23 thoughts on “Spoilers are Good?

  1. Surely spoilers are called SPOILERS for a reason.

    I know that as a kid when we took a present to a friend’s party it was the worst of manners for someone to tell what you were giving before the present was opened.

    It feels the same for me with spoilers. Remember the reaction of the crowd when Homer Simpson came out of watching Empire Strikes Back?

    Big no-no.

  2. Why else do we love formula action features and rom-coms? We know what to expect. “Spoilers” are the secret to the success of Greek tragedy. Every episode of “House” is pretty much the same, but that doesn’t make it less popular, possibly more. People don’t see the same movie over and over (or reread Harry Potter obsessively) because they have forgotten what happens but because they enjoy seeing *how* it happens and looking forward to their favorite scenes. Sure, we also need surprises too, but anticipation of expected big events is part of the pleasure of reading and viewing.

  3. Dr Beth,
    I think some of your examples work for re-reads or re-viewing of a tale we enjoy, not for the first experience.
    I think we enjoy rereading stories because we are reminded of the excitement the first time ’round.

  4. I saw this study a while back. It’s not controversial in my opinion because the study concentrates on voluntary “spoiling”. In other words it’s about reading a book and jumping to the end. Or finding out something happened in a book as part of gossip – and then going out to find the book and reading about it because the spoiler sparked your interest in the book in the first place.

    It’s not about the drive-by “Snape murders Dumbledore!” moments of HP fan history.

    And I very much agree with the study. If I am like a book – about midway through something happens. I start to really care about something or someone – and it worries me. I start to flip through the book to make sure everything’s okay. It not – I don’t put down the book – on the contrary – I go back to where I left off and devour every word with even more relish.

    There is only one book in the HP series that I didn’t purposely look for a “spoiler”. Deathly Hallows. And it was because I wasn’t as engaged during the tent scenes. There was no suspense in there for me. I was with Harry the whole time – and nothing much was happening so it didn’t trigger that uncontrollable curiosity. Snape was not really present in a huge way until his murder and the Prince’s Tale was immediately following his murder – therefore no need to skip.

    I think – if I really love a book – I skip to “spoilers”. If it’s “meh”, I’ll schlog through it like mud in a swamp.

    And the spoilers do enhance my reading – a lot. They’re like the headlines on a really horrible news story. (and headlines are spoilers if you think about it) My first reaction is “Oh, no!” But my second reaction is “How could that happen?” and thus impels me to read the article.

    I am of the “spoilers are a little juvenile” persuasion.

  5. I personally don’t like spoilers when I read a book for the first time. I have never looked on the Internet for spoilers when a new HP book came out and I hadn’t finished it. I definitely wouldn’t want to miss the excitement of my first read of PoA and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy OoP the first time through if I had known that Sirius would die.

    That said, I love to reread my favorite books, unlike my mother who always said, “What’s the point? You already know what happens!” I love to savor the details on rereads, see how everything was set up etc. Maybe this is why I don’t much enjoy the kind of mysteries which only work the first time, where everything is about who the murderer is and the reader is invited to guess.

    I never skip to the end of a book, either, to see how it ends.

  6. I like spoilers for the little bit of reality tv I watch, because it lets me watch the people and kind of study the psychology of it from a different angle. It also keeps me from being manipulated by editing. And most movies are highly predictable, so one can pretty much self-spoil that.

    But for books, I’d be pretty miffed to know in advance- the reason is that you miss the context, the build-up, the emotion of it. A good story is a journey, and I wouldn’t want to skip a single step.

    As an aside, I don’t get people who’ve read all the HP books, but consider details about the movies to be spoilers. You know the story! You know what happens! You could probably recite all the dialogue. Am I alone in this?

  7. I personally hate every kind of spoiler. I am even disappointed when the back of a book that I want to read has too much information on the plot. There is a way to tell something about the characters and the setting, in order to help a reader decide to buy a book, that does not need to include much of the plot. But publishers are so rarely careful on this, and very frequently it bothers me. Do most readers need to know most of the plot ahead of time in order to buy a book? I don’t get it.

    I want all elements of the plot to be a surprise as they unfold. I do not like when I already know the main parts of the story. And I don’t like being told that the end is going to have a “surprise twist” or some such thing. Knowing the main plot elements is too much information, and knowing there will be a surprise ending is too much information for me, and knowing both really frustrates me.

