My overriding memory of this story is not in fact the book or the film with Dakota Fanning, but the 1973 cartoon musical which we used to own on video. The book itself – although without songs – is a very well written story.
The story follows Wilbur the pig as he is first saved from being killed, for being the runt of the litter, by Fern and later saved by Charlotte the spider.
The title character of Charlotte doesn’t come into the book until about three chapters in, but it is an introduction worth waiting for.
“Fern had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful name she could think of. ‘It’s name is Wilbur,’ she whispered to herself.”
Once Wilbur is grown, he is taken to a farmyard with lots of other animals such as geese, sheep and cows. Each animal has a distinct way of talking. The geese, for instance, repeat words and parts of words when they talk and you can clearly imagine that that is how geese talk. Charlotte, however, uses lots of long words such as “Salutations.”
Charlotte takes it into her own hands to stop the farmers from killing Wilbur come Christmas time. She does this by weaving words into her web such as:
“They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side.”
After a while Charlotte changes the words to “Radiant” which is from a soap advert in a magazine that the rat bought her back from the dump. All the humans on the farm view the web as some sort of miracle leading a dramatic irony situation as the reader knows it’s just random words from adverts and that she nearly ended up writing “Pre-shrunk” instead.
“‘It seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”
E.B White obviously spent a lot of time researching spiders as there is a lot of scientific names used in the book such as “spinnerets” to help Charlotte spin her web and Charlotte making her egg sac at the end.
The book does seem to end on a bittersweet note as Charlotte does die, but a few of her children live on in the farmyard while the others go and make their homes elsewhere. Which means Wilbur always has a few spider friends living in his farmyard. The writing describing Charlotte’s death is like the rest of the book. Simple but effective. It doesn’t go in for sentimentality and it doesn’t seem as if it is trying to make you cry. This works by making you more sad and more likely to cry (though I didn’t cry.) than if it was over emotional. Charlotte’s death is portrayed as a part of life. Sad but necessary as her children must take her place.
Although obviously a book for children the writing can be enjoyed by anyone.