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Why I Love Spoilers

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | August 20, 2014 | Comments ()


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I was talking to our old friend Joanna this weekend about Mark Twain, sparked by a documentary I’d been watching on the man last week in the middle of the afternoon on PBS. He’s always been one of my favorite figures. His nonfiction works and essays are gorgeous to me, deep splashes of light onto the human condition, always dappled with darkness. And every time I learn more about his life, more about the man, the more he rings true. The more he feels like a familiar old friend, the sort whose temperament and humor mirror mine in ways that would make him one of the first few invited to any dinner of the dead if I could arrange one (Solzhenitsyn and Churchill round out the table, if you’re curious).

But here’s the thing. I’ve read only a scattering of his fiction, which is generally what you have read in spades if you say that you like a novelist. The usual suspects are on the list of course: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee. But that’s it, and those were all for junior high or high school assignments anyway. I’ve even got a giant volume here that has several more of his novels bundled in there, but I just don’t enjoy them enough to read them. So it sits. I occasionally pull it out and make an effort since it seems like I really should, but the will just isn’t there. I like the idea of reading his novels, but I don’t actually like reading them all that much.

I know, judge me, judge me with all your concentrated judginess. I can take it.

There are more books than I can possibly read in my entire life. There are more fantastic, blow your mind, seriously this will change your life, you are missing out if you haven’t read this, books than I can read either. And I’m one of those people who reads insanely fast, so that my clicking to the next page on my Kindle could practically be use as a metronome. As a teenager, I read the county library’s entire World War II collection of books, about six shelves tall and twenty feet long, over the course of a year or so. Then I started on the Civil War.

My point isn’t that I’m awesome, but to emphasize the limitations of us humans. Because the first time I walked into a big university library and found that there were entire floors for certain subjects, I felt both awed and lost as to what to do. The brute force approach simply was not applicable in a world with so much to read. No more just starting at the first book on the shelf and plowing through like an automated scanner.

So we come to spoilers, and why I love them.

Just because there are not enough hours in the day doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t get to know how stories go and why they’re so good or loved. I love when a friend sits down and tells me their favorite scenes from a novel I haven’t read, spoils the twist ending. And I love doing the same. It’s like telling stories of places you’ve been, and listening to the stories of where others have been. It’s a way of getting to have more stories, even when there isn’t a moment more reading that you could do.

The bottom line is that a story can’t be spoiled that you were never going to read in the first place, and insisting on avoiding them is akin to refusing to listen to anyone tell you about Moscow, or Rio, or Kinshasha, because you don’t want the experience of seeing them yourself spoiled. And more importantly: a spoiled book is one that I’m more likely to read than one that I’ve been simply told was “good” no matter how effusively and hyperbolically that review was offered.

So in the comments below? Describe to me in your own words, as if we’re sitting down at coffee and talking animatedly, eyes gazing at fictional horizons in the distance. Tell me the best scenes from the best books and movies that you love, spoil me.



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  • dragonchild

    I'm not a fan of spoilers, but I will defend them thus -- if you're having me sit through a short story (a la O'Henry) or a movie, fine. That's a medium where you can get away with the surprise being the main appeal. Anything longer and I'm not slogging through your crap just for the joy of having the rug pulled from under me. Novels and shows are journeys. The ending doesn't have to be one I was expecting, but that has no bearing whatsoever on how effective it is.

    Too many stories try to keep my interest with twists. I'll punch you if you spoil a story that takes almost as much time to explain as to watch/read, but the longer the tale, the more the importance of the outcome is inversely proportional to the quality of the writing. A twist isn't going to have an emotional effect if I just don't care.

  • muscleman

    Can someone PLEASE tell me what happened at the end of Joe Hill's "Horns," I am SLOGGING through the book. I like it, but, he writes just like his dad with details that bore me to death. Just tell me what happened that night.

