The topic of spoilers is, apparently, a hot one. I didn’t run into it’s more dramatic forms until I became active on Goodreads. I assumed to “spoil” a book/movie meant to reveal key plot points that were intended to be a surprise, but in some instances, it seems to mean any occurrence that the reader is not already aware of, whether it be joke, dinner party or stabbing. I learned that some people won’t even read book jackets, because they are afraid their read will be ‘spoiled.’ Often these people become forum police, monitoring other posts for hints of plot events and chastising posters for not hiding ‘spoiling’ comments.
I’ve found this vehemence surprising. The wonderful thing about the internet, and indeed, about all expression, is that, ideally, it is an interaction. An ongoing dialogue, if you will. I’ve always thought about visual and tactile art this way, but did not consider this might also apply to storytelling. This was a revolutionary idea I encountered in an academic writing class: do not write a merely informative paper. Write a paper that addresses supporting and detracting arguments in the field, and yours will be that much more meaningful, a participant in a discussion through time. Not only did it strengthen my academic writing, but it brought new insight into the reading process for me, and insight into my reviews. I have no problem with someone refusing to dialogue on a work until they have experienced it for themselves: if that’s your style, I’m glad you are aware of it and happy reading journeys to you. But to then engage in public discussion of the work and request that participants avoid ‘spoilers’ is to attempt to control public discourse and the manner in which others engage with the work, and that is less forgivable.
With the exception, perhaps, of a final (usually crime-solving) denouement that hinges on surprise and suspense built over the course of a work, I’d suggest that the concept of ‘spoiling’ undermines the real value of the story: the work of storytelling. Joseph Campbell touched on the idea of essential mythological archetypes, the core structure of all stories. Whether or not you believe him, there is no arguing that there are certain standards–tropes, if you will–that become so commonplace, the narrative is a given–think of the ‘hero’s quest,’ or the ‘orphan seeking identity/family.’ Likewise, in certain genres, outcome is also a given. Very rarely does a mystery not reveal the perpetrator or method. Very rarely does a romance not result in the leads consummating their affection. In some cases then, we enter into the reading experience knowing the outcome. The pleasure is in the journey, in the use of language, the development of character, the resonance of themes.
Then, today, I ran into this little gem from Clarkesworld Magazine: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/another_word_01_13/
Bravo, Ambrose. You take the discussion even farther by opening up a couple of wonderful points: authorial foreshadowing and re-reading.
Along with those insightful examples, let me contribute a third: peekers. In Megan’s review of Gone Girl, she confesses to “reading a couple of back pages long before the end of the book.” A number of posters confess similar depraved proclivities, including myself. When I do it, which isn’t often, it’s usually for one of three reasons–I can’t stand the tension, I need to go to sleep and I can’t stand the tension, or I’m bored out of my skull and want to know some sort of plot resolution. In the first two cases, I continue to read the book. In the last, I may or may not, depending if the outcome seemed promising or unpredictable. But I can’t say it lessens my enjoyment of the book; rather, in my case, it enables me to better focus on the storytelling and not merely major plot points.
Perhaps that is why the concept of ‘spoiling’ is such a challenge for me–I’ve been a veteran re-reader since I can remember. I’ve often discovered more about the book, and my experience of it, on the second or third read. Sometimes I’ve re-read even more times than that, for the joy of the language or the comfort of the story. Along with re-reads is the value of social reading. One of the pleasures of Goodreads has been the degree of which I could find potential reads that were likely to be successful, that is, they meet my definition of a satisfying read. I target potentials by looking at other reviewer’s comments, what they liked, what they didn’t like, and compare them with my own preferences. In no way has this hindered my enjoyment of the story; most of my reads lately have been through this kind of pre-read evaluative process. Had I insisted on avoiding ‘spoilers,’ I might have missed some of my favorite reads.