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Curiosity Is a Crapshoot

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Clear and present danger.
Image used with permission.
"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 can be difficult to tell due to Prophecy Twists or some Fair Folk's Exact Words, but you 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.

It has nothing to do with a certain Mars rover, which has been operating fine since 2012 and is far from being a crapshoot.


Examples:

Curiosity is Bad

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • 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 who 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.

Fanfic

  • Invoked by Taran about Yen Sid in Disney's War A Crossover Story, when he argues that the whole story wouldn't have happened, had Yen Sid not invented the Doorway that later allowed the Horned King to travel to other worlds.
  • A Gamer In South Blue: When Kowalik goes One-Winged Angel with his Adam Treant form, Jack has the chance to run away. Instead, he pushes himself to his limits, risking a Heroic RRoD, because he has to know before he commits to running away...whether or not he had a chance of winning.
  • New Look Series: Both Sonic and Young Link ended up in their respective predicaments because they couldn't resist exploring a girl's room.

Literature

  • This is all over Ai no Kusabi. Bad examples include 3 characters snooping where they don't belong to find classified secrets. Two of which pay for it dearly. The complicated examples are below.
  • 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.
    • In "Shadows In The Moonlight", Olivia's terror, after her dream, persuades Conan not to assuage his curiosity. Which is just as well.
    • In "The Pool of the Black One", Sancha is captured because she went on the island out of curiosity.
  • In the Darksiders novel The Abomination Vault, the Keeper of Oblivion invokes this as the reason he doesn't look into whether his victims are deserving of the fate the Charred Council sentenced them to. He's convinced that if his curiosity got the better of him and he started questioning the Council's judgement, he'd go utterly barking mad.
    "I have to trust the Charred Council's judgement, Death. I have to. It's the only way I can perform my duties without losing whatever remains of my sanity."
  • The Magician's Nephew provides us with the page quote.
  • The plot of Laszlo Hadron and the Wargod's Tomb gets started because Laszlo is only too eager to stick his nose in the Sagittarian investigation once he learns about it.

Live-Action TV

  • Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: In the first episode, approaching and accidentally disturbing the Endoswarmer nest gets Monarch scientist Keiko killed despite Bill and Lee's best efforts to save her. In fact, Lee and Bill got into an argument before directly approaching the nest about whether it was worth getting a sample for research or leaving well alone out of caution.

Mythology

  • Pandora opened the box with all the troubles of the world out of curiosity.
  • Psyche disobeyed her husband (who secretly was Eros, or Cupid as the Romans called him), 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 (who already didn't like hernote ), she didn't exactly learn better for her last task to bring back the beauty of the Queen of the Underworld in a box - peeking into it put her to sleep. Fortunately, Eros had gotten fed up with the situation, showed up, got her awake again, and brought her to Olympus where they married and she was made a goddess.

Radio

  • Our Miss Brooks: Definitely bad in the episode "Sneaky Peepers". When Miss Brooks accidentally orders a copy of Rodin's "The Kiss" instead of "The Thinker" for Madison High School. Mr. Conklin orders the offending statue covered up until it can be returned. After Mr. Conklin falsely accuses Walter Denton of looking at the statue, Denton decides to set up a trapdoor to catch the actual culprit. Lo and behold, Walter Denton, Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton, Mr. Conlin, and Head of the School Board Mr. Stone end up falling through the trapdoor and locked in a storage room in the basement.

Video Games

  • The main plot of Telltale's Back to the Future: The 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.
  • In the Mario fangame (Mario) The Music Box, a recurring theme that is hammered into the heads of Mario and the player(s). In fact, the Arc Words are "Ever heard of 'Curiosity Killed the Cat'?"
  • The Curious quirk in Darkest Dungeon is one of the most harmful ones in the game. A hero with it has a certain chance to interact with any object in the dungeon without being prompted to do so, often with negative repercussions and always with less-than-optimal ones in the case of ones that require a certain supply item to bring out the full benefit.
  • The entire story of Halo CE in a nutshell. Sure, go ahead, learn more about the mysterious ring world. Even better, dig deeper into a few of its imposing structures, not minding the big, red ominous Forerunner warning symbols above particular, intentionally-locked doors. What's the worst that can happen?
  • In Helltaker, Azazel, the Curious Angel joins the harem in order to study the demon girls. However, over the course of the comics, she starts getting signs of corruption, like graying hair and horns starting to grow. In the far future of the Examtaker Extra Chapter, her Curiosity eventually leads her to become Loremaster, an amoral Mad Scientist and the new overlord of Hell.

Visual Novels

  • In The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, This plays a part in the bizarre circumstances of Case 4's assault case. The victim saw a book fall out of the sky and bent down to pick it up, only for a knife to fall soon after and stab her in the back. Both items were from a flat above, the occupants of which had been fighting over a misunderstanding.

Webcomics

Web Video

Western Animation

  • In Alma, Alma's curiosity when she sees a doll in a toy store that looks exactly like her gets her turned into a doll.
  • A Robot Chicken: Star Wars skit plays the trope for laughs. A sea serpent professes, in true fantasy novel style, that he has to believe in his dream of something beyond the great desert surrounding his home. All the while, his mother is pleading with him to stop, reminding him that "the elders" all say the desert never ends...and they're proven right. The serpent goes on his quest and dies of dehydration, accomplishing nothing.

Curiosity is Good

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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 and his Digimon partner Tentomon almost regressing into nothingness because curiosity and intelligence are the virtues that give him power.