  • SottoVoce

    Just read it the other day. After Ig leaves Merrim at the Pit, Lee and Terry pick her up. Terry is stoned out of his mind, and Lee is pissed that he's not alone with her. He offers to drive her to his place, but she wants to go home and get out of her rain-soaked clothes. Terry gets a cut on his head climbing into the backseat and then gives her his jacket because she's cold. On the way, they pull to the side of the road near the foundry so she can vomit. She states again that she wants to go home, get dry, and be alone. Lee gives her his gym bag and tells her to put on his sweatsuit instead and then come home with him. She steps out of view to change clothes and then complains that there's no shirt. He says it doesn't matter, that they can together now. She stares in disbelief and tells Lee she didn't end her relationship with Ig so she could be with him. He's enraged, smashes her head with a stone and rapes her. Then, to ensure his silence, while Terry is passed out in the backseat, Lee wipes Terry's bleeding head with her blouse and wraps the bloody stone in Terry's jacket to implicate him in her murder. Lee was the friend she was seeing from time to time in Boston while Ig was at Darthmouth. She ended her relationship with Ig, not because she didn't love him or truly believed they needed to be with other people, but because she knew they had no future because she'd die in a few months from the same aggressive form of breast cancer that killed her sister.

  • muscleman

    Thank You.

  • SottoVoce

    You're welcome, and I know how you feel because there's quite a bit after that so that each character gets a happy or just ending.

  • muscleman

    At the end of "Edge of Tomorrow," Tom Cruise finds the head of the aliens is hiding under the Louvre in Paris, He swims down and blows it up, he wakes up and everything is back to OK and the girl he loves is alright.
    Once again, we know Tom Cruise is NOT GAY!

  • emmalita

    I'm not really a huge fan of big reveals or twists. I can get caught up in the excitement, but I usually just feel cheated.

    So here are a few things I love from books you may or may not read.
    Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books - A witch can look at things many ways and uses First, Second, and Third Thoughts to get to a truth. Being a witch is mostly about managing expectations and perception. Just because someone is old doesn't mean they're wise. Stupid people get old, too.

    Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen - somewhat problematic for getting close to white savior trope. If a god decides to take a hand in your life, other gods will get involved too. Never assume, whether you are a god, a king, a member of the power elite, or the god's chosen weapon that you know what is happening. Your butler might be leading the rebellion. Gods don't care about your ethics.

    Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita - the most magical things happen in the moonlight.

  • I hate horror movies, but sometimes I want to know what happens in them. But having heard a really odd (and completely inaccurate) summary of Halloween III: Season of the Witch in junior high, I usually go to Wikipedia.

  • Cowtools

    Whenever I see an article like this, I just assume that the author intentionally spoiled something for someone, and when they were called out on it, they decided to deflect the conversation to 'the nature of storytelling' or some crap, rather than face up to being an inconsiderate jerk.

    Articles like this are like pushing in front of someone in a line, and when they complain, you say 'Oh, but don't you know that time is an illusion! You should be happy to wait longer!"

  • Uriah_Creep

    I feel like this article should have been called "Why I love certain very specific types of spoilers". If I'm never going to read or see something, then spoilers are obviously OK. Otherwise, I detest them.

  • demondoll

    In Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight, Anax (a dog) gets lost in the city, and from the moment he loses his collar you can feel his growing panic. By the time he accidentally runs into someone who recognizes him, I was in near hysteria myself...

  • narfna

    Sometimes I get really stressed out and curious about characters I love so I spoil myself right before I watch, so I can prepare myself emotionally. That is the only way I got through Sherlock's last episode. Also every horror movie I've ever tried to watch. And a lot of TV. I basically knew everything that happened on Stargate when I first watched it, and it only made me more excited to watch. I think I was spoiled for a vast majority of Babylon 5 as well.

    I frequently read recaps and episode analysis of individual episodes before I watch them.

