Book Review: The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf!

Warning: This is not a review for the arachnophobic!

Personally I really like spiders. I live in an attic so I see a spider probably once a week or more, I give them names and my friend gives them french accents and they’re pretty cute to me. But I understand the dislike and I’m not really sure how this book would read if I was scared of them. It had moments where even I had shivers down my spine and a creeping feeling at my neck. Not bad for a book written in 1842.

The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

After one of their own members repeatedly fails to live up to a pact with the Devil, a petty and morally bankrupt village community is terrorized by a succession of deadly black spiders. First published in 1842, this haunting cautionary novella shrewdly dissects the iniquitous social dynamics of rural life through the use of dark satire and realism.

You know that story that got told in school? A girl would be bitten by a spider, it would lay it’s eggs and she’d get a spot. It could grow and grow until one day when she’s in the shower it bursts and all these baby spiders come out. It’s an urban myth and completely impossible as far as science but still- freaked me out as a kid. I’m fairly certain that this book is the origin of that myth.

It starts with a baptism of a baby and then the elderly godfather starts telling the story. Normally the whole- story within a story thing doesn’t do it for me but I actually really liked it in this book. It added that element of storytelling before books were as accessible as they are now, where parables and fables were passed down from one generation to the next. In the story, a woman makes a deal with the devil but when she doesn’t give him a unbaptised baby- boom. Spiders crawling out of her face and terrorising the village. The book is a lot more eloquent but you get the gist. The book is a horror story with the idea being that you read it and don’t make deals with the devil / be God-fearing / baptise your kids. I’m not religious so that part didn’t spook me but the descriptions of the horrors that came to the villagers, terrifying. Jeremias Gotthelf was a pastor and this was much scarier than I anticipated from knowing that. 

It’s 100 pages but it took me a couple days to read, the language was pretty much what you’d expect from a book written 173 years ago then translated from German to English but where that would normally put me off- the story was enough to keep me turning the pages. Classics stay classics for a reason. It’s hard to review a book so different from what is normal these days, but I would recommend this book if you want to read something a little different or have an interest in the strange. I can see this being a great read for Halloween.

I bought this book as part of a collection on The Book People but unfortunately they aren’t selling it anymore. It is available on Amazon though! You can buy it here!

Have you ever read The Black Spider? What did you think?

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