One of my favorite books is William Goldman's THE PRINCESS BRIDE. It's a twist on swachbuckers and fairy tales, and I believe Goldman also wrote the screenplay. He doesn't believe in happy endings, even in fantasy. So as the heroes and the princess ride off, he says what happens after happily ever after: Buttercup's horse throws a shoe, Inigo's wounds start bleeding again and the evil prince never gets punished.
Now, does that mean every story should end with everyone miserable or dead? Think of Hamlet. Unless you're a big fan of Fortinbras, there 's no way you can say that it ended well. Half the people died by accident, although many say Polonius deserved it. Nevertheless Hamlet, Othello, MacBeth and Romeo and Juliet are considered Shakespeare's greatest plays. Not a lot of cheery faces in those.
Do we need a happy ending? Maybe not always. Sometimes survival in the face of tragedy, like Scarlett O'Hara, is more powerful and oddly satisfying. As a reader, I think that having a resolution to the main story is more important. Endings should fit the tone of the book and bring the plot to completion, even if it is bodies all over the stage. Happy? It would be nice, but it's not always the way things turn out. In life, there's little logic to what happens. In fiction there must be. So I'll pass on the starry-eyed couple who think marriage is the end of their troubles. Just give me an ending that makes sense.
Although I do always want to smack Othello upside the head and tell him, "Why don't you just ask her why the handkerchief is there? I'll bet it just got mixed up in the palace laundry."
Sharan, grinchy from the heat.