Behind “Spider Dance”

“Spider Dance” wasn’t the story I set out to write when I decided to follow Nerelos (the main character from “Ley of the Minstrel”) into the lands of the Spider Lords. I had a vague idea of a bunch of evil spiders similar to Tolkien’s Shelob or Ungoliant. It was very, very vague.

Spiders. Hmm. Things I knew about spiders: they spin webs and they eat other bugs. Lots of eyes and legs. They can move fast and the stubby ones jump. A spider frightened Little Miss Muffet. An itsy-bitsy one climbed up a waterspout. I played with daddy-long-legs when I was a kid, and I still capture the occasional wolf spider in the house to set it free in the garden so it can eat other pestiferous bugs that annoy me.

Not enough to fill a story.

The trouble with research is that sometimes you find yourself fascinated by the subject totally aside from finding what you need to write a story.

My foray into arachnology left me amazed and humbled by the little creatures that inhabit our world. Did I think I had imagination? Hah — what a joke! One look at the anatomy of a spider, at the microscopic photographs of the tiniest hairs or the fangs on them boggled my mind. A table of spider silk’s tensile strength compared with other materials (such as rope, nylon, or steel) blew my feeble creativity away.

Things I now know about spiders:
Their blood is somewhat clear and faintly blue-tinted because it contains copper rather than iron as ours does.
They can regenerate body parts, even vital organs under some circumstances, during subsequent moultings.
Some spiders can rearrange their retinas as they look at different things.
Some have more intelligence than others. The little jumping spiders can change strategy when they are hunting according to what the prey is doing; sometimes they watch us, seemingly with interest.
There are pirate spiders that prey on other spiders by mimicking web-touching rituals of courtship or prey.
Some spiders fast for incredibly long periods prior to moulting.
Clean cobwebs can be used for impromptu bandages for cuts.
Spiders hear by interpreting air movement touching the complex hairs on their legs.
In some parts of the world, spiders are kept for the sport of spider fights.

The list goes on.

Think of it — real creatures stranger and more astounding than any fictional alien. We only notice them when they startle us or when we clean their abandoned webs from corners. I found myself reluctant to vilify them, to present them as nothing more than spawns of hell. It’s hard to do when research leads to respect.

Final note. In spite of all I learned, I didn’t rush out to purchase a pet tarantula. That will never happen. Probably.

“Ley of the Minstrel” and “Spider Dance” are available in my short story collection:
Leyfarers and Wayfarers

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