A sad ending makes us feel cheated, even though that particular ending may have been justified. When I read Anna Karenina the ending disappointed me. Though I loved the book I felt depressed by the ending. I had followed Anna throughout the book and I felt cheated, though it was and is always a writer’s prerogative how they choose to end their books/stories. As readers we have no say in that matter.
If in the last Harry Potter book, Harry would have died instead of Voldemort I am sure most of us readers would have created a riot. For those of us who had followed Harry for 10 years, hated Voldemort as much as Harry and other wizards, Voldemort’s death was the perfect redemption. Any other ending would have been sacrilege.
I think the reason everyone reads is because we want to transport ourselves into another world: a world of make believe, a fantasy world, where we can forget our personal problems and troubles, fears and worries. A Happily Ever After completes and fulfils that journey. We feel satisfied that things worked out for the MC, this feeling is subtly transferred into our own lives; we feel things will eventually work out for all of us too.
But sad and unhappy endings bring us face to face with the bitter truth of life: the stark and grim reality facing us. A fear creeps in. What if there is no solution to our problems? What if our situation does not improve? What if we don’t make it? Then what?
I feel unhappy endings not only make us sad, but they bring us face to face with our own personal fears and demons. This leaves us flustered, troubled and disoriented. And this feeling is transferred onto the story. A happy ending is a part of Wish Fulfillment. It brings on the Feel Good Factor. A sign that all is well with the world and that we are on the right track and that soon things will work out for us too.
What about you all? Do you have a penchant for the HEA, or you like a good book/story regardless of the ending? What kind of endings do you strive for in the books you write and the what kind of ending you prefer in the books you read?