Psyche opens the box from the Underworld. Fortunately, Eros will show up to save her.
"Make your choice, adventurous stranger
Strike the bell, and bide the danger
Or wonder, 'till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had."
Generally, every stock aesop
has an opposite, equally valid aesop with advice. In fiction, nowhere is this more pronounced than with curiosity. Depending on the genre, idealism
, and morality of the story, curiosity can either save your life or prematurely end it
All in all, by its very nature, Curiosity Is a Crapshoot
and the only possible way to have a clue about whether it's rewarded or punished is to be Genre Savvy
. In a Survival Horror
Film, it's bad to ignore the Haunted House Historian
and go into the Haunted House
... although deciding that It's Probably Nothing
is just as bad. In a Sci Fi flick
, usually good (science is about trying to learn things you didn't know) but sometimes over-the-top Nightmare Fuel
(because Science Is Bad
). Fantasy and folk tales, you'll almost certainly do the wrong thing anyway, what with Family Unfriendly Aesops
, but usually get a chance to undo it through a series of Impossible Tasks
(climb mountains until you wear out thirty pairs of shoes...).
(Things do tend to turn out well for the Constantly Curious
or those Curious as a Monkey
. In the long run, at any rate.)
Then again, with some author's penchant for Twist Endings
(let's not get into Broken Aesop
for now) the exact same kind of story can have exactly the same action go from good to bad.
Not to be confused with Apathy Killed the Cat
. See also Schmuck Bait
and Curiosity Causes Conversion
. This may violate the Power of Trust
, which can be dangerous.
Curiosity is Bad
Anime and Manga
- New Look Series: Both Sonic and Young Link ended up in their respective predicaments because they couldn't resist exploring a girl's room.
- Just about every entry over at Schmuck Bait would probably qualify.
- There's also the old story about how "curiosity killed the cat."
- The Stephen King short story, The Jaunt is about a little boy who becomes curious as to what goes on during a teleportation between Earth and Mars, during which everybody is supposed to be knocked out. He holds his breath to avoid the knockout gas... and pops out the other side completely insane. Turns out that the physical journey is instantaneous, but the mental journey:
"Longer than you think, Dad! LONGER THAN YOU THINK!"
- In Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Saro and her father watched Atrix Wolfe's spell because of her curiosity — and got caught.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories:
- In "The Devil in Iron" the fisherman who investigates a place is explicitly described as having more curiosity — and dies.
That he was where he was proved that he was less dully incurious than most of his people.
- The Magician's Nephew provides us with the page quote.
- Star Wars Fate of the Jedi Part 2, Jedi Knight Exar Kun's curiosity into forbidden knowledge and dark side/Sith secrets plunges the galaxy into war. Although already a powerful Jedi where he even bested his master in lightsaber combat, it was not enough. Seeking to expand his knowledge as well, the young Jedi delved deeper into his studies of the Force and ignored his master's cautions, believing that he was too strong to fall to the dark side. However, on Korriban, an evil Sith spirit crushed him with an avalanche and told him to accept the dark side or die of his wounds.
- Pandora opened the box with all the troubles of the world out of curiosity.
- Psyche disobeyed her husband Cupid, who warned her not to try to find out who he was by lighting a lamp while he was asleep to look at him. Punished for this with a quest and several tasks to complete for his mother Aphrodite, she didn't exactly learn better, as her last task was to bring back the beauty of the Queen of the Underworld in a box. Peeking put her to sleep. Fortunately, Cupid had gotten fed up with the situation, showed up, got her awake again, and brought her to Olympus where she was made a goddess.
- The main plot of Telltale's Back to the Future game starts out with Doc wanting to go back to 1931 due to wondering who was the infamous Speakeasy Arsonist. He winds up getting framed for the arson charges.
Curiosity is Good
Anime and Manga
- In the English dub of Digimon Adventure, curiosity is shown to be one of Izzy's best traits. He has it removed in one episode, which resulted in him acting like a zombie.
- In The Blue Mountains, every man before the Irishman failed to ask what was going on. As a consequence, no one of them could save the princess and all lay in enchanted sleep.
