(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

For two decades, beginning with The Girl and the Faun (1916), Eden Phillpotts wrote allegorical fantasies using Greek mythology to develop themes with contemporary significance. One of the best is Arachne, his retelling of the legend of Arachne, whom Pallas Athene transformed into a spider because the young girl challenged the goddess in weaving.

As the novel opens, Pallas Athene, goddess of wisdom, and her sister Hebe come upon Arachne of Lydia, who is creating designs from brightly colored stones but would prefer to make silk tapestries. Athene—known as the first weaver of Olympus—promises to teach the girl the art. Hebe expresses doubts, fearing that Arachne’s innate talent could be harmed by Athene’s interference and sensing that the girl will be reluctant to take Athene’s advice and thus will anger the goddess. Indeed, at the first lessons Arachne is disappointed with the immortal’s colors and designs and is bored by her philosophizing, although she acknowledges Athene’s perfection, precision, and speed. When the goddess tells Arachne to copy Athene’s tapestry, the girl ignores the model and creates from her imagination. A wealthy Roman purchases one of her tapestries, but the goddess says that in it Arachne has “broken from tradition, drawn opposed colours together, created disharmony, challenged elemental axioms and woven deliberate confusion.”

The girl thinks that Athene is prejudiced and old-fashioned, and...

(The entire section is 472 words.)