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...).
Curiosity is Bad
Anime and Manga
- Cooro from +Anima, despite being the Cheerful Child, follows his curiosity to a secluded cave with a rather creepy adult (and no one else), and as such almost gets drugged and kidnapped.
- 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.
- In Kotoura-san's Downer Beginning, Haruka Kotoura is the quintessential Cheerful Child and a classic Moe heroine. The catch is that she's an inadverdent telepath in a society where Tatemae is a major concept. Worse, she has no idea about any of this since speech and thought are one and the same to her, so she questions why everybody is lying and speaks their thoughts out loud. Break the Cutie ensues again and again so quickly and painfully, Dull Eyes of Unhappiness becomes a default expression.
- New Look Series: Both Sonic and Young Link ended up in their respective predicaments because they couldn't resist exploring a girl's room.
- 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.
- 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:
That he was where he was proved that he was less dully incurious than most of his people.
- In "The Devil in Iron" the fisherman who investigates a place is explicitly described as having more curiosity — and dies.
- 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 Eros (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, Eros had gotten fed up with the situation, showed up, got her awake again, and brought her to Olympus where she was made a goddess.
- 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 setup 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.
- 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.
- 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 Order of the Stick. The imp professes to watch V out of curiosity. The plea does not help its case.
- The Dreamland Chronicles. It gets you suspect of being a spy.
- In Endstone, Kyri warns about this.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the Emperor is convinced of this, claiming that Magnus' fall from grace and subsequent destruction of his homeworld were the result of him being too curious for his own good. Magnus fires back that maybe that wouldn't have happened if the Emperor had bothered to explain why such curiosity would be dangerous when dealing with the Warp, stating maybe he and the other Primarchs wouldn't have fallen if he actually told them just how dangerous Chaos would be.
Curiosity is Good
- Vanilla Coke's product launch had a vaguely mobster-looking fellow (played by Chazz Palminteri) congratulating a young man on his "youthful curiosity" and giving him a Vanilla Coke.
- 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.
- Delivered Anviliciously in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: "That is the story of how Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres was almost killed by his own lack of curiosity."
- 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.note
- 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 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."
- 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.
- In Blue Yonder, Jared suggests that they let Kevin talk because he is morbidly curious about what he will say next. Even Lena has to admit he had something to say.
- In Sinfest, the Illuminati drones, having been enlightened by Buddha, start exploring the world with curiosity (on their new butterfly wings).
Curiosity Is Complicated
- 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 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.
- 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.
- In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack's curiosity about Christmas leads him to try Subbing for Santa. On the one hand, Jack doesn't make for a very good Santa, causes the titular nightmare, and puts Santa in jeopardy. On the other hand, if Jack wasn't curious, he would have been locked into his depression, not realize that Sally loved him and that he loved her too, and his curiosity wasn't what caused all the trouble — it was Jack rushing into things without thinking things through that made things Go Horribly Wrong.
- 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 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 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 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.
- On Doctor Who, curiosity can get you killed or worse, but it can also lead to you becoming one of the Doctor's companions.
Doctor: We might die.Martha Jones: We might not.Doctor: Good.
- Though becoming one of the Doctor's companions may also get you killed or worse.
- 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 a bit of an Unbuilt Trope this happens in the second story, where the Doctor is so desperate to investigate an apparently deserted city that he sabotages the TARDIS. It nearly becomes Curiosity Killed the Cast, as not only are the TARDIS crew captured by the Daleks but they discover the atmosphere has given them radiation poisoning.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.