Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In Greek Mythology, Arachne presumptuously challenges the Goddess Athene/Minerva to a weaving competition and (having performed too well) suffers Metamorphosis into a spider, giving the arachnids their name. Emphasis has since shifted from the beauty of the web to its debatably unprepossessing creator. Arachnophobia, the common fear of spiders, is routinely exploited in Horror, an effective example being M R James's "The Ash Tree" (1904) – whose unpleasantly oversized spiders were outdone by Lord Dunsany's specimen "larger than a ram" in "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" (1908). J R R Tolkien established the definitive Genre-Fantasy stereotype of giant spiders and webs in The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955); the latter's Shelob is memorably nasty. Similar creatures appear in Fritz Leiber's "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (1963), Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1984), Mary Brown's The Unlikely Ones (1986) and many other works. Such Monsters are tempting cases for rehabilitation: once communication is established, the huge spider of Piers Anthony's Castle Roogna (1979) becomes a valued Companion, and those in Colin Wilson's Spider World sequence prove at least worthy of respect.

Arachne-like woman/spider figures appear in James Branch Cabell's Smirt (1934) and the movie Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), the former emphasizing that some female spiders eat their mates; but the Spider Woman of Navajo myth is a benign Witch living Underground. Also benevolent is the eponymous spider of E B White's Charlotte's Web (1952), spelling out "miraculous" messages with her web. Anansi the Spider God is a Trickster. In Comics, a normal-sized but radioactive spider famously bites teenage wimp Peter Parker, who gains spider-like Talents and becomes Spider-Man (> The Amazing Spider-Man; Spider-Man (1977 tvm); Superheroes). [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.