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Sneaky Spider

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"Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!"

Spiders are well-known for the webs they weave and lay as traps for unsuspecting prey. In line with this, fictional spiders and characters associated with them will be cast as witty tricksters and/or deceitful, manipulative schemers with ulterior motives. They lie in wait in the shadows and use physical or metaphorical "webs" to outwit their opponents. Web imagery can also used to describe their domains or networks. Other times, they are portrayed as seducers who attempt to lure in unsuspecting prey for the kill — for an extreme example, the term Black Widow is partially derived from a genus of spiders whose females occasionally devour the males after mating. For extra sketchiness, these can be compounded with how some spiders secrete venom (because the usage of toxins is untrustworthy), or the weaving of spider webs can be related to illusion powers.

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While characters of this sort could be Guile Heroes, they are more commonly evil, amoral, or morally ambiguous, and can also be cruel predators on top of being deceitful.

This trope is Older Than Print. Anansi of West African myth and Iktomi of the Lakota Sioux are two examples of spider trickster figures from oral tradition.

Subtrope of The Trickster, and may also overlap with The Chessmaster or The Spymaster. Strategic web usage may also make them a Trap Master or The Strategist. Compare Spiders Are Scary, which is another reason spiders get a bad rap, and Giant Spider, which is usually more terrifying and brute-force-focused than cunning, although they can certainly overlap for pure horror. Characters sporting Arachnid Appearance and Attire or using Projectile Webbing may also be tricksters because of this trope. See also other sneaky animals: Cunning Like a Fox, Rascally Rabbit, Rascally Raccoon, and Those Wily Coyotes.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Kidomaru of Naruto is a spider-themed ninja (with eight limbs, the ability to produce webs, and a Giant Spider personal summon). Fittingly, he is the Sound Five's strategist, and an unrepentant sadist.

    Comics 

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Keeper Arachne, a spider-using Keeper, who worships the Vermin Lord and uses traps like flooding a room after people have entered.
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    Film — Animated 
  • While the original book describes the Other Mother with various bits of spider imagery, the film adaptation of Coraline has her turn into full-blown spider lady as her One-Winged Angel form. Much like a spider's web, the colorful, surreal Other World, as well as its idealized doubles of Coraline's father and her neighbors, are a false illusion crafted by the Other Mother specifically to lure in and trap the eponymous heroine, with the intent of feeding on her like she did to other, less fortunate children in the past.

    Literature 
  • Charlotte's Web: A heroic example. Charlotte uses her spider-y powers of deception and manipulation to get humans to believe Wilbur the pig is too special to butcher and eat. This is purely altruistic on her part; she is honest to a fault and has no malice whatsoever.
  • The Discworld novel Snuff mentions a filing clerk by the name of Arachne, who is particularly interested in exotic venomous spiders...
  • The Emberverse series has Lady Protector Sandra Arminger, a cunning, cruel and highly intelligent woman whose adeptness at manipulating the politics and schemes of her nation has earned her the nickname of the Spider.
  • "The Spider" in The Lies of Locke Lamora (book one of the Gentleman Bastard series) is the secret head of Camorr's Midnighters, an order of secret police that reports to the Duke himself. The Spider goes unnoticed because she's a seemingly harmless old widow, Dona Angiavesta Vorchenza.
  • It: Imagery of spiders's webs is used to symbolise the town of Derry, It's hunting grounds, as well as the town's underground sewer network, where It resides and uses as It's main method of transportation. Fittingly enough, It's real form, or at least the closest thing humans can perceive, resembles a giant, black spider. The "deceit" part of this trope is fulfilled by the fact that, though It's modus operandi shapeshifts into children's worst fears, It's Pennywise the Dancing Clown form serves to attract them.
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: The supervillain Spider, an actual car-sized spider, is a chessmaster who controls Chinatown and has a large influence not just over other supervillains, but also over hero/villain relations. Although she adheres to a strict code of conduct, she's also not above exploiting the rules to mess with heroes.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, Holmes's brilliant, scheming enemy James Moriarty is compared to a spider, just laying in wait for his plans to bear fruit.
    Holmes: [Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Varys, the Deadly Decadent Court's cunning spymaster, is associated with spiders (his In-Universe Nickname is even "The Spider") due to his secrecy and "web" of informants. Although he's ostensibly on the side of the crown, he appears to have his own agenda which the court is none the wiser to.
    Catelyn's narration: Varys was lord of nothing but the spiderweb, the master of none but his whisperers.
  • The fable The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt features a spider luring a fly into its web through flattery and seduction, only to eat him once he decides to alight onto her web.
  • The Wheel of Time: Of the Dark One's most dreaded servants, Moghedien (literally, "Spider") is infamous for being an insidious and devastatingly effective Spymaster, Chessmaster, and Dream Weaver. She got her Nom de Guerre from a type of tiny spider whose venom kills within seconds.
    Birgitte: She hides and takes no risks. She attacks only where she sees weakness, and moves only in shadows.

