Recently, some words from ‘Charlotte’s Web‘ surfaced from my unconscious. (If you’ve never read Charlotte’s Web, I don’t know what you’re doing here. We are probably from different planets.)
When Wilbur sees Charlotte’s egg sac, he asks if it’s a plaything. Charlotte replies:
“It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.” “I don’t know what a magnum opus is,” said Wilbur. “That’s Latin,” explained Charlotte. “It means ‘great work.’ This egg sac is my great work – the finest thing I have ever made.”
This is how I feel about my children, how I imagine all mothers must feel about their children. They were my gift to the world. And they are gone, one from the world and one from the nest.
At least Charlotte got to go first. That is the natural order of things. There is no consolation for me, but there is art.
What a wonderful book! It is so full of wisdom. I always thought it was about friendship, but it is also about death. I guess it’s about everything. When I read it to my kids, I remember feeling upset by Wilbur’s panic when he thinks that Charlotte’s children are leaving him. It triggers my fear of abandonment.
Watching the last season of ‘The Wire’ the other night, I wondered if Templeton, the unscrupulous reporter, was an homage to E.B. White’s Templeton, a rat. Maybe all roads lead to Charlotte’s web.
Here is an excerpt from Eudora Welty‘s review of Charlotte’s Web, written in 1952 (which I found here)
What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done. What it all proves–in the words of the minister in the story which he hands down to his congregation after Charlotte writes “Some Pig” in her web–is “that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.” Dr. Dorian says in another place, “Oh, no, 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.” The author will only say, “Charlotte was in a class by herself.”
*illustrations by Garth Williams