During one of my recent re-reads of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I noticed that spiders and their characteristics seem to have a big impact on Jo’s brilliant plot. One of the amazing things about Harry Potter is that although Jo is educated in the classics, she makes extensive use of many different fields in her writing, taking bits and pieces from each, combining them and making them her own. This is one of the reasons I believe that the Harry Potter series should be considered very good literature.
There are countless spider references all over the first six books, including the spiders in Harry’s cupboard,1 the spiders leading Harry and Ron to Aragog2 and the spiders in the Weasleys’ broom shed.3 What I will do in this essay is to analyse some of the spiders and the spidery characters I consider important for the future plot and give details of what might be expected of them in Book 7. I will exclude spider symbology, Tarot and astrology. Instead I will take a more literal than literary view of spiders. But I think – and hope you will agree – that this will prove useful. So let’s delve right into the topic.
Spiders have many characteristics that make them among the most feared creatures on earth. While some spiders can be harmful, some are benevolent and useful to humans and other animals alike. Some characteristics of spiders are:
A. They are creatures that many people fear. Take Ron Weasley4 and Rupert Grint5 for examples! Even people who do not suffer from true arachnophobia are often wary of spiders.
B. They are very busy, hardworking (webs!) and move very quickly. It is a common misconception that all spiders build webs. Most do, however, and for this reason spiders are associated with web-spinning.6,7
C. They have eight eyes and therefore have a very different kind of vision than humans. But spiders seem to be good examples for quantity not being a guarantee of quality. Their visual senses are underdeveloped compared to humans because they mainly perceive their circumstances through mechanical senses. Their feeling of vibration is more pronounced than that of humans; they sort of get the idea of their circumstances whereas humans see their circumstances.8 So compared to humans, spiders see badly regarding shapes and colours.
D. They feed on insects, so basically they help to get rid of household pests. It’s said that where spiders are, there is a good atmosphere for living.9
E. They bite, and some of those bites are poisonous. From the 38,000 species of spiders worldwide 20 are poisonous or quite dangerous to humans.10 That is very few actually, but if you’re bitten by one of them you won’t care about the statistics, will you?
F. They are predators. Some hunt without a web and others wait in the middle of their webs for prey to come along. Most of them attack their prey and stun it with a kind of poison before injecting a digestion secretion which destroys the organs. Then they feed on this “pap”.11
Not all of these characteristics apply to the entire species. For example, not all spiders build webs. I chose those characteristics which are correct for some families of spiders AND are often associated with these creatures. With that said, I will continue naming the real spiders as well as the “spidery” characters in Harry’s world to analyse with regard to the points A to F.
In the Potterverse, we have two important “real” spiders: Aragog from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the anonymous Acromantula in the maze from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.12 In addition, there are four important characters with certain spidery characteristics: Dumbledore, Voldemort, Snape and Slughorn.
All of the named spiders (except the one in the maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) can be found in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, therefore Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a rallying point for spiders. Interestingly, the real spiders in the Harry Potter novels function as a kind of final obstacle between Harry and Voldemort and most of the time prove to be quite helpful, even if very dangerous.
1. Aragog in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the one who hands Harry the information necessary to discover the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets13 which leads to Ginny’s rescue and, of course, Harry’s meeting with Voldemort Junior. But meeting Aragog and his family nearly costs Harry and Ron their lives. So Aragog was dangerous as well as helpful.
2. The Acromantula in the maze is the last obstacle between Harry and Cedric and the Triwizard Cup14 which brings them directly to Voldemort. So it is dangerous in itself but could have been very helpful; it should have stopped them from reaching the cup (therefore meeting Voldemort). One could perhaps say that this spider failed.
3. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Aragog’s death and his burial help Harry to extract the memory from Slughorn,15 and so Aragog here is the one between Harry and Voldemort’s biggest secret. The burial scene is not really dangerous. Still, persuading Slughorn to give Harry the memory could have gone wrong. Luckily Harry had help from little Felix!
