“Where’s Papa going with that axe?”
…So begins Charlotte’s Web in one of the most iconic opening lines to a children’s book, ever.
Mortality is a tough topic for most people, and it’s an especially difficult one for children. From its opening line, Charlotte’s Web tells you what to expect. It lays out all the upsetting things: a loved one is holding an axe, a creature is slated to die because it is not as big or strong as its siblings. Instead, the thinking is that it will be used to feed others.
Charlotte’s Web is frank, it is honest, and most importantly, it doesn’t force the child to go along with it.
Fern does not let her father use that axe. Wilbur, the runt pig, survives, and survives, and survives on his own merits, and by the affection of others. He is humble, he is terrific, he is loved.
That is the core of Charlotte’s Web: mortality is frightening, death can be lonely and sudden, but love outlasts even that anxiety.
By laying things out through the eyes of a child, of a pig, and a spider – who all just want the best for each other, it becomes a tremendously gentle introduction to concepts that never truly go away. It lets children wrestle with these life challenges alongside their animal friends, and in the end, helps them acknowledge that even though partings are difficult: true friendship has lasting power.
This is what keeps families coming back to Charlotte’s Web 71 years later. Not the death, …but the life. Not the parting, …but the friendship.
A spider’s web is stronger than it looks. Although it is made of thin, delicate strands, the web is not easily broken.
No one is easily broken. In Charlotte’s words:
A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. 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.
Written by Joanna Coogan
Written by Joseph Robinette
Adapted from the book by E.B. White
Directed by Artie Olaisen
Recommended for ages 5 and up
April 29 – May 27, 2023
The best-loved children’s story of all time and winner of The Newbery Honor! Discover the true meaning of friendship and life’s everyday miracles. Get caught in Charlotte’s web to save Wilbur, the “radiant” and “humble” pig, and make friends once again with all his loveable barnyard neighbors. One of the first books ever written for children exploring issues of mortality, CHARLOTTE’S WEB is an emotional tribute to friendship with universal themes depicting courage, compassion, and the ever-changing cycle of life.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB produced by special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing, Woodstock, Illinois.
Wilbur’s New Friends, Charlotte’s Web, page 181 illustration by GM Williams, 1952
There Was the Handsome Pig Charlotte’s Web, page 95 illustration by GM Williams, 1952