You have been my friend, ‘ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.’
Impending death, the possibility of death, gluttony alongside friendship, co-existence and love are the strands that E.B.White weaves to tell his children’s story and a treatise about the ways of life. Charlotte’s Web is the story of life itself.
A pig fights the odds, thanks to the kindness of a little girl Fern who rescues him from certain death-she fights with her father who was going to slaughter the undersized piglet. Wilbur, as he is named is the heir of the first of many precious friendships. In Fern’s tender care and love, that include strolls in her dolls pram we follow Wilbur’s progress as he grows from little runt into a large pig.
Wilbur is soon a member of the farm – the sheep, the horses, the geese and the rat Templeton. An old sheep breaks Wilbur’s idyllic life when he informs him that the farmer will slaughter him come Christmas. Wilbur becomes so depressed that even the delicious slop he gets everyday does not interest him. In the midst of this bleak scene he is approached by someone who wishes to befriend him and later help him. A tiny spider called Charlotte.
Wilbur is shocked to know that Charlotte sucks blood from flies and insects. Soon, however, he warms up to her. Events that unfold later prove that Wilbur is the recipient of Charlotte’s life-saving friendship.
This is book you can read chapter by chapter to a young child and be savoured by an older one. The author writes brilliantly to bring alive seemingly mundane things to an altogether different level.Take for instance his passage on the swing at Mr.Zuckerman’s farm.
Mr. Zukerman had the best swing in the county. It was a single long piece of heavy rope tied to the beam over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so that you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder to the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it acted as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling on the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair. Then you would zoom upwards into the sky, and look up at the clouds, and the rope would twist and turn with the rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost into the hayloft, then sail out again (not quite so far this time), and then in again, then out, then in; and then you’d jump off and fall down and let somebody else try it .
This is further emphasised by Garth William’s wonderful line drawings. His rendering of the county fair, the farm scenes are quite simply as brilliant as the writing.
Be forewarned; this book will make your child laugh, cry copious tears, vent against man, and question their existence. It will also open your child’s eye to the teeming life, beauty, and death all around every day. It will also teach the child about asking for help, and finding friends in unlikely places and unlikely sizes.At its core, the child will find a love and friendship that legends are made of.
Book lending credit: Amrita Chanda; Puffin book (1971)