So each of the spiders is quite dangerous, yet each provides important clues. They help Harry by either handing him the vital information he needs to get to the bottom of a secret or by trying to prevent him from meeting Voldemort (or both). They normally (I’ll come back to that) fail to protect him, but their clues turn out to be immensely helpful in the end. We should keep that in mind when analysing the characters!
“Spinners End,” the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, is the chapter that got me thinking about the spiders and their meaning within the Harry Potter series. Since Jo’s chapter titles are usually ambiguous and often hold clues, I wondered what meaning there could be in her choice of title.
“Spinners End” is the place where Snape explains his behaviour during the last five years to Bellatrix Lestrange and to us. That his words can be trusted is highly doubtful, but this would be a topic for another essay. But the question remains: Why would Jo give Snape’s home such a name?
In the good old days, before the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I read a few theories about who or what the ”Spinner” might be after Jo presented us with the chapter title in the Room of Requirement section of her website. I went back to these theories after I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – just for fun, just to see how far off these theories were.
One theory, of course, was that “Spinner” was a person who was going to die or be detected or … in this chapter. So I started to think about “Spinner” as a person. This led me to ask the questions which became the foundation of this essay:
Who is the Spinner? How does it affect the plot if the character is the Spinner?
Before we begin our analysis, let’s look one more time at the characteristics of spiders, so you don’t have to scroll to the top again:
B) Busy, hardworking, moving very quickly
C) “Bad sight”
D) Helpful, get rid of pests, create good atmosphere
F) Sitting in the middle of their web awaiting prey.
There are four characters who have arachnidan qualities: Snape, Dumbledore, Voldemort and Slughorn. I will cover all 6 points with every character, but may not follow the right order every time.
Answer 1: Snape
Why is he a possible candidate for Spinner?
A. He is not really feared but fiercely mistrusted, by the Death Eaters as well as by members of the Order of the Phoenix. For example, McGonagall says in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “We all wondered … but he [Dumbledore] trusted…always […]”. And she also says: “ […] with Snape’s history … of course people were bound to wonder […].” 16
B. He is a spy (for which side is unimportant in this context) and therefore the weaver of a tight web. With Snape playing the double agent so masterfully there is always the danger that he will get caught in his own web, as he probably did when Narcissa neatly entrapped him with the Unbreakable Vow in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
He also is quick in movement and reaction. In his duel with Harry at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry had almost no chance of winning. Snape was just too quick and powerful for him.17 On countless occasions he seems to turn up out of nowhere when there is trouble or mischief brewing. For example, it takes him seconds to arrive at Myrtle’s bathroom when Harry used the Sectumsempra curse on Draco in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.18
C. He is an Occlumens, which corresponds well with the blind eyes. To conceal his thoughts and feelings he needs to keep his “windows to the soul” - the eyes - closed.
Compare his statement during Harry’s first Occlumency lesson:
“Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily – weak people, in other words – they stand no chance against his powers!” 19
D, F. Is he the useful one, in the end creating a good (victorious for Harry) atmosphere, or the deadly prey awaiting one?
He is both! Again, it is not important on which side he is in this context. Either way he is useful to one side and deadly to the other. He was deadly to Dumbledore, but as we still have Book 7 to come we cannot say for certain if this means he is deadly for Harry’s quest (destroying Voldemort). If he turns out to be useful to Harry and/or the Order, he is thereby poisonous for Voldemort.
E. No doubt he is also poisonous to practically everyone around. Handing Voldemort the prophecy results in James’ and Lily’s death and Voldemort’s would-be-death. He kills - or so it seems – Dumbledore. Harry, Neville, and I suppose countless other students have had to suffer in his classes. Also, Spinner ‘s End is his home.
Now that I have shown you why he is indeed a possible candidate for Spinner, let’s move on to the second important question:
What does it mean for the plot if Snape is the Spinner?
If he is the Spinner in “Spinner’s End,” this most likely means that he stops (“ends”) spinning in this chapter, or better yet, “shows his true colours”. This means that he is Voldemort’s man just as he explains to Bellatrix. I honestly doubt this, but it is a fair argument.
