Peter Pan and Wind in the Willows are children´s classics that I revisit regularly. But I would not have read Charlotte's Web again if it had not been for the student I am tutoring. Frankly, I had forgotten what a beautifully touching book it is.
E. B. White succeeds in creating a gentle story while at the same time acknowledging some of life´s harshest realities: death, loneliness, selfishness, and the passing of time. But, thank goodness, he is never maudlin.
I´m a sucker for gorgeous language and this book offers up a rich serving of delectable words and phrases that should whet a child´s appetite for more: "Play?" said Templeton, twirling his whiskers. "Play? I hardly know the meaning of the word." "Well," said Wilbur, "it means to have fun, to frolic, to run and skip and make merry."
Other words to savor are explained by Charlotte or understood in context. For example, Templeton tells Wilbur to be careful by saying, "I don´t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated, or scarred, or biffed." (p. 29) I love any book that treats children as intelligent enough to figure these words out.
The gentle philosophizing was a treat that probably only adult readers would catch, and I relished it.
When your stomach is empty and your mind full, it´s always hard to sleep. (p. 32)
Men rush, rush, rush all the time. (60). Charlotte´s philosophy is Never hurry, Never worry. (p. 65)
Life is always a rich and steady time when your are waiting for something to happen or hatch. (p. 176)
The book´s main impact comes from the unusual friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur. When Charlotte determines to save his life, he declares, "Why did you do all this for me? I don´t deserve it... I´m just an ordinary pig!" "You´re terrific as far as I´m concerned," she replies. And herein is the essence of the story - sacrificial love based not on merit, but on grace. It is a beautiful story because it echoes The Truest Story.
Its gentle jabs at human foibles, its remarkable prose and its theme of self-giving love make Charlotte`s Web a delight to read.