How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte.
It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”
Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness.
When counseling people about to be married, I stress one point in particular: Mind your words. People may forgive spoken cruelties, but they will never forget the sound of your voice saying them. Neither will they forget the sound of you praying for them by name, or praising them to their friends.
In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:
Charlotte’s Web is a metaphor for the power words have to shape us into who others see us as well as how we see ourselves. For it is through words that Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life—not temporarily, as Fern has, but forever, at least the sort of forever that’s contained within the pages of a book. By knitting those words into her web which stretches above Wilbur’s pigpen, Charlotte makes the pig the talk of the town. No one, not even a farmer like Homer Zuckerman whose livelihood depends upon the fruit of his toiling, does away with a pig as special as Wilbur, one who gains widespread fame and visitors from near and far. Even when Wilbur loses first place at the County Fair to a much bigger pig, Wilbur’s life is no less secure than was my rabbit’s for his award of the red ribbon each year at the Monmouth Fair. Yet, Charlotte’s words not only save Wilbur’s life, they shape his life.
The Bible has much to say about the power of words, notably this:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web
Although his publications range from three well-known children’s books to numerous essays, books, and poems for adults, E.B. White’s works consistently display eloquent craftsmanship and a keen sense of observation.
Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Cornell University on a scholarship and served as editor in chief of its daily newspaper. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1921, he worked for the United Press, the American Legion News Service, and the Seattle Times. He took a job as a mess boy aboard an Alaskan ship in 1923 but returned to Mount Vernon later in the year to work in an advertising agency.
The founding of The New Yorker magazine in 1925 proved pivotal to White’s career. After having several submissions accepted, he joined the staff full-time in 1927. He married one of the editors, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in 1929 and became stepfather to her two children; a son was born to them the following year. Although the couple later left New York for a Maine farm, White remained a lifelong contributor to the magazine. He also wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat” for Harper’s magazine from 1938 to 1943.
White’s publications for adults included The Lady Is Cold (1929), Is Sex Necessary? (1929, with James Thurber), Farewell to Model T (1936), The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems (1938), The Wild Flag (1946), The Second Tree from the Corner (1954), and The Points of My Compass (1962). Letters of E.B. White was published in 1976, and a collection of his essays appeared a year later. White also contributed to and revised several editions of William Strunk Jr.’s classic writer’s manual, The Elements of Style.
White’s first children’s book was Stuart Little (1945), an adventure story about a two-inch-(5-centimeter-)tall, mouselike son born to average human parents. White followed the success of that book with Charlotte’s Web (1952), winner of the 1958 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and runner-up for the 1953 Newbery Medal. The book tells of a small pig whose life is spared twice, first by a farmer’s daughter and later by the ingenuity of a friendly spider. White drew inspiration for the tale from observing his own farm animals. The book was adapted into an animated film in 1972. White’s final children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), chronicles the life of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to communicate by writing on a slate and by playing a trumpet. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971 and was included on the 1972 International Board on Books for Young People Honor List.
White received a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1970), and the National Medal for Literature (1971). In 1978 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for his body of work. White died in Maine on October 1, 1985.
Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
A children’s novel by E.B. White, published in 1952, with illustrations by Garth Williams. This widely read tale, which is one of the classics of children’s literature, takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web. White’s own life on a farm contributed to the tranquil, pastoral setting of the book and the careful observations of animal behaviour. The novel explores, among other things, the nature of friendship, a theme many adults as well as children have appreciated.
Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.