Unraveling the Memory Web

Welcome to Post #2 re books that have influenced or affected yours truly.  This time, I’m going to go way, way back . . . to a lovely children’s book, one of the best-selling of all time, by E.B. White . . . Charlotte’s Web.

Written in 1952, the story revolves around a lovable little pig, the runt of the litter, named Wilbur and his companionship with an amicable barn spider called Charlotte.  It’s a bittersweet tale, one that had me sobbing—hysterically—into towels in the bathroom (in my parents’ house, showing emotion was taboo).  I can’t say that any other book has affected me the same and I’ve never forgotten that tale over the decades (yes, it’s been that long).

There’s a kid named Fern Arable who pleads for Wilbur’s life.  Naturally, her father, being the kind caring soul daddies can be, gives him to her.  Initially, he’s a pet but when he begins to grow, he’s sold to Uncle Homer.  Exit Fern, who kind of blends into the background.

In Homer’s barnyard, the other animals ignore our sweet swine.  That’s so sad (especially to someone who had difficulty making friends as a child).  Craving friendship, Wilbur is befriended by Charlotte.  When it’s learned the little porker is on the chopping block, it is sweet Charlotte (no pun intended) who comes to his rescue.  She thwarts his demise by weaving praising words into her webs.  People notice and believe this is nothing short of a miracle and, lo and behold, the farm becomes a tourist attraction.

Our four-legged friend is entered in the county fair and, while he doesn’t win the coveted blue ribbon, he does receive a special prize.  Having been accompanied there by Charlotte and Templeton, a barn rat, Wilbur returns home with Templeton.  Charlotte <sniffle> is dying of natural causes and decides to remain on the fair grounds; she does, however, allow Wilbur to take her egg sac home, where her children will one day hatch.

They do, but <snuffle, snuffle> most leave.  Only three remain and take up residence in Charlotte’s old doorway.  Happy to have new friends, Wilbur names one of them Nellie.  The other two name themselves: Joy and Aranea.

I never saw the movie (don’t think I could sit through it without a three-tissue-box cry, but I’ll include the trailer below), but the book is a truly a bittersweet tale with a beautiful ending . . . one that would appeal to big kids, too.  You can take it as a simple children’s story or go up and beyond, and read dissertations on the repeated death theme, story pattern or language style (it’s a little more complex than a ten-year-old might imagine).

American author E.B. White wrote several children’s book in addition to Charlotte’s Web, including Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan.  He was also a writer and contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine, among other things.  A gifted man, to say the least.

More memory unraveling to come . . . .