    Live-Action TV 

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The West African god Anansi is a largely benign spider trickster who supposedly collected every story in existence from a bargain with the gods, and is known for outwitting larger and stronger creatures.
  • Iktomi/Unktomi from Lakota Sioux myth is a shapeshifting trickster spirit and mischief-maker who often takes the form of a spider.
  • The Tsuchigumo of Japanese Mythology, a Master of Illusion Giant Spider who lures the hero Minamoto no Raiko into his web and would have eaten him had Minamoto not seen through the illusion.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The spider goddess Lolth, patron of the Drow, is a goddess of deceit and trickery. Thanks to her influence, Drow society pretty much runs on Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Magic: The Gathering features Ravnica, a realm entirely controlled by 10 'guilds', each representing two different colours of the game's five colors of mana, and each of these guilds is responsible for some aspect of Ravnica's function. Among these, the 'Dimir' guild, consisting of the blue and black mana, essentially operate as Ravnica's Spymasters, Knowledge Brokers, and Professional Killers, and their symbol is a heavily stylized eight-legged spider with a single big eye on its back. They were, in fact, so sneaky that for the longest time, most people believed there were only 9 guilds on Ravnica.
  • The Shadowrun supplement Bug City. In Shadowrun, each shaman worships and gains magical powers from a specific totem. One possible totem is Spider, who spins her web and waits for others to come to her and fall into it. Spider "...waits and plots, carefully and deliberately". Spider and her shamans prefer dark, quiet secret places with no one else around. One of Spider's aspects is that of the trickster.

    Video Games 
  • Diablo III: Cydaea, the Maiden of Lust, has the body of a woman but the legs of a spider. Deckard Cain describes her as both beautiful and grotesque. As her title implies, she tempts mortals (no matter their gender or sexuality) into her web with her sweet voice before devouring them alive.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Mephala, a generally malevolent Daedric Prince whose domains involve manipulation, lies, sex, and secrets. Fittingly she has a spider motif, with her sobriquets including "The Webspinner" and "Lady of Whispers", her plans are likened to spiderwebs, she physically resembles a spider, and has minions called Spider Daedra.
  • Fate/Grand Order: "Archer of Shinjuku" has the spider motif (specifically "spider web that catches butterflies"), and one of his skills is called "The End of the Spider Thread" which increases the attack power of Evil-aligned allies. He's also a rather cunning gentleman, with an Evil Plan that involves him pretending to be a good guy with amnesia. His true identity is James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' greatest nemesis.

    Visual Novels 

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles: In Nigeria, the heroes meet the spider trickster Anansi, who makes magical deals with humans which are intended to be at their expense, but often end up backfiring on him.
  • Static Shock: On a trip to Africa, Static meets a superhero named Anansi, whose powers come from a golden spider amulet. Anansi has the power to stick to walls and ceilings and to cast illusions.

    Real Life 
  • Some spiders are extra tricky and take it a step beyond the standard web trap.
    • Trapdoor spiders dig burrows and wait for prey to approach before ambushing and dragging them underground.
    • Bolas spiders don't spin webs. Instead they produce a single strand of silk tipped with a sticky ball of silk and glue, which is spun around and lobbed at prey coming by (hence the name). This strategy is only effective because the glue ball contains pheromones that mimic those its prey use in mating.
    • Ant spiders are spiders that mimic ants and usually prey upon them. While their morphological mimicry often leaves a bit to be desired, their behavior is seamless. They walk on six legs while "acting" and wave the forward pair around like antenna. If another ant catches them killing or carrying away their comrade, the spider will act like it was carrying the body away for disposal, and will even transfer the "duty" to the challenger if she doesn't back down.
  • Less maliciously, most spiders like to hide in secluded areas and many have rather excellent natural camouflage. This is because all but the largest tarantulas are essentially the glass cannons of the animal world, with potent venom but a fragile body. Spiders need to hide in order to avoid becoming something else's lunch.
  • A "spider hole" is a type of military/Survivalist fortification inspired and named after the above trapdoor spiders. A spider hole is essentially a foxhole with a camouflaged roof/hatch on the top. This limits the hole's combat utility, but makes for a very effective means for a quick get-away. The hider will sometimes even attempt to use the hole in ambush combat.
  • Louis XI of France was known as "the Universal Spider" ("l'Universelle Aragne" in Middle French) due to his talent for plotting and the communications network he developed by improving postal roads.

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