The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

The Black Spider

The Black Spider written in 1842 is a short novella set in a remote Swiss village. On a summer Sunday, the villagers gather to celebrate a baptism at a lovely farmhouse. During the feast (the child is the firstborn son, so food doesn’t stop coming!), one of the villagers wants to know the story behind the rough black window post in this splendid house, which seems to be out of place. Surely one of the neighbors would have been happy to give them a new one? So the child’s wise old grandfather, who has lived in the house all his life, proceeds to entertain the guests with the unusually creepy tale of The Black Spider!

According to the story passed down from father to son, many years ago, Hans von Stoffeln, a wicked knight decided to build his castle on top of a wild, desolate hill. For two years the peasants in the village contributed their labor to build the castle with no rewards. Once the castle was finished, and the peasants returned to their families who had suffered from severe hunger while they were away, but soon they get summoned back to the castle.

It turns out von Stoffeln has an impossible task waiting for them. He wants the peasants to move one hundred full-grown trees with their branches and roots, and plant them upon the hill within a month, leaving the peasants to face a difficult conundrum. On one hand, if the deadline is not met, von Stoffeln is sure to kill them. On the other hand, planting these trees would mean they will have no time to care for their crops, which is bound to starve them to death.

On their way home, the peasants are at their wits’ end, but a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat agrees to help them after listening to their plight for the price of one unbaptized child. The horrified peasants are reluctant to agree to this deal, but one young wife at the village believes she can outsmart this stranger. So she goes ahead and closes the deal, not with a pact signed in blood, but with a kiss from the stranger on her cheek! This stranger seems like an amateur at this, so it is possible the peasants will get to cheat their way out of this deal, right? There are lots of black spiders involved in what happens next. Spiders and stories with spiders generally spook me, but this one did not probably because the demonic spiders here have a supernatural feel!

The Black Spider is a page turner that can be read in a single sitting. If you can get past the heavy-handed religious aspect of the story (it is a “fear God, or else” story, written by a pastor), which I could not (hence, 3 stars), this book makes an excellent Halloween read!


  1. This was required reading in middle school in Germany and it turned many of us into arachnophobes. I don’t recommend it to anyone with a dislike/fear of spiders!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right. I’m glad I didn’t read this when I was in school!

      Liked by 1 person

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