    When I read book reviews I try to be very careful to stop by a certain point in the review, when it seems the writer is going to give part of the plot. If I read a bit too much I feel upset about it.

    I can see from reading above that not everyone is like me! I’m not one who reads ahead to see how it’s going to come out. I really want to enjoy each step of the plot as it unfolds, as if I’m there, and, like in real life, I don’t know what is going to happen next.

    A few years ago, I had not yet read any Jane Austin. I remember reading an interview with JKR. She was asked what her favorite book was, and she said “Emma.” And then she went on to say, “I just had no idea that such and so was going to happen” (or something like that), and gave away the surprise ending!! I felt so frustrated with that! I really wanted to read her book suggestion, knowing that her favorite book would give some insight into the influences on her as a writer, which I thought would be interesting. But knowing the surprise ending really ruined some of the reading of the book for me. I even waited a few years to read it, hoping I would forget what she’d said, but I didn’t forget . . . .

    Korg2000bc, I agree with you that of course it’s okay to know on a re-read, but not the first time around. Re-reads, for me, are for completely different reasons than first reads. In a re-read I don’t have the intense excitement urging me on to find out what is going to happen. I take it more leisurely and pick up more details that I didn’t focus on the first time because I was so into the plot. And with favorite books, like the Harry Potters, which I re-read many times, re-reading is for comfort, and it’s like visiting old friends or a favorite place.

    Lisa C., like you, I usually don’t mind discussing, for example, a Harry Potter movie when I haven’t seen it yet. Because the first time I see one, a good part of my consciousness is taken up with the parts of the books that they left out and being annoyed that they did so. So if I heard some of that ahead of time, maybe I would be over the annoyance for parts of it. The second time I’ve seen each movie, and every time after, I’ve enjoyed it much more, because then I can just enjoy it as a movie and notice what I like in how they created the movie. However, I’ve seen each movie the first day it’s come out, so I haven’t had too much experience of being “spoiled” on the movie . . . .
    Not just with Harry Potter, but with most books I like the book better than the movie. So I wouldn’t mind discussing the movie beforehand with a fellow reader, because it’s a chance to discuss a book I’ve read with someone else, and that’s usually enjoyable.

  8. Maybe the fact that the study was done with undergraduate students reading classics had more bearing than they thought on the outcome. Classics are something they have to read in school, maybe not something they would choose to read for pleasure. Maybe some of the subjects in the study don’t ordinarily enjoy reading or don’t do it frequently.
    The outcome might have been different if the study was done with stories that people had chosen to read for their own pleasure.

  9. phoenixsong58 – if a book has been out for about two hundred years, does the concept of spoilers still apply?

    I”m the kind of reader who has an internal struggle everytime I read a mystery story. About two thirds of the way through, when I know the central puzzle and many of the major pieces, it takes all my willpower not to peek. And actually, I usually do skip ahead. Did that with all the HP books, including the last one. If the writing is good, I’ll then go back and read the parts I skipped. If the writing is so-so, I might go back one day.

  10. People who spoil the story I have been savoring are no better than swamp-scum! Same for the guys who (talk) tell you the plot at the movies. Yes, I agree with you, korg20000bc@#2 there is a reason why it’s called a spoiler.

  11. Yes, Red Rocker, even if a story has been out for 200 years, or much longer, it’s still a story, and I don’t want it spoiled. I guess I didn’t mind knowing a few plot points before I read Gilgamesh, which is 4,000 years old, but other than that I mind them. :-)

    I do believe you that there are people who don’t mind spoilers and in fact “spoil” for themselves by looking ahead, and that you are one of those people. But for those of us who don’t like to know the ending beforehand—- I can’t imagine skipping ahead in a Harry Potter story!—- I wish others would be more careful about giving out plot points. As R. Ross and Korg2000bc said, it spoils the story for us.

    It never ceases to amaze me how differently people experience things in life. Sure keeps things interesting.

  12. I think Bennu has a point about voluntary spoiling. Out of sheer tormented fury over the cliffhanger endings, I’ve spoiled most of the Wheel of Time books for myself. It’s made the reading experience–especially the maddening head-hops–much more enjoyable.

