Archive for December 14, 2017

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Spiders. Spiders good? Spiders bad? Ask an entomologist…spiders good. Something about how Charlotte culls all manner of insects to manageable levels. Ask J.R.R. Tolkien…yeah, we know how the master felt having Shelob and her kin overrun Mirkwood Forest like that. Either way, we walk in rich literary territory for wordsmiths like me.

I get my knowledge about many things from Wikipedia where I assume a 75-percent accuracy for people and history with maybe an 85-percent get it right about science things like insects, sorry arachnids, the extra pair of legs puts Charlotte into a whole other family of arthropods. Probably cuts down on any weird feelings among sentient spiders about cannibalism.

Whatever, don’t assume I know much more than spin webs, balloon to spread the species and that it’s kinda cool to watch video of Charlotte fuck up insect trespassers for lunch as the main course. And this is where I brag up the video buried deep in my Facebook profile of a spider hanging from its drop line running like hell from my cell phone light. It was shoulder height to me and the only anchor point was the cross arm of the streetlight 30 feet overhead. Free nature show.

But, as you can see from the many varied examples of E.B. White’s Charlotte, Shelob, Boris the Spider and even the eponymous Itsy Bitsy Spider we have complicated relationships with the eight-legged bi…ladies (some are gents like Boris the Spider). When they are small and posted up outside in the rose garden only the most psychotic of us will lift a finger against them. Especially if the morning dew catches the light the right way, or if said web is loaded to the gunnels with silk wrapped food pods that used to be insects.

I doubt that if Charlotte took magical spider growth hormone or the science fiction equivalent, radioactive waste, to grow to even half Shelob’s size that we’d be saying nice things about the apparently nice spider that stood up for her pig friend. We start to worry when things grow large enough to eat people, or even the medium sized ones cleaning fangs at the prospect of an unattended child or dog. They look weird and defend their webs with ferocity.

Speaking about Charlotte…was the eight-legged lady really a nice caring spider as depicted doing what she could for Wilber, or did she make a determination that the pig was too large to eat and thus helped for other reasons, like annoying the farmers? Oh right, it’s a kids’ book that needs a nice spider without being confused for Animal Farm with the smell of revolution in the air. An interesting question once the kids leave the room.

Our fascination with arachnids, especially the mostly mythical large ones that come after us when the natural order rolls over us, goes back a long time. Athena supposedly bonked an arrogant girl, Arachne, on the head after a weaving contest. The sources don’t exactly say if the grey-eyed goddess won or lost, but the moral of the story is don’t brag up skills that Athena sets great store by. The myth provided the scientific name arachnid.

Some spiders seemed designed by Evolution/Creation to maximize the dichotomy of interesting to look at and deadly when provoked, like the black widow. A widow’s black dress, a flash of red (not always an hourglass) for flair and style and a penchant for wiping out her husband (some of the time), pretty much makes the hyperbolic argument that Edith Head or an angel with her skill set consulted in the design process.

So far we’ve just considered the regular sized spider that is usually not threatening because they’re typically too small to do much damage. I’ve never seen any black widows grow to more than half an inch. Whatever the lethality rating of her venom, she isn’t large enough to inject enough in a bite to kill healthy adults. We ignore her and let her set up the web outside in the trees as a first layer of defense against insects. But, broom out her indoor web, it looks like a dirty house with webs in high corners.

But, I’m sure we’ve looked at those inscrutable compound eyes and imagined losing control of a previously inoffensive species and woken up screaming from a nightmare more than once. Enter the giant spider, one of many overlarge creatures of nightmare and literature come to upend the natural order. And writers like Tolkien were only too happy to oblige using giant spiders in The Hobbit as a way for Bilbo to prove his worth to the dwarves. He wakes up first and gets slashy slashy with the yet to be named Sting.

In Two Towers (shifted to Return of the King in the movies), Tolkien then used Shelob, the mother of the Mirkwood spiders, as a thematic callback to the reader that Sam Gamgee basically lopped off evil giant spiders at the source. The moment where Frodo eats spider venom and seemingly dies and his body is grabbed by nearby orcs will probably have everyone reading Save the Cat screaming “All is Lost!” at the page or screen.

