I would say that this post has spoilers for The Martian, but my whole point is that the book’s ending ISN’T a spoiler…
What is it about stories that make us so sure of a happy ending?
Not every book ends happily, of course, but as I read The Martian I knew that Andy Weir wasn’t going to let Mark Watney die at the end. I mean, how depressing would that be, to read about someone surviving incredibly dangerous situations time and time again only to have the launch fail or for him to have made some sort of fatal mistake just before the crew picked him up? I also knew that the book was popular before I started reading it. Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t be this popular if he died.
But then I thought, what would happen if someone wrote a “survival story” only to have the character die at the very end? How would people react? My gut is telling me there would be outrage. Granted, I’ve read at least a couple of series where the main character/hero dies at the end. But in this case, the author kind of cheats. You get invested in the character over several books before he or she dies. But what if it all happened in the scope of a single book like The Martian?
Surprise would have triumphed, but at the cost of “happily ever after.”
It’s not always a bad thing when a book ends predictably. Just because we know how something is going to end doesn’t always make it less enjoyable. Chick flicks are highly predictable, but people watch them anyway, and every time you reread a book you already know what’s going to happen.
So here’s my question: what’s the perfect balance between surprise and predictability in a book? Does it even matter at all? And how would you have reacted if Mark Watney had died at the end of “The Martian?”
If you liked this post you might also like Who Would Win In a Dance-Off: Mark Watney or Willy Wonka? and Bilbo Baggins in Rapunzel’s Tower (And Other Rapunzel Character Swaps).
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