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Arachne Speaks

by Kate Hovey, Blair Drawson, illus.

American first-time author Kate Hovey grimly retells the Greek myth explaining the origin of spiders in Arachne Speaks. When Arachne the weaver is punished by Athena for her hubris as an artist, manifested dramatically in her mocking depiction of the deities in her tapestries, she hangs herself from a tree. At the point of death, Athena condemns Arachne to an eternity as a spider.

Canadian artist Blair Drawson’s illustrations echo the sombre tone of the myth. Arachne’s expressions are almost invariably defiant, never revealing joy in creating tapestries that exceed Athena’s, although she’s risking everything for them. Drawson displays a sly humour, however, in his depiction of the offending tapestries. His preening Apollo is particularly droll.

The unusual illustrations depict almost columnar figures with long limbs and spiky black eyelashes that seem to presage Arachne’s fate. The paintings seem too stiff and stylized to appeal to children, but my two-year-old was fascinated.

Kate Hovey relays the myth in rhyming verse dialogue. Arachne is narrator, but Athena is granted a voice to tell her version of events. At its best, Hovey’s imagery is almost Ovidian: sophisticated, elegant, savage. When Athena commands the wind to tear Arachne’s work to pieces, Hovey compares the fragments to tattered sails and floating dry leaves, reminding readers of the Mediterranean setting.

Hovey highlights the myth’s humanist theme. In her version, we are meant not to censure Arachne for her pride, but to sympathize with her rejection of the flawed gods who exact submission from mortals. Even the affronted Athena recognizes herself in Arachne’s bold strength. However, despite the feisty protagonist, this retelling left me cold, never fully igniting my emotions.


Reviewer: Philippa Sheppard

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Distican


Price: $26.5

Page Count: 40 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-689-82901-9

Released: Feb.

Issue Date: 2001-5


Age Range: ages 10+