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So you're watching, reading, or listening to a work of fiction, and it's pretty much wrapped up. The good guys win, the hero and his significant other are getting married, and all that's left is to dot the is and cross the ts in this Happy Ending.
All of a sudden..."Stop watching. Now. We mean it! It's for your own good!" The narrator has intervened to warn you about an upcoming unpleasant plot twist!
If the work in question has more minutes/pages/episodes left than strictly necessary to write "And they lived Happily Ever After" over a beautiful sunset as they ride into the distance, odds are that it won't. Whether it's a Mandatory Twist Ending or a Diabolus Ex Machina, the end result is a supreme Downer Ending as the heroes' good fortune is yanked out from under their feet. Normally, this happens without warning, but a Snicket Warning Label will politely inform you beforehand that if you prefer the happy ending, perhaps it's best for you to quit now.
A variant can occur when characters are viewing a Show Within a Show, and one character delivers a warning to the other.
Note: Unless there is a warning in the work itself, it is not this trope. ("This-or-that movie would have been less tragic if it had ended 10 minutes early" is not this trope. A narrator telling you to stop watching? That's this trope.)
This trope is named for the warning the "author" of A Series of Unfortunate Events gives at the beginning of each book, that the reader would likely be much happier if he read something else. Perhaps about a happy little elf?
Warning: As an Ending Trope, here be SPOILERS, potentially unmarked!
- The end of the 13th episode of Princess Tutu appears to be a bog-standard romantic happy ending to the series. Except it's only half finished. The (in-universe) author from beyond the grave gives off the warning.
- Saikano's fansub had a variant of this. Episode 10 ends with "A friendly warning from the team: This is the ending of happiness in Saikano. If you would prefer the anime to have a happy end, consider stopping here and pretending there are no more episodes. Continuing will only bring misery and pain. You have been warned." at the bottom of the credits. Boy howdy, are they right.
- It's even worse in the manga, where a similar warning is placed. In the middle of the second volume. Out of seven.
- In Cowboy Bebop, in the little preview for Black Dog Serenade, Jet Black says that most shouldn't watch the episode because it's depressing.
- The "Season of Mists" story arc of The Sandman ends with a (fictional) G. K. Chesterton quotation about how any story can have a happy ending if you just stop reading in the right place -- and if you want The Sandman to have a happy ending, that's not a bad place to stop reading.
- The film (500) Days Of Summer begins with the narrator stating "This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, this is not a love story."
- A variant: Adam Cadre's Varicella has an Easter Egg which allows for the only even remotely happy ending in the game. One can have Primo Varicella dispose of all those horrible rivals, and then type WAKE UP to get an ending where the whole scenario is All Just a Dream. If you don't, then you're stuck with a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending where Primo Varicella is tortured to death by the prince, whose nasty experiences at the hands of the rivals has caused him to cross the Moral Event Horizon himself and become a horrible, Caligula-like Complete Monster who, in addition to torturing Varicella, kills his own mother and starts bloody wars on other nations.
- The 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition game Deadline Enchanter (not to be confused with Infocom games of similar names) has a warning in it towards the end, where the text implies that completing your mission will result in the death of the being who sent you on the mission in the first place. You're then told that there won't be a happier ending, and that if you can't handle it, you should turn the game off and go do something else.
- The 6th arc of Umineko no Naku Koro ni is the closest the story gets to an outright happy ending. The seventh arc then provides two different warnings that to continue reading is to get a much more depressing end. The first is in the description when the game is opened. "Things you become able to see with love. Things you become unable to see because of love. By knowing love and believing in magic, the door to the Golden Land was opened. However, the tale of love ends here. What will be told from now on is only a tale of cruel tragedy and harsh truth..." At the end of the seventh arc, just in case the audience was still holding out hope for a happy ending to be yanked out of everything during the final arc, Lambda and Bern then warn you in red that This story will not have a happy ending. The ending of the eighth arc itself is an improvement over the seventh, but only from "bad" to "bittersweet."
- The Book of Adventure Games, a third-party hintbook to multiple Interactive Fiction titles, suggests the player create their own "alternate ending" for Infidel, as the intended ending is your character's Karmic Death.
- Trope Namer: A Series of Unfortunate Events Lampshades this by pointing out where you can stop reading and imagine a happy ending. See Schmuck Bait.
- And fandom was split on the actual ending of the series in The End. Many plotlines were unresolved at the end, but on the other hand we had been warned all along...
- Variation in the last book of the Dark Tower, where Stephen King tells the reader to stop right before the coda because it's all about his journey to get to the Dark Tower, and not what happens within. The inevitable taking of the Schmuck Bait leads to a Here We Go Again ending. It's also used several other times in that book: just before the deaths of Eddie and Jake King warns the reader that they should stop because the next part was very painful to tell, and will be very painful to hear.
- Black House, co-written with Peter Straub, suggests at the end that the reader stop and not read the epilogue.
- Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs has one of these at the start of the book. He warns you that the songs within will get stuck in your head and drive you insane, so please don't do it!
- The Princess Bride:
- The original (see the quotes page) ends on a ridiculous Diabolus Ex Machina note that isn't much more plausible than Happily Ever After. (The Film of the Book, however, has an unambiguous happy ending.)
