(or, as a famous cousin of mine said) step into my parlor . . . if you dare.
I should introduce myself. I am Tegen Spinner-Silk. Tegen is short for Tegenaria Domestica. I belong to phylum Arthropoda, family Agelenidae, order Areneae, and class Arachnadi.
After some deliberation you may have come to the correct conclusion that I am not one of your species. If your interests include the study of biology or Latin, you may have realized that my most recognizable appellation is that of the common house spider.
Perhaps I should tell you a bit about my background. My family does not spin orb webs or funnel webs, but tangle webs, which are much less noticeable in a corner of a room. Our diet is principally flies and mites, so householders should welcome us in their house, but most don’t.
Humans are usually skittish when confronted by a spider. Many humans recoil in horror when they see a spider. A bloodcurdling scream is such a common reaction to my presence that I am barely bothered by this hysterical overreaction.
Please do not run away. . . you may find what I have to say most interesting. And if you are wondering about how I manage to write this, my front appendage dipped in ink makes an effective and efficient writing implement.
Perhaps you are surprised that a spider knows how to read and write? Such surprise is only to be expected of a human being. One of the most amusing characteristics of your species is your vast egotism. Humans equate brain size with intelligence. The discovery of the microchip should have swept away this idiotic notion, but humans are slow to make obvious associations.
I come from a venerable family of academics, for most of my ancestors dwelt in the hallowed halls of Oxford. My family always felt safe here—tangle webs blend in well with the Gothic architecture because of their asymmetry. We have resided in about thirty-one of the thirty-nine colleges, for the Oxford’s splendid Gothic designs and the architectural details such as tall ceilings and ornate decorations, provided a vast array of cubbyholes and corners safe from mops or brooms.
Because spiders typically live a life of contemplation, and have no desire for more than we need, humans assume we are stupid. But if you look at how much of this earth humans have destroyed by human ‘intelligence,’ you could conclude that spiders are not the stupid ones.
Spider culture, of course, is vastly different than that of earthbound bipeds, being principally an oral culture. Because our lifespan is so short, we spend most of it contemplating the knowledge of our past history (which includes thousands of thoughts from our ancestors), for this information is genetically encoded, just as spinning is. Since spiders are capable of such intricate internal creation, it should come as no surprise to the careful observer that we are the philosophers of this little universe.
Spiders can even communicate with each other over long distances, sending aerial messages on air currents. We have a tactile language we use for these missives, employing web silks for our alphabet, which consists of common knots and snarls.
Yesterday I received a letter from my cousin Dandelion in Austin. I should explain something before you read any further. Those of us with longer life spans (house spiders have a life span of four years) sometimes amuse ourselves by manipulating slow-thinking bipeds.
She told me all about where she lives at The University of Texas, but it sounds nothing like a real university, such as Oxford University. It is not old enough, for one thing. Buildings need to stand for hundreds of years before they acquire the correct musty aroma that is an aphrodisiac incense to my scholarly nose. Dandelion said they were forced to breathe cold recycled air most of the year, without a single whiff of dust or mildew, which sounds torturous.
She lives in the president’s office in the administrative building, which she refers to as the Tower, with a capital T. I have tried to teach her that only proper names deserve capitals, but she has never listened to me. This, the Tower, is a tall structure (It sounds ridiculously phallic to me) rather like an Egyptian obelisk, but bigger. Perhaps Texans worship the sun as the Egyptians do: that would explain that structure.
Her biped, she explains, is a very important person because he is the president of the University. Also, the ceiling of his office has the seal of Oxford on it, which she thought would lend the institution credence in my eyes. I am not going to mention it to her, of course, but any university that has to replicate the emblems of others can only be second-class. I would imagine that her biped is too.
The best kind of bipeds—and I think the most entertaining—are the ones who are writers. Writers respond instantly to a spider’s whispered suggestions, because most writers hate first drafts and enjoy hearing directions for plot, dialogue, and characters as they are typing.
Humans never understand these sudden flashes of inspiration, even when they acknowledge that they hear a voice telling them the story. It never occurs to them that the voice might be a genuine one, albeit one so small that it seems to come directly from their subconscious. Writers seldom notice the true source of their inspiration, a spider that is clinging to a collar, tucked under a button, or nestled under a hat.
My particular biped, Philip Pullman, certainly doesn’t. He went to Exeter College, and my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother enjoyed writing with him so much that she traveled inside his muffler when he left Exeter after graduation. Often spider families hand down favorite bipeds from generation to generation, and one of her descendents has resided with Pullman since then because he has an original mind, unfettered by prejudice and pedantry.
