I was wondering what to post today when I came across this piece. It seems the combination of altruism and wanting justice is so deeply built in it can be observed in babies. Me being me I immediately wondered if longitudinal studies would show a connection between the babies with least empathy and sociopathic behavior, but that's a can of worms I'll deal with elsewhere and elsewhen. I don't have time to go chasing those worms today (long story involving Life Gone Feral and Job Gone Feral playing together).
What I'm interested in for today's post is this: how much classic fiction of all flavors involves the bad guy getting punished? Rather a lot, as it happens. It's only recently that the fad for non-judgmental stuff started poisoning the well, and gee, it runs so much against the grain that even babies approve (for baby values of approval, which probably means aren't upset by) of bad guys being punished, and presumably good guys being rewarded.
We, as a species, clearly want justice.
When we can't get it in our lives - which is inevitable, the world being inherently unjust - we use fiction to restore our sense of 'fair'. Especially when anyone who tries to get justice or fairness in life by imposing it is going to end up with megalomaniacal dictators making everyone else equally miserable. It's one of those nasty consequences of human fallibility. You can add it to the laundry list.
Since divine justice doesn't show any signs of manifesting in our regular lives (or at least, I haven't seen any bullying bosses/coworkers/politicians/used car salesmen/insert villain of choice being struck by random lightning lately), we have to meet our needs through - you guessed it - fiction. I'm sure it's dreadfully primitive and barbaric and all to want people who hurt others to be punished, but there you go.
And of course, we can rationalize ourselves into the most amazing places where someone can slaughter millions "for their own good". The last I heard no-one ever conclusively decided on the question of whether, if you sincerely believe that not belonging to religion X will condemn someone to eternal torment, it's justifiable to kill the people of country Y who will never, ever believe what you believe. (Not naming names, but certain people in the Middle East have decided that the answer is 'yes'. So do a few people elsewhere. One or two. And if you believe there's that few I've got a nice bridge in Nevada I'd like to sell you).
Certainly, the books I've enjoyed most have been when the bad guy - whether irredeemable evil (usually those are kind of unsatisfying once they stop being the shadowy figure behind the Bad Things) or one of the ones who's managed to twist and self-rationalize into evil - gets what I feel he - or she - deserves. And of course the heroes of the piece are rewarded appropriately.
My own writing has a funny tendency to spend a lot of time with the folk who walk the knife-edge between having - for whatever the reason - to do horrible things for a good purpose and doing horrible things for a not-good purpose. And of course, a lot of just what makes it good. Or bad. The Vimes's of the world and their darker cousins who can't keep the beast away, so they try to control the damage by aiming it at a greater evil. That's a question that fascinates me.
What about you? What are your most satisfying endings? Do you want the hero rewarded and the villain punished, vice versa, or something in between?