turns out to be Sicarius' prophetic dream and he stops it before the invasion begins.
  • Count Olaf won in many of the early novels of A Series of Unfortunate Events; not that it truly made him happy in the long run.
  • Madame Bovary, the title character Emma kills herself thanks to huge debts and several failed adulterous flings, her moronic husband dies soon after learning of her adultery, and her little girl gets sent to a mill. Meanwhile, Monsieur Homais, the living form of everything to be hated in provincial life loses a threat to his pharmacy business and later fulfills a dream of joining the Legion d'honneur. Monsieur Lheureux, the man who drove Emma into such debt through clever manipulations and blackmail probably made a pretty penny too.
  • This trope is the standard, rather than the exception, for the Mind Control genre of erotic fiction, as virtually every story in the genre either follows a protagonist that will eventually succumb to mind control, or a protagonist that's already enslaved and working as a pawn for the Big Bad. When they don’t, it’s because the protagonist is the one doing the mind control.
  • The heroic personal injury lawyer in the (non-fiction!) book and film A Civil Action loses the lawsuit against the two companies that had dumped toxic chemicals into the local water supply, settles the case for far less than his expenses in pursuing it, and ends up declaring bankruptcy.
  • Reynard the Fox: In this medieval tale Reynard is the protagonist, but hardly an admirable character. He lies, cheats, murders, rapes, steals and betrays everybody and manages to get away with all of it in the end.
  • The Reynard Cycle: By the end of the first novel, Reynard's nemesis, Duke Nobel, has been crowned King, ended a civil war, and marries the girl of Reynard's dreams.
  • Star Wars:
    • Michael Reaves's Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, naturally, as it leads into The Phantom Menace, although it is not necessarily obvious to readers unfamiliar with Star Wars: Lorn Pavan eventually runs into a prominent senator and hands him the info about the Sith conspiracy, so he dies content when Darth Maul kills him. Unfortunately, the senator was Palpatine.
    • Outbound Flight. Put simply, of the three sides - Chiss, Jedi, and Separatist - Chiss beat Separatist and used its remains and a different enemy to kill Jedi. But the book's major players have Grey-and-Gray Morality. Jedi were not all virtuous, there was honor among some of the Separatists, and the most prominent Chiss was Thrawn, who despite coming out on top was visibly unhappy to have indirectly killed fifty thousand innocents. The only real winner there was Palpatine, who sent Jedi and Separatist out in the first place. He got rid of the Jedi on Outbound Flight, and a single Separatist force was sacrificed, except for his agent, but in the process he was able to start encouraging one of the galaxy's greatest strategists to work for him.
    • Hero of Cartao is another story by Timothy Zahn where Darth Sidious and Kinman Doriana win. It has the Republic and the Trade Federation fight over a unique factory, with both sides being careful not to damage it. Just when it looks like the Republic is winning after all, they seemingly get reinforcements in the form of a transport carrying Jedi ... that drops onto the factory, destroying it, along with the Jedi's reputation in the region, including that of the protagonist even through he had nothing to do with it. The ship was actually remotely controlled by Sidious (or someone working for him), who considered the factory too dangerous and saw an opportunity to harm his enemies as well. Which worked even better than he may have expected, because countless civilians happened to still be in the building.
  • Hannibal has rather a half-subverted, half-employed use of the trope. In a sense the antagonist of the story is Mason Verger and boy does he lose, but Lecter is kind of a Villain Protagonist as a counterpoint to the genuinely heroic protagonist Clarice, and Lecter seduces Clarice to the dark side and, so far as we know, escapes justice forever.
    • In the movie version, things turn out better for Clarice. Hannibal still escapes (but has to lop off his own hand to do so).
  • Played depressingly straight with the John Grisham novel The Appeal. The small town lawyers are rendered bankrupt, the sympathetic banker loses everything, the evil company that ruined the town's water supplynote  and the lives of those "trailer park peasants" within its limits walks free with zero punishment, and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Carl Trudeau becomes even wealthier then before (the book ends with him wanting to make even more). All because the verdict led to the executive falling off the Forbes' coveted list of richest Americans.
