Friday, August 21, 2009

Suspect Hospitality

The Spider and the Fly
by Mary Howitt, illustrated by Tony Diterlizzi
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ©2002

The Spider and the Fly
is Tony Diterlizzi's delightfully creepy modern reworking of the 1829 cautionary tale by early romantic poet Mary Howitt. "Will you walk into my parlor?" asks the Spider of the Fly; a now-classic opening salvo in a story meant to warn children to be careful and observant of seemingly well-meaning strangers.

Diterlizzi's illustrations are packed with wonderfully subtle, terrible details on every page. The visual narrative is intricate, which adds value to repeat readings - even the wallpaper and curtains are drawn with wry, sardonic humor and a gallows mentality, and grisly easter-eggs abound. Despite the parable quality of the original poem, the anthropomorphized characters re-enforce the depth of horror: this is a story of seduction and murder, and may not be suitable for children who don't already have a fairly morbid sense of humor and a decent conceptual grasp of death.

Reading this book aloud, I found myself drawn subconsciously into imitating the sonorous, gravelly voice of Christopher Lee - the softly glowing font demands as much. The Spider, with his dangerous, rolling eyes and oily smile, channels Vincent Price, one of the kings of silent horror, and the Fly is reminiscent of Greta Schröder and Louise Brooks. Naturally, these details will be lost on young readers, but it's never too late to introduce these classic gems to your burgeoning horror afficionado's repertoire.

If the name sounds familiar, that's because Tony Diterlizzi is the co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles with another author of gothic children's stories, Holly Black (whose work will inevitably be reviewed here as well). Geekery: Diterlizzi got his start with gaming company TSR, working on Dungeons & Dragons books, and moved on to Magic: the Gathering when TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast. There's also a fascinating picture of former First Lady Laura Bush reading The Spider and the Fly on the illustrator's wikipedia page.

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