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Literature: Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web is a classic children's novel written by E.B. White, known also for works such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan and illustrated by Garth Williams. The work is focused on a young pig named Wilbur, who, being the runt of the litter, is about to be slaughtered. However, his "owners" daughter, Fern, manages to save him and she raises him to be a strong healthy pig. However this means that he is sent down to a different farm, where he is being grown to be slaughtered for food. Determined to help, his spider friend Charlotte launches a campaign to save him. Reading the words brought to her on scraps from the rat Templeton, she begins weaving a series of words and phrases into her web, including "Radiant," "Terrific" and "Some Pig." Word spreads of these miraculous messages, but will it be enough to save Wilbur?

The novel, first published in 1952, has gained widespread acclaim and fame. It earned a Newbery Honor award, the Laura Ingall Wilders Medal (in conjunction with Stuart Little and has sold more than 45 million copies.

The story was first adapted as a cartoon in 1973. It was released by by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Sagittarius Productions and featured music by The Sherman Brothers (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins). The film was reasonably well-reviewed by critics (74% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), though endured some complaints regarding the quality of the animation and the music. Notably, E.B. White himself was disappointed by the film. This did not stop it from becoming a popular success, enjoying strong popularity on VHS and television.

There was a stage adaptation written in 1983 that was personally approved by E.B. White, which was later rewritten into a musical in 1989.

A follow-up to the cartoon, Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, was released in 2003, Direct-to-Video, to celebrate the 30th anniversary.

In 2006, another adaptation was made, this time live-action. This one was Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes, thanks in part to remaining largely faithful to the source material and also, in part, due to a moving score by Danny Elfman. A video game based on this film was released for computer, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS and was reasonably well-reviewed, avoiding The Problem with Licensed Games.

Not to be confused with Babe, which also features a pig in a prominent role and many of the same themes, but has no spider character.


Some tropes seen in either the books or the films include:

