Infectious Fiction #8
This is Post Eight of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.
To paraphrase the pig triumvirate of George Orwell’s Animal Farm:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
- Whatever goes upon eight legs, is a stranger.
Two legs, bad; four legs, good; eight legs, well…?
What has eight legs? Spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites and the microscopic moss piglets tardigrades. Not the best start.
But what else has eight legs? Odin’s flying horse Sleipnir And you can keep your Pegasus and your Shadowfax; in Norse mythology, Sleipnir is described as the best of all horses. He is also the son of Loki and the stallion Svaðilfari. (It’s complicated.)
Spiders mostly have a reputation for being gruesome and ghastly. There’s Shelob in the Lord of the Rings, as well as her mother, Ungoliant. And there’s Aragog and his spawn in the Harry Potter series.
But there’s also Charlotte A. Cavatica — yes, that’s her full name — of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The book was published in 1952, and according to Publishers Weekly, it is the best-selling children’s paperback of all time. That didn’t stop the fine people of Kansas from banning the book in 2006 because “taking animals are blasphemous and unnatural.” (They probably wouldn’t approve of the Charlotte’s Web brand of CBD either.) A Hanna-Barbera animation followed in 1973, and a live action feature in 2006, starring Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte.
Charlotte befriends Wilbur, the runt of his litter and a pig bound for slaughter. She hatches a plan to make the farmer and his family keep Wilbur around forever.
Elegant prose for children (and adults) about death, change, love and friendship. In The New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”
After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
E.B. White was also the co-author of The Elements of Style, which Time magazine named as one of the most influential books written in English. As provided in the Elements:
- Omit needless words
- Use active voice
- Use parallel construction on concepts that are parallel
It’s probably no coincidence that White knows how to write. (Did I need ‘probably’? Was that passive tense?)
But enough about books; let’s round out our Eight films with seven more flicks with, or inspired by, spiders:
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo and Sam try to sneak into Mordor through Shelob’s lair in Cirith Ungol.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy may not like snakes, but Satipo sure doesn’t like spiders.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Lots of Spideys, not too many spiders. The best Spider-Man movie in years.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Spiders attack Death-Eaters and Hogwartians alike.
- Throne of Blood (1957). Kurosawa’s adaptation of Macbeth, entitled Spider Web Castle in Japanese.
- 12 Monkeys (1995). James Cole goes back in time to stop a world-killing virus. He eats a spider for research.
- Big Fish (2003). Edward Bloom, in trying to reconcile with his father, runs through a forest, escaping giant spiders.
Not interested in eight legged beasties? Then try one of these prose works, each published between the years 1982 and 1991, with links mostly to Watchung Booksellers. (The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh posts were to works published between 1992 and 2020.)
The Tojo Virus by John D. Randall. 1991. When Zack Colby returns from a business trip on the verge of a nervous breakdown, his worried wife contacts the FBI, which learns that Colby’s condition is related to a Japanese plot to infiltrate a megacorporation and take over America.
The Treblinka Virus by Robert B. Litman. 1990. The last survivor, the only person alive whose blood contains the Treblinka Virus, the true panacea of the plague, travels from Ottawa to Washington, much of the way on foot.
Virus by Peter Caine. 1989. One-time actor forms a secret cult that targets the peaceful town of Brisbane with a lethal virus that begins to kill the community’s inhabitants, one by one.
The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman. 1989. An actress secretly has an immunity to the viruses routinely used to educate people. Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
Journals of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad. 1988. The Plague’s origins were mysterious, but its consequences were all too obvious: quarantined cities, safe-sex machines, Sex Police, the outlawing of old-fashioned love. From, what some consider, the most controversial author of the New Wave movement.
Wild Cards I (expanded) edited by George R. R. Martin & Melinda Snodgrass. 1987. An alien virus rewrites DNA and mutates survivors. Those who survive and acquire crippling or repulsive physical conditions are known as Jokers. Those who acquire superhuman abilities, Aces. Hulu is developing two series based on the series. The Beamers’ non-meeting notes on the book.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 1985. Dr. Juvenal Urbino is committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works. Magical realism from the Nobel Prize winning author.
The White Plague by Frank Herbert. 1982. After a molecular biologist’s family is killed by an IRA terrorist, he creates a plague that kills only women, but for which men are the carriers. From the author of Dune.
Marburg Virus by Stanley Johnson. 1982. A girl dies from a rare disease, so rare that it can only be recognized by a doctor from the U. S. Government’s top-secret facilities at the DC.
Sources: Bookshop Blog, Electric Literature, Entertainment, Esquire, Haaretz, Headstuff, iNews, New York Times, Penguin Random House, The Star, Vanity Fair, The Virology Bookshop, Vulture, What Should I Read Next?