Posts Tagged 'Charlotte’s Web'

“And they called it puppy love…”

Eddie at 5 weeks old

In the month since we adopted Eddie, I’ve been reliving the elation and exhaustion of being a new mother. It’s been seventeen summers since I brought my youngest child home, but the feelings are so familiar that I’m constantly having to remind myself that my new baby is… a dog. Some people dress up their pets; I prefer to think of Eddie as a small boy dressed in a dog suit. I half expect to find a zipper when he rolls over for a belly rub. I imagine these are the same emotions that Stuart Little’s mother experienced when she noticed her second son “looked very much like a mouse in every way.”

In the lexicon of technology innovation, Eddie is what’s called a “disruptor.” Like a Fortune 500 company in a mature market, my family has had to rethink the way we do business and to adapt following Eddie’s arrival, starting with a few facility changes: guests will notice the absence of rugs and the addition of some rather unsightly plastic barriers blocking off part of the living room and the stairway. We’ve all had to become more nimble, dodging Eddie’s razor-toothed assaults on our shoes and pant legs and clearing the floor and low surfaces of objects that might attract his rapacious jaws. I’ve had to adjust my daily routine to accommodate his need for frequent walks and close supervision, and stock my pockets with dog treats and bio-bags. During this time of transition, the old (feline) technology has retreated upstairs to sulk and plot their re-launch strategy.

And yet, despite the disruption and the considerable time-sink that housetraining a puppy poses, I am utterly smitten. Puppy love: I’ve got it bad. Continue reading ‘“And they called it puppy love…”’

Charlotte’s Web Tops List of Best-Ever Kids’ Books

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web at the top of his list of best-ever children’s books (7/4/09). Though I wholeheartedly agree with his #1 choice, Nick’s one-line summary kind of misses the point: “The story of the spider who saves her friend, the pig, is the kindest representation of an arthropod in literary history.” Yes, the book is named for Charlotte, but it is really Wilbur’s story. In my view Charlotte’s Web is the story of a pig who transcends his destiny (the dinner table) with the help of his friends, most notably a spider.

Charlotte is the book’s heroine in a narrow sense; more aptly, she is a clever saleswoman, who by weaving superlatives into her web she changes people’s perceptions of Wilbur, from ham to celebrity. Successful (and sincere) pitch woman that she is, Charlotte doesn’t risk anything to achieve these heroic deeds. When her job is done she dies quietly of natural causes, leaving numerous offspring to tend to Wilbur’s celebrity (a legion of arthropod PR agents).

Readers young and old identify with Wilbur. He is our naive inner child who can’t see beyond the pleasures of his food trough to the certain fate that awaits him, and us.  Charlotte is the mother figure, whose love, wisdom and competence help her weave a solution for what appears to be a hopeless situation. (And isn’t it appropriate that a mother needs eight legs!) As readers/children we cannot help but grieve when Charlotte/our mother dies, yet we are mostly relieved that our stand-in Wilbur is spared the ax.

Did Wilbur survive another season? We’ll never know for sure, but EBW could bank on young readers being optimists, so we’ll have to suppose Wilbur’s contract was renewed for as many episodes as a pig’s natural lifespan promises.

As to that lifespan, having just read the immensely enjoyable story of a real-life Wilbur (The Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery), I can say Wilbur might have looked forward to a 14-season run, give or take. He also might eventually have tipped the scales at 750 pounds and been unable to right himself when he toppled over sideways on a hillside. The very entertaining book depicts the joys and frustrations of raising a pet that weighs as much as a refrigerator and eats as much in a day as one can hold!

Ode to a Spider

My friend Jeff recently called my attention to a segment that aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on August 4, 2008.

Entitled “Charlotte A. Cavatica: Bloodthirsty, Wise and True” and reported by Melissa Block, the segment discusses the character of Charlotte and includes clips of E. B. White reading from Charlotte’s Web. Like his readers, young and old, he always struggled to read the ending without crying (spoiler alert: Charlotte dies). The show also includes speculation by Martha White (EBW’s granddaughter and editor of his collected letters) that Charlotte was modeled on her grandmother, Katharine White. Lending credence to the theory, NPR’s Block notes that EBW penned an arachnid love poem when he and Katharine were newlyweds, some 25 years before the publication of Charlotte’s Web:
Continue reading ‘Ode to a Spider’

Salutations!

E.B. White with his dog in the late 1940s (photo from NYT, 10/2/85)

E.B. White with his dog in the late 1940s (photo from NYT, 10/2/85)

I first fell in love with E.B. White’s books as a small child reading Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Later I grew to appreciate his writing for adults in The New Yorker. 

More recently, while boxing up my late mother’s books to donate to her local library, I found a hardcover copy of White’s collected essays, inscribed by me “Christmas 1977,” the year of its publication. I brought the book home, and leafing through it, I discovered that Mom had saved a newspaper clipping of his obituary between its pages. (White died Oct. 1, 1985, at age 86.) Re-reading the essays has reminded me how deeply I admire White, not only for the elegance of his prose and his dry wit, but for the timeless wisdom of his observations about daily life, animals and politics.

“Salutations!” is how Charlotte first greeted Wilbur, and so I dedicate this blog to E. B. White, whose way with words continues to impress and inspire me.


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