Monday, January 6, 2014

The Spider and the Fly

You will notice that I shall be posting about children's books quite often on this blog.  I feel like there is no whimsy that surpasses childlike whimsy, and when you get one of those talented writers who chooses a dark/twisted tale to tell children?  Voila!  Black Whimsy all over the place.

Today's selection is the magnificently illustrated telling of the classic poem THE SPIDER AND THE FLY.  Mary Howitt wrote it back in the 1800s, Tony DiTerlizzi illustrated it in 2002.  It won a Caldecott honor (Caldecott Award is the highest honor for children's illustrations) Here's the cover:

The poem may very well have the most famous opening line in all of poetic history.  (well, maybe not *the* most famous, but it's certainly up there in the fame department).  You know it, right?  "Will you walk into my parlor?" said the Spider to the Fly... 

That's how things start, and they just go downhill from there (at least for the Fly, after much vacillating.  The Spider ends up pretty happy.  Ooops, should I have put up a spoiler warning? Or shoud I take the hint from the endnote in which the spider says "No doubt you've finished our delicious tale and are surprised by this little tragedy, but then again, what did you expect from a story about a spider and a fly?  Happily ever after?  Spiders are trappers, for goodness' sake!...)

It's certainly a macabre tale to tell children, but it is one with a moral, I assure you.  The poem ends with these lines:
And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take ae lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

The end note takes it even further stating: So what does all this talk of spiders and traps have to do with you?  Be warned, little dears, and know that spiders are not the only hunters and bugs are not the only victims.  Take what has transpired within these pages to heart, or you might well find yourself trapped in some schemer's web.

Will the average preschooler understand this lesson?  hmmm, doubtful I would say; and the poem is hardly great literature, I assure you.  What makes this book worth discussing, though, is those fantastically dark illustrations by the wonderful DiTerlizzi.  He sets the tale in the Spider's forbidding mansion (It looks sort of like a small evil Biltmore doesn't it?)

and paints the fly as a demur 20s era flapper.  Remember Miss Dorothy from Thoroughly Modern Milly? 

Think *her* but, you know, as a fly, complete with flower parasol.

The illustrations are dark, detailed and magical.  Their style resembles nothing more than an old silent film.  See?
(yes, it's a lousy picture but doesn't it look like a silent film title card or dialogue card or whatever they call those things that tell you what's going on?  Straight out of a Lillian Gish tragedy!)

So, anyway, if you're into Black Whimsy, or you want to introduce your kids to Black Whimsy.  DiTerlizzi's The Spider and the Fly is a good place to start.

1 comment:

  1. I read this book to Chase last year. I LOVE the illustrations!


Please use your first name or a username when commenting. The conversation will have an easier flow if we don't have a bunch of anonymous comments. Thank you!