  • A Friend in Need: Charlotte's only real motivation for helping Wilbur: he's her friend and he's in danger, so she'll do everything she can to save him.
  • Bait and Switch: The 2006 live action version has one for those not familiar with the story. After Fern says she absolutely will not let her dad kill the small piglet, the movie immediately cuts to bacon being fried; and then after that it cuts to Fern holding the small piglet and bottle-feeding it, so as to make clear that the bacon is from some other pig.
  • Babies Ever After: Although Charlotte dies and most of her offspring leave the farm, three of her daughters remain. And (in the 2000s film) found a whole dynasty of barn spiders.
    • Also, the ending of the 1973 film brings a host of new babies to the farm animals — even Templeton.
  • Balloon Belly: Templeton, seen in both the original novel's Garth Williams illustrations, and (to even greater excess) in the animated version.
  • Big Eater: Templeton, again! Man, oh, man!
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Wilbur lives, Charlotte dies soon after the fair, yet her children live on.
  • Brutal Honesty: A major theme of both the book and its adaptations, with Charlotte, who says she sees no point in withholding unpleasant information from a friend, representing an especially noble variety of it, and Templeton, who is rather overt about his selfish motives for what he does, representing a rather less-than-noble variety. In the animated adaptation, the sheep represents a sort of middle ground, telling Wilbur about what farms do to pigs, while the live action version gives that role to Templeton, bringing his brutal honesty even further.
    Templeton: What? You're going to lie to the future football here? Okay, but it's a sad statement when I'm the most honest guy in the place."
  • Carnivore Confusion: Played with. Charlotte catches and eats insects as humanely as possible, and will defend her need to do this — not just on a personal level, but an ecological one. However, at the end of her life, she delivers the following quote.
    Charlotte: A spiderís life canít 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 anyoneís life can stand a little of that.
  • Casting Gag: Templeton is voiced by openly gay Paul Lynde. It's an In-Joke that he makes an embarrassed giggle when he's followed by a troupe of baby rats.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Or Newbery Honor, anyway. Charlotte.
  • Death Song: The second version of "Mother Earth and Father Time", from the 1973 animated film.
  • Disappeared Dad: Charlotte has 514 children and their father is neither mentioned nor seen. Given the courtship habits of barn spiders, this is probably for the best.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The scene where Templeton sneaks around the fairgrounds at night in the '73 film. This isn't actually too far off the mark from what actually happens.
  • Disneyfication: This is what the original author felt the 1973 movie had subjected his story to.
  • Down on the Farm
  • Dying Alone: Charlotte in the original novel
  • Freudian Slip: Fern accidentally says "Wilbur" when the teacher asks her what the capital of Pennsylvania state is.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Most living things, anyway. Though in the animated version she is quick to point out that most other living things don't.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Children learn in the book that people will believe anything they see in print. A subtle satirical Author Tract from Charlotte.
    • The "I got lucky" facial expression Templeton has on his face when he and his mate and his offspring walk by.
    • In the book, when Charlotte talks about her ancestors, she always talks about females and never about males. Well, this is likely because spider females of many species tend to eat the male right after mating. Now try rereading the ending with this in your head.
  • Meaningful Name: Fern's surname is Arable, and she lives on a farm. The land on a farm (especially that used in growing crops) is called arable land.
    • Charlotte's full name is Charlotte A. Cavatica. She is also a barn spider, and the scientific name for a barn spider is Araneus cavaticus. When her daughter learns that mother's middle initial was "A", she decides to name herself Aranea.
  • Messy Pig: Type 2—Sanitary Swine. Or as sanitary as he can be, considering he sleeps on an enormous pile of manure.
    • Played with when Wilbur has to go to the fair. The sheep advises Wilbur to struggle with being put in a crate. Wilbur's objection that it'll make him messy (after he'd just had a buttermilk bath by Mrs. Zuckerman) is overruled by the sheep warning him if he doesn't struggle, they'll assume something is wrong with him and leave him behind.
  • Only Sane Woman: Mrs. Zuckerman is the only human to point out that a spiderweb with "SOME PIG" woven into it is more indicative that the spider is special, not the pig. Her husband immediately dismisses the idea.
  • The Power of Friendship
  • The Runt at the End: Wilbur
  • Say My Name: In the 1973 film version, after Charlotte passes away:
    Wilbur: Charlotte? Charlotte?? CHARLOTTE!!!
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Charlotte (at least from Wilbur's perspective). Likely as not, her vocabulary introduced a lot of young readers to words like "languishing", "radiant", "versatile", and "salutations."
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Fern is able to understand what the animals are saying when they talk to each other, although she is not shown speaking to them.
  • Speech Impediment: The g-g-goose has a rather pronounced stutter-utter-utter.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Averted.
  • Tough Love: In the book, Charlotte is much stricter on Wilbur than either of the movies, and isn't above snapping at him or scolding him — or anyone else in the barnyard, for that matter.
    • Even in the animated movie, she tricks Templeton into going near a cat simply because he did not feel like attending a meeting about Wilbur.
  • Useless Protagonist: Wilbur.
    • It could be argued, he's more of a Decoy Protagonist (along with Fern), if you prefer to think of Charlotte as the actual main character.
  • Verbal Tic: The geese tend to repeat their own words as they talk.
    Gander: It's my idio-idio-idiosyncracy.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the gosling that wanted to be a pig?
  • What's In It For Me?: It's a continued theme in at least the animated movie that Templeton repeatedly asks this question, and is repeatedly answered with very strong incentives. One has to wonder why Templeton hasn't learned to expect it.
    • Only once is Templeton not threatened - and that's the final time with promises of miles of food at the fair.
  • You Dirty Rat: Templeton is a dirty, gluttonous, selfish Jerkass. However, he's a good guy.

The Caves of SteelLiterature of the 1950sChilde Cycle
BirdmanThe Dark Age of AnimationClue Club
My Father's DragonNewbery MedalOld Yeller
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alternative title(s): Charlottes Web
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