Cassandra's Reviews > Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
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Aug 11, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, reviewed, 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

E.B. White
“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.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“I'm staying right here," grumbled the rat. "I haven't the slightest interest in fairs."
"That's because you've never been to one," remarked the old sheep . "A fair is a rat's paradise. Everybody spills food at a fair. A rat can creep out late at night and have a feast. In the horse barn you will find oats that the trotters and pacers have spilled. In the trampled grass of the infield you will find old discarded lunch boxes containing the foul remains of peanut butter sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, cracker crumbs, bits of doughnuts, and particles of cheese. In the hard-packed dirt of the midway, after the glaring lights are out and the people have gone home to bed, you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles,partially gnawed ice cream cones,and the wooden sticks of lollypops. Everywhere is loot for a rat--in tents, in booths, in hay lofts--why, a fair has enough disgusting leftover food to satisfy a whole army of rats."
Templeton's eyes were blazing.
" Is this true?" he asked. "Is this appetizing yarn of yours true? I like high living, and what you say tempts me."
"It is true," said the old sheep. "Go to the Fair Templeton. You will find that the conditions at a fair will surpass your wildest dreams. Buckets with sour mash sticking to them, tin cans containing particles of tuna fish, greasy bags stuffed with rotten..."
"That's enough!" cried Templeton. "Don't tell me anymore I'm going!”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“But we have received a sign, Edith - a mysterious sign. A miracle has happened on this farm... in the middle of the web there were the words 'Some Pig'... we have no ordinary pig."

"Well", said Mrs. Zuckerman, "it seems to me you're a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle-it's just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

E.B. White
“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year - the days when summer is changing into autumn - the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web


Reading Progress

07/16/2012 "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."
08/11/2014 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.


message 3: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz "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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