Lucifer and His Spiders

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune tells the story of a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY) and his experience on his latest assignment. He travels to a unique orphanage with six children: Talia, a gnome; Phee, a forest sprite; Theodore, a wyvern; Chauncey, of an unknown species; Sal, a shifter; and finally, Lucifer (Lucy), the Antichrist. These children are all incredibly powerful, in a world where magic is considered dangerous. This allegory allows us to examine the traumas experienced by minority groups. Using Cvetkovich’s analysis of trauma in “An Archive of Feelings” we can examine Klune’s characters’ experiences with trauma.

Lucy is six years old, yet he needs routine reminders that he is more than his origins: “I learned once again that I’m not just the sum of my parts” (Klune, 105.) While Lucy is told this daily in a place where he is safe and cared for, the traumas from his past, even at his young age, obviously still affect him. We can examine the moments “of extreme trauma alongside moments of everyday emotional distress that are often the only sign that trauma’s effects are still being felt” (Cvetkovich, 3) in Lucy’s life. Lucy struggles to see his identity beyond the apocalyptic monster assigned to him by society and his heritage. He imagines this as his brain being filled “with spiders burrowing their eggs in the gray matter. Soon they’ll hatch and consume me.” (Klune, 155.) While this seems like Lucy’s everyday bluster hellfire and damnation, this runs deeper. His nightmares, filled with these spiders and their webs trapping (Klune, 244) demonstrate his continued trauma. Lucy believes that the spider eggs will hatch, and he will inevitably become what society fears: The Antichrist. These fears are exacerbated by the bigotry he encounters outside of the island. Lucy describes the island as “the only place in the world where I don’t have to worry about priests trying to stick a cross on my face to cast my soul back into the pits of hell” (Klune 109-110.) While this seems humorous first, it becomes a horrifying reality when a man traps Lucy, a six-year-old child, into a locked room and attempts to exorcise him (Klune, 245.) This type of aggression feeds into his personal trauma.

Using children such as Lucy demonstrates the horrific combination of social traumas, motivated by bigotry, and personal traumas. We as an audience cannot blame Lucy for being who he is because he’s six, and we are much less willing to blame children for simply existing than we are for adults. It is much more difficult to justify this bigotry for most people. Additionally, the personal traumas endured by Lucy and the others are made that much more tragic due to their youth. Their age also allows for a different look at how these traumas affect them, as they are more willing to express themselves and their feelings if they feel that they are safe to do so. This allegory leads to questions about why people face these forms of bigotry for existing and how societal discrimination and hate worsens personal trauma.

One thought on “Lucifer and His Spiders”

  1. This is fascinating – this book has been on my list of book to read for ages, so I’m sure I’ll appreciate this comment more in 6 months when I finally get around to reading it! I think that the discussions around trauma, especially trauma forming from societal prejudices, is widely accepted as bad for children to receive. However, I’d love to know/see if this book addresses what happens to Lucy as he grows up. Much like how Mala suffers from the trauma she faced as a young child, it’s hard to imagine that anyone with significant trauma could become an adult unscathed and not in need of serious therapy. Additionally, it would be fascinating to see a societal response to grown-up Lucifer, versus 6 year old Lucy. While no one stepped in to help, the townspeople mentioned once or twice pity or concern for Pohpoh and Asha, knowing they were at the hands of an angry father, and a general response to children being abused is to be upset. However, as Mala grows into an adult and works through the longterm affects her trauma created, she would no longer being viewed with concern, but rather derision and unpleasantries, for being weird and wanting to be alone. This goes back to an earlier idea about the difference in ‘surviving past’ and ‘surviving through’ because in my eyes, Mala has never stopped working on surviving through her trauma, and I’m interested in how other characters can be seen through a similar lens with this idea.

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