Why Endings Haunt Us

Love 'em when they're on the way, hate 'em when they arrive.

So you’re sitting there, reading your book, pretending you’re sane. Minding your own business like usual. You’re nervous, and perhaps also a little excited. You can feel the thin chapter of pages remaining under your right thumb, pages that slowly dwindle with each page you turn and devour. You may even be smiling, it’s been a good day. 

Yes, a good day indeed.

The end is nigh, so you’re also sad, but the ride’s been a good one. A solid story, with solid characters, all about to surely come to a very satisfying conclusio-

You stop. 

Maybe you scratch your head, frown a little, even twitch once or twice.

Well now, that’s a bit strange isn't it?

You flip back a couple pages, sure that there’s more words somewhere. They’re just hiding.

You re-read. Flip forward, frown a little deeper at the blank pages you see. Back up, then re-read again. 

Your frown turns ugly. 

You wonder if…

Your bus seat-buddy begins to eye you sideways, noticing the rather psychotic and primal sounds coming from your throat now.  

Realization dawns then, and it dawns like an absolute mother-tubber. It dawns as though you stood between it and a pulitzer. As though you stole it’s baby and ate it while it watched, as though- 


I think that last one probably got the point across.  

*Elegant bow*

Anyway, you then feel an ice cold hand grip your heart. You feel it squeeze and twist and pull, and man but does it hurt.

The world is dark now. 

The sun is gone, the wind is cold. 

So cold.

Where moments ago your life had been filled with such potential, it’s now only empty. A gaping abyss through which you can glimpse the corners of oblivion. Your eyes are thick with tears, your heart weighs heavy in your chest. 

Softly, you lay down the book. It’s cover stares up at you, mocking you. Taunting with all that could have been.

You know this scenario of which I speak? This really just damning sense of reading an ending less satisfying than a Dr. Seuss book?

Yes, well, perhaps I exaggerate, though I dare to say the concept stands. At one point or another we’ve all come across stories with endings so disappointing you’d rather suffer through A Million Ways To Die In The West again. And we know that’s something nobody wants to do. 

So why is it that an ending can come to haunt us so? They’re just someone’s words after all. What is it about them that keeps us up wondering?

Well as I’m sure many of you can deduce, we invest ourselves in stories. And as something we invest ourselves in, much like shareholders told they’ve had a negative quarter, we get angry when we’re let down. I’ve talked about it in my Power Of Stories post, but we can honestly and truly fall in love with a story. It happens all the time, and to be left in the cold when it comes time to end, well, it hurts. 

I’m going to propose a hypothetical apocalypse scenario you probably haven't heard before. Bear with me, because it’s freaking crazy.

So the year is probably 2022, maybe a little earlier if we’re lucky (though I seriously doubt it). It’s early spring, the birds are again beginning to take up their melodic songs, and the flowers are only just budding. There’s a certain crispness to the air, and almost everyone is grinning with bliss. 

It is the morning of A Dream Of Spring’s release. (Ice and Fire book 7.)

We can all taste it, the end that is finally and delightfully nigh. After battling through a bloodthirsty mob at your local book store, single handedly beating another human being for their copy, and sprinting home as though you did in fact walk more than twelve steps a day, you’re ready to begin reading. 

You flip to page one and…

Before you know it you’re three pages away from the end. 

You can’t believe it. 

You’re higher than if you’d swallowed an entire bathtub of ecstasy. The world is in the palm of your hand! You are a king-

Then you read it.

Perhaps a paragraph. Perhaps an entire page. Though it doesn't really matter. 

An astroid completely destroys Westeros, killing everyone. Not a soul survives.

Or maybe it was an alien invasion. 


Again, doesn’t really matter, but the ending is so bad you instantly projectile vomit on everything. And even then, you're still more disgusted by the ending. 

(See mental breakdown steps above. Rinse and repeat, add cinnamon where needed.)

Now for a moment imagine everyone in the world reaching that ending just as you did. Can you picture the calamity? Almost certainly there’d be some sort of collective and horrifying scream from the mouths of all readers alike. There’d be looting and rioting and murder, not to mention that the tattoo on your arm is no longer relevant in the slightest.

I can tell you’re shivering in fear already. 

Fear not though, Geroge Martin is surely not so foolish as to enrage an entire generation. 


Ah, that’s not the point! 

The point is, though perhaps not to the same degree, it would certainly ruin a lot of days (and years) all over this big blue and green planet. 

Could it truly be that we’re that obsessed with the story? Is that why endings are so important?



Are any of you yet cured of Lost syndrome?

I think that for a lot of us it’s simply devastating to see something you’ve come to love just absolutely ruined. Like: “and then Johnny woke up and knew it was all a dream” -type ruined. So much time, so much thought, so much enjoyment, and just to see it destroyed? 

Well, that’ll do something to a person. 

It works the same way for characters too. If you watched Game Of Thrones season 5 finale, you know certain scenes can really REALLY bite. 

But there are those that simply don't accept the authors choice. That take to social media and whatnot to muster and revolutionize a new ending, it’s certainly happened before. Remember the Sopranos? Remember the fury? 

And then there’s fan-fiction and all that stuff, though in my eyes, that’s just wrong. The author has the right to end his or her story however they see fit, and even if they dived straight into that pre-mentioned bathtub of ecstasy mouth wide open, their ending is final. Though we wish it may not always be. 

So to summarize and bring about my thesis and all that good stuff, why do endings haunt us so?

Well, in a concept so simple it’s deceiving, to follow with nothing after something terrible, really just sucks. 

In a way, perhaps it is like watching your baby get eaten by a dingo after-all.

I regret nothing.