A different interpretation might be this: Thinking again of spiders as being the last barrier between Harry and Voldemort, my personal guess is that Snape will help Harry, or at least try to, and he will become the very last obstacle or person between Harry and Voldemort before the ultimate battle.
This may play out in different ways. Either he is bodily present, which would definitely be a very interesting part of our last ever showdown in the Potterverse. He also might give a clue how to destroy Voldemort earlier. Or we might discover that something he has said or done in the previous books is highly significant – similar to him mentioning the bezoar, which saved Ron’s life, as early as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.20 After all, Jo said that Harry in the course of previous six books has amassed more knowledge than he realizes.21 It might also turn out that Snape is behind some minor plot which becomes important in the end.
The possibilities are infinite, really. We have to wait and see. But the second interpretation, to my mind, is the more interesting and also the more likely possibility concerning Snape, the Spinner.
There is another interesting theory concerning Snape as a spider - that he literally is one. There are those who believe that Snape is a spider Animagus. Please note that I do not necessarily believe that this is true. I do think it would be a very interesting plot twist, however, if we discovered Snape to be an Animagus. I think that Jo has not told us everything about Animagi there is to know, especially how the Animagus-transformation can go wrong and I personally like the idea that Snape attempted what the Marauders did and failed. But if Snape is an Animagus, I think his Animagus form is more likely a bat. There are far more references to him as a bat than a spider, and the bat references are also far more explicit.22 After all, this is how the “Snape is a Vampire” rumours originated.
But if Snape really is a spider Animagus he could continue spying on the Order of the Phoenix because they are not likely to detect him in that form. However, we have already seen this particular plotline with Rita Skeeter, and I do not think that Jo is going to reuse it. She reuses some things, for example the Polyjuice potion,23 but not exactly as they were in previous books. If Snape were discovered spying on the Order or the trio in an Animagus form this would be exactly like Rita Skeeter spying on Harry in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Answer 2: Dumbledore
Why is he a possible candidate for Spinner?
E. Dumbledore is poisonous, in his own way. Being a member of the Order of the Phoenix is (as Slughorn accurately states24) not too good for one’s health. On the other hand, this spider does not kill his allies or those who choose the leave the web, in contrast to our third spider, Voldemort. Of course, he is also poison to some of Voldemort’s plans – or at least has been. (Retrieving the prophecy the easy way and kidnapping Harry directly from the Dursleys, for example.)
B,F. His web is the Order: A network of witches and wizards with him at the centre, working very hard to keep Voldemort from seizing power.
D. Dumbledore is a Legilimens, so he “sees” very well in some ways. But Jo has said that he is also isolated by his great intelligence and reputation and that he can be blind. We don’t know what oversights Dumbledore may have made. Perhaps he misjudged Snape’s allegiance. But almost all the evidence can be read two ways, as many fans have demonstrated already.25
C. Dumbledore is definitely helpful. He accomplishes a great deal. Dumbledore certainly creates a good atmosphere, both at Hogwarts and by making sure that hope does not die completely. He was the one who Voldemort always feared.26
A. He was feared by Voldemort as well as by the Death Eaters. At the very least, he was greatly respected as a very dangerous opponent.27 Also, even his allies sometimes felt something closely related to fear. For example, Dumbledore states that Mundungus “dreads facing [him]” 28 in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, because he stole Black heirlooms.
What does it mean to the plot if Dumbledore is the Spinner?
If Dumbledore is the Spinner in Spinner’s End, “End” possibly means death – after all he dies in Book 6. (I’m sure he is dead!)
But his death might have been Dumbledore’s biggest spin of all. In Spinner’s End the Unbreakable Vow is performed: Dumbledore’s death sentence. But when Harry informs Dumbledore of Snape and Draco’s conversation in that empty classroom, Dumbledore insists that Harry has told him nothing he didn’t already know.29 Therefore, it is entirely possible that Snape told Dumbledore of the vow and that Dumbledore chose to die in order to complete the web he has been spinning for Voldemort by placing his spy - Snape - deep within Voldemort’s own trusted circle.
