Question of the Week: Spoilers and Re-reads

If you ever see a movie a second time, or if you re-read a book, you’ve been spoiled. How does that affect your experience?

Spoilers can diminish the surprise of a plot twist, as when Han Solo returns to save Luke at the battle of Yavin. But knowing what’s ahead can help you recognize and appreciate good foreshadowing, as in virtually every chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire, one of those series that rewards re-reading.

As a teenager, I used to re-read The Lord of the Rings each year over the winter holidays. Every time, I encountered plenty of events and characters I’d either forgotten or had previously overlooked while focusing on the main plot. My late father used to joke that he’d gotten to the point where he didn’t need to buy new books, because he couldn’t remember the ones in his library. I understood what he meant years ago, when I got halfway through a Star Wars novel before realizing I had read it before.

What’s your experience with re-reading or re-viewing fiction? Is it different for prose than it is for comics and movies? What novels have you enjoyed more on second reading?

5 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Spoilers and Re-reads

  1. I rarely reread books. I don’t have enough time to read everything I want to right now, so it would have to be amazing for me to reread something. I do reread LotR every 5-6 years and will pull out a Lovecraft tale from time to time, especially in prep of a Trail of Cthulhu I’m running. Only thing recently I have read that I genuinely want to read again is Robin Laws’ New Tales of the Yellow Sign, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

    • I’ve become the same way, seldom re-reading books except my own, a task I hate, when preparing for a sequel. Much more often I find myself re-watching certain movies. The Godfather comes to mind as one that stops me cold whenever I’m browsing channels. I can’t not watch it. The story has nothing to do with that, though; it’s the acting, the cinematography, and the suspense even though I know everything that’ll happen.

  2. I’ve often thought about this question myself and here’s what I’ve come up with. Some things you can read more than once and each time you will gain a deeper understanding as you uncover layers previously gone unnoticed. Other things you cannot read more than once without ruining the magic. Readings such as Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” fall into the first category; I have reread the comics many times and each time I realize more and more about it. Readings such as “The Silmarillion” fall into the second category; as much as I’ve tried to re-read it, it lacked the magic of the initial reading. I’ve also noticed that as I grow older I tend to prefer new reads over re-reading books I’ve already read. In case of my favourite books, I might get them out of the shelf and read a specific chapter or scene because I’m just in that mood, but I rarely re-read the whole thing anymore.
    TV-shows and movies are different, maybe because you don’t need to work as hard. Reading a book, you get your brain to work on the language, you summon images of the places and characters in your mind, you get to figure out the tone and sound of voice employed in dialogue etc. When image and sound already exist, your brain works half as hard. and you get to enjoy what’s on screen without having to struggle as much. So if the series or movies are really good, personally, I enjoy watching and re-watching them countless times, as long as they fit my particular mood. E.g. I was feeling exceptionally epic these past few months so I’ve watched the LotR trilogy + The Hobbit a couple of times, along with the 13th Warrior and all of the Gamers movies – not your typical epic, but epic nonetheless. As for twists, I think they’re a largely overestimated trick. If a book, a show or a movie have nothing more to offer than plot-twists, they’re not good, it’s as simple as that. Twists are definitely welcomed when properly used and fitting the story, but many writers tend to use them to the point of exploitation, in order to cover up the fact that they don’t actually have a solid story or solid characters. In a nutshell, if you think of a book or a movie/series and all that you can recall are awesome plot-twists – but nothing about the characters, world-building, writing style, etc. – then it’s not worthy of re-runs.

    • The Sandman is one that I too re-read, although some stories fall a little flat for me–until I read Les Klinger’s annotations–while others improve with age. Of course, with certain of the artists re-reading is as much about enjoying the images as it is about re-experiencing the plot.

      You’ve made me think of this fact: I tend to enjoy re-viewing subtitled films even more, because I can more often look away from the text to watch the actors’ faces.

      Good point about plot-twists. I recently re-watched “The Body” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while it was still great, certain moments of the acting just didn’t have the same impact because I wasn’t simultaneously feeling the shock of the unexpected death.

  3. I did a blog post on this very topic a couple of months back.

    In essence, while I hate spoilers while reading the book the first time around (sometimes I even go so far as to avoid reading the back cover blurb) I also enjoy re-reading favourite books. When I re-read I may skim through and only read my favourite bits.

    I almost never rewatch movies. The Princess Bride is about it.

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