  • Played straight and then subverted in Mistborn. The premise is that one thousand years ago, a man set out on a heroic journey. Long story short, The Bad Guy Won. Said Bad Guy, the "Lord Ruler," has ruled as a tyrant for a millennium in a Crapsack World. The events of the book are mainly concerned with finding a way to kill the Lord Ruler and undo a thousand years of damage. The subversion comes when they succeed in killing the Lord Ruler, only to find out that he was keeping an infinitely greater evil at bay for all that time.
    • Also the end of the second book in the trilogy where the Sealed Evil in a Can that the Lord Ruler defeated successfully tricks the heroine into unleashing it.
  • While it isn't clear yet what kind of ending the overall A Song of Ice and Fire saga will have (it will be bittersweet at best), the "War of the Five Kings" arc ended with the bad guys winning. Well, the antagonists at least.
    • As of the end of "A Dance with Dragons" this is most definitely so. Not just Bad, but the Worst guys triumph in almost all the significant parts of the narrative, and all they whatsoever sympathetic characters are either dead, imprisoned, on the run or otherwise removed from the game. However, those worst guys are starting to feel the squeeze and reap the consequences of the actions that they committed to win.
    • The Others have won every engagement they've fought directly so far, have had everything north of the Wall ceded to them, and thanks to everyone else killing each other off are currently winning the greater game by default.
  • Burmese Days U Po Kyin's plan to humiliate Flory and ruin his reputation with the other English in Burma succeeds spectacularly when Flory decides to commit suicide. Without Flory, the only other competition to join the European club as a native, Dr. Veraswami, disappears from lack of support. U Po Kyin joins the European club. (Though in a bit of retribution, he dies very suddenly before he could work off the bad karma his evil deeds would have accumulated.)
  • In Codex Alera the Vord overrun Canea and the only thing our heroes can do is flee to fight the other Vord back home. The ending implies that in a hundred years or so, they'll come to Alera, so the heros start to rebuild and hopefully get ready for them.
  • R.A. Salvatore's The Pirate King, The Crow becomes king of Luskan and Jarlaxle, who set the whole thing in motion at the cost of thousands of innocent lives, gets to become rich as the power behind the throne.
  • Collection of short stories "Villains Victorious" is based on this trope.
  • China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels tended to have a healthy helping of this, since Bas-Lag is a Crapsack World.
    • Perdido Street Station ends with the trade union movement crushed, the city's largest subversive newspaper shut down, and the surviving protagonists miserable and fleeing for their lives from both the Orwellian government and a ruthless crime boss.
    • The Scar ends with Armada's corruption exposed, but with no possible way to clean it up. The city was almost destroyed by both a civil and regular war, and the protagonist is beaten and cowed. The grand orchestrator of all this strife is free and still in a position of power over Armada.
    • Iron Council ends with a major uprising brutally put down, a violent revolutionary realising that he'd achieved nothing by killing the Mayor, and the largest and most hope-inspiring rebel group in the land being frozen in time.
  • Lauren Myracle's YA novel Bliss ends with the power-hungry Sandy assimilating herself with a vengeful spirit and becoming popular, while the titular Bliss can only stand back and watch it happen.
  • The most villainous character in Sarum, Walter Wilson, succeeds in ruining all three of the families he carries grudges against, exploits and abuses his own poorer relations shamelessly, and elevates his family from penniless peasants to rising business tycoons, without suffering any worse payback than his son talking back to him and being snickered at by the king. While the Black Death does kill most of his immediate family, he honestly doesn't seem to care, and uses his own dying son to deliberately infect the Shockleys.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort wins definitively at the end of Goblet of Fire. He seems to win at the end of Half-Blood Prince, but the next book reveals that he actually played into Dumbledore's Thanatos Gambit. In Order of the Phoenix, the good guys win overall, but at a terrible cost. Prisoner of Azkaban ends with Wormtail escaping, but also with him owing Harry a life debt and with Sirius avoiding the Dementor's Kiss. The first part of the movie of Deathly Hallows places its Cliffhanger ending during the book's Darkest Hour where Voldemort has, for the moment, won, having seemingly gained mastery of the most powerful wand in the world.
