1. The example that leaps most readily to my mind is Lord of the Rings. Frodo leaves Bag End and the Shire to protect the innocence of the Shire in particular. Along the way he loses his own innocence, but seems to have triumphed utterly—and has as far as everyone else is concerned—but then this weary wounded hero returns home to find that he has failed and the Shire is despoiled. And even once the Shire is restored, it still isn’t quite the same anymore.

    The other obvious example of “victory in defeat” is The Last Battle, which shouldn’t need any explanation beyond that.

    But, actually, the “victory but at what cost” motif is far more common in what I’ve read recently than total victory or total defeat. (Partly that’s because an unusually large proportion of that is novels in L. E. Modesitt’s Recluce series, which are pretty much all elaborations of the theme of the cost of doing what is necessary rather than taking the easy way out. But not entirely. And I also have seen vanishingly few movies in my lifetime, let alone in the last few years.) In fact, a great deal of the segment of modern fantasy and science fiction that I think of as “mythopoeic fiction,” by which I mean speculative fiction that demonstrates thoughtful worldbuilding, also applies that same attention to detail to its themes, making a point of dwelling on these nuances rather than settling for the formerly conventional complete success—so much so, in fact, that I can’t think of any book with the sort of ending described above as “so common” that wasn’t explicitly intended for children.

  2. Kaci says:

    I tend to like bittersweet endings, as both of you mentioned. Overly “happy” and depressing endings, well, that’s another story.

  3. Same here, bittersweet endings. I watched How to Train Your Dragon and the ending was perfect (I cry everytime I see it… I know… I’m a softy). But its the perfect ending for the movie; the boy and the dragon need each other 🙂

What do you think?