Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, "Charlotte's Web"!

On this day, 60 years ago, Charlotte's Web was published. I remember the shock I felt in grad school, when I realized that one of the guys who wrote the Strunk and White guide was the same White who wrote Charlotte's Web. I'm always impressed by people who can write equally well in different genres, and also by people who write well for both adults and children.

I adored Charlotte's Web. It's probably one of the first books I read over and over again. I loved that the characters pull together against great odds and develop interesting, non-violent ways of resisting their oppression.

Of course, I wouldn't have used that language at that time.

Charlotte's Web is why I'm not afraid of spiders. I suspect it's also the reason that I've been drawn to vegetarianism my whole life, although you wouldn't know it by the way I've been eating lately.

I haven't gone back to reread Charlotte's Web as an adult. I suspect it would hold up well and hold my interest as an adult reader too.

That book has a great first line, some might say one of the greatest first lines ever:  "'Where's Papa going with that ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

Most of us think about the characters, when we think about that book, but E. B. White says he was writing about the barn.  Other critics/scholars say that he was working out his longings for his childhood and for other settings in this book.  It's a great reminder that we can do the same thing.

You can find a great NPR piece here.

A quote from The Story of Charlotte's Web:  E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims:

"'Remember that writing is translation,' White wrote to a student while composing this tale about the animals in his barn, 'and the opus to be translated is yourself.' The Story of Charlotte's Web explores how White translated his own passions and contradictions, delights and fears, into a book that has had astonishingly broad appeal across age groups and national boundaries. He knew that empathy is a creative act, an entering into another's reality. Empathy and curiosity happily coexisted in his spacious imagination. He studied the lives of spiders for a year before writing his novel. 'I discovered, quite by accident,' he explained, 'that reality and fantasy make good bedfellows.'"

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