Charlette’s Web

A group of us were having our men’s group and talking about men displaying their emotions and it being Ok for men to cry. While this is more acceptable in society now, I think some people are judgmental about it. However, as a group we had no problems of a man crying.

To me one the times I fought back tears was reading the book “Charlette’s Web” to my daughter when she was little. The “crying paragraph” is (spoiler alert) in the back of the book when Charlotte dies. Now this isn’t the first time I was introduced to Charlette’s Web. I remember my third-grade teacher reading it in 5 minutes segments every morning. Setting there listening I really liked the book. I remember her reading the “crying paragraph” and the teacher being upset after reading it. I kept hoping the paragraph would change tone and Wilbur or some other animal would rescue Charlotte. Setting in the back of the room I could tell my teacher was affected, but don’t remember anyone else crying.

Later I read it to recall why I enjoyed the book and if I still enjoyed it. The answer to both is yes. E.B. White is an excellent writer and there is a lot to like about this book. The characters all have their own personalities (even though most of them are animals) for one thing. There are some serious and fun discussions among the animals making the book enjoyable. However, when I started the paragraph when Charlotte died I probably sped read it and didn’t get the whole affect.

However, years later being an old father, I read to my daughter a lot. One of the things I was fairly good at was doing voices and emotions. So, there I was reading Charlotte’s Web and I get to the “crying paragraph” and I make my voice sad, however as I am slowly, emotionally reading the words they start to get to me. My voice starts to crack, and my daughter probably thinks I am doing an excellent job with my voice acting here. Then I am thinking in the back of my mind, this is just a little spider as I’m reading, but I just get sadder and sadder.

There are two thoughts I have on this. First now I know how my third-grade teacher felt. Reading that paragraph is emotionally draining. Lucky I was going to bed soon after tucking my daughter in. The other is E.B. White is a heck of a writer to make me feel that way about a little spider dying.

A couple of years ago I read a book of essays by Roger Angell, my second favorite baseball writer and longtime New Yorker editor and writer, where he talked about his stepfather. His stepfather just happened to be E.B. White the famous writer. He said how he spent a long time writing that paragraph to get it just right as he knew that was the key to the whole book. That is what makes a good author, because that paragraph takes the book up another level from just plain story telling.

Then Angell said something I never thought of before and that the book was about death. He talked about Wilbur almost becoming breakfast in the first chapter and Charlotte’s death at the end. Then I started to think that is why the book doesn’t work as a movie. You can get everything down but the death scenes, but that is really what the book is about. It is hard to show how close Wilbur comes to death in the beginning of the movie as you don’t want to have too intense of a scene for little kids. At the end you can see Charlotte’s dying, but it is now going to affect the audience like reading that paragraph, because her death isn’t about the spider, it is about all of us.  

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