When evil appears to win

ab351a672de44766956840771490c1f5Don’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.

Lewis writes,

“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.

 

 

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15 thoughts on “When evil appears to win

  1. I am such a sucker for happy endings. At times It does appear that evil win-so frustrating. I agree that in God’s Kingdom- Good triumphs! YAY! In the end, God will work it out for His Glory.

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    1. I’m a sucker for them, too. I recently read a thriller that was spoiled for me by the ending. The protagonist had a love interest and in the last chapter, after he found out that she was a cutter, he never spoke to her again. (Jerk.) I was SOOO disappointed. I wanted her to have love; in the end, she did in the form of parental figures who cared for her like her own abusive parents had not. I was just so disappointed that she didn’t get both parental love AND romantic love. Sigh.

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  2. I read this post with my eleven-year-old daughter Avonlea by my side, and she found it very intriguing.

    She never looks at what I read online (I never let her, for one thing) but today she was sitting on my lap (a VERY rare occurrence!) while we chatted, and it just…happened that we read your post. She is aware of suicide because her 5th grade classmate’s father died by suicide and has discussed it in class, briefly. 😦

    Anyway, we had a lively little discussion about good vs. evil in books and in life. She recognized the C.S. Lewis reference, although she hasn’t read “The Last Battle” yet.

    I think the reason I’m attracted to Madeleine L’Engle’s novels so much is that good does conquer evil and her personal faith shines through all her books. However, I do realize that evil is very much a part of this world, and while you know about my lack of religious education/convictions, I hope that this – “Does evil win in God’s kingdom? No. Emphatically, no.” is 100% true! My gut tells me that it is.

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    1. My sympathy to Avonlea’s classmate on the loss of her father, and to Avonlea and her classmates as they try to grapple with her sorrow and all the questions that arise after a suicide. I’m glad you got to have this talk with her, and I hope reading my post helped a little bit.

      And, hey, you know what research shows about our guts. The state of them reveals a lot about our overall health, and we gotta listen to it! 🙂

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  3. A classic tale of evil winning is in the bible is Judas. He was Jesus’ friend and follower. Yet he was paid his money for his betrayal and hung himself. But had he not betrayed Jesus, He wouldn’t have been put in the position of saving the world.

    In this earthly realm, we often don’t understand while evil seems to triumph over good. But God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours and He’s working things together for our good (Rom 8:28)!

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  4. This is such a good post, Laura, and as an avid reader I have to agree with you. I’m trying to think, now, if I’ve ever read a book that ended in a way that offered no hope of redemption of any kind; I can’t come up with one. I don’t want a rose-coloured fanciful ending that is out of touch with real life, but even if hard things happen to the characters I need to know that there is hope.

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    1. I’ve read this one (okay, “browsed” this one) and another one (another one I “browsed” because I had to at least skim it for various reasons) that seemed hopeless at the end. It’s such a deflating experience to be involved in the characters’ lives, hoping that they’ll win their battle, and having even the hope that they gained something from that battle, even if they didn’t win. Anna Karenina was a novel that had a sad ending, but hope came in the form of Levin, a major character, who has a spiritual breakthrough of some kind.

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  5. A story that ends with hopelessness is the most fictional story of all, Laura, because as you said it’s just not realistic. Reality is that we have a blessed hope in the truest of all endings, the one with Christ on the eternal throne. He is seated there now, as a matter of fact. What a great story!

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    1. Amen! I’m sure the authors of these works believe that they’re being realistic, but their view of the world doesn’t allow for God and the hope He brings. I’m glad that I know the truth. It’s kept me from succumbing to despair many times.

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