    I was spoiled by pop culture when I was six years old for Star Wars way before I even knew what it was (my parents don't understand science fiction because they have no imaginations--how they managed to raise me, a child who was ALL imagination, I have no idea). I didn't actually see the movie until I was sixteen, but I used to run around my house screaming 'LUKE I AM YOUR FAAAATHAAA' anyway. To this day I have no idea where I learned this, but it didn't harm my enjoyment of the movies at all. In fact, I was quite obsessed for several years.

    Needless to say, I don't really get it when people get so upset about being spoiled.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Kitiara is the blue dragon rider who kills Sturm, in a pointless bit of martyrdom.

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  • laylaness

    I don't mind spoilers. I'll look up plot synopses for movies or shows that everyone talks about so I know what they're talking about, even if I have no intention of watching. You're right; there is simply too much to keep up with.

    It's also difficult for me to come up with an example that I can concisely write about in an internet comment. I was an English Lit major. I read voraciously. BUT, I recently started re-reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and there is one exclamation from the White Rabbit, when Alice first meets him, that makes me giggle endlessly: "Oh, my ears and whiskers! How late it's getting!"

  • AshBookworm

    I wouldn't have finished the first season of Sleepy Hollow if someone in the comments on this site hadn't spoiled John Noble's character for me. Now I'm pumped for the second season!
    Same with Agents of SHIELD. Someone, again on this site, made a comment about Dalton being a Hydra agent and I happily started watching the post-CapAss 2 episodes.
    I'm also really glad I found out the ending of Stephen King's Dark Tower series before I trudged through 4 books only to be really pissed off at the end. As it is, I'm kinda impressed. If only the preceding few books had been as good as at the beginning, that would have been a killer ending.
    Other stuff that I'm glad has been spoiled so I didn't have to rage about how sucky they became: Dexter, HIMYM, Lost, House, post-S1 Homeland.

  • PDamian

    Jason Statham drives a fancy car very fast, kicks a lot of ass, reluctantly becomes a hero.

    I just spoiled several movies in one fell swoop. I rule.

  • BWeaves

    And Tom Cruise plays that cocky guy, in every movie ever.

  • JenVegas

    I was just watching War of the Worlds again the other night (insomnia) and was thinking the same thing. Why is this character so damn cocky? He's got, literally, nothing to be cocky about. But then, yes, Cruise always IS that guy isn't he?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think maybe he was supposed to be the very best crane operator dude at the docks? So... like, in a really specific way he got to be cocky?

    But he was basically terrible at every other aspect of his life, so it still doesn't work, I guess.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    sidebar first: Twain's Innocents Abroad is an amazing piece of "ugly Americans abroad" couple with prejudices of the day and a fascinating travelogue. I def recommend it. I wouldn't have tackled it if a) I had been in a musical based on it and then b) subsequently traveled to the Holy Land, where things have remarkably changed little in so many ways since Twain wrote about it.

    but to the point - the guy I just started dating seems big on things not being spoiled. Not in a crazed way, just if I start telling about a movie or book, he'll say, well, don't ruin the end for me. And if he starts to tell me about something, he'll hold back on the ending unless I push for it. It's interesting. I don't assume everyone will read/see everything, so I rarely bother.

    Now I'll think about the spoilers that matter to me. This is a seriously great diversion on a day when I really shouldn't be diverted at all...

  • katiessh

    I am very bad with tension, so I do the worst things- I often read the end of the book at the beginning, and I'll read tv recaps before I watch the episode.

    I'm actually trying to break myself out of the habit, that's badly I handle tension. And yet I like scary movies.

  • oilybohunk7

    I feel like you just saw into my soul and wrote about it. I am the exact same way.

