November 1, 2012

Charlotte’s Web Anniversary

Shelby Holliday looks at the appeal of this classic on it’s 60th anniversary.

Shelby: Have you ever read the book Charlotte’s Web? Admit it; you cried. Well, that classic is one of the best-selling children’s paperbacks in history. And now it’s celebrating its 60th birthday.

E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, has sold millions of copies and inspired two movies.

We all know the story about the friendship between Charlotte, a spider, and Wilbur, a pig destined for slaughter. Writer E.B. White based Wilbur on an actual sickly pig from his farm in Maine, says Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web.

Michael Sims: He did everything he could to save its life; worked with his son, stayed up all night, had the veterinarian over two or three times. Nothing worked. The pig dies and he’s much more sad than he ought to have been, and it stays in his mind.

Shelby: As for the spider, White’s barn was filled with them.  And for her name, Charlotte A. Cavatica, White talked with experts.

Michael: He discovered he had the wrong scientific name for the spider. He learned that her name was Aranea cavatica.  So he shrinks the Aranea to a little ‘A,’ middle initial, and she becomes the Charlotte A. Cavatica who breaks our hearts.

Shelby: Even as Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life with her clever webs advertising the pigs virtues, White allows Charlotte to die after laying her eggs just as real barn spiders do. Like many of us, Charlotte’s death was emotional even for the author. He got choked up when he recorded the audio book.

Michael: When Charlotte is dying and he has to read those words: ‘No one was with her when she died,’ and 16 times his voice cracked or he got tears in his eyes. And on the 17th take, twenty years after it was published, he finally was able to read it without breaking down.

E.B. White: Nobody of the hundreds of people that had visited the fair knew that a gray spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

Shelby: This year, the Library of Congress designated Charlotte’s Web, a ‘book that shaped America.’ Officials called the story notable ‘for the way it treats death as a natural and inevitable part of life.’


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