I have a confession. When I ask what a book or film is about, what I'm really hoping is that someone will (by chance or by choice) spoil the ending. Spare me no details-- I want to be prepared for anything. I want to know who kills Dumbledore when. I'd like to know if somebody is dead the entire movie. I want to know what Soylent Green is made of. When it comes to stories, I have all the patience and self-control of a six year old, and I want to know how things turn out in the end now. And with all the “spoiler alert!”s and “Oh, I won't tell you the ending, just see for yourself”s around, I thought I was unusual. Until I heard this story on NPR's On the Media.
When I heard this story on the radio, I immediately perked up and turned up the volume. The speaker explained how spoilers can actually make the story more enjoyable by allowing an audience to enjoy the story and writing a little more than just the shock ending, and this is evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of genre fiction going back to the beginning of time-- romances which always end in a wedding, epics where the hero never fails in his quest. We consume these stories, knowing full well how they'll turn out, for the journey itself. We want to know why and how they'll get to their inevitable conclusion.
As I listened, this was pretty much my face. Of course, I was in my car alone, so passersby probably thought I was insane. But it was an expression of receiving a confirmation that the way I had always felt about spoilers was completely valid and not at all unusual. In fact, the majority of stories mankind has told throughout the ages, from Beowulf to Nora Roberts, have been an expression of exactly this urge to follow a story, enjoy the twists and turns, and still have a relative idea of how it will end.
Maybe it's this acute awareness of my own mortality, and it's an expression of my deepest desire to know how life itself turns out in the end. Or maybe I'm just impatient. Either way, I always seem to find myself reading the last page first, and now I can be satisfied in the knowledge that most of you do it, too.