Our Eight-Legged Friends: Genre Fiction’s Greatest Spiders

Spiders don’t get enough positive attention! They’re fantastic little beasts, and they eat all the truly terrifying bugs like roaches. They have pretty eyes (all eight or more of them), and they move in such a wonderful random scuttley fashion that leaves you no way to predict where they’re trying to go, or how close they’re going to come to you, or if they might jump on you and crawl into your hair or walk across your face while you sleep!

Spiders bring spontaneity into their every interaction with humanity, and dammit, I think they deserve celebration, so here are 11 of my favorites from across SFF. And before you click through, note how artist Roberta Tedeschi shows us just how cute a spider can be with the above picture of Li’l Aragog.

 

Charlotte A. Cavatica — Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte by Garth Williams

Charlotte by Garth Williams

This list is going to get pretty scary, so we’ll start with somebody friendly. Charlotte A. Cavatica is a kind, motherly arachnid who decides to help poor runty Wilbur the Pig avoid death-by-bacon. With a vocabulary assist from a wily rat named Templeton, she weaves unique words into her web in order to make Wilbur famous, and since the farmers think the words are a sign from God, the pig becomes too much of a cultural juggernaut to kill. This is one of the rare books that allows a spider to make a noble sacrifice, and it made me cry for days when I was a child, and it might be one of the reasons why I love spiders so much. Of course, White gives us a somewhat happy ending by providing Wilbur with Charlotte’s daughters, Joy, Nellie, and Aranea.

 

Aragog — Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter's Aragog Impression

Aragog is the Acromantula who proves an important pop cultural rule: if you suffer from arachnophobia, do not, under any circumstances, tell anyone, ever. Telling someone that you fear spiders, muttering that fact to yourself as you walk through the woods, thinking it too loudly—any of these actions guarantees that you will come face-to-face with the biggest freaking spider in your area. (See also: Stephen King’s IT, below) In the Potterverse it’s poor downtrodden Ronald Weasley who stupidly mentions his fear of spiders, which sets off a ticking time bomb of plot that leads to Aragog, a spider that is literally elephant-sized (eighteen-foot leg span!!!), and who turns out to be the original patsy blamed for students’ deaths the first time the Chamber of Secrets was opened. Aragog is never exactly friendly, but he is loyal to Hagrid. You can see another excellent rendition of Aragog included in this concept art by Adam Brockbank.

 

Astrophil — The Kronos Chronicles by Marie Rutkoski

Astrophil in The Cabinet of Wonders

Astrophil is a mechanical tin spider and co-star of Marie Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles. He’s a constant companion to Petra Chronos, and likes to hide in her hair when at all possible. Or, well, not hide exactly, as he is a very brave spider, but still, it’s more comfortable up there. He can see danger better from up there, the better to combat it, and not hide from it, no not at all. You can read an interview with him here.

 

The Giant Spider — Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Spiderlight cover detail

Cover art by Tyler Jacobson

Spiderlight is a rollicking sword-and-sorcery tale in which an intrepid band of warriors sets out to face a Dark Lord and fulfill a Great Prophecy. The band being the usual suspects: High Priestess, Mage, Warriors, Thief, and Giant Spider. And lo our—wait a second. The Giant Spider is part of the band? It isn’t a monster the band fights on the way through, say, some dank and terrifying cavern?

Do you even Shelob, bro?

Hang on, let me check the book… yes, this is correct: the Spider is a hero!

We’re guessing that’s going to lead to some sticky situations.

 

Shelob — The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Oh, Shelob. Shelob was a Great Spider, the child of Ungoliant (who was actually not a spider, technically, but a Primordial taking a spidery shape—see also: Stephen King’s IT.) and, as if that wasn’t enough, Sauron treated her like a pet cat. Here’s her intro from The Two Towers:

But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.

She is the proud star of the most terrifying sequence in all of Lord of the Rings, and brought to perfect, clicking, cocoon-rolling glory in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King. The best bit, though, is that Jackson humanizes Shelob just enough that when Sam stabs her in the eye and belly to protect his precious Frodo, her cries of pain and confusion are actually pretty affecting.

Or maybe that’s just me?

 

A Whole Mess of Spiders — The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

The Hatching cover art by

The Hatching cover and slipcase

There isn’t one spider to highlight in Ezekiel Boone’s The Hatching, there are roughly a billion of them. (Go stare at that title for a second, think about the worst possible implications of that title.) An FBI agent is called in to investigate the mysterious death of tech billionaire… who has eight sets of tiny fingerprints on his… no, not really. I’m teasing about that part. What the FBI agent discovers is actually far worse. Meanwhile, a scientist named Melanie Guyer receives a package, from Peru, containing an egg sac. Boone weaves the various silken threads together as the FBI agent, Mike Rich, tries to get ahead of the ickiest invasion ever, Dr. Guyer tries to figure out what’s in the egg sac, tectonic rumblings are felt in India, and China seemingly drops a nuclear bomb… on itself? The Hatching takes an impressively terrible doomsday scenario and adds spiders, making it one of the creepiest books of all time.