- In Time Bandits, Kevin's curiosity enables him to recognize the things that the dwarfs just want to loot. The only good adult in the film, Agammenon, encourages his desire to learn.
- To Serve Man, wherein the cast all blithely head off to their unwitting deaths and are saved by one guy who is curious enough to figure out just what To Serve Man means.
- In Chivalric Romances about Parsizal both Chretain and Wolfram have Parsizal fail to ask the significance of what happens before him. This is disasterous.
- In Babylon 5, the leader of the Gray Council, Dukhat, chastises the isolationist council members for not wanting to open communications with humans for a plethora of reasons while a young acolyte, Delenn, wants to meet them for no other reason than simple curiosity. Turns out that may have been the wisest choice. By not interacting with humans, they ended up meeting unexpectedly and a terrified human captain fired the Gray council's ship killing Dukhat and starting a 2-year genocidal war.
- The entire theme of Star Trek. To seek out new life, and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. Though people die, it always comes back to the idea that it is better to take the risk. Indeed, Q actually introduced Starfleet to the Borg, their absolute worst enemy from then on, more or less to make the point that exploration is as risky as it is rewarding.
Curiosity Is Complicated
- The Bluebeard story. Every wife gets killed for curiosity until one of them turns out to have common sense in addition to curiosity and starts to plan her escape after finding the corpses of all the previous wives.
- This is an especially interesting example, because over time the emphasis of the story changed. The early versions focused on how curiosity, as well as being brave and clever, saved the heroine. (If she hadn't looked through the forbidden door, she would have stayed married to a serial killer.) Later versions altered the story to imply that curiosity is unmitigatingly bad; the heroine is so wild with curiosity that she abandons her duties and disobeys her husband. The subtext seems almost to read that she deserves death.
- There's also another one where the moral is curiosity isn't necessarily bad but assumptions and lack of trust will color your perceptions. In that version, the wife peeks in his closet and sees heads in the dark. He drags her back to the closet to show her the heads where she kills him... and in the light of the candle, she see the heads are actually statue busts. Cue massive What Have I Done.
- In C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair, the character giving advice was himself only a small percentage of the time, and seemed insane when he's actually giving the right advice. But at least there they had the literal Word of God to guide them onto the correct course.
- Swaps back and forth in Coraline. At first, it's good, because everything in the Other World is idyllic. Then bad, when the Other Mother tries to make her stay forever. Then good again, because Coraline saves the souls of three previously taken children and defeats the Other Mother.
- Considered for several paragraphs in one of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn novels where Luke, having returned to Dagobah and recalling Yoda's advice on how some emotions inherently serve the Dark Side, ponders which side curiosity is aligned with before deciding it's probably a bit of both.
- In Galaxy of Fear, curiosity generally gets our heroes in the way of the Threat of the Book, and this can get pretty harrowing. On the other hand a lot of the time said threat would have come for them anyway, sooner or later, and curiosity is usually a component to how said threat is defeated - often for good.
- As mentioned above, Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child" (from his Just So Stories and it's own trope). He was spanked repeatedly by his relatives for his "'satiable curiosity", and nearly killed when a crocodile sank his teeth into his nose. As the Elephant's Child pulled against the crocodile, he stretched his nose out. He then used his new nose to spank his relatives back, until they decided to get their noses stretched as well, which is why elephants have trunks.
- Despite usually getting dragged out as the poster child for Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, the story canon of HP Lovecraft runs the gamut. Curiosity can be dangerous here because the world is weirder than humans (or at least the stock higher-class gentry and city folk of Lovecraft Country) are quite ready to admit and there are both things and villains of the more human persuasion willing to go to any lengths to keep their secrets to themselves; but it's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself and does sometimes lead to the discovery of just the bits of knowledge needed to, if not save the day, then at least avert an even worse outcome.
- Played with in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Dumbledore praises Harry for his curiosity, but also cautions him to exercise good judgment alongside it.
- In The Intrepid Girlbot, seemingly much of the plot is driven by the curiosity of both Girlbot and Raccoon #1. While the initial results are almost always painful or horrifying, good intentions, cooperation, and luck allow things to work out in the end.