Former student, Sarah Abery, has declared that she will never outgrow her love of spiders. They are rather marvelous, and I do love the stories of Grandmother Spider, including the one that Elizabeth Ellis gave me permission to include on my CD.
Then there’s Charlotte’s Web — what’s not to love! One Halloween I put a fake spiderweb on my classroom window, and wrote Awesome in dry erase marker — most of my high school students got the literary reference.
Here’s my story, written many years ago . . .
Princess Joy’s Secret Fear
by Mary Garrett
“Hurrah for Princess Joy,” shouted the crowd, happy to be rescued from the fire-breathing dragon.
“Leave this kingdom in peace, dragon,” commanded the brave princess, as the dragon meekly crawled away. To herself Joy thought, “If they knew the truth, they would be laughing, not cheering.”
The truth was, the brave princess Joy was afraid of one thing — spiders. She could not go near a spider, or even look at one. She had to leave the room if she saw one, even if she was doing important work. If she saw one on the path in the garden, she would have to go another way, usually making up a story to cover up the truth.
How could she ever explain to anyone that she, who was afraid of nothing, could be afraid of a such a small creature? She kept silent, feeling more and more ashamed of herself, as people gave her awards for her courage and her brave deeds.
Finally, she decided she must tell someone, and perhaps find a solution to her problem. She went to her father the king, who was choosing jewels for his new crown.
“Father,” she said, “I need to talk with you if you have time.”
“Daughter, of course I have time for you,” he smiled. “Why, you are more precious to me than all the jewels in all the crowns in all the world.”
“Father, you may think this is a foolish problem,” she began, “but perhaps you can help me solve it. I am terribly afraid of . . . of spiders.” She shuddered as she said the word.
“Oh, my little one,” he chuckled. “Such a silly you are to let a thing like that bother you. You are too brave anyway, for a girl.”
“Father, please be serious,” she replied. “I don’t want to act cute and helpless. I am a leader in this kingdom, and there is serious work to be done. How can the people count on me if they find out I’m afraid of a little thing like a spider? Help me!”
“I really don’t know how to help you,” he frowned. “I’ve never been afraid of spiders myself. Don’t you think you are making too much of this, though? Why don’t you just forget about it and go on about your business?”
“I can’t; I really can’t,” she replied. “It’s a weakness. A princess should be perfect. Don’t you have any ideas to help me?”
“No,” the king muttered, “no, I don’t think so . . . but maybe some of your girlfriends could help.”
“I don’t think so, Father.”
“Well, perhaps your mother would have an idea,” he suggested.
“You know how old-fashioned Mother is,” she pouted. “She would just tell me to stick to my needlework.”
“True, true. Of course, I have always thought that was a part of her charm. Since you are determined to be a strong, brave leader in this kingdom, I will try to help you any way I can. Why don’t we make a list of people you know who are not afraid of insects, and ask each of them for their secrets?”
“But I can’t do that without letting˛ them know how afraid I am,” Joy argued, “and what if they just say like you did, ‘I just never gave it any thought’?”
“I see your point,” replied the king. “Let me ask around for you. Someone should know something. Meanwhile, why don’t you relax and find something pleasant to do. Maybe you should study your French. The ambassador from France will be attending the next court ball.”
“Oui (we), papa,” Joy sighed sadly.
Princess Joy went to her room to think. She felt like a liar. Everyone thought she was brave, but she knew she was a coward. Sooner or later, people would find out. Then they would make fun of the great dragon-fighter who was afraid of spiders.
Sadly, Princess Joy rested her cheek on her hand and let out one long, sad sigh.
“Why are you sad?” asked a very quiet little voice.
“What? Who said that?” replied Joy, looking all around for another person in her room. “Tell me who you are and where you are. Tell me right now!” she commanded.
“I can’t tell you that right now,” said the little voice. “Please tell me your problem. Maybe I can help.”
Joy thought the voice was coming from the picture of her grandmother which was sitting on her dressing table. She stared at it for a moment, and then whispered, “Grandmother? Grandmother, is it you speaking? Do you know how to help me? Oh, I knew if I could talk to you, you would help me. You always knew everything.”
“I’ll try to help you, if you’ll tell me about your trouble,” answered the tiny little voice, and it seemed to Joy that her grandmother’s mouth moved.
She was so excited that she almost didn’t know how to begin, but she managed to tell her story. When she had finished, there was a short pause before the small voice spoke again.
“Joy,” the voice began, “it seems to me that you are being too hard on yourself. There is a very good reason for your fear, and it isn’t a sign of weakness at all. You just need to think about it a little. What is the important thing about your fighting a dragon?”
Joy thought and answered carefully, “Well, dragons are large and powerful and dangerous. If I don’t stop them, they could hurt a lot of people.”
“Good, Joy,” replied the tiny little voice. “Now, what bad thing will happen if you run away from the spiders?”
“Well, nothing really bad would happen,” replied Joy. “I would be embarrassed if anyone found out, but no one would get hurt.”
“Are spiders powerful and dangerous?”
“No, of course not,” answered Joy. “They are tiny. Most of them can’t hurt anyone, and even the ones that bite don’t chase people. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.”
“In fact,” added the small voice, “most spiders are helpless, aren’t they? They are a lot like the people you save from the dragons. What is the result of your fear of the spiders?”
“Well, I just quietly leave the place where they are.”
“And when you leave, your friends also leave, don’t they?”
“And when all the people leave, the spider is safer, right?”
“Why, yes!” answered Joy. “Of course it is, because there aren’t any people there to step on it or smash it. It sounds silly, but my fear of spiders protects the spiders, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” replied the voice, “and it isn’t silly at all. Spiders are very important in the natural balance of things, eating insects that might cause problems. Spiders are soft and easily hurt. We need protection as much as any ‘damsel in distress.'”
“Yeah, I guess so, Grandma,” mused Joy. “Wait a minute! What did you mean ‘We need protection’? Who are you?”
“Before I tell you,” answered the voice, “you have to promise me not to be afraid of spiders anymore, and not to hurt them, either.”
“Of course I won’t hurt any spiders,” said Joy. “I only hurt things that are dangerous and have to be chased away. I won’t know about being afraid, though, until the next time I see a spider.”
“Well, that might be pretty soon,” answered the voice. “If you think you are ready, just look behind the picture frame. Take a deep breath first, though.”
Joy took a very deep breath and looked behind her grandma’s picture.
There was a little, tiny spider, who had just spun a little, tiny web behind the picture frame. Joy caught her breath, let it out slowly, and WASN’T AFRAID!
“See?” said the little spider. “It’s hard to be afraid of someone you’ve talked with. Any other problems I can help you with?”
“Not right now,” replied Joy. “You’ve done plenty for one day, but please stay. You are a good friend. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Just one thing. Could you please chase that mosquito over this way? If I have her for dinner, she won’t be munching on you later.”
“It’s nice having someone protecting me for a change,” laughed Joy.