Don’t you hate it when evil wins?
Recently, I read a novel where the antagonists win in the end. Actually, scratch that. “Read” isn’t accurate. “Began to read but felt uneasy as certain themes developed, skipped to the end, read the conclusion, and thought, ‘What the–?’, then skimmed through the rest of the book to find that if I had actually read the book, the way the author intended me to read it, page-by-page, then I would have come to the unsettling conclusion that the antagonists win.” Now that’s accurate.
The antagonists–the very people the protagonists are fighting, the evil ones, the ones you are supposed to suspect and dislike–those people win.
And the protagonists–the leading couple, the parents of two children, the ones you were supposed to be cheering for–they not only lost, but they succumb to the evil forces themselves.
I wasn’t the only reader unsettled by the conclusion. Multiple reviewers on Goodreads mentioned the ending as problematic. Some felt that it was appropriate for this particular novel. Others believed the author wrote him/herself into a corner and saw no other ending. Still others wrote that they would never read another book by that author again.
Mind you, this wasn’t just an unhappy ending. My first novel has a bittersweet ending: the couple reconciles but their child still dies after a suicide attempt. Happy ending? No. But I tried to give this couple hope through both their faith in God and their love for their daughter’s newborn child. I think that’s a far cry from the bad-guys-defeat-good-guys ending.
I’ve read variations on the “evil wins” ending over the years, and I believe I understand why authors use it. They’re trying to reflect reality, and the reality is that human nature is evil. (So far, I agree.) Sometimes it appear that the ending of a life-story ends with evil (whatever form that takes) overcoming the good.
Again, I agree that sometimes in life, that’s how stories appear to end. Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t happen. Sometimes terrorists blow up a building and kill hundreds of people. Sometimes the justice system doesn’t work correctly and the murderer, the molester, the corrupt and unjust and predatory people in this world go unchallenged, undeterred, unpunished. And more people are hurt.
But appearances are deceptive.
Here’s the reality: this world isn’t all there is. There is a world beyond this one. What appears to be the end in our world–death–is only a beginning there.
In The Last Battle, Aslan tells the children that in the Shadowlands, this world, they are dead. Now they will live in Aslan’s kingdom forever.
“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Does evil win on earth? Sometimes, yes.
Does evil win in God’s kingdom? No. Emphatically, no. Those evils of this world–the injustices, the depravities, the sufferings–will be fully and justly dealt with there, regardless of whether they were here. God wins. Every. Single. Time.
We must continue to fight for justice here. That is right and good. Knowing that God will be triumphant doesn’t excuse us ignoring injustice in this world. But we can do so with the encouragement that we are not fighting in vain.
With God, there is always hope. The most realistic novels I’ve read, while they may have bittersweet or sad endings, also include some element of hope. It may be only a flicker of a candle on a starless night. But it is there.
A novel that ends without hope and with evil winning? Now, that’s unrealistic.