People read books for any number of reasons; finding out how the story ends is one among many and not even the most important. If it were otherwise, nobody would ever bother to read a book twice. Reading is about spending time with characters and entering a fictional world and playing with words and living through a story page by page. The idea that someone could ruin a novel by revealing its ending is like saying you could ruin the Mona Lisa by revealing that it’s a picture of a woman with a center part. Spoilers are a myth: they don’t spoil. – From “Harry Potter and the Sinister Spoilers” by Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs
This was quoted in my literature textbook from an article from Time. When I read this paragraph, I instantly knew I wanted to write about it. The first three sentences I can mostly agree with. The fourth is iffy. The fifth is completely wrong.
Allow me to illustrate my opinion using my favorite book, The Lord of the Rings. (This will, ironically, contain spoilers.) When I first read this book, I knew pretty much nothing about it. I had some vague idea that a lot of it happened underground. I have no idea where I got that. While that actually turned out to be somewhat true, the book was nothing like what I expected.
The ending shocked me. Frodo going away forever and leaving Sam behind… I cried and cried and cried. I was kind of angry. It shouldn’t have ended like that!
Since then, I’ve reread The Lord of the Rings seven times. So obviously, for me, finding out how the story ends is not the only reason I read books (though I’m not going to try to rank where it is in importance). I love “spending time with characters and entering a fictional world and playing with words and living through a story page by page.” I love making connections I didn’t notice the first time through. I love the familiarity with a story you can only gain by reading it over and over. I understand The Lord of the Rings much better now than I did the first time. I even understand the ending, even though it doesn’t make me happy.
But you know what? I can never replicate the emotional journey of that first read through. I don’t have quite the same confusion about everybody being so upset about Boromir’s death when I didn’t care. Nor the impatience to find out what Sam was going to do to rescue Frodo, who had been taken away by orcs at the end of The Two Towers – and then The Return of the King cut back to the other characters’ perspectives! Nor the confusion when Saruman shows up near the end of The Return of the King (I later discovered that it was Sauron who had already died). Nor the same reaction at the end (though I still usually cry).
It’s not that you can’t enjoy reading a book the first time even if you know the ending. But I believe spoilers definitely exist, and they do spoil. No matter what people published in Time magazine may say.