I'm about 100 pages into Dune. I noticed the novel has more than one appendix.

As a rule of thumb, when a sci-fi or fantasy novel has an appendix, should I:

  • read through it before I start the book;
  • reference it occasionally while reading the book;
  • or bask in its glory after I've read the book?

My main concern is running into some kind of spoiler back there!

What do you think?

Edit:

Dune has some major spoilers in its appendices!

  • 5
    Skim it before reading. Nibble at it while reading. Eat the whole thing for dessert. – sjl Apr 20 '12 at 7:47
  • 1
    To clarify, are you asking specifically about the appendix for Dune, or are you asking about a rule of thumb for all sci-fi/fantasy books with appendices? – Beofett Apr 20 '12 at 12:16
  • I mentioned Dune specifically so that, perhaps, it may be used a vehicle or example of how to (generally) treat other appendices. – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 12:33
up vote 18 down vote accepted

This question might get closed as being too subjective - for any particular book, it depends on what the author chose to include in the Appendix and what your own preference is.

OTOH, by definition, an Appendix is supplementary, so the general rule would be to read any Appendix after you've read the book.

A couple of exceptions:

  1. If the author clearly says something like "read Appendix 1 between Sections 2 and 3 of the novel."
  2. If the Appendix is just a glossary, you'd to it if you forget a specific word, e.g. (I can't think of a good Dune example, so here's one from "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant") the difference between lomillialor and lor-liarill.

For Dune (and for LotR, which also has substantial Appendices), I'd definitely read the Appendix after - there's nothing in there you need to know to enjoy the book.

  • If you had to go on a limb and throw it out there as a general rule of thumb, would you read it during or after. – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 15:37
  • 3
    I don't have either Dune or LotR here, from what I recall of their Appendices, I'd definitely read them after. As a general rule, I'd read any Appendix after the book, unless the author clearly said something like "read App 1 between sections 2 and 3 of the novel." – Ward Apr 20 '12 at 16:35
  • +1 If you edit your answer to include what you just commented, I'll gladly accept. :) – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 16:42
  • Occasionally, you'll find an appendix containing a list of definitions of made up words that are really important to the storyline. If I'm reading a book with lots of inworld vocabulary, I'll make a quick check at the end to see if there's a useful dictionary. Authors don't always mention the existence of these things and they can make reading a lot easier. – Wayfaring Stranger Jun 15 '14 at 16:38

The only appendices I've encountered (Trudi Canavan's Magicians trilogy) have contained glossaries of the fantasy language (not something you see in non-speculative fiction) she has created which helped to explain a lot of things whilst I was reading. Once I learned it was there I read it through, but I kept turning back to it.

There were no spoilers there, and I can't think of any appendix that would contain a spoiler. That would probably be in an epilogue of similar.

One of the appendices of Dune would be a pretty big spoiler, as it was apparently written to address a pretty severe plot hole, so I'd save them for after.

  • I haven't had a chance to come back and make an edit that I found a HUGE spoiler in one of the appendices. It spoils a major reveal from the end of "Book I." – magzalez Jun 12 '12 at 15:08

Some books like House of Leaves have appendacies that are meant to be read at a specific time during the reading if the main book and the story isn't complete without it.

I would suggest that you read the appendacies when needed. Like if there's a footnote that references them or if you're confused about an element in the book and you know it's addressed in the appendix.

In some cases though, the appendix is completely optional and is just there for hardcore fans. Examples are some of the Lord Of The Rings appendacies that go over the different languages. I doubt that you NEED to read them to enjoy the story, but they are there to make the universe more complete.

  • In Dune, there are no references to the appendices in the main text, but they are listed in the table of contents. My line of thought is if the author in one form or another alerts you to the appendices, you should figure out how to incorporate them in the read through. Looks like you agree. (?) – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 12:36
  • @magzalez Keep in mind that the publisher may have had something to do with the formatting. Just because the appendix is listed in the index, or even included at all, does not mean the author intended it as a direct supplement to the reading experience. Particularly in the case of an edition republished after the author has passed away, as the appendix may have been provided by the author's estate, and merely cobbled together from the author's notes. – Beofett Apr 20 '12 at 17:16
  • @Beofett Mondo bummer. – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 18:02

There is a good reason that the appendix is at the end of the novel and that's because it will often "spoil" major plot elements within the book or may even completely redefine the tone of the book.

A perfect example of this would be the "Principles of NewSpeak" appendix at the end of the book "1984" by George Orwell which places the entire book (e.g. that you've just read) into a historical context of having been written approximately 50 years prior to the defeat of Big Brother.


In specific relation to Dune, of the four appendices, the one labelled "A Report on Bene Gesserit Motives and Purposes" is probably the most spoilerish and should definitely not be read before the novel. The glossary has no major spoilers and may help your general understanding, however it's largely unnecessary since most of the major terms are extensively explained in the book itself.

It's at the end, there's (generally) no indication in a novel that it is back there, and it tends to be optional material, so read it last. I'd be worried about spoilers too when it comes to arbitrary appendices.

  • As I mentioned above, in Dune, the author includes the appendix in the table of contents. Does that change your thoughts/answer in any way? – magzalez Apr 20 '12 at 15:38

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