What are some good short stories where the hero loses but also wins?
November 5, 2018 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Looking for short tales where the main character is defeated after a valiant struggle but also wins in some other surprising way. I find these types of stories quite satisfying when done right!
posted by storybored to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not quite sure what you're asking for-- could you provide an example or two?
posted by matrixclown at 3:30 PM on November 5, 2018

Wonder Boys (the book and the movie are both great)
posted by veery at 3:50 PM on November 5, 2018

Ray Bradbury stories often carry this theme. "The Martian" and "Usher II" from the Martian Chronicles come to mind.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2018

Maybe not what you have in mind, but The Falls by George Saunders was the first thing that occurred to me.
posted by swheatie at 4:50 PM on November 5, 2018

This is closely related to the classical notion of a Pyrrhic Victory. Pyrrhus is usually said to have won a victory but lost due to the high price paid, although that may be a distinction with out a difference, compared to losing but also winning.

Anyway, that term will almost surely help you find material that fits your preferences, see e.g. TV tropes’ coverage.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:34 PM on November 5, 2018

This is also a required plot point in any romantic comedy, according to the authoritative source for such things, Writing the Romantic Comedy by Mernit. The final act is "Joyous Defeat" in which the characters don't get their original objective, but get a new one (each other) which is what they really needed.
posted by agentofselection at 5:49 PM on November 5, 2018

No specific stories in mind, but your question made me think of the literary concept of Bildungsroman.

Perhaps some research using this term might get you closer to what you are looking for.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 6:09 PM on November 5, 2018

Sports stories! So many underdog sports stories have the team end up in second place, or losing with integrity, or losing but gaining the respect of their peers and themselves. Try Cool Runnings. (caveat: I have never actually watched Cool Runnings, but I hear it is a beloved childhood movie for many)
posted by storytam at 7:10 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The movie Hero that features Jet Li. In many ways his character wins, in other ways, his character loses.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:19 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

If we’re counting movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story fits your bill.
posted by ejs at 7:38 PM on November 5, 2018

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (Book and TV Special)
posted by chrisulonic at 11:57 PM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders (collected in The Tenth of December definitely fits, as well as many others of Saunders' stories. O Henry's The Gift Of The Magi kind of fits, if you look at it in the right light.

If you are open to films, many works of Ron Shelton fit the bill. I once read an interview where he said, "The hero can win the big game and lose the girl, or he can win the girl and lose the big game. He should never do both." (I'm paraphrasing.)

PS: If I understand correctly, OP is asking for the exact tonal opposite of a Pyrrhic victory. Googling suggests that there is no universally accepted term to describe this. I like Muric defeat but as it's not commonly used, searching for it won't help. "Lose the battle, win the war" is a more common phrase but it doesn't seem useful in hunting down stories. The closest I could find in TV tropes is Meaningless Villain Victory and Pyrrhic Villainy since a Pyrrhic victory for the antagonist may be a Muric defeat for the protagonist.
posted by yankeefog at 3:14 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Stardust is a short novel by Neil Gaiman. A man is sent to the land of faerie to fetch a falling star to win the woman he loves in marriage. He vows to succeed and brings back the star. But the star is a woman and he falls in love with her on the journey.

However the book is a novel, not a short story.

How about the O. Henry story, A Retrieved Reformation?
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:55 AM on November 6, 2018

chekhov's the bet?
posted by 20 year lurk at 2:49 PM on November 6, 2018

The New Testament of The Bible? With the hero being Jesus, and all that.

(Yup, I'm agnostic AF, but sometimes you gotta go with the low-hanging fruit.)
posted by Tardis_Spin at 3:11 PM on November 6, 2018

The only thing I can think of is the film Rocky
posted by ayc200 at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2018

For movies, the first Rocky is absolutely this. He loses the fight but it's a happy ending because he wins Adrian.
posted by MythMaker at 9:20 AM on November 7, 2018

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