The Spider

When I was in third grade, my father brought home a beautiful 2 volume edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, illustrated by Alfred Kubin.

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The genre name Horror Story describes very unsatisfactorily what Poe accomoplishes. The conventional horror story utilizes a simple scheme: It wins our trust by first presenting a plausible scenario, and then abuses this trust in order to get away with less plausible events.

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In Poe’s best stories, this is not the case. The horror story is happening in the protagonist’s mind, and we become afraid that this same horror might as well infest our own brains.

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There are a few European stories that achieve the same effect, and one of them is Hanns Heinz Ewers’ story The Spider, from 1915. In it, the tenant of a small apartment starts to play a game with a woman in a window across the street: They make movements with their hands, which the other is supposed to copy. The narrator, whose diary we read, is at first surprised how quickly his neighbor can repeat his own movements, until he realizes that he is in fact, against his own will, only repeating the movements of the neighbor.

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This realization comes too late, obviously. No good horror story can end well. The same is true for Hanns Heinz Ewers himself, unfortunately. Despite having understood the machinations of manipulation, he fell under the spell of  a much larger spider, even though he didn’t share their racial ideology, had conflicting sexual preferences, and his books were banned.

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