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On Spoilers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens On Spoilers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Ive never understood the utter terror that accompanies being told how a book or a movie turns out, and I certainly dont understand the passionately head-in-sand approach to learning anything at all about a story ahead of time. With the possible exception of a whodunnit novel, Im perfectly happy to read on even if I know exactly how a book is going to turn out, and have had every single plot point and reveal explicated to me along the way. Im not in the habit of reading the end of a book first and then back-tracking, but I understand people who do this.

Because theres so much more to a book than its ending. A book, more than anything is about the journey, not the final destination. Finding yourself unable to appreciate the entire book that leads up to that very last ten percent purely because youve heard some oblique murmurings about a twist seems to me very strange. That youve perhaps missed the entire point of what reading and stories are all about.

Books arent just about that final reveal, which is what theyre reduced to if youre spoiler-averse. Books are all about exploring the ways that people interact with each other, with their own egos and with the world around them. Theyre about settings and situations and ethics and puzzles. If you steamroll ahead with your eyes set grimly on the finish line, youre invariably going to miss the utter joy that comes from all of the elements that work together to make a book.

Lets take a look at The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. Its a book that doesnt even have an ending (sorry if I spoiled that for you), thanks to Mr Dickens kicking the bucket half-way through and leaving us right in the middle of a murder mystery. So by very virtue of its unfinished nature, its a book that you simply must enjoy for reasons other than that means-to-an-end reading style.

When youre reading a book without an endand there are plenty: take Gogols wonderful Dead Souls or Nabokovs recently released The Original of Laurayou have the opportunity to read in a way that you probably arent used to reading. The book necessarily becomes about the book itself. The same is true to a degree of the classics, whose endings and plots are pretty much a spoiler free-for-all, but I do think theres an even facility for this in a book without an end. Because without a complete narrative to work with, youre freed up entirely to read the book on your own terms. You can be unshackled from the fetters of plot and structure and readerly expectation.

And The Mystery of Edwin Drood is, quite honestly, sheer delight. Its the kind of book that you do want to spend some time bumbling about in, enjoying the deliciously Dickensian names (Mrs Crisparkle, Miss Twinkleton, and certainly Edwin Drood himself), the tsk-tsk-worthy humour (poor Rosa has a nickname that would surely make her cheeks flush a colour to suit her given name), and the unbridled fun that the author clearly had in writing this.

Take, for example, Mr Honeythunders nominatively-appropriate outlook: his philanthropy was of that gunpowderous sort that the difference between it and animosity was hard to determine. Or the poor Reverend Septimuss selfless donning of a pair of unneeded glasses in order to make himself unable to read text so that his mother might rejoice in her own excellent eyesightwhat a ridiculous, hilarious scenario. Or the description of Mr Grewgiouss hair: He had a scanty flat crop of hair, in colour and consistency like some very mangy yellow fur tippet; it was so unlike hair, that it must have been a wig, but for the stupendous improbability of anyones voluntarily sporting such a head.

And what of this scene about the gossip involving some (uncertain) implement being hurled at Edwin Drood, a scene which must surely be the authors attempt to fill up the word count for his weekly serial allotment:

Miss Landlesss brother had thrown a bottle at Mr Edwin Drood.

Miss Landlesss brother had thrown a knife at Mr Edwin Drood.

A knife became suggestive of a fork; and Miss Landlesss brother had thrown a fork at Mr Edwin Drood.

As in the governing precedence of Peter Piper, alleged to have picked the peck of pickled pepper, it was held physically desirable to have evidence of the existence of the peck of pickled pepper which Peter Piper was alleged to have picked; so, in this case, it was held psychologically important to know why Miss Landlesss brother threw a bottle, knife, or forkor bottle, knife and forkfor the cook had been given to understand that it was all threeat Mr Edwin Drood.

And perhaps my favourite, a several page long missive about the contents of a cupboard, including this choice snippet:

Every benevolent inhabitant of this retreat had his name inscribed upon his stomach. The pickles in a uniform of rich brown double-breasted buttoned coat, and yellow or sombre drab continuations, announced their portly forms, in printed capitals, as Walnut, Gherkin, Onion, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Mixed, and other members of that noble family. The jams, as being of a less masculine temperament, and as wearing curlpapers, announced themselves in feminine calligraphy, like a soft whisper, to be Raspberry, Gooseberry, Apricot, Plum, Damson, Apple, and Peach

It goes onand on, with every single item in that cupboard surveyed as though part of a gastronomic census.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is indeed a mystery novel, and even more so given that it ends a few chapters after Drood disappears, leaving the reader looking pretty cagily at John Jasper, but never actually being certain whether this fellows to blame, or whether some more peripheral character has been lurking at the edges of the narrative leaving clues all around. If youre reading in order to get to the end, to slam the volume shut with a satisfying Ha! Another Dickens down! thump, youre going to be disappointed. But the true disappointment of this is something that you probably wont realise until later: that you missed all of these wonderful, amusing things that this book has to offer because of your end-fixation. Because unfinished books give you the freedom to make of them anything you want to, so why not take the opportunity?

Books like Edwin Drood are advertisements about why this fear of spoilers is so ridiculous and unwarranted. There is so much that can be appreciated in a book despiteor even because ofan awareness of how it ends. If your enjoyment of a book can be undermined completely by having the outcome of a plot revealed to you, then you probably need to ask yourself what it is why youre even reading in the first place. Because I think youre doing it wrong.

Your turn: Have you ever read a book without an ending? How has this affected your reading of it?

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Other books by Charles Dickens:

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens On Spoilers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens On Spoilers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens On Spoilers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens