Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV
Cover image

Elements of Surprise—Spoiler Warnings

Elements of Surprise is, unsurprisingly, littered with plot spoilers. Enter at your own risk, but consult the list below if you want to know whether I’m going to wreck your enjoyment of a twisty little passage. Or return to the main Elements of Surprise page, but beware….

You learn the brute fact that something surprising happens in this work*

Absalom, Absalom!  (the novel by William Faulkner)
Go  (the 1999 film written by John August and directed by Doug Liman)
Million Dollar Baby  (the 2004 film featuring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman)
Now You See Me  (the 2013 heist movie about stage magicians)
Ocean’s Eleven  (the 2001 Soderbergh version)

A minor plot point is revealed, but in rather vague terms, or perhaps the terms are so very vague that you can't even tell how minor it might or might not be

Northanger Abbey  (the Jane Austen novel)
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman  (the novel by P. D. James)
Chinatown  (Forget about it, Jake; the 1974 Polanski film)

A minor or modest plot point is recounted in some detail

A Great Deliverance  (first book in the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George)
As I Lay Dying  (Faulkner)
Brighton Rock  (the 1938 novel by Graham Greene)
Watership Down  (book about rabbits by Richard Adams)
The Princess Bride  (the book by William Goldman, but, as with a lot of these, the spoiler applies to the film adaptation as well)

A major plot point is alluded to obliquely, in passing

“Witness for the Prosecution”  (Agatha Christie)

A plot point of some significance is revealed, offhandedly, with no concern for your feelings

North by Northwest  (the Hitchcock film)
A Scanner Darkly  (the novel by Philip K. Dick)

A major plot point is revealed and discussed in detail

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  (the third Harry Potter book)

The BIG SURPRISE is revealed, carelessly, as if nothing mattered anymore, nothing at all

Citizen Kane  (the Orson Welles film)
Fight Club  (book by Chuck Palahniuk; film by David Fincher)
Murder on the Orient Express  (Agatha Christie)
Scream  (the initial entry in the Wes Craven “Scream” film franchise, from 1996)
The HOG Murders  (1979 mystery novel by William L. DeAndrea)

The BIG SURPRISE is not only revealed, but also discussed in some detail

Mildred Pierce  (the 1945 film adaptation)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  (Agatha Christie)
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”  (Edgar Allan Poe)
Sir Hercules Buffoon  (a 17th century English play by John Lacy)
The Sixth Sense  (the M. Night Shyamalan film from 1999)
“The Tuesday Night Club”  (Miss Marple short story by Agatha Christie)
“The Absence of Mr. Glass”  (Father Brown story by G. K. Chesterton)
“The Adventure of the Dying Detective”  (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Great Expectations  (the novel by Charles Dickens)
The Usual Suspects  (the 1995 film directed by Bryan Singer)

Surprises large and small are discussed in exhaustive, mystery-obliterating detail

Atonement  (novel by Ian McEwan)
The Conversation  (1974 film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
“The Red-Headed League”  (Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold  (novel by John Le Carré)
The Third Man  (the film noir directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene)
Villette  (the novel by Charlotte Brontë)

Maximum spoilers! Except that you've known the twist as long as you've known about the thing at all

Oedipus Rex  (Sophocles)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (‎Robert Louis Stevenson)

I tell you the ending, yes, but it hardly qualifies as a spoiler, because it's not that kind of story, trust me

The Adventures of Roderick Random  (an 18th century picaresque by Tobias Smollett)

You learn what happens at the end, and it IS a big deal, and you quite plausibly DON'T want to know it ahead of time if you didn't already, but it's not, like, a twist, exactly, and there are many characters and plotlines in the work in question that have nothing to do with this event

Anna Karenina  (Tolstoy)

* The same, of course, is exactly what this list itself does for everything on it.
Roderick Random excluded.