    (If you can’t tell from the last paragraph: I love the Wheel of Time books. A lot. Despite the angst.)

    But see, I knew going into Harry Potter that Snape killed Dumbledore. And that totally killed my first read of book 6. Subsequent reads were fine. But that first one was just too easy to shrug off. I knew exactly what was going on the whole time.

    Granted, I’d read spoilers voluntarily–but only when I thought I’d never read the books.

    My own conclusion: giving spoilers to others is mean. Giving them to yourself is dangerous, but can be helpful. Re-reading is the best. :D

  13. Here’s a pseudo-scientific explanation of why some people mind spoilers, and others don’t.

    Suspense or mystery stories set up a state of anticipation in the reader’s mind. The resolution of the anticipation – finding out how a story turns out or whodunit – can be pleasurable. But the state of anticipation itself – being teased with small chunks of information which get you closer and closer to the truth but not knowing until the very end – can be pleasurable in itself. Prolonging the anticipation can be fun. But how much anticipation one can handle differs from person to person. Some of us can wait longer, and the since the wait itself is pleasurable, anyone who prematurely interrupts it “spoils” the process. Others don’t want to wait – we’re impatient – or we just can’t handle the prolonged wait. The extended uncertainty and lack of closure becomes unpleasant. So being given the solution – or seeking it out oneself – is not experienced as a “spoiler”. Quite the opposite, it’s welcome.

    For me, the added wrinkle is the author’s writing style. If it’s good in and of itself, aside from the plot and story, then I can last longer, enduring the state of suspense. If it’s not good enough, then I go straight for the end. And read backwards, to catch up on the plot points I missed.

  14. Fascinating discussion, everyone, and fascinating study. I should interject tangentially, particularly in re Minerva @ 6, that C.S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism (CUP, 1960) is built largely around the experience of rereading and why we read even when we “know what’s going to happen.” Well worth taking a look at.

    As far as the present article goes (Ravenclaw Alert! :D )–ehh, I think they’ve done an interesting study but I’d suggest they lack tentativeness. If they said that “[it appears that] giving away these surprises [may possibly assist] readers [to] like stories better [=find a greater enjoyment of ht story upon first reading]” I’d be right there and enthusiastic, wanting to see more research. But while they’re careful to be cautious in the conclusion–and full marks for that–I think very many unanswered questions pressing on the data.

    Phoenixsong 58 is right to point out that these are undergrads being surveyed, who are possibly conditioned to read summaries first anyway as aids to critical understanding. And RR @ 14, I love what you said about individual levels of anticipation. For me, for some reason, I almost always keek ahead to the ending of a Redwall book, even though I know they’re all written to formula! There will be a happy ending, full stop! But I always get panicked part way through, partly because Jacques is so good as suspence, partly because–formulaic though it be–he doesn’t have plot armour and good, likeable characters can and do die. So there’s always the worry, what if this is the exception that proves the rule? What if this is the one the breaks the formula?

    Naturally, as a writer and reader I enjoy films and books the more I read them; this seems to be, as Lewis and Granger and many others have argued, one of the defining features of great literature. But there is a first experience, the first submission to the author’s creative vision, which is unique and can’t really be replicated. Those memoires are precious to me, and I don’t want to lose them. It’s experiencing the book the way it was first read, and meant to be first read, and that I think is brilliant.

  15. Thanks for the “pseudo scientific” description on the different levels of anticipation people can handle, Red Rocker@14, and for your last paragraph about the author’s style making the suspense more endurable. So true!

    And I really loved your last paragraph, Mr Pond@15, about the “first experience,” the “first submission to the author’s creative vision,” and the precious memories. That was so well said.

    Your idea applies to all first experiences in life and describes why spoilers are an early and inappropriate loss of innocence towards a story that leave us feeling somewhat violated.

  16. I agree with Mr. Pond that the study seems tentative in some ways….

    What kind of spoilers? “Snape kills Dumbledore” is a different intensity and level of spoiler than is “Harry kisses Ginny.” But they’re both spoilers. A movie trailer is, in most cases, a spoiler of sorts. But it’s also something that heightens the anticipation.

    I think we need a hierarchy of spoilers to really dig in to this discussion.

