'The Spider Who Saved Christmas': an Ancient Tale Brought to Life in New Book
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Raymond Arroyo is a storyteller. When he heard the legend of a special Christmas arachnid, he "bookmarked" the moment. Years later, the New York Times best-selling author returned to that moment of inspiration, put pen to paper, and has created a stunning visual legend come to life on the pages of his newest book The Spider Who Saved Christmas.
Based on an ancient tale, the spider's contributions to the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are mythical, but full of symbolism and hope. Also an international broadcaster and Fox News contributor, Raymond uses his wide-reaching platform to share the gospel in accessible and entertaining forms. The Spider Who Saved Christmas is a beautiful interpretation of the significance that even the smallest living being holds in the story of Christ's birth.
I spoke with Raymond recently about his new book, and the impact he hopes The Spider Who Saved Christmas will have on generations to come.
I’ve never heard this story. One of the things that caught my eye first was that it’s the story of how tinsel came to be. My family always decorates with it!
Yes, I have traveled through Eastern Europe and, and certainly in New Orleans, we have trees festooned with tinsel and in Poland and Ukraine, they not only put tons of tinsel on their trees, but they actually put spider ornaments on the branches.
It is an homage and a reference to this ancient legend about the Holy family on the run, fleeing to Egypt where they hide in the cave and encounter the spider. And so I stumbled upon this legend. Once I read it, I kind of became obsessed with it, did some research, and then we were off to the races. I said, ‘I've got to preserve this story. It's really interesting and smart.’ And it contains something we need to hear today.
So did this project come about this year?
Actually, this was a year and a half ago when I was researching another book and I pulled one of those big, huge Bible commentaries out. It was in a footnote under the nativity story in the gospels. And all it said was, ‘There's an ancient legend of the Holy family encountering a spider who saved their lives.’ That's all it said. So I made note of it and I moved on. Then when I did some research, I realized that this story has been around since probably the second century. This story about the Holy family just touched me because I just loved the idea of a small creature of forgotten, even despised creature, being an instrument of grace and hope.
And now post COVID, you know, sometimes stories don't reveal themselves to you or tell you why you wrote them until after the fact. None of us can relate to the Holy family, having the angels float over the house, and three Kings coming over to dinner. Those things probably will not happen to you this Christmas, but I can assure you like the family in this story, you are going to be anxious, worried about the future. And we're all hiding in our caves with our loved ones, trying to protect ourselves against sudden death. That's what happens in this story. They're hunkered down on the run and yet in the midst of that darkness and that despair and that confusion, hope exists, hope is present. And God's grace doesn't abandon us and it may not come in the way you expect it, but that grace is there and that's at the heart of this story. And that's why I think it had to be written now. And frankly, that part of it, I had little to do with.
Why do you think we are drawn to these types of stories?
Well, I think the primary reason is legends contain truth, legends contain collected wisdom, and the older the story, the more wisdom it's picked up along the way. Storytellers take a little kernel and then they embellish it. They add their own heart and mind and experience to it, and then it's passed on to the next storyteller. Whether that's Shakespeare or Odysseus, all these writers add their bit to the story. And I tell my own children this, and I tell families this all the time, the old stories, the legends are really important and you shouldn't discount them because they may not be entirely true. They can contain more truth and wisdom than you expect.
Every story is really a vessel of knowledge. And more importantly, they're like survival guides. They contain information. We need to survive and live and understand the world we're in. That's why stories were devised in the beginning. It's why I think Jesus, whenever he preached, he only spoke to the people in stories. Why? Because they struck the heart. People could remember them. And it was a way to absorb this knowledge and truth in a deeper way, in a more profound way than just doctrine or, or recitation of, of rules. So that's what this is really about. That's what all these stories are about. I love legends. I love old stories. Tolkien used to say a legend is truth wrapped in history. And that's probably right.
It's truth wrapped in history because we add our little flourish but it's that kernel of truth that endures. And that's why I thought this story had to continue because the story is ultimately not about the spider. The spider is an on ramp for families to discuss, re-imagine, and re-examine the heart of the Christmas story, which is this family, and God becoming man. God coming in the midst of humanity and shocking the world and everyone around him.
I'm looking at some of the comments on your social media channels, and everyone is just so in love with this. I see one that author Anne Rice wrote, a nice review for you.
She did. I was sort of fascinated by her take on the story. She loved the illustrations and the and the story, but she pointed out something I'm hearing a lot about, which is the depiction of Joseph in the story. The foster father of Jesus is often depicted – I say – he looks like a potted plant in the corner. He's just kind of back there, like you know, like decoration. But here he's an active participant. He is the protector of the family. He's out front, he's leading the way. In the open of the story, the minute they enter the cave, he slashes at the web with his staff and tries to kill the spider, which any father would do.
The illustrations for this book are just brilliant.
Actually the dirty reality is we went through three illustrators until I found Randy Gallegos and Randy has such an incredible eye. I was a fan of his work. He's done a lot of fantasy work with warriors and swords and dragons and things. And I thought, ‘I'm not sure if he's right for this.’ But then when I saw some of his other oil paintings, I thought he's exactly right for this. He's just got a great eye. He and I connected on the the dramatic intensity we wanted from the scenes, so that it really does feel like a storyboard of a movie. It's very cinematic the way that the cell spreads unveil themselves.
I wanted the audience pulled into it because 90% of the story is a picture book. And I wanted the picture book format because I thought here's a way, not only to include children, but grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles, so that you have this dialogue between the generations. The great gift to me is all these generations are embracing the book.
One of the sentences you wrote in the book, ‘They carry blood-slicked swords and spoke in loud, crude voices.’ At first I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a Christmas book!’ Then I thought, ‘This is true. And kids need to hear how desperate the situation was.’
Well you hit it. I agree with you. There’s always some tension. And, I've run into this with my Will Wilder books too. I write a middle grade series for Random House. And in it a little boy who has a very special supernatural gift battles these demons, he battles darkness. Well, there were some who said, ‘Oh, how can you write about these things?’ G.K. Chesterton had a great line – and I’m paraphrasing – he said, ‘We can't protect children from the dragon. The child knows the dragon exists in his heart, in his soul. What we can do is equip that child to recognize the dragon and teach him how to slay it.’ That's our job as storytellers.
[Children] know there's good and evil in the world. And anytime you have great good, you're going to have evil at its side trying to try to undermine it. This is a family on the run. They're fleeing Herod’s soldiers, because Herod wants to be the only King standing in Judea. You need that dramatic engine for the story to work. Otherwise the spider’s service is a little use. And without that element, it's just this kind of saccharin story that I think we've been fed for so long that we forgotten what's at the core of the piece itself, which is redemption and salvation and the coming of God among us.
What impact do you hope this book will make?
I just think it's important particularly this time of year, when we're at home to take the time to share the gift of our voices and hearts and experience with those we love. Fictional stories like this can furnish us with that possibility because you start the conversation around what the Holy family went through and you talk about the power of faith in their lives, and then you can relate it back to your life. Those moments, those impressions, those shared stories both personal and imagined leave a mark that linger long after the tree is gone and the tinsel is put away. So I hope people take the time to share that gift this Christmas. And I hope, The Spider Who Saved Christmas is a little piece of that.
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