On Spoilers: or, An Apology to Harry Potter Fans in That Chapters in 2005

Spoiler alert: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Although honestly, if you haven’t read this, are you going to? Do you care about spoilers? There’s already been a movie. But there you are.)

I was thinking about what my spoiler policy should be for this blog and I realized I have a lot to say about spoilers in general, and regarding books in particular.

(As per the last post, I’ve sided with trying not to spoil anything the back of a book or the first chapter or so wouldn’t do. It’s always weird and mildly annoying when the back of a book describes a plot that’s already irrelevant thirty pages in, so if I spoil it when that happens, I consider that a favour.)

(However, sometimes you just have to spoil something if you’re going to talk about an event in a book. And in that case, I will put a spoiler alert first off in the post.)

Spoilers are a Big Deal these days in a way they weren’t when I was younger. People live tweet/blog their favourite TV shows; Rotten Tomatoes ratings are basically instantaneous; release dates around the world mean that some of us will always be coming to a thing last, once the Internet has already overanalyzed it. (I’m allowed to refer to people talking on the Internet as the Internet. Poetic license.)

I remember when the sixth Harry Potter book came out and people were trying very hard to avoid spoilers—which isn’t saying much, because it’s not as if at that time we all had Facebook and had to threaten each other not to post about Game of Thrones or blacklist Tumblr tags (or whatever it is people who avidly avoid spoilers do; as you’ll soon find out, I’m not one of them). One of my friends and I were in line to buy the book and decided to be pranksters: we figured we’d make up a fake spoiler, crack open our copies near the end, and talk loudly about it. (Yeah, I know. We were annoying and also nerdy teens.)

Our fake spoiler? Dumbledore dies.

Spoiler alert: Dumbledore actually dies.

We both stayed up all night in our houses reading our books, and I remember talking to her on MSN (yes, the days of MSN) in the morning to say, “Oh shit, we’re actually dicks.” And we really felt badly about it, even though we’d thought at the time that our (fake turned real) spoiler was never going to happen. (We were teens—so sue us if we weren’t genre-savvy at the time.) I figured everyone in that bookstore probably had their experience ruined and hated those two strangers who did it.

So here’s the thing, though: I personally don’t care about spoilers at all.

I used to shop for books by reading the cover and the last page. For me, everything is about the journey. If you want to get cheesy with it (and hey, why don’t we), life is like that. We all know we’re going to die. If we live in a certain part of society with a certain set of privileges (or disadvantages) and expectations, we can even anticipate a lot about how the story of our life will go, the highs and lows. The point of interest isn’t that we don’t know how it will end or even that we don’t know what could happen—we have a pretty good grasp on inevitability and possibilities. It’s more or less how and when and why. And those are the same answers you get between the premise of a story and its ending.

(I mean, obviously there are stories almost wholly based on subverting expectations, and in these cases, it matters more. There are novels that completely frustrate the idea of being a narrative. But even the George R.R. Martins of the world do move in some predictable directions: does anyone doubt they’ll be a confrontation between ice zombies and dragons?)

So, for me, I don’t care about spoilers, but I generally respect that other people do. But here’s the issue with books and spoilers: with TV shows and movies, the turnaround rate is extremely fast. People at the water cooler in the office expect you to have watched last night’s episode. Hell, people are posting spoiler-y Orange is the New Black gifs from the end of a season the day after it’s released. (As a not-spoiler-caring person, I’m mostly impressed.) Movies seem to get about a week or two of leeway until the average person figures you just didn’t care enough to see it, but spoilers are still something you’ll actively need to avoid online during that time.

But what’s the timeline for books? If it’s something wildly popular and new, there’s generally a notion of not spoiling it right away (sorry, people in the Chapters bookstore in 2005), but it feels like it stretches on for months. Years. Maybe always: maybe the rule of Book Club is you don’t talk about them (until everyone exchanges the secret handshake of having read the same things).

Maybe this is because, unlike with visual media, books take different amounts of time for different people; you and I can both watch Captain America: Civil War in the same run time, but we might read the latest John Green at completely different speeds. (Or I might wait for it to come out in paperback, which is a whole other factor.) And while people definitely catch up with Netflix-style TV at different rates, book marathoning is not so much a thing as binge-watching television. So while one of us might sit down and read the whole book in a day, the other might slowly enjoy it chapter by chapter over weeks. And then there’s another difference: there’s a limited amount of movies at your local theatre, and you have a reasonably finite (although much more expansive) selection of shows of currently airing shows of each genre your television provider—but books, even bestsellers, even pretty new ones, are legion.

So I don’t know when it’s “okay” to spoil a book. I mean, I think it’s okay to talk about the sixth Harry Potter, but who knows. So I’m not going to do it here, and when I do, I’ll warn you.

But if it were me, well. Dumbledore dies. We all die someday. Enjoy the in-between.

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