The Spider and the Fly
Now Learn from the Parable . . . .
Copyright 1999 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino
parable, metaphor, symbol, icon, myth, epic, type — all of
these words relate to the idea of communicating intangibles by means
of the tangible, and all are used in Scripture, both Old and New
Testaments, to communicate many times in many ways the sublime truth
of God’s love, justice, and redemptive plan. All too often,
however, Christians today seem afraid of imagination, afraid that if
we speak an eternal truth in the transitory words of human stories,
we somehow betray God’s Word. Nothing could be further from
the truth. Think of the images God uses as he describes Himself as a
lover wooing his estranged spouse (Hosea 11), a pillar of fire
guiding His people (Exodus 33); a mother hen protecting her chicks
(Matt. 23), the Sovereign from whom come a tree and river of life
rob ourselves and our children of a profound experience with the
divine when we retreat from imaginative ways of communicating God’s
truth. There is nothing unbiblical or untruthful about stories that,
in the very vehicles of imagination, bring us to the truth of God.
C. S. Lewis remarked, “The Fantastic or Mythical is a Mode . .
. [that] has the same power: to generalise while remaining concrete,
to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but
whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at
its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had
and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life’, can add to it”
(On Stories, 48).
more than five hundred years English literature has celebrated and
proclaimed the truth of God in imaginative stories that have provided
unforgettable scripture lessons to millions. From the transformation
of Beowulf as Christian epic to the realms of Middle Earth as
Christian myth, stories captivate readers of all ages and bring us
spiritual insight, experience, and challenge like nothing else. Take
the following example from children’s literature. The
Spider and the Fly, composed in the nineteenth century by a
remarkable Christian author and apologist, Mary Howitt, has provided
countless children and adults with an indelible understanding of the
seductive power of self-centeredness and pride. (Thanks to CRI
librarian Valerie Julius for finding the complete text of this
currently unappreciated story.)
Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
I have many curious things to show when you are there.”
no, no,” said the little fly; “to ask me is in vain,
who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high.
you rest upon my little bed?” said the spider to the fly.
are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
if you like to rest a while, I’ll snugly tuck you in!”
no, no,” said the little fly, “for I’ve often heard
never, never wake again who sleep upon your bed!”
the cunning spider to the fly: “Dear friend, what can I do
prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
have within my pantry good store of all that’s nice;
sure you’re very welcome — will you please to take a
no, no,” said the little fly; “kind sir, that cannot be:
heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”
creature!” said the spider, “you’re witty and
handsome are your gauzy wings; how brilliant are your eyes!
have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf;
you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
thank you gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re
pleased to say,
bidding you good-morning now, I’ll call another day.”
spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
well he knew the silly fly would soon come back again:
he wove a subtle web in a little corner sly,
set his table ready to dine upon the fly;
came out to his door again, and merrily did sing:
hither, hither, pretty fly, with pearl and silver wing;
robes are green and purple; there’s a crest upon your head;
eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”
alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
only of her brilliant eyes and green and purple hue,
only of her crested head. Poor, foolish thing! at last
jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast;
dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den --
his little parlor — but she ne’er came out again!
now, dear little children, who may this story read,
idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed;
an evil counsellor close heart and ear and eye,
take a lesson from this tale of the spider and the fly.