Cover image for Spider's voice
Spider's voice
Skurzynski, Gloria.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, [1999]

Physical Description:
200 pages map, ; 24 cm
Because he is a young mute person who can hear, Aran becomes involved in the adventures of Eloise and Abelard, France's most famous lovers, who lived during the twelfth century.
Reading Level:
850 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.8 8.0 29540.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.6 11 Quiz: 19549 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


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X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Even if I'd been given to speech, I'd have been struck dumb by this exquisite girl....Then I realized there was one additional person in the cathedral. A man, standing behind me, who turned toward me and smiled. That smile It was the first time anyone had ever looked at me as though I were someone who mattered. As if he were saying to me, without words, Because you and I are men, we apreciate feminine beauty when we see it. From the moment Aran sees Peter Abelard and his lover, Eloise, he wants nothing more than to surround himself with the coulple's renowned beauty, intelligence, and eloquence, which seem to offer a path of hope away from his cruel and impoverished childhood. Aran is still mourning the recent death of his devoted mother, who had taught her mute son how to spin wool, as well as the art of listening. Now Aran, born tongue-tied, has been peddled to a merchant of human grotesqueries by his brutal older brother and is about to have his body forced into the shape of a human spider. When Abelard, in need of a servant who will not talk of his affair with Eloise, rescues Aran from Master Galien, it seems that the boy's dream has come true. He is quickly given the name of Spider and accompanies the famous couple around France as they confront the various plights brought about by their overwhelming passion. During this time, he learns how to read, silently. Little by little, Spider becomes enmeshed in the lives of Abelard and Eloise, and his gifts of reading, spinning, and listening enable him to become the thread connecting the two people he worships most. In this fictional account of the true story of Abelard and Heloise, the famous twelfth-centuryFrench lovers, Gloria Skurzynski has created a tale of patience and devotion, and of the beauty created from the space between silence and words.

Author Notes

Author Gloria Skurzynski was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania in 1930. She was educated at Carlow University. She writes both fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults.She is the author of more than sixty books for young readers. In 1992, her work Almost the Real Thing: Simulation in Your High-Tech World won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award. She writes the National Geographic National Parks series and the Virtual War Chronologs series.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 8^-12. The twelfth-century love story of Abelard and Heloise (here called Eloise) is the centerpiece of this young adult novel. Virgin lovers Abelard, a teacher and philosopher, and Eloise, the most educated woman in France, fall madly in love. Eloise becomes pregnant, and her uncle, in a fit of fury, castrates Abelard. Veteran writer Skurzynski tells the story from the viewpoint of Spider, a young mute, who is saved by Abelard after being mutilated by a man who sells human grotesques. In many ways, Abelard and Eloise's tale is the least successful part of the book. It's not just their love affair; though obviously mature in nature, it is handled tastefully. The story is also complicated by the minutiae of Abelard's religious ideas. The dust jacket and Spider's age at the beginning of the story will probably attract mainly junior-high-age readers, who will respond more to the details of Spider's adventures as he roams the French countryside serving Abelard and trying to quell his own demons. Throughout, Skurzynski's writing is vivid and intriguing. Unlike characters in some historical fiction, those here do not seem as though they are modern-day people plunked down in another era. She successfully paints a world very different from the one we know, with different morals, mores, and culture. Readers may find that that world pulls them even more than the story of the Middle Ages' most famous lovers. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

The scandalous history of the doomed 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise forms the dramatic frame for a coming-of-age story that is also a meditation on servitude, the fragility of the human body and the power of language. Aran, the peasant boy who narrates, cannot speak because of a deformity that has bound his tongue to the bottom of his mouth. His abusive brother sells him in Paris, where his new owners sear his flesh into a metal carapace; his limbs will grow, but not his torso, making him a human "spider." He is rescued by the arrogant, brilliant teacher Abelard, who promptly has the carapace removed, but Abelard has an ulterior motive for his kindness: he needs a silent servant to watch over his liaisons with the beautiful Eloise (as she is here called), "the most learned woman in all of Europe." Scholars, however, cannot marry, and Abelard and Eloise hurtle toward separate fates. Abelard gets castrated by his enemies and in his fury cuts loose Aran's tongue, and as the boy gains speech, Abelard becomes a monk and Eloise a nun. Skurzynski (Virtual War) doesn't flinch from her often distressing subject matter, and her characterizations are complex, doing justice to the courage and passion of her protagonists. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-This is the story of the famous medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise (here called Eloise), told from the point of view of a fictional servant. Aran, who has been tongue-tied since birth, is sold by his brutish brother to a freak dealer in Paris. Rescued by the charismatic Abelard, the silent boy seems to be the perfect servant for the revered scholar who is having an affair with his beautiful student, the niece of his landlord. Aran, called Spider by the lovers, becomes devoted to the pair. When the couple is discovered together, Eloise's uncle forces them to marry. However, to retain his status in the academic world, Abelard must keep his marriage a secret. The two separate, infuriating the young woman's uncle who desires the honors the celebrity union will bring him. In a fit of insane rage, he creeps to Abelard's lodging and castrates him in a bloody scene. In his uncontrollable agony, Abelard turns on Spider, who was supposed to guard the door, and with a knife, cuts his tongue free, enabling him to speak. The story is complicated and compelling, full of drama, love, and violence. Occasionally, credibility is strained by the twists of the plot. Nonetheless, Skurzynski is masterful in her characterizations, showing the subtleties of each person's nature and the ways in which they are changed by the circumstances of their lives. She delineates the complex relationship between the lovers in scenes that are sensual and descriptive. In his attempts to improve the lives of peasants, Spider shows a sensibility perhaps too modern. However, his intelligent observations of Eloise and Abelard and of life in 12th-century France more than make up for this shortcoming.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.