Excerpt: “How’s the plan coming, Charlotte? Have you got very far with it? Is it coming along pretty well?” Wilbur was trembling again, but Charlotte was cool and collected.
“Oh, it’s coming along alright,” she said, lightly. “The plan is still in its early stages and hasn’t completely shaped up yet, but I’m working on it.”
“When do you work on it?” begged Wilbur.
“When I’m hanging head-down at the top of my web. That’s when I do my thinking, because then all the blood is in my head.”
Charlotte’s Web is a story of an unusual friendship between a young pig and a spider. It won the Newberry Honour way back in 1953, and has continued to charm generations of young readers, ever since. The events might seem fantastic, but they happen in a very real farm full of very real animals.
Wilbur is the runt or the weakest pig of the litter. A little girl called Fern saves him and raises him on a bottle until he is strong enough to live on a farm.
In the Zuckermans’ barn Wilbur has plenty of lively companions but no real friend. Charlotte, a clever grey spider befriends him when he is miserable and lonely. He is shocked by her ways of life, but enjoys talking to her. Wilbur grows fatter and happier now that he has a friend. However, when he hears that he is being fattened only to be killed at Christmas-time, he is devastated, but Charlotte promises to save him.
Wilbur cannot believe that a tiny spider can save him, but he is ready to trust her. Charlotte’s ingenious plan convinces the people who see Wilbur that he is an extraordinary pig. His fame spreads, and he wins a special prize at a local fair. His owner would never kill such a distinguished pig for food.
Wilbur is saved, but it is time for Charlotte to die. The cycle of life goes on. The child-like Wilbur cannot accept it at first, but he finds a way to re-pay Charlotte. He guards her egg sac with her 514 eggs. Seasons change, and the barn is full of young ones (including some of Charlotte’s) once more. Wilbur is a contented pig, enjoying life with its little pleasures.
Charlotte’s Web is all about friendship, loyalty and about having to pass on in time. Wilbur realizes Charlotte’s sacrifice in helping him, and is ashamed of his hasty judgment of her character when he first met her. The plot is ingenious and moves on very quickly. The characters are all well-rounded and apt; the plump and happy Wilbur, the clever spider Charlotte, the repetitive geese (‘Sorry, sonny, sorry,… I’m no flibberty-ibberty-gibbet’) the mean-tempered rat Templeton, all have distinctive personalities. The children Fern and Avery too are very well drawn. The black- and- white illustrations of Garth Williams add life to the characters.
The language is simple enough for 8-year-olds. Charlotte has a sophisticated way of talking, and she often explains the difficult words for Wilbur’s benefit. For example,
“I didn’t know you could lay eggs,” said Wilbur in amazement.
“Oh, sure,” said the spider. “I’m versatile”
“What does ‘versatile’ mean – full of eggs?” asked Wilbur.
“Certainly not,” said Charlotte. “ ‘Versatile’ means I can turn with ease from one thing to another. It means I don’t have to limit my activities to spinning and trapping and stunts like that”
E.B. White was born in New York State in 1899. He won many awards for his contribution to American literature (he wrote more than 20 books of prose and poetry). For a time he owned a farm in Maine, and the animals there found their way into his children’s books, Charlotte’s Web, Stewart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. Today he is best remembered for these books. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal was awarded to him in 1970 for his lasting contribution to Children’s literature. White died in 1985.
Published by: Penguin Books (Puffin Modern Classics), 2003.
Price: Rs 355/-