When Spoilers Aren’t Bad

About five years ago, I read an abridged version of Moby Dick.  I enjoyed the story, and I figured I could handle the unabridged version.  Approximately three years ago, I read Moby Dick, expecting the same sort of story– fast paced, well-written, but with a little more detail than the abridged version provided.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  Moby Dick was long and ponderous, with more description of how they got oil out of whales than action scenes.  Based on the abridged version, I thought the book was about a crazy captain and a giant white whale.  No.  It’s about the process of whaling and the protocol followed on a sailing ship, with the underlying theme of a crazy captain and a giant white whale.

Since I was rather interested in sailing ships at the time, I was able to get through all those middle chapters describing the crow’s nest and the studding-sails.  Nevertheless, I was bored.  Out of 133 chapters, the last three were the only very interesting ones, and the only chapters that remotely resembled the abridged version I had read.

The reason I was bored was because I expected something different.  I expected a swashbuckling adventure story.  I expected a regular plot.  I expected Captain Ahab to have an epic battle with Moby Dick on every other page.  By reading the abridged version, I gained expectations for the unabridged version.  And I was disappointed.  The abridged version took away the extraneous matter and gave me the simple story; the unabridged was like an editor’s worst nightmare.  Did Melville even have editors?

To go through a story expecting things that haven’t happened yet is bad.  You’re expecting the conclusion so much that you take no pleasure in the journey.  Because I had known what was going to happen, I read the book watching for it and missing everything else.

This is why I resist spoilers, and why I don’t like to give them.  If you read a book expecting things, the overall impression at the end is of having missed something.  I hate that feeling.

So when I considered reading Les Misérables for the first time, I was apprehensive.  I’ve been marinated in spoilers.  I know almost every song by heart, I can recite the sequence of story events almost perfectly, and I have favorite characters– all without ever seeing the musical or reading the story.  I’ve learned through spoilers.  I’ve watched the 25th anniversary concert.  My brother has read the book and filled in story points for me.  Everything else I put together from the songs and what I’ve heard elsewhere.

With this much knowledge of how the story goes, I was scared to read the book.  I thought I had too many expectations to enjoy it.  I thought, since I knew the story, I would be thinking constantly, “Here’s where he does this…  And that’s where he does that…  And she’ll do that in the next chapter…”

I started the book anyway.  It was a holiday, and the bookstores and library were closed– what else did I have to read?

If I hadn’t known who the Bishop of Digne was, I wouldn’t have survived the first section.

Luckily, I had looked up the full name of “the Bishop” that morning– I kept wanting to call him the Bishop of Vannes, but that’s a different century altogether.  Because I had looked up “the Bishop,” I knew he was the Bishop of Digne, and thus knew that he was the person to help Valjean.

When the book opened with the Bishop of Digne, then, I knew he was important, so I settled down to listen to his description and his mode of life and the way he didn’t lock his door and all the unimportant things that were essential to the story.  But because I knew the story itself, I delighted in small things like the one luxury the Bishop kept for himself: his silver.  Knowing that this was so precious to him, it made it all the more powerful when he gives it up freely.  Instead of looking at the big picture that I knew already, as I had done with Moby Dick, I looked at the small things and delighted in the journey.  I absorbed these details because they were all important to the story.  They filled in the holes in my knowledge.

Now that I think about it, this wouldn’t have worked with Moby Dick.  So little of those details pertained at all to the story that slowing down and examining every detail would have led to more disappointment.  Because the story itself was short, but the book was long, the spoilers ruined it for me.  Because Les Misérables is a long story and a long book, everything in it pertains to the story, or something else interesting.  (There’s a wonderful bit about talking to oneself.  I loved it.)  In that case, spoilers didn’t hurt because without them, I wouldn’t get through the book at all.

Moral of the story: spoilers are bad unless you’re reading Les Misérables.

Leave a comment


  1. Amanda Fischer

     /  January 4, 2013

    That’s good to know…now I won’t try reading Moby Dick 😛

  2. That’s a really good mind set for reading Les Mis. When I read the first 3/7 of it, I got so annoyed with the slow pace that I didn’t appreciate the details. Next time will be different.

  3. I wonder whether A Tale of Two Cities — one book for which I have read only an abridged version — will turn out to be more like Les Miserables or like Moby Dick…

    • Dickens is usually like Les Miserables. I knew the story of Oliver Twist before I read the book, but the book was enjoyable because no abridged version could keep the same amount of characters and be short at the same time.

    • Okay, that’s what I was hoping. A Tale of Two Cities is one of the very many books I want to read this year. Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it — I won’t have many books to read for “school” this year, so I’ll have more time for other stuff.

  4. Charley R

     /  January 5, 2013

    Good to know it’s not only me who keeled over backwards about halfway through Moby Dick all those years ago! Also, Les Mis, you rather NEED the spoilers to plough through the horrible thing – DESCRIBING SEWERS I TELL YOU!!!
    Sorry. That STILL gets my goat.

    Also, another admin-ish point here: my blog URL changed yesterday to charleyrobson.blogspot.com. I would be very sad to lose my favourite nemesis because he cannot see my posts. Please nip by and check you’re still getting me? Or i shall retreat to my fortress and cry into my cornflakes.

    • I FOUND YOU! NEVER LEAVE MY SIGHT AGAIN! Sorry. That STILL gets my goat.

      So far, I love Les Mis. That’s the truth.

      • Charley R

         /  January 6, 2013

        Don’t worry – I won’t. I’m delaying the (possible) WordPress move until I’ve got everyone together again as best I can do. Just to make sure I don’t distress you again.

      • Wait… Why move blogs twice in short succession? Just do it once.

      • Charley R

         /  January 8, 2013

        I don’t think I’ll bother with the shift to WordPress – I just remembered how the school internet system reacts to WordPress.

        Ignore me. I’ll go back to my corner.

      • But I like WordPress! I’m making things worse, aren’t I? Ignore me. I’ll go back to my corner.

      • Charley R

         /  January 10, 2013

        Nah, I’ve made my decision now. No worries. I like WordPress too, but it’s too great an inconvenience to swap over to something that the school internet will mangle. Especially as I . . . live here.

      • Ah… that’s a bit of a drawback, yes.

  5. Reblogged this on Cody Gough's Creative Reunion and commented:
    I read Game of Thrones before I saw the show, which made the show more predictable. My friend, however, saw the show and is now reading the books, and I imagine it’s a lot easier to keep track of the characters since she’d seen them physically interact before. Pick your poison!

  6. I had trouble getting through Moby Dick, although I’ve never read the abridged version (and I kind of wish I had). And I think you have the moral of the story backwards: spoilers are good unless you’re reading Moby Dick. 😛

    Oh, and I guess this means that I should read Les Misérables at some point soon. Right after I finish reading War and Peace and The Hobbit (and the other six books I got for Christmas, plus two others I’m reading for school). So many books, so little time…

    • So many long books and so little time… You’re certainly taking on a lot of material at once.

      • I can’t help it. They’re all from so many different exciting genres (romance, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller…), that I have trouble picking just one and sticking with it.

        Maybe asking for so many books for Christmas wasn’t such a smart idea. =P

      • I asked for a lot of books but got none. Strange, eh?

  7. I remember this post. *nods* Kind of vaguely, but I do.


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