  17. A hierarchy of spoilers is an interesting idea, Janet. Off the top of my head, I’d say the two main questions are (1) What kind of information is being prematurely revealed, and (2) How integral is it to the enjoyment of the work?

    So on one extreme, we’d have (say) the revelation of the killer in a whodunnit– most of the fun of the story, of course, is trying to figure who done it. Or any event that breaks the suspense in a thriller. On the opposite end… Who bruised their upper arm when the Heart of Gold made evasive maneuvers? (C’mon, Hitchhiker’s fans, help me out….)

    Some of it depends on the genre too. If a character dies during the course of a thriller, that’s probably a major plot twist, but in a detective story, it’s a given going in that one of the characters is probably about to become The Body.

    To what extent does knowledge of a formula count as a spoiler? I mean, does anyone who’s watched more than two romantic comedies seriously expect that that the female lead is going to stay with her insipid fiance rather than the hot leading man she hated when she first met him? Of course, if she did, revealing it would be a bigger spoiler than it would otherwise, because it’s an intentional violation of the formula’s conventions.

    Time and familiarity are probably also factors. On one end, I don’t want to know much about what happens in last week’s movies; on the other, who on earth doesn’t know what happens to Romeo and Juliet?

    This is all sketch work, of course– I’m very far from anything concrete. Surprisingly fun, though.

    For those who don’t mind utterly unscholarly works, TV Tropes Wiki has some fascinating discussion of spoilers here. (Fair warning, if you click the link you will probably wind up spending a lot more time on that website than you expect. And of course, it may contain spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

  18. One of my pet hates is in DVD menus where pivotal scenes are spoiled by inconsiderate DVD production lackeys.

    I don’t have to be encouraged to watch the movie when I just selected “Play”!!!!

  19. Been out of town so I’ve only slightly followed the conversation, therefore I’ll just add a few brief thoughts about my own experiences.

    It’s one thing if I spoil things for myself by looking ahead or searching out a summary; it’s quite another if someone spoils the story for me without my asking them to do so.

    Touching on the levels of spoilers, most books will have to spoil you somewhat by telling you something about the book, either on the book cover or in the online bookstore in order to get you interested enough to actually buy & read the book. The trick is giving you enough information to tease you into buying the book but not giving too much of the plot away.

  20. Hi,

    I just discovered the Hogs Head Pubcast on iTunes a week or so ago. The first episode I listened to was a Christmas one where you played Andrew Peterson (someone whose music I have been enjoying for several months now) and so I kept listening the next day. Everything you talk about on there is so insightful and I really love thinking about Harry Potter in new ways.

    As for spoilers… In general I don’t appreciate spoilers. I’m the type that puts my hand over the last few sentences in the last chapter of a really good book so I can really enjoy that last pivotal statement instead of jumping ahead like I really want to. Also, for some classic books which I find hard to get into or difficult to read, sometimes the only thing keeping me reading is wanting to know what happens in the end. Wanting to find out what happens to the characters was one of the main things pulling me through Ben Hur and The Count of Monte Cristo.

    I also think that knowing the end but not knowing how the characters arrive there can take away some of the power of the ending. If I had known while reading the Sorcerer’s Stone that Snape was going to die then I probably would have been looking forward to it the entire series and may not have felt as conflicted about his death as I actually did.

    Also, knowing that a character is going to die sometimes means that I try not to get attatched to that character. For instance, had I known that Dobby, Fred, or Lupin was going to die I might have tried to keep from feeling any emotions about those characters. Reading for me is all about connecting with the characters during their journey and trying to skip over certain characters would have deprived me of some of the best parts of the Harry Potter series!

    Of course, some books I am going to read and enjoy even if I do know spoilers!

    Anyways, I know that was a long comment but those are my thoughts on spoilers. I really want to thank you again for all the podcasts, they are so wonderful to listen to and are definitely some of the most intelligent ones I’ve heard.

    -Jo

  21. I have battled depression all my life and after the frenzy of predictions about how the last book turned out (most of which agreed that Harry HAD to be killed) was determined to NOT read the last one if it killed off Harry. I knew that there are inveteret spoilers on line, I purposely sought out the clue to his survival. Once I found he had survived I tore into reading it with enthusiasm. (If it had been dread, I woudn’t even have started it.)

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