A Review in 100 Pieces: The Century’s Best Horror Fiction, 1903: H. G. Wells’s “The Valley of Spiders”
Recently, I purchased The Century’s Best Horror Fiction, a beautiful two-volume set of short horror stories, edited by John Pelan and published by Cemetery Dance Publications. I feel like something this epic deserves special treatment, and so I’m challenging myself to read one story a day for the next 100 days, posting reviews as I go. Tonight, I read a tale chosen from the year 1903: H. G. Wells’s “The Valley of Spiders” …
Three men enter a valley, chasing a runaway girl. I’ll let you guess what kind of creature soon attacks them.
What I won’t do is spoil the beautiful way in which the spiders (oh, oops, sorry–I just gave it away! damn!) arrive. Wells came up with some striking visuals in his stories, and “The Valley of Spiders” likewise impresses. It’s creative and fresh even a hundred years later.
Likewise, the story, which could otherwise seem like a plot-centered adventure stories, does some nice things with its characterizations. The final two scenes overlap the behaviors of men and spiders, while also offering some dramatic interplay between pride and cowardice. The themes come together well in quite a short amount of time.
Wells pulls off a bit of an interesting trick here, too, by having the actual heroes of the story are more or less nowhere to be seen for the duration of his tale (unless, like me, you’re the type to route for the spiders). Part of the suspense has nothing to do with the fate of the men we’re reading about; as things get worse for them, curiosity increases as to the fate of the people these men are pursuing. When Wells resolves the mystery, he does so with characteristic grace and economy.
Some of the description of the more action-heavy scenes left me cold, but overall, this is another really solid story.
Giving it 4/5. Classic spider mayhem!