20 best genre fiction writers from other countries to expand your horizons

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The Black Spider (Cover image via New York Review Books Classics)

7. Jeremias Gotthelf

It’s true that Swiss author Jeremias Gotthelf wrote his best-known work, The Black Spider, in 1842. That said, don’t let the vintage of this novella throw you off. The Black Spider is one of the earliest examples of “weird fiction,” where the strange and surreal start to leak into our mundane, everyday lives.

Yes, there is also a spider. It is, frankly, a really, really bad spider that may or may not be connected to the devil. If you’re especially arachnophobic, now is the time to just click on through to the next slide.

The story begins at a christening party held at a family farm. The godmother of the newly christened child can’t help but notice that, although the farmhouse is newly built, it contains a very old black post. When she asks about it, the family’s grandfather launches into a truly frightening tale.

Devils and spiders

He tells her and the other partygoers that, centuries ago, the village had been ruled by a hard and unfeeling knight. The knight, Hans von Stoffeln, makes increasingly difficult demands of the local peasants. It gets so bad that the villagers must choose between following von Stoffeln’s orders and going hungry, or rebelling.

This is where the devil comes in. He appears, offering to help the villagers in exchange for an unbaptized infant. A farmer’s wife agrees, but thinks they can all thwart the devil by baptizing every infant immediately after their birth. It being centuries ago, the poor wife didn’t have the benefit of numerous fictional works where the devil always gets his due.

Eventually, horrible things happen to the wife, and she turns into a vicious spider. One mother eventually captures the spider and seals it up in an old window post. Over the course of the centuries, multiple villagers must recapture the spider and return it to its prison — down to the day of the christening party itself.

Though The Black Spider is very much of its time, with themes of Christian redemption and more than a little judgment heaped upon the outspoken farmer’s wife, it’s still worth a read.