So when his wife and his mother and, you know, a good chunk of the free world were caught up in reading the Harry Potter books, he refused. He claimed that he was waiting for all the books to come out so he could read the whole saga through without having to wait, but that milestone came and went, and he still hadn’t picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Because he’s ornery.
But the previews for the Deathly Hallows movies (dark, spooky, bleak - in other words, right up his alley) were too much for him, and he finally broke down, reading all seven books in just under two weeks. He had a grand time with them, which didn’t surprise me at all, but it was interesting to watch him make his way through the story, because unlike those of us who picked up our copies of the later books at midnight on release day, he wasn’t coming to them cold. He had not only the weight of several years’ worth of hype on his shoulders - he knew actual plot details. Disjointed, sketchy details about characters he‘d barely even met yet, but details nonetheless, that he‘d picked up because of the omnipresence of the story in our culture. And it got me thinking - how do spoilers affect the way we engage with story?
As anyone who is prone to re-reading knows, going into a story with an awareness of how the plot resolves itself both allows and forces us to approach the story differently, noticing things like symbolism and flourishes of language - and, perhaps, flaws in narrative logic or character development - that we might have missed on the first go-round. But what about a story that has become something of a behemoth in popular culture? Does that cultural weight - a collection of preconceptions and expectations, of characters that become icons in collective imagination before the reader encounters them on the page - fundamentally change the experience? Is that especially true if the story is fantasy, as it often is in our literature and film (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Twilight, I'd even throw The Hunger Games in there at this point) where the restraints of realism are lifted and almost anything can happen?
I’m kind of on the fence with this one. In my own experience, I had caught bits and snatches of one of my most beloved television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before watching the complete series on DVD after is was over, and I know that while I may have appreciated certain things more on a writerly level since I was less emotionally invested in finding out what was about to happen and more able to be analytical, I did miss that visceral “Oh, my God!” jolt when a shocking plot twist occurred. On the other hand, my husband cried at the end of the sixth Harry Potter book, even knowing what was coming. So I open it up to you friends - what do you think?
*Fans of Doctor Who may recognize the subject line as a mash-up of River Song's catchphrases - I honestly can't read read or think the word "spoilers" now without hearing her voice in my head.