 

The Weavers — Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

The Weaver in Perdido Street Station

This lovely, ethereal rendition of The Weaver comes courtesy of One Over Epsilon.

I have danced with the spider. I have cut a caper with the dancing mad god.

China Miéville’s Weavers aren’t technically spiders, but they are giant, multi-dimensional spider-like creatures, and they do spin webs (of a sort), so I figured I’d include them. To The Weavers, life itself is a web, and each Weaver needs to make its choices to create the most aesthetically perfect patterns from life. So what the Weavers weave, essentially, is space-time. Their minds and motivations are so far beyond most mortals that men can go mad from watching them weave, they speak in a sort of poetic monologue (which doesn’t exactly lend itself to clarity from a mortal’s point of view) and they subsist on beauty rather than what most creatures would consider food.

 

Giant Alien Spider Invasion — Breeding Ground and Feeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough

Breeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough

Don’t worry, the spiders just want to make sure we’re warm enough.

Sarah Pinborough’s duology marries three fantastic concepts: fear of spiders, body horror, and… the apocalypse! When Londoners Matt and Chloe find out they’re expecting a child they’re overjoyed, but then Chloe‘s body begins changing much faster than it should. And why is she getting meaner? Matt finally figures out that most of the women in the world have been invaded by horrible spider-like aliens. And then things get really bad when Chloe gives birth… Feeding Ground expands on the concept, with a tiny group of human survivors banding together to try to escape London…but first they have to get past webs, telepathic spider-aliens, and worst of all: the cocoons of still-living victims.

 

Demonic Recluses — The Killing Kind by John Connolly

John Connolly's The Killing Kind

It’s true: the spiders in The Killing Kind do, in fact, kill people.

But it’s not their fault!

In this supernaturally-tinged entry in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, a true villain by the name of Mr. Pudd uses recluse spiders as living, crawling, biting bioweapons. In case that doesn’t sound creepy enough for you, Parker only runs afoul of Pudd while he’s researching a questionable suicide that leads him back to an ancient relic and a shadowy fundamentalist cult that my have slaughtered an early Baptist community. And in case that still wasn’t enough, Parker is also being haunted by the ghost of a little boy, and Pudd might actually be a demon, and spiders keep crawling out of people’s mouths, which, after that happens a couple times? It starts to become unsettling.

 

It (Spider-form) — It by Stephen King

Pennywise by artist Ray Dillon

Pennywise Clown/Spider hybrid by artist Ray Dillon

It isn’t technically a spider, but rather is some sort of terrifying primal evil—with more than a hint of Lovecraftian eldritchness to it—that has haunted the tiny cursed town of Derry, Maine since the beginning of time. Over the course of the book, It possesses various people, including a school bully and a main character’s abusive husband, and also appears as a werewolf, a giant Paul Bunyan, and, most famously, Pennywise the clown. But when it really wants to terrifying people, It shows them Its true form, the “deadlight”, which is a sort of writhing orangish tentacley form. Since the human mind can’t comprehend the deadlights, anyone faced with them sees an enormous spider…which is MUCH better.

 

Mr. Nancy — American Gods/Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Mr. Nancy by Ana Dias

Mr. Nancy by Ana Dias

There are other trickster gods out there, but Mr. Nancy is definitely one of the best. In the original tales of the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana, Anansi was the clever spider, getting into and out of trouble, and sometimes appearing as a man. His stories spread through the Caribbean and the Southern United States, where they influenced and were influenced by Bantu Br’er Rabbit and Native American Tar Wolf stories. In American Gods and Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman took the Anansi stories and folded them into his sprawling mythology about how the gods came to America. In AG, the old gods are fighting with the new deities of technology and media that have begun ruling people’s lives. In AB, Gaiman follows Mr. Nancy’s sons as they fight with another old god over storytelling itself. Technically, there aren’t too many spiders in these books, but the clever, web-weaving arachnid spirit shines through both.

 

So how’d I do? Did I miss your favorite arachnid? Let me know in the comments! And feel free to post as many adorable spider pictures as you want.

This article was originally published in August 2016.

Leah Schnelbach hopes that she’s convinced you of the awesomeness of Spiderkind. She occasionally weaves very small webs of words over on Twitter.

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