Thursday, June 21, 2018

Spoiler Tolerance

Last week I reread Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (again) after watching the newest movie based on the novel. Some people might wonder why anybody would read a murder mystery more than once. After all, you already know whodunnit! I enjoy rereading books, even detective novels, for the pleasure of watching the characters work things out when I know where the plot is going. While I wouldn't want to know the criminal's identity the first time I read a mystery, otherwise I don't mind being "spoiled" with details of a story before reading it.

One member of our family is so spoiler-averse he tries to avoid even blurbs if possible. (And, in his defense, sometimes an ineptly written blurb can give away secrets it shouldn't.) I, on the other hand, confess I sometimes peek at the end of a book to reassure myself that a favorite character will survive—or, if that character is doomed, to brace myself for the blow. Before the series finale of the vampire police procedural FOREVER KNIGHT aired, I read advance summaries of the plot, and I was glad I had. I was prepared for the downer ending and actually found it marginally less dire than I'd expected from the description.

There's a pop culture phenomenon TV Tropes labels "It was his sled" (alluding to CITIZEN KANE). That phrase refers to a detail that was originally meant as the revelation of a major secret, but now everybody knows it even without viewing or reading the work itself. What mystery fan, even if he or she hasn't read Agatha Christie's novels, doesn't know the astonishing twists in the identities of the killers in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS or THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD? Upon the first publication of DRACULA, readers who didn't pay attention to reviews would have been surprised when the title character was exposed as a vampire. Relatively few horror fans are aware that in Stevenson's original STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, Hyde's identity was a mystery solved near the end of the story. Now everybody knows what a "Jekyll and Hyde" character means. Ambrose Bierce's "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" depends on a twist ending, but rereading it can still bring pleasure, since the second time around we can appreciate the irony.

Does it "spoil" ROMEO AND JULIET to know in advance that it's a tragedy? Would anyone skip HAMLET or KING LEAR because of the certainty that almost all the major characters will die? Granted, in some circumstances I don't want advance knowledge of a plot. In the latest-aired episode of STEVEN UNIVERSE, for example, I wouldn't want to have been told the shocking revelation beforehand; I would have missed the thrilling rush of, "Wow, this changes everything!" Now that I know, though, I can enjoy re-viewing earlier episodes and noticing the secret clues that were there all along.

On the subject of rereading, C. S. Lewis says that the first time we read a book, we tend to rush through it to satisfy the "narrative lust" of wanting to know how the story turns out. In later readings, we can pause to savor the intricacies of plot, the nuances of characters and relationships, and the writer's style. Rereading books I loved the first time around is one of my favorite activities. How do you feel about rereading, re-watching, and spoilers?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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