Fairy Tales

  • 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.

Fanfic

Film

  • 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.

Literature

  • To Serve Man by Damon Knight, 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.note 
  • In Chivalric Romances about Parsizal both Chretain and Wolfram have Parsizal fail to ask the significance of what happens before him. This is disastrous.
  • In Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Rikki's curiosity leads to him uncovering Nag's plans to kill the humans who adopted Rikki, allowing him the opportunity to take Nag and Nagina out.
    "The motto of all the mongoose family is 'Run and find out,' and Rikki-Tikki was a true mongoose."

Live-Action Television

  • 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 upon 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; his actual reason was to give Starfleet a heads up to the danger so they could start preparing for the inevitable confrontation and wouldn't just be caught unaware and destroyed when the Borg decided to invade the Alpha Quadrant.

Webcomics

Curiosity Is Complicated

Anime

  • In the final episode of season 1 of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex the Major argues that simple curiosity is the factor that keeps the individuality of people from becoming consumed by increasing synchronization of cyberbrains. This is particularly relevant coming from her at that moment since she just spent some time cruising around the cyberbrain web as a bodiless soul to avoid an assassination attempt. There was a very real chance that her individuality could've been overwhelmed by other minds without a body to anchor her. Of course, this being Ghost in the Shell, the topic is complicated. Certainly, more than a few people get killed by accidentally discovering conspiracies after investigating a few strange irregularities.

Fan Works

  • In Amazing Fantasy, Izuku ventured down an alleyway rather than a shady underpass to investigate a strange purple-clad figure he saw climbing up a wall. Because of this, he gets bitten by the spider and nearly dies, spending two days in a coma. On the other hand, he also gains spider-powers.

Film

Fairy Tales

  • 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 changes. 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 unmitigatedly 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 sees the heads are actually statue busts. Cue massive What Have I Done.

Literature

  • Ai no Kusabi has two complicated examples that end very badly for the curious. The first being Daryl putting Honor Before Reason and his life at risk to do a Secret Test of Character. The second having a positive outcome of Iason and Riki truly falling in love despite the grim circumstances of their relationship which started out as a Work Off the Debt agreement fueled by sexual curiosity.
  • 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 of how said threat is defeated - often for good.
  • As mentioned above, Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child" (from his Just So Stories and its 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 found many great uses for his new nose— including spanking 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 H. P. 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.

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • Curiosity can get you killed or worse, but it can also lead to you becoming one of the Doctor's companions. Though becoming one of the Doctor's companions may also get you killed or worse.
    Doctor: We might die.
    Martha Jones: We might not.
    Doctor: Good.
    • In The Sun Makers, the Doctor's fellow prisoner was sent for correction because of his curiosity. Though it does mean he's there to be rescued by Leela.
    • In "The Daleks", the Doctor is so desperate to investigate an apparently deserted city that he sabotages the TARDIS. This nearly causes the entire TARDIS crew to perish, as not only are they captured by the Daleks but they discover the planet's atmosphere has given them radiation poisoning.

Video Games

  • Discussed in Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade in regards to the resident scholars of the party, Canas and Pent. Their shared support has Canas remark that he can't stop himself from seeking knowledge, even though that same behavior is what landed his three brothers in comas from dark magic overuse, and Pent agrees that the search for knowledge is a dangerous one. Pent's support with Hawkeye has the latter note that people like Pent go to war over magic, which Pent again attributes to the desire for knowledge. Meanwhile, in their B support, Nino is aghast that Canas left his son (baby Hugh from the sequel) at home to go on a journey of knowledge and demands that he go home as soon as possible. This is muddied, however, by both being quite nice and bonding with others on the basis of that knowledge.
  • A mixed bag in Stellaris — leaving the more mysterious things in the galaxy alone is always safe while prodding at them can lead to anything from massive benefit to disaster, depending on luck and your scientists' skills. Sometimes it's a bit of both; certain events can simultaneously be creepy and costly, but provide great benefit if you see them through.

Visual Novels

  • In Double Homework, looking into the weirdness of Dr. Mosely's summer school program could give someone all of the answers anyone could look for. It could also be a death sentence.

Web Animation

  • RWBY: The Curious Cat in the Ever After, per their name, is constantly curious and desires new knowledge, implicitly because they were originally designed to be that way. However, over the eons since their creators, the Brother Gods, left them and the Ever After behind to create Remnant, the Cat was confined to the Ever After, was unable to work out why their makers left them to make Remnant, and was unable to spiritually self-renew via ascension like the other Afterans can — the end result was that the Cat's curiosity turned into a "curse" and drove them insane over the eons with a desperate need to access Remnant in search of their answers; although from what the Blacksmith says, it was only once Alyx's dishonesty towards the Cat broke the Cat's heart and drove the Cat to murder her that the Cat truly snapped and became as wicked as they were in the present. After the Cat's interactions with Alyx caused their "unfortunate change," underneath the Mask of Sanity, they're a cackling wreck of a being who is willing to deceive, manipulate, forcibly possess, and endanger or outright end the lives of others so that they can finally access Remnant no matter what.

Webcomics

  • 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.

Real Life

  • Openness to Experience, the Big Five trait measuring intellectualism and artistic tendencies, is also associated with curiosity and a tendency to explore new possibilities. The fact that it's normally distributed is essentially biology admitting that there's a time and place for all levels of curiosity.

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