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While browsing books in the bookstore last week, I saw that a new edition of Puffin Classics has come out. Many of my favourite stories like ‘Artemis Fowl’ were there and there were others that I hadn’t heard of. I browsed through a few and somehow my heart gravitated towards ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B.White. Oddly, I haven’t read this book before and I haven’t seen the movie version either. I remembered vaguely that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ was about a pig, but I didn’t know where the web came from. So, I got it and I finished reading it yesterday. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

One spring morning a little girl called Fern rescues a runt and names him Wilbur. But then Wilbur is sent to live on a farm where he meets Charlotte, a beautiful large grey spider. They become best friends and, when Wilbur is faced with a dreadful fate, Charlotte must find a very clever way to save him.

What I think

To continue the story given in the summary, one of the farm animals – a sheep – tells Wilbur that he is being fed well by the farmer Mr.Zuckerman, because he is going to be killed in the winter. Wilbur is worried about this and is afraid and he wants to live. What are the adventures Wilbur and Charlotte have after this and what Charlotte does to save her friend and whether it works, form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Charlotte’s Web’. When I read the first chapter, I thought that Fern, who rescues Wilbur first, would be one of the main characters. But as I read through I discovered that there are other characters which were equally important – Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the beautiful grey spider, Templeton the rat, Mr.Zuckerman on whose barn Wilbur lives, Fern’s parents and brother Avery and Dr.Dorian who comes in only one chapter but says some interesting things.  

My favourite character in the story is, of course, Charlotte, the large grey spider, who is beautiful, active, innovative, wise and a wonderful friend. Spiders have always been portrayed as villains in books and in movies. I remember in the Harry Potter series, Aragog and his family are nice to Hagrid, but they try to eat Harry Potter and his friends.  So it was nice to see E.B.White trying to correct this unfair depiction of spiders, by making a spider the heroine of the story. While reading the story, it was difficult to imagine Charlotte as a regular spider – she looked almost human without the flaws.

‘Charlotte’s Web’ is a story of a beautiful friendship, about loyalty and courage, about growing up and letting go. The ending of the story was sad and it made me cry. They say great literature touches your heart, irrespective of when the book was written or irrespective of whether one is a child or a grown up. ‘Charlotte’s Web’ does exactly that. I loved it and I am glad I finally read it. It is one of the books, which I will take down from the shelf, when I am feeling down, and read again and marvel at the beautiful friendship between an innocent pig and a beautiful large grey spider.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

What one wants

      Wilbur didn’t want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend – someone who would play with him.

Beauty

      ‘I think you’re beautiful,’ said Wilbur.

      ‘Well, I am pretty,’ replied Charlotte. ‘There’s no denying that. Almost all spiders are rather nice-looking. I’m not as flashy as some, but I’ll do….’

The pleasures of being sedentary

      ‘…with men it’s rush, rush, rush, every minute. I’m glad I’m a sedentary spider.’

      ‘What does sedentary mean?’ asked Wilbur.

      ‘Means I sit still a good part of the time and don’t go wandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it, and my web is a good thing. I stay put and wait for what comes. Gives me a chance to think.’

A Beautiful friendship

       ‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’

      ‘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.

Catching a wink of sleep

      Wilbur rushed over, pushed his strong snout under the rat, and tossed him into the air.

      ‘Templeton!’ screamed Wilbur. ‘Pay attention!’

      The rat, surprised out of a sound sleep, looked first dazed then disgusted.

      ‘What kind of monkeyshine is this?’ he growled. ‘Can’t a rat catch a wink of sleep without being rudely popped into the air?’

On living longer

      As a result of overeating, Templeton grew bigger and fatter than any rat you ever saw. He was gigantic. He was as big as a young woodchuck.

      The old sheep spoke to him about his size one day. ‘You would live longer,’ said the old sheep, ‘if you ate less.’

      ‘Who wants to live for ever?’ sneered the rat.

On Rains upsetting plans (aka A Pig’s Day)

      Rain upset Wilbur’s plans. Wilbur had planned to go out, this day, and dig a new hole in his yard. He had other plans, too. His plans for the day went something like this.

      Breakfast at six-thirty. Skim milk, crusts, middlings, bit of doughnuts, wheat cakes with drops of maple syrup sticking to them, potato skins, left-over custard pudding with raisins and bits of Shredded Wheat.

      Breakfast would be finished at seven.

      From seven to eight, Wilbur planned to have a talk with Templeton, the rat that lived under his trough. Talking with Templeton was not the most interesting occupation in the world but it was better than nothing.

      From eight to nine, Wilbur planned to take a nap outdoors in the sun.

      From nine to eleven, he planned to dig a hole, or trench, and possibly find something good to eat buried in the dirt.

      From eleven to twelve, he planned to stand still and watch flies on the boards, watch bees in the clover, and watch swallows in the air.

      Twelve o’clock – lunchtime. Middlings, warm water, apple parings, meat gravy, carrot scrapings, meat scraps, stale hominy, and the wrapper off a package of cheese. Lunch would be over at one.

      From one to two, Wilbur planned to sleep.

      From two to three, he planned to scratch itchy places by rubbing against the fence.

      From three to four, he planned to stand perfectly still and think of what it was like to be alive, and to wait for Fern.

      At four would come supper. Skim milk, provender left-over sandwich from Lurvy’s lunchbox, prune skins, a morsel of this, a bit of that, fried potatoes, marmalade drippings, a little more of this, a little more of that, a piece of baked apple, a scrap of upside-down cake.

      Wilbur had gone to sleep thinking about these plans. He awoke at six and saw the rain, and it seemed as though he couldn’t bear it.

      ‘I get everything all beautifully planned out and it has to go and rain,’ he said.

The best place to be

Life in the barn was very good – night and day, winter and summer, spring and autumn, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

Final Thoughts

I loved ‘Charlotte’s Web’. I think I will read it again some day. If you like children’s literature and you haven’t read ‘Charlotte’s Web’ yet, I would heartily recommend it. You can also gift it to your nephews, nieces or your own children.

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