    • In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Death is the antagonist in "The Tale of the Three Brothers", as he initiates all the trouble in the story with the aim of claiming the lives of the Peverell Brothers, ultimately succeeding in the end. While he was able to claim Antioch and Cadmus shortly after first meeting them, it took him many years to do the same to Ignotus, and even then, it happened only on Ignotus' own terms.
  • In Chimaera, the last book in the Well of Echoes quartet, almost all magic in the world is destroyed, and the big bad becomes the God-Emperor of everything. The next series begins ten years later, which the big bad has spent enslaving the continent, and the main character has spent in the very bottom level of a prison. Yeesh.
  • In the Pendragon books, Saint Dane ends up victorious in several of the books; The Reality Bug, where Veelox falls, Black Water, where Bobby and co. end up saving Eelong but greatly weaken the flumes and also leads to Courtney's injuries in the next book and thus to Mark befriending Andy, which finally leads to the worlds becoming integrated, Earth getting overrun by Dados and run by the Ravinians, and most of the worlds collapsing. By the end of the 9th book, it seems pretty clear that Saint Dane has achieved his goal. But overall, this trope is averted, as Bobby manages to save the day once and for all in the last book.
  • Played for black humor in Tom Sharpe's The Throwback, where one Lockhart Flawse, upon marrying a woman with a bit of real estate and discovering that the lease prices were set by her father years and years ago and that mass evictions and subsequent resale weren't legally permissible, decided to "encourage" the current residents to move out by any means possible. Including, but not limited to, sewage rerouting, oven cleaner-filled condoms and a bull-terrier tripped out on LSD.
  • Further adding to Forgotten Realms, the sides that win the most in Elaine Cunningham's Starlight & Shadows series are the bad guys; Shakti Hunzrin and Lolth. In ascending order. The former wins a personal one by talking the protagonist into giving her the macguffin that's already served its purpose, the latter wins a landslide in that because of the protagonist, her people the drow can move about on the surface without their equipment being destroyed on the surface.
  • BZRK ends with the AFGC successfully wiring several world leaders, including the President of the US, and BZRK crippled after everyone and their biots struggle to get out alive, let alone intact. The war's not over, but the bad guys absolutely dominated the battle.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Sort of.
  • In Dr. Seuss' "The Sneetches," Star-Bellied Sneetches look down on Plain-Bellied Sneetches until a Con Man named Sylvester McMonkey McBean shows up with a machine that can give the latter a Race Lift. The Star-Bellied Sneetches then pay to have their stars removed (so they can still tell who the "better" Sneetches are), and soon everyone gets all mixed up about who is who. The Sneetches eventually learn their lesson, but McBean makes off with all their money, laughing.
  • At the end of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy, the only character who gets a happy ending is Bayaz, a wizard who sees the world as his toy and has no qualms about killing countless innocents in order to satisfy his ego. This example is unusual because he seems like one of the heroes throughout most of the story. His true nature isn't revealed until it's too late.
  • In Christian Nation, the evangelical Christians in control of America in the Alternate History that follows Sarah Palin becoming President succeed in bringing forth "one nation under God"...a Big Brother-ish theocracy where God's law and the Fifty Blessings supercede the Constitution, though it required military effort on the part of the Christians in order to achieve this. The only Hope Spot for the return of freedom and democracy in America is a small La Résistance movement called the Free Minds that the protagonist becomes a part of.
  • In The Vagina Ass of Lucifer Niggerbastard, the Latin League triumphs over the Fellowship Of The Vagina Ass.
    • However, in Dick Niglet And The Shit Wizards Of Asscabin, Lord Analwart breaks the fourth wall, enters the TVAOLN universe & changes history so that the Fellowship is victorious.
