All Stories Are Anansi’s
There’s a puzzle for the ages:
Why the heck did Nyame even do all this?
As a friend of mine put it, he had all the stories in the world. He could have gotten a lot more than three easily-fooled animals for that. So what’s the deal?
I’m not entirely clear on it, myself. To be fair, I did make the animals a little goofier in this telling than they usually are. In the forms I’ve come to know these characters in, it’s pretty clear they’re strong and dangerous beasts (the Cat deciding to eat Anansi’s kids is one example). To the people who originally told these stories long ago, Big Cat and Snake and Hornet were frankly terrifying foes they had to face every day, and that’s reflected in the stories. This was supposed to be a humorous story, but I do regret that I wasn’t able to convey how scary these creatures are.
One thing I’ve noted is that Anansi is seen as the ambassador or main servant of Nyame in many stories, so it’s possible that this wasn’t just a test to earn the stories — it could have been an overall test of Spider’s capabilities to see if he was worthy.
Meanwhile, there’s the implication in some stories that Nyame really didn’t intend to see Anansi come back alive, much less fulfil the deal, because the instruction was deliberately impossible for an itsy-bitsy spider. A sort of “go buy striped paint” type deal. In that light, Spider’s victory indicates that careful thought can accomplish seemingly impossible things.
Personally, I tend to interpret Anansi as a commentary on what it means to be a storyteller. He thinks a lot— he doesn’t take a break to make a game plan, so apparently he had already thought about how to do this stuff. To earn the right to Stories, he has to face people who are stronger and bigger, people who make fun of him and see him as weak. But he doesn’t want the kind of power they have. When talking directly to God, all he wants are the stories, because he understands what they’re actually worth. And in the end, the one we remember and continue spreading the name of really is him, and not the Cat or Snake.
Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys has an interesting take on it as well.
TranscriptSpider: I can see every story!
Narration: And that is how Anansi came to own all the world’s stories.