  • mrsdalgliesh

    It turns out that Dr. Praetorius' devoted companion, Mr. Shunderson, is a convicted murderer who escaped death. He was accused of murdering his friend after a mountain climbing accident -- and went to prison. Once released, he one day encountered the friend who, it turns out, had gone into hiding and allowed Mr. Shunderson to be convicted. Mr. S confronted his friend and in the fight killed him. Though he later protested that he couldn't be convicted of killing a man he'd already been to prison for killing, Mr. Shunderson was again convicted and this time sentenced to hang. He *was* hung, and his corpse was given to Dr. Praetorius, who was at the time a medical student who wanted corpses for practice. But just as Dr. P was about to cut into the corpse, Mr. Shunderson awoke, having survived the hanging. Since he'd been punished for the crime, Dr. P didn't turn him in and Mr. Shunderson became his devoted companion.

    And the college board was so delighted by the twists and turns in this story that they threw out the complaint against Dr. Praetorius and told weasly little Hume Cronyn to go f*** himself. :-) And Dr. Praetorius was able to conduct the concert and Jeanne Crain felt their baby kick!

  • Oh, good, I'm not the only one who has still seen that movie.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    I found myself rewatching Terminator 2 on cable a few weeks ago, and upon revisiting the film for the umpteenth time I was struck by how ominously crafted the first half-hour of that film is.

    My tardy realization came when right up to the moment the T-800 and the T-1000 clash for the first time you notice that the audience is never supposed to be aware that Arnold is John Connor's protector, for all they knew at the time he was simply another variant of the same evil model from the first movie. Both characters' motivations were deliberately obfuscated by off-screen tactics in order to lead the audience astray, only to then proceed to floor them with the big reveal that Arnie was the good guy all along.

    It was a carefully assembled fake-out that was given away by the marketing department to get as many asses in the theater as possible, after all, it was the first all-CGI character ever portrayed in a live-action film in cinematic history and you bet they were going to use that as a selling point. And even though it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the film, it still robbed me of experiencing that sudden catharsis for myself. I understand that the article isn't advocating we start yelling "SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE" on the streets and that some films have essentially become so ingrained in the public's consciousness it's almost impossible to avoid knowing that Darth Vader is Luke's father or that Tyler Durden is not real, but I still hope we can give audiences the chance to go in blind and be surprised, as it was initially intended.

    After all, "if I could have one wish it would be to watch my favorite movie again for the first time".

    Great piece, Steven.

  • UglyBattery

    In "The Departed" everyone except Mark Walberg dies and it is INFURIATING!!! Leo is slaughtered by Matt Damon and his death is so unimportant, it happens in a flash, no pomp and circumstance, no dramatic slow motion-- just BOOM his brains are everywhere. It's rather upsetting. Matt Damon's death is more satisfying though, as he is gunned down by Marky Mark in full anti-CSI regalia. That movie is a great one.

  • Ro

    For me, it is because Leo's death is so unsatisfying and Damon's death so over the top that I think it's brilliant. The film refuses to let you have the ending you want.

  • Counsel

    I agree it is incredibly unsatisfying; but, I love it. The movie, for me, works so well by constantly contrasting the two main characters. Their respective deaths wrap up that theme effectively.

    The viewer gets to see the hero of the movie die unceremoniously. With Damon, we get to anticipate his death right along with his own acceptance of it. Throughout the movie, Damon reaps the rewards of his title while truly being a thug. Leo only gets the rewards and title of a mob soldier all the while being a true cop.

    Damon even hints at feeling bad for this in the movie. He is definitely first and foremost concerned with himself and survival, but he seems to have some self-awareness of his own evilness/corruptness. It could be more self-survival, but I like to think he arranging a cop-funeral for Leo is him trying to make amends for his actions. And, just like the fate of the rest of departed characters, he is reminded by Marky Mark that you can't get away from from who you are.

    Favorite line: "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy."

  • Ro

    This is exactly how I feel about it. Thank you for articulating it so well!

  • I love Matt Damon's death in that. Perfect ending to a perfect role by Wahlberg.

  • UglyBattery

    btw I am such a spolier fanatic that I go to spoiler websites for fun!

  • JoeK

    "42."

  • Slim

    My son is kinda named after a certain hitchhiking alien.

  • Mrs. Julien

    How many roads must a man walk down?

  • JoeK

    "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?!"

