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|Author||E. B. White|
|Publisher||Harper & Brothers|
|Author||E. B. White|
|Publisher||Harper & Brothers|
Charlotte's Web is a children's novel by American author E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams; it was published in 1952 by Harper & Brothers. The novel tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur (such as "Some Pig") in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.
Written in White's dry, low-key manner, Charlotte's Web is considered a classic of children's literature, enjoyable to adults as well as children. The description of the experience of swinging on a rope swing at the farm is an often cited example of rhythm in writing, as the pace of the sentences reflects the motion of the swing. Publishers Weekly listed the book as the best-selling children's paperback of all time as of 2000.
Charlotte's Web was adapted into an animated feature by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Sagittarius Productions in 1973. Paramount released a direct-to-video sequel, Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, in the U.S. in 2003 (Universal released the film internationally). A live-action film version of E. B. White's original story was released in 2006. A video game based on this adaption was also released in 2006.
After sparing the life of a baby piglet almost slaughtered due to his status as runt of the litter, a little girl named Fern Arable adopts it and nurtures it lovingly, naming it Wilbur. However, she is crushed when the piglet matures enough to be separated from his mother, and Wilbur is thus sent to reside on a farm owned by Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman. Her powerful attachment to Wilbur mutual, the pig is left yearning for companionship but is snubbed by other barn animals. However, he is welcomed by an unseen voice who promises to befriend him, vowing to reveal itself to him in the morning.
The voice is revealed to belong to a spider named Charlotte living on a web spun overlooking Wilbur's enclosure. Knowing of Wilbur's impending doom (as the Zuckermans plan on slaughtering him) she promises to hatch a plan guaranteed to spare his life. Sure enough, the following morning the Zuckermans are flabbergasted to catch sight of the words "SOME PIG" woven into the spiderweb, attracting great recognition and publicity. Understanding that Wilbur's chances of survival will be strengthened if similar miracles were to occur, Charlotte employs the assistance of Templeton the barnyard rat in gathering labels as inspiration for her spiderweb messages. As time passes, more and more engravings continue to appear on Charlotte's webs concerning Wilbur's value, attracting increasing notoriety and publicity. Soon Wilbur is entered in the county fair, accompanied by Charlotte and the gluttonous Templeton, aware of the discarded foods littered along the fair grounds, and, while there, Charlotte spins an egg sac containing her unborn offspring---which she refers to as her "magnum opus"---that is heavily guarded by Wilbur. However, the pig is crestfallen when the spider notifies him of her impending death and mentions that she is to pass away before long, staying behind at the fair and dying after Wilbur's departure. Heartbroken, Wilbur guards Charlotte's egg sac, and is saddened further when the new spiders hatch and depart shortly after their birth, leaving behind three spiderlings too young to leave just yet. Pleased at the thought of finding new friends after Charlotte's demise, Wilbur names the spiderlings Joy, Nellie, and Aranea, and the book concludes mentioning that more and more generations of spiders continued to arrive with time to keep Wilbur---who is now safe from death---company.
White's editor Ursula Nordstrom said that one day, in 1952, E.B. White handed her a new manuscript out of the blue, the only version of Charlotte's Web then in existence, which she read soon after and was hugely impressed with. Charlotte's Web was published three years after White began writing it.
Since E. B. White published Death of a Pig in 1948, an account of how he failed to save a sick pig (which had been bought in order to be fattened up and butchered), Charlotte’s Web can be seen as White attempting "to save his pig in retrospect." However, White's overall motivation for the book has not been revealed and he has written, "I haven't told why I wrote the book, but I haven't told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze."
When White met the spider who originally inspired Charlotte, he called her Charlotte Epeira (after Epeira sclopetaria, the Grey Cross spider, now known as Aranea sericata), later discovering that the more modern name for that genus was Aranea. In the novel, Charlotte gives her full name as "Charlotte A. Cavatica", revealing her as a barn spider, an orb-weaver with the scientific name Araneus cavaticus.
The anatomical terms (such as those mentioned in the beginning of chapter nine) and other information that White used came mostly from American Spiders by Willis J. Gertsch and The Spider Book by John Henry Comstock, both of which combine a sense of poetry with scientific fact. White incorporated details from Comstock's accounts of baby spiders, most notably the "flight" of the young spiders and also the way one of them climbs to the top of a fence before launching itself into the air. White sent Gertsch’s book to illustrator Garth Williams. Williams’ initial drawings depicted a spider with a woman’s face, and White suggested that he simply draw a realistic spider instead.
White originally opened the novel with an introduction of Wilbur and the barnyard (which later became the third chapter), but then decided to begin the novel from a human perspective by introducing Fern and her family on the very first page. White’s publishers were at one point concerned with the book’s ending and tried to get White to change it.
Charlotte's Web has become White's most famous book. However, White treasured his privacy and the integrity of the farmyard and barn that helped inspire the novel, which have been kept off limits to the public according to his wishes.
Charlotte's Web was generally well-reviewed when it was released. In The New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote, "As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done." Aside from its paperback sales, Charlotte's Web is 78th on the all-time bestselling hardback book list. According to publicity for the 2006 film adaptation (see below), the book has sold more than 45 million copies and been translated into 23 languages. It was a Newbery Honor book for 1953, losing to Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark for the medal. In 1970, White won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a major prize in the field of children's literature, for Charlotte's Web, along with his first children's book, Stuart Little, published in 1945.
Maria Nikolajeva (in her book The Rhetoric of Character in Children's Literature) calls the opening of the novel a failure because of White's begun and then abandoned human dimension involving Fern, which, she says, obscures any allegory to humanity, if one were to view the animals' story as such. Seth Lerer, in his book Children’s Literature, finds that Charlotte represents female authorship and creativity, and compares her to other female characters in children’s literature such as Jo March in Little Women and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. Nancy Larrick brings to attention the "startling note of realism" in the opening line, "Where's Papa going with that Ax?"
Illustrator Henry Cole expressed his deep childhood appreciation of the characters and story, and calls Garth Williams' illustrations full of “sensitivity, warmth, humor, and intelligence.” Illustrator Diana Cain Blutenthal states that Williams' illustrations inspired and influenced her.
There is an unabridged audio book read by White himself which reappeared decades after it had originally been recorded. Newsweek writes that White reads the story “without artifice and with a mellow charm,” and that “White also has a plangency that will make you weep, so don’t listen (at least, not to the sad parts) while driving.” Joe Berk, president of Pathway Sound, had recorded Charlotte’s Web with White in White’s neighbor's house in Maine (which Berk describes as an especially memorable experience) and released the book in LP. Bantam released Charlotte’s Web alongside Stuart Little on CD in 1991, digitally remastered, having acquired the two of them for rather a large amount.
In 2005, a school teacher in California conceived of a project for her class in which they would send out hundreds of drawings of spiders (each representing Charlotte’s child Aranea going out into the world so that she can return and tell Wilbur of what she has seen) with accompanying letters; they ended up visiting a large number of parks, monuments and museums, and were hosted by and/or prompted responses from celebrities and politicians such as John Travolta and then-First Lady Laura Bush.
A 2004 study found that Charlotte's Web was a common read-aloud book for third-graders in schools in San Diego County, California. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." It was one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.
Its awards and nominations include:
Paramount Pictures, with Walden Media, Kerner Entertainment Company, and Nickelodeon Movies, produced a live-action/animated film starring Dakota Fanning as Fern and the voice of Julia Roberts as Charlotte, released on December 15, 2006.
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