  • In Strange Eons, Mark Dixon becomes Cthulhu at the end and destroys everything.
  • Moby-Dick: Played with. Moby Dick is ostensibly the villain, and in the end it kills Ahab along with all his crew save Ishmael. However, Moby Dick is (probably) just a wild animal trying to defend herself, rather than a truly evil being, and so an argument could be made that Ahab is the real Big Bad due to his insane obsession with killing the whale at any cost, which would make it an aversion.
  • And Then There Were None: The killer's plan proceeds perfectly, ultimately leaving ten dead bodies on the island and an unsolvable mystery for the police to find.
  • The seventh volume of The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign has Kyousuke create the Colorless Little Girl, an artificial summoned being, to defeat his nemesis the White Queen. The Girl actually manages to pull it off... or so it seems at first. The Queen reappears, having somehow survived her apparent destruction, and reveals that this was all part of her plan. She claims that the Girl will, as a result of defeating her, be warped into an even greater monster than the Queen was. To stand against this new threat, Kyousuke will have no choice but to work together with the Queen, which was her goal all along.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Despite the combined efforts of the entire world, Othinus gains her full power as a Magic God and immediately destroys the universe. This is not the end of the series, however. The main character Touma manages to survive (thanks to his power) and the next book details his efforts to fight back. In the end, he's still unable to defeat her. However, Othinus realizes that, because of their shared experiences, he's now able to truly understand her as a person. This was her goal all along. She relents and restores the world to its original state.
  • The finale of Marcus Sakey's Brilliance trilogy is a nested series of these. The civil war ends in an armistice, but no-one is punished for the atrocities committed; the government eludes punishment for systematic traumatizing of "brilliant" children in government academies, the redneck militias are forgiven for marching into the sole Brilliant holdfast on a campaign of genocide using those same children as human shields, and said holdfast is forced to give up all further attempts at sovereignty and is the only party forced to pay reparations. After all of that, the epilogue where Brilliant terrorist John Smith's decades-long plan is revealed to have worked perfectly is actually quite satisfying; the single carrier of the Brilliant upgrade virus is shown to have escaped, gained Brilliant abilities, entered the infectious stage, and embarks on a multi-state journey he estimates will infect over nine million othersinitially — transforming every human into a Brilliant, save those over the age of 25 who lack the neuroplasticity to adapt to Brilliant abilities, which it will drive to suicide instead, destroying the culture that victimized Brilliants.
  • Jason Matthews's Red Sparrow ends with Dominika's resolve to continue spying for the CIA appearing to waver as she is returned to Russia in exchange for Korchnoi, who is assassinated right before the CIA get a hold of him.
  • The The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids short story The Resurrection of the Wellsians ends with the reveal that everyone else in the plot has been the Wellsians' Unwitting Pawn this entire time: even the heroes come to investigate were actually called by them so that they could make their escape aboard the heroes' own spaceship. Which they do.
  • In Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Cask of Amontillado Fortunato is walled up alive in a catacomb by his "friend" Montresor due to some unspecified insult. And Montresor not only kills Fortunato, he gets away scot free.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Mule": Part One ends when the Mule's forces have conquered the home planet of the Foundation, in one easy attack. Part Two isn't much better; Bayta sacrifices her chance to warn the Second Foundation about the Mule to ensure the Mule doesn't get there first. His Motive Rant at the end explains just how thoroughly he won.
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: The protagonists figure that the big ruckus during which the villains are supposed to steal a particularly powerful artifact allows them to theatrically switch sides. They actually manage to defeat the other villains, and protect a bunch of civilians while they're at it, but then Penny gives Vera to a lonely Apparition. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, so The Apparition uses the robot to snatch the Orb and deliver it to Spider after all, while everybody thinks the kids have stolen it. Ultimately played merely as a Bittersweet Ending, though, as they still got a lot of respect from both sides out of it.


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