As I noted before, the spiders are the last barriers between Harry and Voldemort. Dumbledore was the last one between Voldemort and Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix who made sure that Harry would see tomorrow.30 Also Harry thinks during Dumbledore’s burial that “the last and greatest of his protectors” 31 (obstacle for Voldemort) is now gone.
However, we might not have heard the last of good old Albus. What was speculated and hoped for by Sirius’ fans for Dumbledore holds definitely true: there is a portrait. And so Harry’s mentor might have still a word to say before it is time for Harry to try to vanquish his nemesis.
Answer 3: Voldemort
Why is he a possible candidate for Spinner?
A. He is feared above all other living wizards. The whole “He-who-must-not-be-named” thing speaks for itself here. The way his followers approach him is very telling: “Then one of the Death Eaters fell to his knees, crawled towards Voldemort, and kissed the hem of his black robes.[…] The Death Eaters behind him did the same […]” 32
B. He is at the centre of his own web which consists of the Dark Order and the people he bewitched or “persuaded” to help him. And he is also very busy with plotting and extending the network of witches and wizards as well as creatures under his command.
C. He is short-sighted, or Harry would clearly be dead by now. The Diary-Riddle forgets about the healing powers of phoenix tears33 and he is too short-sighted to see the importance of love and understand it,34 which causes his failure more than once (killing Harry, making Harry give him the Philosopher’s Stone, and being incapable of possessing Harry).
E. He is absolutely poisonous to practically every single one who crosses him or is unnecessary for his plan and coincidentally present (e.g. “Kill the spare.” 35).
D. Voldemort is very helpful from a Dark perspective. Certainly those who believe that pure-blood wizards should rule think so. Voldemort seeks to get rid of the pests (muggle-borns) which will produce a “good atmosphere” for pure blood prejudice.
F. He is plotting, sitting in the middle of his web, usually letting others do the dirty work (retrieving the Prophecy, trying to kill Dumbledore, etc.). But he is also willing (sometimes more than willing) to do it himself. After all, he entered the Ministry when his connection with Harry showed him that the prophecy36 was lost and in his early stages of his career as the “biggest bully in the playground” 37 he did quite a few killings himself.
What does it mean for the plot if Voldemort is the Spinner?
If he is the Spinner in “Spinner’s End”, then “End” might mean “complete web” or “aim achieved”. He (possibly) intended for Narcissa to do what she did and so made absolutely sure Snape would do as he wanted. This theory is not new but I include it because it fits well. If, however, “Spinner’s End” marks the start of Voldemort’s definitive downfall, this would be also true for the main event in this chapter: the Vow. In this case “End” would mean Voldemort’s death.
How can the Vow be Voldemort’s death sentence?
The Vow forced Snape to kill Dumbledore (he is simply not the type for sacrificing his life). If Snape is Dumbledore’s man he will want revenge – not on himself, he will be suffering loads anyway – but on the one who ordered a sixteen year-old to do what Voldemort himself couldn’t.
As for the spiders being the last barrier between Harry and Voldemort, Voldemort cannot play this role unless, of course, his own actions lead to his downfall. This could mean Snape’s urge for revenge, as I stated above, or the Prophecy (“the power the Dark Lord knows not”; Voldemort doesn’t seem as if he understands the prophecy yet, or he wouldn’t have tried to possess Harry). Dumbledore emphasized in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: “Voldemort himself created his worst enemy […]!” 38
How this might play out (especially as the Legilimency connection between Harry and Voldemort no longer works) I have no idea. But I think the chances that Voldemort himself will be responsible for what becomes of him (even in a wider sense) are very good.