- Fixed in Buttercup's Baby, where we get to see the ending...only to fall into another Snicket Warning Label as right after Buttercup gives birth to her daughter and she's all happy with Westley and Fezzik and such, we suddenly cut to a cliffhanger scene (literally) when Fezzik takes Waverly back after she's kidnapped and falls down to his impending doom, using his large size to shield Waverly. Ah, well, when the actual book comes out sometime before 2023...
- So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, the fourth Hitchhiker's Guide book, contains a section in which Adams advises the audience to skip the middle of the book if they aren't interested in Arthur's love life, and instead go right to the end "which is a good bit and has Marvin in it."
- In Anne Rice's Tale of the Body Thief, the second-to-last chapter is only a few paragraphs long and consists of Lestat warning the reader that they really ought to stop now, and if they don't, will probably wish they did. He says that the book should end here, and although it doesn't, the reader is welcome to pretend it did. In the final chapter, he turns his mortal friend David Talbot into a vampire, against his will, in a scene written to disturbingly resemble a rape. For almost no reason whatsoever except that he felt like it.
- House of Leaves: "This is not for you"
- The Ramayana. If you ignore the last book, Rama and his queen live Happily Ever After. In the end he exiles her after disparaging rumors from the populace.
- Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief has a horribly depressing Everybody's Dead, Dave sort of ending, in which, yes, everyone in the book except for two characters die suddenly and without meaning. Luckily, the book gives ample warning from chapter one - namely, by telling you the setting is World War Two Dresden, and by having Death narrate. The first chapter is Death listing off all the times he'll meet the Book Thief, so you have time to turn away.
- In Lloyd Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, the point after which Prince Jen and Voyaging Moon have declared their love for each other is the point when the narration says "You can stop here if you want." Fittingly, the next chapter features the entire journey going haywire, and results in Jen's separation from all his friends, and... It Gets Worse. But, this being Lloyd Alexander, it gets way better by the end.
- While it concerns the drop in quality rather than the change in mood, Ernest Hemingway warns readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that "if you read it, you must stop where the Nigger Jim is taken from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating."
- In the series beginning with "The Name of This Book is Secret", many chapters are dedicated to the author a) telling you why it's dangerous to read the book, b) deciding that he's going to stop writing but then being threatened/bribed into continuing, or c) reminding you that the names of all the characters have been changed for their own safety.
- Cat's Cradle. Seriously, that Bokonon is ADAMANT about preventing people from reading his real-deal world-ending book.
Bokonon: STOP! DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! This book contains only lies.
- Some copies of The Adventures of the Princess And Mr. Whiffle bear the label: "Warning! This shit is not for kids!". He's not kidding.
- The entire plot (yeah that's right) of Mr B Gone
- Chuck Palahniuk's Choke starts out with "If you're going to read this, don't bother."
- The Fae of the Kingkiller Chronicle series have a custom whereby dark, tragic plays begin with the malicious oracle known as the Cthaeth depicted in the scenery as a warning to the faint of heart. Said oracle appears in The Wise Man's Fear which just happens to end at a Hope Spot.
- Percy Jackson and The Olympians has one on the very first page.
- Hardback copies of The Lightning Thief had this on the back of the book/as the blurb, telling the reader not to go on if the summary "made something stir inside of them".
- In the season 4 finale of "Dexter", Dexter kills the trinity killer and goes home to pack for his honey moon with his wife, Rita and their three kids in Disney World only to find his son, Harrison in a pool of Rita's blood as she was killed by Trinity just before Dexter captured him.
- Phoebe Buffay's mother would turn off movies like Old Yeller, saying, "That's the end" before the sad ending, so Phoebe didn't know the ends to lots of sad movies. The films whose endings she finally discovered in that episode include Old Yeller, Charlotte's Web, Pride Of The Yankees, among others. All of those films would probably count for this trope.
- Also subverted when Monica gives Phoebe It's a Wonderful Life to cheer her up, and Phoebe turns it off halfway through because of all the bad things that happen to George, so she doesn't get to see the happy ending.
Phoebe: It should have been called "It's a sucky life and just when you think it can't suck anymore it does".
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the things Kennedy likes about Willow is that she stops Moulin Rouge early so that it has a happy ending.
- When showing something graphic like the aftermath of a bombing, some news stations will say "Some viewers may find the upcoming images disturbing" or something like that.
- Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs has done this on occasion, such as during the episode on rendering, where a dead cow is lowered into a grinder where...
- "I don't ever want to tell you not to watch this show, but..."
- La-Mulana warns you against entering the final room of Hell Temple:
The one that must not be seen. The one that regrets seeing. Leave before thou becomes such. Before thy time comes to naught.
- Prince of Persia (2008). Leave Elika deceased, honoring her Heroic Sacrifice, or suffer the consequences.
- In-universe example in the webcomic Krazy Larry. Vicious misanthrope Larry idolizes the Grinch, so his friends go to great lengths to make sure he never sees the last five minutes of the TV special.
- Applied in the author comments in this chapter of Mortifer.
"No one is going to like this chapter. No one. Its going to be horrible."
- In the authors notes for penultimate strip of the zombie Halloween arc of Roommates (Mega Crossover fancomic) we get the warning that those who want it to have an unequivocally happy ending should "cue credits here." The ending is a rapid switch from humorous to heartbreaking. (Warning for Zombieland spoilers!)
Now that you've read this, don't say that we didn't warn you.