“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”
— Virginia Woolf
Possibly the imperceptibility of these attachments is why we allow fiction to reflect our lives more accurately sometimes than the ‘true’ stories that we tell…
Tonight I’ve been reading some of the mythological stories about Anansi, the spider, a trickster deity from West African and American folklore. Not terribly surprising, I found that a rather famous story that I’ve recounted here before, one that Uncle Remus told about Br’er Rabbit, was originally about Anansi
Anansi and the Tar-Baby
Once Mrs. Anansi had a large feed. She planted it with peas. Anansi was so lazy he would never do any work. He was afraid that they would give him none of the peas, so he pretended to be sick. After about nine days, he called his wife an’ children an’ bid them farewell, tell them that he was about to die, an’ he ask them this last request, that they bury him in the mids’ of the peas-walk, but firs’ they mus’ make a hole thru the head of the coffin an’ also in the grave so that he could watch the peas for them while he was lying there. An’ one thing more, he said, he would like them to put a pot and a little water there at the head of the grave to scare the thieves away. So he died and was buried.
All this time he was only pretending to be dead, an’ every night at twelve o’clock he creep out of the grave, pick a bundle of peas, boil it, and after having a good meal, go back in the grave to rest. Mistress Anansi was surprised to see all her peas being stolen. She could catch the thief no-how. One day her eldest son said to her, “Mother, I bet you it’s my father stealing those peas!” At that Mrs. Anansi got into a temper, said, “How could you expect your dead father to rob the peas!” Said, “Well, mother, I soon prove it to you.” He got some tar an’ he painted a stump at the head of the grave an’ he put a hat on it.
When Anansi came out to have his feast as usual, he saw this thing standing in the groun’. He said, “Good-evening, sir!” got no reply. Again he said, “Good-evening, sir!” an’ still no reply. “If you don’ speak to me I’ll kick you!” He raise his foot an’ kick the stump an’ the tar held it there like glue. “Let me go, let me go
sir, or I’ll knock you down with my right hand!” That hand stuck fast all the same. I’ll you don’ let me go, I’ll hit you with my lef’ hand!” That hand stick fas’ all the same. An’ he raise his lef’ foot an’ gave the stump a terrible blow. That foot stuck. Anansi was suspended in air an’ had to remain there till morning. Anansi was so ashamed that he climb up beneath the rafters an’ there he is to this day.
— Stanly Jones, Claremont South Ann from Jamaican Anansi Stories collected by Martha Warren Beckwith