Answer 4: Slughorn
The reason I included Slughorn as a possible candidate for Spinner was Harry’s comparison of Slughorn with a spider at the centre of a web formed of former students.39
The only other point of the A-F that can be brought in context with Horace Slughorn is the short-sightedness he displays when he fails to see what kind of person Tom Riddle is. However, he’s not the only person to make that mistake; we are told in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets40 and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince41 that he had a huge “fan club” among the Hogwarts teachers when he was a student.
Here my theory hits a dead end. I think Slughorn already fulfilled his purpose as the last spider between Harry and Voldemort by finally giving Harry his memory. But I might be wrong and Slughorn might still play a role. After all, he decided to stay at Hogwarts after Dumbledore’s murder,42 clearly aware of the consequences-an impressive move from Slughorn as we got to know him. If he still has a job to do he might help with Potions, or he might assist in finding Snape. Perhaps connections will play a role in Book 7, because, according to Bill Weasley - “You can bet Voldemort will have them […]” 43
Now, who is The Spinner?
Snape, Dumbledore, Voldemort or Slughorn?
To be honest, I don’t think there is an answer to that. I think that they all might be. After all, literature is a polysemiotic system: Each word as well as the combined words which construct a literary text have more than one meaning. And Jo has proven more than once how many meanings and layers are present in her works. Therefore, it isn’t really a contradiction if Snape, Dumbledore, Voldemort and Slughorn all are Spinners. Every spider has its web and waits for some kind of prey – we will have to wait and see who gets the juiciest flies and who starves!
1. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p.20.
2. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. p.202.
3. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. p. 77f.
4. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
5. http://teacher.scholastic.com/scholasticnews/indepth/harry_potter/rupert_grint.htm. 13:45, 18 April 2006.
6. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webspinnen. 17:20, April 17th 2006.
7. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webspinnen. 17:20, April 17th 2006.
8. http://user.blue-cable.de/spinnennetz/Sinnesorgane.htm. 17:20, 17 April 2006.
12. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p. 548.
13. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. p. 206.
14. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 548f.
15. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 489f.
16. Ibid. p. 615f.
17. Ibid. p. 602ff.
18. Ibid. p. 523.
19. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p. 473.
20. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. p. 102.
21. Anelli, Melissa and Spartz, Emerson. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three.” The Leaky Cauldron. 16 July 2005. Quick Quotes Quill. 9 March 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2005/0705-tlc_mugglenet-anelli-3.htm.
22. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p. 491 “ ‘[…]how fast d’you reckon he coul’ve got down to the –forest? D’you reckon he could’ve beaten you and Dumbledore there?’ ‘Not unless he can turn himself into a bat or something,’ said Harry.”
23. Chamber of Secrets: Harry Ron and Hermine use it to question Draco; Goblet of Fire: Barty Crouch, Junior uses it to be able to send Harry to Voldemort; Half-Blood Prince: Draco(!) uses it to prevent detection of his plans.
24. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 72.
25. http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/archive/. e.g. “Severus Snape: Not Voldemort’s Man” (Eliminating at least one possibility) by Anthony Goldstein, “Severus Vs. Snape” (The difference between the two) by Kristina Caffrey, “I Trust Snape” – Foolishness or Otherwise? by M. S., …
26. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 87. e.g. “Dumbledore was the only one You-Know-Who was ever scared of!” Bill in:
27. Rowling,J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 31. ”Dumbledore has been a great wizard – oh yes he has […] the Dark Lord acknowledges it.” -Snape
28. Ibid. p. 260.
29. Ibid. p. 358f.
30. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 717.
31. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 645.
32. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 561.
33. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. p. 237.
34. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 444. e.g. “But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.” -Voldemort.
35. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 553.
36. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 716.
37. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. p. 271.
38. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 510.
39. Ibid. p. 75.
40. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. p. 230.
41. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. p. 432.
42. Ibid. p. 628.
43. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p.95.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
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http://user.blue-cable.de/spinnennetz/Sinnesorgane.htm. 17 April 2006.
http://www.arages.de/about/spinnen.html. 17 April 2006.
http://www.insecta-inspecta.com. 17 April 2006.
http://www.mugglenet.com. 6 May 2006.
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