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Literature / The Spider and the Fly

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"Will you walk into my parlour?"
The Spider

"The Spider and the Fly" is a poem written in 1829 by Mary Howitt, and also featured in her book Sketches of Natural History (1834). It was adapted as a picture book by Tony DiTerlizzi in 2002.

In this story, a young and naïve Fly encounters a Spider at his home one night. The Spider makes a fine display of courtesy and flattery to convince the Fly he means her no harm, even though she knows better than to trust a spider (and though the ghosts of the Spider's other victims try to warn her). Unfortunately, the Fly lets herself be charmed into coming too close...

Not to be confused with the epic poem of identical name by John Heywood, which dates way back to 1556.

The books provide examples of:

  • An Aesop: If you let yourself be sweet-talked by someone who has malevolent intentions, then you will suffer a terrible fate.
    Unto an evil counsellor, close heart, and ear, and eye,
    And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: No prizes for guessing what happens to the poor Fly when she comes within reach of the Spider.
  • Beast Fable: The Spider represents the person who covers his evil intentions with charm and flattery, while the Fly represents the innocent or naïve person who falls for his act.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Again, this plays into the idea that the hero and villain are attracted to each other. It is up for debate whether or not the Spider is physically attractive, but he is at least charming.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Both ghost bugs for the Fly, warning her to leave.
  • Big Fancy House: The Spider's abode. It's actually a dollhouse, but it suits him.
  • Butt-Monkey: The Cricket. He gets kicked by the Spider while already dead!
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Spider ends the book with a little letter to the reader, reminding them that he's a spider and this isn't Charlotte's Web.
  • Dead Hat Shot: The last illustration of the Spider shows him after supper, with the Fly's hat sitting on his plate.
  • Doom Magnet: The Fly, obviously. She happens upon the house where the Spider lives.
  • Downer Ending: If you're expecting a different ending than the original, forget it. The Spider catches the Fly, and she becomes a ghost like his other victims.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: It's a bit hard to tell with the black-and-white illustrations, but the Spider looks sickly pale compared to the attractive young Fly.
  • Evil Feels Good: The Spider can tell you all about how much he loves his job, especially in the epilogue.
  • Extra Eyes: The Spider has four tiny eyes near the crown of his head. They watch the Fly even when his 'main' eyes are closed.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Fly is already aware that the Spider is bad news, but she continues to ignore numerous warning signs (like all the dead bugs he uses to 'decorate' his house).
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Spider plays "courteous host" until he is ready to pounce.
  • Film Noir: The whole book is set up in an old-timey, silver-screen setting.
  • The Flapper: As the book takes place in a 1920s movie setting, the Fly gets to be this. And she looks good, too.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Much intimate tension is seen between the Spider and the Fly, but nothing has ever been explicitly expressed. He is posed to as if to kiss her hand the instant before he finally strikes.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Aside from the obvious that the villain is a spider trying to charm an insect, what makes the book scary is the subtle things that become horrifying once you realize them. For example, in one scene, in place of a footstool, Spider uses the body of a dead ladybug that he's killed..
  • I Kiss Your Hand: The Spider seems about to do this... just before he stuffs Ms. Fly in his hat and carries her to her doom.
  • May–December Romance: Using the term 'romance' loosely, but Mr. Spider is very much older than Ms. Fly.
  • Mouse World: The Spider's grand Victorian mansion is an old dollhouse... lying in the attic of a grand Victorian mansion.
  • Older Than They Look: Both the Butterfly and Cricket ghosts. There are easter eggs of what they looked like in life, and their ghost forms appear older than they were when they died.
  • Opposites Attract: Again, using term 'romance' loosely, but Spider and Fly's differences are obvious and many (dressed in white and dressed in black, old and young, flapper and Victorian), but in the scenes where he's charming her, she certainly shows some interest after a while.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname : All of the cast, actually. Though Word of God has some mention gave 'names' in paper puppets, downloadable here.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Ms. Fly carries a coneflower in this fashion. It suggests innocence and inexperience, as if this is the first time she's ever been out on her own.
  • Page-Turn Surprise: The Spider and Fly look like they might be about to have a romantic moment one page before he drops the act entirely and captures her.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: The Spider only has glasses in one picture. They're either reading glasses given the scene, lounging around in his pajamas in front of the Fly, or they're just to make him look smart.
  • Sapient Eat Sapient: The fact that the Fly can speak to (and argue with) the Spider has absolutely no bearing on whether he eats her. (That's at least in part because this is a parable about the dangers of predatory humans.)
  • Scare 'Em Straight: As in the original poem, the unwary Fly meets a tragic end because she let herself be flattered into dropping her caution.
  • Scenery Porn: The illustrations are detailed and lush, with many subtle hints at the Spider's true nature before he finally springs his trap.
  • Seductive Spider: The Spider is portrayed as a Bluebeard and serial charmer of unsuspecting insects. He spends the entire poem flirting with a fly he intends to eat, who's clearly shown to be attracted to him and falls for his sweet words.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: Almost all of the fixtures and decorations in the Spider's house are made of the bodies of his victims.
  • Take That!: The epilogue of the book features one towards Charlotte's Web and readers who expected Happily Ever After.
  • Terms of Endangerment: Mr Spider has quite a few for Ms. Fly. The most common one being 'dear', the others including calling her a 'sweet creature' and his 'most recent dinner guest'.
  • Too Dumb to Live: There is an actual scene where the ghosts show the Fly a cookbook titled The Joy of Cooking Bugs in the Spider's house. Either she really wants to stay with the spider, or she personifies this trope.
  • Villainous Fashion Sense: The Spider, even outside of clothing fashion. Word of God says this, in fact, "Sometimes, like Mr. Spider in The Spider & The Fly, it’s all about the costume they wear…or the house they live in".
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: While it's abundantly clear that the Spider has murdered (and eaten) dozens of bugs, the illustrations don't show any actual violence.
  • Visual Pun: The Fly at the center of this story is a damselfly.