Today's Guardian cites a poll that shows most people like their books to have happy endings. Top three favorites Pride and Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Jane Eyre - while rife with tragedy, struggle, and death throughout - have satisfying (read: happy) endings, according to readers.
And the endings folks would change? Gone With The Wind (c'mon Rhett, cut Scarlett some slack), Wuthering Heights (stop brooding, Heathcliffe, and marry Cathy), and 1984 (don't be such a panty-waist, Winston - overthrow Big Bro').
On one hand, I understand readers' need to have everything turn out okey-dokey at the end of a ripping yarn, especially since that doesn't always (often?) happen in real life. Elizabeth Bennett's a smart cookie and deserves her Mr. Darcy. Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Boo have been through hell throughout the story and have earned reconciliation. And who would deny poor, plain Jane her happy ending?
But I don't agree that the books that don't prettify the ending are less satisfying. In fact, it seems to me that "satisfying" and "happy" aren't necessarily the same thing. Satisfying also can mean humorous, dramatic, scary, or open to interpretation. Sure, Rhett stomps out on Scarlett, but we know their paths will cross again somewhere beyond the book, don't we? And I always thought it was a proper ending for Anna Karinina to be on those train tracks. Put her out of her misery. Please.
What I require, I think, is an interesting ending. And I can't really define what I mean by interesting. I just know I don't want the book to sort of sputter out. Give me something that either resolves the main threads - happily or not - or surprises me in some way. Don't wimp out, in other words.
How about you? Happy ending or not? And feel free to give examples or the good, the bad, and the interesting.