“I take my hat off to you — or I would, if I were not afraid of showering you in spiders.”
June was an interesting month in Winnipeg – hot weather, then cool weather; dry periods with the relief of occasional rain. It sounds like the perfect Manitoba spring. But wait, what are those tiny things crawling on the lawn chair you wanted to sit on in the sun? The small black things covering your car? Welcome to cankerworm season. The time of year where getting in your car might require some serious brushing off, and where the eco-alternative, cycling, involves dodging (or not) curtains of worms!
One afternoon I tried doggedly to brave this year’s hoards and swept off my deck and, broom in hand, hauled out my laptop and sat down. This was interrupted every few minutes by a fresh sweep. By the end of the afternoon I felt like I was positively crawling. This got me thinking to a book I had read, that had me crawling in a fairly major way, The Lost City of Z.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon is an Amazonian adventure story. It chronicles different real life searches for the mythical lost city of Z, alternating between the different adventurers. In 1925 Percy Fawcett, his son, and the rest of his party, ventured into the Amazon hoping to make a huge historical discovery. But the whole party disappeared, and over the ensuing decades, many scientists and adventure seekers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party, often coming to tragic ends themselves. The description of the natural world, especially the insect part, is more than vivid. Before I read it I had no idea you could lose a whole backpack in a matter of hours to hoards of ants!
Spiders and I are not the best of friends – I am able to sort of deal with small, non-hairy, non-creepy-with-legs-radiating-from-the-centre kind. Spiders in literature can be pretty cheerful and wise, like Charlotte, whom Wilbur befriends in Charlotte’s Web. But more often they are dark and frightening. The Lord of the Ring’s Shelob fits this bill perfectly – a sort of evil personified (If you LOVE J.R.R. Tolkien then check out Ungoliath in The Silmarillion– she makes Shelob feel almost tame). Then there is Aragog, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. A sort of sad case, accused wrongly, and loved by Hagrid, he wasn’t quite as scary as some of his literary peers.
Stephen King apparently lists spiders as one of his top fears, but it hasn’t stopped him from including them in some of his novels – they show up in both It and the Dark Tower series. Neil Gaiman includes not one, but thousands of spiders, in his novel Anansi Boys.
Winner of the 2016 Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time includes both ants and spiders. It is the epic story of humanity’s battle for survival on a terraformed planet, but the planet is already populated by an empire of accidentally scientifically evolved spiders!
In Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects, Stewart has uncovered the most terrifying and titillating stories of bugs gone wild. It’s an A to Z of insect enemies, interspersed with sections that explore bugs with kinky sex lives (“She’s Just Not That Into You”), creatures lurking in the cupboard (“Fear No Weevil”), insects eating your tomatoes (“Gardener’s Dirty Dozen”), and phobias that feed our (sometimes) irrational responses to bugs (“Have No Fear”).
As much as insects and other arthropods might make us squirm and crawl, the cold hard truth is that we couldn’t live on this planet without them!