  • Sam Underwood

    Yet this site is one of the worst in regards to people talking about things, even things that are several years old, because people, including contributors for the site, scream "spoilers" when it is their own fault for not policing what content that they are taking in.

  • It turns out, in the end, that Dustin was Ryan Reynolds all along!

  • BWeaves

    Does he have the abs for it?

  • Well I don't wanna spoil everything

  • Ian Fay

    Waiting Ryan Reynolds?

    Or Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds?

    THIS IS IMPORTANT.

  • That really depends on your interpretation of the source material.

  • ironypants

    A few weeks ago a friend of mine who had only read the first two Outlander novels wanted to know what happened in the rest of the books because she admitted that while she was never ever going to read them, she had heard they were bonkers and was SO curious. Having just recently re-read it, I proceeded to act out the entirety of the series for her up to the cliffhanger beginning the most recent novel, occasionally pausing for questions and gales of laughter, and it was one of the more delightful conversations we've had in a while. BUT I'M KIND OF AFRAID TO DO THAT HERE.

  • emmalita

    Make a YouTube video of it and then post it so we can watch it or not.

  • BWeaves

    I will never spoil a story for someone else, UNLESS they specifically ask me to tell them the ending.

    I love spoilers. I read the last page of a novel first. And then the last chapter. And then I go back to the beginning of the book and see how they get there.

    To me, the enjoyment of the book is in the writing. The journey. Not the destination. I don't like surprises. I like to know where I'm going.

    I tried reading Game of Thrones. I love the story. Hate Martin's writing style. I couldn't make it through the first novel. So, I went online and read all the wiki entries instead. I'm enjoying the hell out of the TV show.

    P.S. I didn't love the novel "Portnoy's Complaint" but I did like the ending where after a novel's worth of bitching about his life, the doctor finally says, "So, now we shall begin, yes?" or something like that.

  • dragonchild

    Incidentally, spoilers actually spared me the misery of getting invested in the story. I knew going in roughly how things were at the end of DwD, but nothing about how the story started. To me, it was all about gauging the scope of the journey. So when I started plowing through the introductory chapters I was stunned -- possibly more stunned than any reaction I would've had to TRW had I known nothing about it.

    Just to give one example -- I roughly knew where Dany was at the end of DwD. How far she's progressed, then, is a matter of how far back she started. So here I read the chapter in which she's introduced and she's WHAAAAA??? OK, screw that.

  • I've read all the books (so far) in A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll agree with you, Martin gets clunky and I have to remind myself that the story is worth trudging through descriptions of food and clothing to get to the root of what's going on in this universe he's created. (South Park got it wrong - the descriptions are not of penises, but food.)

    Two of my favorite moments in books I love --

    First, in The Once and Future King by T.H. White, at the end of The Queen of Air and Darkness, when Arthur wakes up to see Morgause standing in front of him folding up a tape, and the text says (and I'm paraphrasing here) "we have to remember that the very long book is called the death of Arthur. Nine tenths of it seems to be about quests and knights jousting and things of that sort, but the narrative is a whole and it tells how the young man came to trouble in the end. The story of sin coming home to roost. He may not have known she was his sister, and it may have been in part due to her, but it seems in passing that innocence is not enough." (And I know that's a huge paraphrase, but that was the first book I read that really explained that innocence wasn't enough; the righteous man doesn't always survive and triumph. There isn't always a Merlin or Tom Bombadil or a ship to the Undying Lands to take the hero to some triumphant ending. Sometimes it's just young Tom, talking to his dying King, remembering and regretting while the world seems to burn.)

    The second is in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout sees Boo Radley in the corner. It was the first time I could remember putting down a book and crying. I was so very invested in those characters, and when I realized who saved her and what happened (and what almost happened) it affected me in a way a book hadn't before.

  • Ian Fay

    Let's just get this out of the way, shall we?

  • SottoVoce

    Very good, but they left out that Maggie shot Mr.Burns.

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