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Literature / The Spider and the Fly

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"Will you walk into my parlor?"
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 more recently adapted into picture book form by Tony Diterlizzi in 2002.

In this story, the protagonist, the Fly, walks into the Spider's parlor one night. She is then warmed up by the Spider with his acts of courtesy and flattery. Unfortunately, these kind acts are a facade, as the Spider has nasty plans for her. However, even though other victims try to pass on warnings, the Fly is distracted by the Spider's charm, and therefore is unaware of the fate she is soon to befall.

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: As the spider notes in the epilogue, if you let yourself be sweet-talked by someone who has malevolent intentions, then you will suffer a terrible fate.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: The Cricket. He gets kicked by the Spider while already dead!
  • Damsel out of Distress: The Fly. She struggles and puts up a fight before she ultimately dies.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Spider, in the "letter" he wrote after he has dinner.
  • The Ditz/Too Dumb to Live: There is an actual scene where the Fly SEES a floating book with the title The Joy of Cooking Bugs in the Spider's house. Either she really wants to stay with the spider, or she personifies this trope.
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  • Doom Magnet: The Fly, obviously. She happens upon the house where the Spider lives.
  • Downer Ending/The Bad Guy Wins: The spider eats the fly, and she becomes a ghost like his other victims.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Spider.
  • Evil Feels Good: The Spider can tell you all about how much he loves his job especially in the epilogue.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Spider plays "courteous host" until he is ready to pounce.
  • Film Noir: The whole book is set up in a 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 in it, too.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Much intimate tension is seen between the Spider and the Fly, but nothing has ever been explicitly expressed. The scene before he catches her, they almost share a kiss.
  • Gasp!: When the Spider and Fly look like they might have a romantic moment, only for him on the next page to capture her.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Aside from the obvious that the villain is a spider trying to charm an insect, what gives the book its healthy dose of Nightmare Fuel 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..
  • May–December Romance: Using the term 'romance' loosely, but Mr. Spider is very much older than Ms. Fly.
  • Older Than They Look: Both the Butterfly and Cricket ghosts. There are easter eggs of what they used to look like, pre-death, and their ghost forms appear older than... how Spider chose to decorate his house after their deaths.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: How the Aesop is presented.
  • Seductive Spider: The Spider is portrayed as a Bluebeard and serial charmer of unsuspecting insects. He spends the entire poem flirting with a skittish fly he intends to eat, who's clearly shown to be attracted to him and falls for his sweet words.
  • 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'.
  • 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".