Cassandra's Reviews > Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
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Aug 11, 14

bookshelves: favorites, reviewed, 2012challenge, for-the-kiddos, the-masters
Read from July 16 to October 15, 2012

This bedtime re-reading with the little ones, as well as gaining an extra star in my rating, reminded me why I love this book, with all its wise innocence and profound earthy charm. This is not the cheerful, humorous talking-animals fable it presents itself as. Without being heavy-handed on the moral-of-the-story (as so many well-meaning children's authors tend to) Mr. White has delivered, modestly and graciously, a loving homage to this beautiful, messy, miracle we call life--from the migrating swallows to the spit-bug, from the ecstatic wonder of hatching eggs to the explosive mortification of a rotten one, from changing maple leaves to the rats (yes, even rats!) in the walls to growing girls beginning to forget kids' games and notice how remarkable Henry Fussy is.

When Wilber asks the biggest question, "Why?" Charlotte's response is essense of altruism--more than that, it echoes the endless human struggle to somehow make this brief existence meaningful. "'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... 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... 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.'"

It takes not only a master storyteller, but a true devotee of the ephemeral, paradoxical beauty of this world to plumb the heart of all that is wonderful and terrible and ridiculous about being alive--horror of death, the simple pleasures of food and sleep and laughter, the holy mystery of sacrificial love--and craft it into a tale of a pig, most undignified of creatures, destined for slaughter. Only one fully sensible of the truth behind the phrase "undying love" could have made a common grey spider, with a lifespan of a few years at the most, a figure of all nobility, magnanimity, and grace.

(Side note: I love White for carefully resisting the urge, if any, to turn the troublesome Avery into an example of "bad behavior"--see, children, this is what happens when--but celebrates all the rough-and-tumble glory of boyhood: "He gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on," reports Mrs. Arable, and the all-wise Dr. Dorian succinctly replies, "Good!")

The reason I originally held back from giving this 5 stars was that I wanted to reserve that honor, not just for really good books that are thoughtful and well told, but for those that I feel are life-changing--those Great Works of Art that touch something of the mystery of being, and that everyone, EVERYONE should read--and I wasn't sure this one quite reached that standard, despite being a personal lifelong favorite. Any such doubts have been erased. Children's book or no, this is truly a Great Book, and EVERYONE should read it. Savor the poetry, laugh at White's gentle satire of the nonsense only humans could invent, and unabashedly mourn for Charlotte in the end--while looking forward to the hopeful reminder of renewed life that so generously follows.
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Quotes Cassandra Liked

E.B. White
“After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

Reading Progress

07/16 "Started reading this to the munchkins last night--thus carrying on the family read-aloud tradition to the next generation. They are almost as excited as I am."
08/11 marked as: for-the-kiddos

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Terry (new)

Terry Very nice review Cassandra!

Cassandra Terry wrote: "Very nice review Cassandra!"

Thank you! This one is very near to my heart, and I hope I was able to express why.

Elizabeth "this beautiful, messy, miracle we call life" - what a beautiful line, and a beautiful review all round. Thank you.

Cassandra Elizabeth wrote: "what a beautiful line, and a beautiful review all round. Thank you."

Aw shucks. Thank YOU for reading!

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