I have become fond of him. I do hope one of my descendents will continue assist his writing until his death, otherwise poor Pullman will wonder what happened to his sudden flashes of inspiration and his facility with words.
You hear such sad stories about humans who have been deserted by their spider families. I will stay with my biped until my death, especially since he has moved back to Oxford because of my subliminal suggestions.
I have long been curious about what Oxford was like. I wanted to see it with my own eyes and to explore my heritage. I realized if I could persuade Pullman to write a book with Oxford as the setting, he would visit his alma mater to refresh his memories. Once I convinced my biped, he became more and more excited about the project. This new fantasy revolves around Oxford, both the real one and an imaginary one I invented. It would be antithetical to Lewis’s and Tolkien’s Christian view of the universe, and would have a character who dares to battle God.
At Oxford, I was amazed by the graceful architecture of the buildings. When Pullman wandered into the Exeter College Chapel, I rubbed my front appendages together in delight. I couldn’t resist jumping off his head, crawling up a serpentine pillar, and swinging down from one of the high curved beams crisscrossing the ceiling, clinging to a piece of gossamer silk as my spirit soared with the inspirational surroundings. The rich colors in the stained-glass windows illuminated the grandeur and magnificence around me.
My biped was gaping at a Morris tapestry and muttering to himself about God and man. I felt a twinge of pride for him. Once I had convinced my biped of Oxford’s suitability as a setting, he immediately started working.
The new fantasy revolves around Oxford, both the real one and an imaginary one I invented. The story will be antithetical to Lewis’s and Tolkien’s Christian view of the world and will have a character who dares to battle God.
I am proud to follow the appendage prints of the many amazing spider fantasy writers from Oxford. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ( better known as Lewis Carroll), C. S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien are but a few bipeds that took credit for spider’s works.
Thinking about the young Reverend Charles Dodgson, who was a mathematics lecturer at Oxford, I almost feel sorry for the strange torment he must have experienced, this decorous young man of God, who suddenly started writing wild fantasy stories for children and collecting nude portraits of young girls. I am sure he agonized over the wild fancies that though his head.
He had an extremely pliable mind, and the Buttress family, Jerome especially, an impish spider that liked to relax behind Dodgson’s ear, loved to fluster the pious fellow. (Spiders have occasionally driven humans mad. One artist cut off his ear in an attempt to stop the voice he heard.)
Since Dodgson was snoring with his head on his desk when the first version of Alice in Wonderland was written, how did he explain the astonishing feat of writing a story in his sleep to himself? He told friends that “he had sat up all night recalling the details as he had related them to the Liddell girls and sketched an initial outline.” Maybe he convinced himself that that was what happened, for any other explanation would not have made sense to him. Even fantasy writers like their fantasy to stay between the covers of a book.
Pathetic Dodgson lived at Christ Church for forty-seven years, never marrying, until his death. I am sure he was astonished at some of the things he ‘wrote.’ His friends from Oxford were particularly surprised by his humor.
As one commented, “We all, however, I may safely say, sat in the same hall and some of us even at the same table as Dodgson without discovering (perhaps from our want of it) the wit, the peculiar humor that was in him.”
Another fantasy writer, Tolkien, was inspired by the Alcove family, a dreamy clan, and it is reputed to have been Gossamer who whispered the first sentence of The Hobbit to him while he was grading yet another tedious test paper for extra money.
After scoring a test, he looked around the room, and “suddenly his eye is drawn to the carpet close to one of the desk legs. He notices a tiny hole in the fabric and stares at it for long moments, day-dreaming. . . . and begins to write: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. . . 
What Tolkien did not realize is that Gossamer was hanging from her web telling a story to a trapped fly to calm him, and Tolkien overheard. She realized he had when he scribbled on a scrap of paper, ‘find out what hobbits are like.’
Since Tolkien was good friends with C. S. Lewis, and they met with a group of aspiring writers called the Inklings twice a week, Gossamer encouraged her sister Porcelain to help Lewis. Since the sisters were very competitive, they worked hard on their bipeds, resulting in books that are already considered classics. It is quite amazing what a few spiders manage to do when they put their minds to it.
After seeing Exeter College, with its intricate carvings and soaring designs, I realized why the setting of Oxford encouraged fantasy writers. When the walls enclosing you are covered with stories, you are inspired to spin more than webs.
I find the rarified air inspirational, and I think I will be inspired to even greater flights of fancy as I help my biped’s fumbling fingers get the story down.
That is all I have to report right now. I hope you have enjoyed yourself. And I hope that you enjoy the rest of your short life.
Short? Yes, short.
Spiders have to protect themselves, after all. It wouldn’t do for others bipeds to know about this.
So, as I said, enjoy yourself. Notice the world around you while you can.