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Make your choice, adventurous stranger
—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew
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...).
Curiosity is Bad
- Just about every entry over at Schmuck Bait would probably qualify.
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.
- The Stephen King short story, "The Jaunt" is about this little boy who was curious as to what went on during a space jump, during which everybody was supposed to be knocked out. He held his breath to avoid the knockout gas... and popped 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Curiosity is Good
- Vanilla Coke's product launch had a vaguely mobster-looking fellow 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.
- And that was at the point I first watched Digimon one of the freakiest things I'd ever seen. It's still somewhere on my list of "Top 20 Scariest/Creepiest Scenes in Digimon". (The list isn't really organized so...you know.)
- 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.
- Not in The Twilight Zone version.
- The entire theme of Star Trek: "To seek out new life, and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before." Occasionally it gets them killed, but no one ever suggests giving up.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Zhan's Thrawn novels where Luke, having returned to Dagobah, ponders whether curiosity serves the light side, or the dark, before deciding it's probably a bit of both.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.