22) Charlotte’s Web

By: E.B. White

Reread Finished: 06.30.14

by E. B. White

I’ve got a new friend, all right.  But what a gamble friendship is!  Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty — everything I don’t like.  How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?

People believe almost anything they see in print.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.

This is the classic story of Wilbur the pig who was saved at birth by Fern the human, and ultimately saved from a fate on the dinner table by Charlotte the spider.  It’s a story of friendship and, to a degree, the harsh realities of life – some of which you can change and others which must run their course.

This is one I experienced a few times as a child, reading it on my own and having it read aloud (I vividly remember giggling as a teacher read the gander’s peculiar spelling of “terrific”).  I saw the animated movie at least a couple of times, although all I remember from it is Templeton’s smorgasbord song.  It’s a story I always thought of fondly, but never reread after elementary school.  This summer seemed like the ideal time to revisit the book in anticipation of working on a stage production of Charlotte’s Web.

I like it.  It’s sweet and lovely and made me laugh more than once, but looking at it with adult eyes, I found a few things problematic.  Namely, Fern.  She’s fickle in ways that don’t make sense, even for an eight year old.  Otherwise, it is the charming story I remember.  The friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur is inspiring.  Even Templeton the rat is endearing for all his baser instincts.  White breathes such life into his animal characters, and shows both the practical and idyllic views of farm life.

In discussing design ideas for the stage production, the scenic designer described the tone of the story as a watercolor, and I think it fits perfectly.  Hard truths are slightly muted, and the lines between reality and magic are blurred, yet it still paints a striking picture.  The story has endured for a reason, and has definitely earned its place on the shelves of so many classrooms.  If only Fern wasn’t so inconsistent.

At the end of the day: For my younger self

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