Ask the Trope Fairy: Some Spider
Ask the Trope Fairy is an advice column for characters navigating science fiction and fantasy realms. In this dimension, advice is published on alternate Fridays.
Dear Trope Fairy,
My family and I have never seen eye to eye about a friend of mine I’ll call “Willy.” He’s a pig, and I barely convinced my father not to kill him the day he was born just because he’s the runt of the litter! I had to wrestle the ax out of his hand and beg him not to kill Willy just because he can’t help being so small. Papa did agree, and he let me raise Willy for awhile and then my uncle took him to his farm. I still visit Willy, who has made some new friends in the barn that also welcome me.
These friends have really worried my mother, especially when I started talking about the spider “Sherry.” It’s so strange, because really she’s the best role model of the bunch! But she seems to be the bridge too far for my mother, who acts like having animal friends who trust me enough to talk to me is a dangerous delusion.
I almost understood, since I haven’t seen the animals talk to adults, so I thought it was just because adults had forgotten. I was afraid for a long time that it would happen to me some day. Is it inevitable? Is it just what happens when you grow up? Or if the animals never trusted my parents, maybe it just makes sense that they’d think it wasn’t real.
But what about when they see proof that everyone, even adults, can’t deny?
You see, Sherry spun words in her web to try to help Willy. Her plan is to make everyone think he’s a special pig by writing it down in her web. And all the adults accept it! The preacher even called it a true miracle on Sunday…so why is mother still so alarmed when I tell her that Sherry made it for Willy because they’re friends? That I was there when they planned the whole thing? That they’re working together throughout the barn to find the next word?
Why is a miracle possible but the talking spider who did the miracle is impossible? Why can’t they see what’s happening? How do I convince her to stop worrying about me? I don’t want to undermine the miracle because it could help save Willy but…is there any way I can get through to her? Or just understand why she can’t see what’s right in front of her eyes?
Friend of The Miracle-Worker
Dear Friend of,
I get a lot of letters asking me how to deal with parents who don’t understand the magical world around you. Sometimes it’s just skepticism, because, like you say, they never had an experience like that / have always had a very different experience of animals. More often, I find that parents don’t want to believe in magic — or even just talking animals — because of their fear of the danger involved or their inability to let go of their old place in the narrative and realize that your adventures have just begun.
But I think your family’s case falls under a different heading. One that reminds me a touch of the mother who wrote to me about Thanksgiving. This is a hard thing to understand, but you have been dealing with it, in truth, from the first moment you and Willy came into each other’s lives.
Your parents do not see Willy as a Person in the same way you do. You must have known this from the very first argument over the ax. If you have not only never heard animals speak but never imagined that anyone else could hear them, then it’s very easy to classify all animals as Not People. And humans are capable of doing any number of awful things to Not People without feeling guilty.
And there is resistance to any evidence — even miraculous but clearly-written evidence — that the ones they have thought of as Not People might be People After All.
Sadly, this resistance will be fierce and possibly unbreakable.
I can tell you that a great many smart and powerful people have struggled to change hearts and minds on this issue. Tackling this stubborn unbelief would likely be the work of your entire life if you undertook it. It doesn’t have to be, but that is the uphill battle you would be in for if you chose it.
This letter mostly asks for help understanding why your family feels this way, so I will focus there. It’s a good beginning if you do undertake the work of changing hearts and minds, but it can also just be a way to live in their house without feeling like you’re losing your grip on reality.
This is the reality of your family: they are farmers. They use the animals they house on their farms for their livelihoods. They sell and eat both the products of the animals’ bodies and the animals themselves. This is how they survive.
If they stopped doing this, they would likely lose their home. Their land. What has been in their family for generations. They would not be able to feed you and/or any other children or themselves. They would fall into disaster.
If your family came to know that the animals you converse with are truly People — sentient beings with as much right to life, liberty, and compassion as themselves — then it would destroy their livelihoods. But it would also destroy how they see themselves. They are farmers, salt-of-the-earth. They are good, kind people who would never have killed other People for a living.
Believing that a spider can form a complex plan will call into question every time they crushed a spider in their home. Believing that she concocted this plan with the geese and the pig and the cows would force them to reconsider every meat-based meal they ever consumed.
They would lose their identity, their way of making money, their way of protecting you, and their sense of themselves as good people.
That cost is so high. They will do anything not to see it.
That may not sound like reason enough to endanger People like your barnyard friends, and it isn’t. But can you see how the cost for them reconsidering their worldview is so high that they will always prefer to believe in isolated miracles and childish imaginations? The cost would be so steep, the consequences so far reaching, the potential disaster to the family so great, that your family will do everything in their power NOT to see the truth that you see.
They are not consciously sitting down and planning to disbelieve you, of course. They are not convincing themselves of this in thought and word. This is all happening beneath the surface, where they dare not look.
But beneath the surface, their brains are working overtime to come up with reasons why they don’t need to sit down and reexamine everything they thought they knew, just because a miracle appeared in a spiderweb. They would rather believe in an isolated miracle because it would require much less change. They will work very hard indeed not to pry any further.
It will be just as frustrating to argue with them, but if you can understand what believing you would cost them, perhaps you can understand why they just want you to stop talking about your friends. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it would cost them so much to realize that you are telling the truth.
The sad truth is that any time you see someone deny the obvious truth, it’s usually because they are afraid to let their world change. Your world is bigger and wider and more wonderful than theirs. Perhaps, over time, you can help them to share it. But you won’t get there by arguing or telling them things they are determined to dismiss. You’ll have to find ways to slowly let them into your wonderful secret.
And if they won’t join in, you’ll have to find a way to live with the truth you know and they refuse to know. You have a strong heart and a good heart. Keep pulling the ax out of the hands of the adults, and you don’t have to lose the world the animals have entrusted you to share.
Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and the Interdimensional Meta — Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached by approaching the nearest vegan and asking them “to deliver it through the earth to where it needs to go” because, ironically, they are much more in touch with the animal kingdom. Please use those exact words, they have been calibrated to require the least amount of follow up engagement. It shouldn’t be hard to find your closest vegan. They never shut up about it.