By Bruce L. Cook
Most readers are terrified or distraught as a protagonist faces the horrible forces of doom. However, in the back of an experienced reader’s mind, there’s always the comfort that the good guy never dies. After all, that would end the book early.
Going back in history, but not far, consider the cowboy movies in which the good guy would always win. The victims would have a rope around the neck and final rites pronounces just as – voila! – like magic, the posse would ride in with true justice, and save the day.
There is a western movie where the posse comes too late. The victim hangs before the words of justice arrive. Sadly, I cannot locate it. I was think the title was “Affair at Attacreek Ridge” or something, but Google and IMDB fail me on repeated searches.
When Clint Eastwwod starred in “For a Few Dollars Mare,” a false telegram results in the posse leaving town, Then the bad guys rob the bank. In his “A Fistful of Dollars,” a stranger escapes in a coffin.
However, Google does reward in the case of a 1993 western titles “Posse!” Here the film goes back over a hundred years and does its best to right the wrongs of a racially biased past.
Or it’s possible to think of an old favorite, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” where the story ends in a way the reader would never choose. Then a clock is wound back and the story ends happily. The reader can choose the favorite ending.
There’s talk of humor being a process of teasing the audience by leading to one expectation but ending with another. And the “other” in this case should be something the audience should have expected.
In the case of fiction, maybe it’s time writers take advantage of a “happy endings” expectation regarding the protagonist. Then, with a nod to a violent era, let the protagonist be the victim for a change.
- Bruce L. Cook