Spiders good? Spiders bad? The answer depends on how large they are and whether or not you’re the author of the next cook fire story that needs sweetening in the Second Act and Bob sitting to the left already used up dragons for the evening in his story. Authors love giant spiders that we dream of them sometimes.

But, are spiders always monsters to fight? Is it possible to conceive of a giant spider with the traits of kindness, humor and perhaps even a maternal streak, the ultimate mother-in-law possibly taking the name Arachne Stewart? Okay, that’s a leading question; a writer has complete control at their keyboard. If you want a twelve foot black widow taking over the high corner in the kitchen using one pair of legs to stir the spaghetti sauce, another to rock her human foster child and egg sac while weaving silk fabric with the third pair and anchoring with the last, type it and it will be so.

I did just that. In the yet to be revealed Scorpio 7 space station, tucked away in the zócalo back near the Italian restaurants and pizza joints you’ll find the finest dress shop within a twenty light year circle. A human woman cuts the cloth and her Tarkesian Spider godmother spins and weaves the silk.

Sobekneferu the Spider has completely bonded to her daughter, Anne Bonney. Madame Spider will find her baby a good mate, currently the station’s Chief of Security, Henry Pantoliano. Despite being kind, funny and devoted to family, she stores various contraband items next to her zealously protected egg sac trusting that no honorable sentient will open up the silk outer layer without a warrant. Yes, we’ve seen this man/wife/mother-in-law sitcom before.

I do things like this after a lifetime of giant spiders bad mostly to give equal time that spiders just ain’t all that bad (not counting Shelob, can’t help that one). It just amused me to see the spider hanging in the rafters above the dress shop stall sending down silk strands for Anne to dye which then get sent back up for the spider to weave into yards of fabric. In my mind, I’ve gone back and forth between whether the spider only makes the raw silk for Anne to cut and sew into dresses of the appropriate size or if Sobekneferu theoretically could just weave/knit a dress around a customer’s body. An interesting problem to just make a ruling about…seams and zippers serve a purpose for wearing a dress twice, methinks.

Sobe in her unformed state seems like a friendly being to the extent that the two competing goals of hooking up Anne with Chief Pants while dodging his pointed questions about the 50 ray guns stashed next to her egg sac. She laughs frequently and loves refined sugar while discreetly ratting out the worst among her black market competitors. Somehow, I think referring to her as Arachne Stewart might just earn you a sting because she’s her own spider named after a Queen Pharaoh thank you very much.

I’ve mentioned spiders and spider webs being a feature of our dreams, the ones that disguise entertainment as fear-mongering. I write this after a dream that didn’t have a spider in it per se, but a large web to be dissected like at a crime scene. The visuals proved weird referencing that in my RPG experience adventure parties deal with giant spiders putting the highly flammable web network to the torch.

The characters examine these spheres attached to major anchor strands in a subterranean web. These amber colored balls are determined to serve the purpose of acting as a firebreak whenever asshole adventure parties get their inner genocidal arsonist on. The heat severs the web at the sphere allowing the spider to rudely flick her forelegs at those firebug humans. No, there wasn’t a burning web in this dream, just a pseudo-scientific talking heads ruling on the subject.

Does any of the above translate into something I might write? No. The firebreak things make no sense in the waking world where we still have to look up what we think we know on Wikipedia. But, what it does do is tell me that maybe Sobekneferu could also handle the silk dying. The spider loves her candy, fruit and other sources of indigestible food coloring and other pigments and could pass them out of her into the silk stream. The subconscious loves its misdirection.

Spiders good? Spiders bad? I suppose the answer simply depends on whether we ate a bad breakfast burrito the morning before. Hopefully, you’ll take my weirdness as a guide through your own process of imagination twisting the commonplace into the scary, meaningful, or just outright fun. I’ll put in a good word for you with your measurements at Sobe and Anne’s place, but you still have to bring the Red Vines if you want a scarlet frock.