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“Charlotte’s Web” and the Power of Words

August 7, 2019

Recently, I found myself thinking about E.B. White’s classic children’s story, “Charlotte’s Web.” I’d venture to guess that most of us have either read the book or seen a movie version. Personally, I’m partial to the 1973 animated version featuring the brilliant music by the Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert Sherman, most famous for their Disney music and lyrics from “Mary Poppins” and other classic movies).

There are certain stories and movies that I really cannot watch without breaking down into a pile of tears. “Little Women” is one; “Where the Red Fern Grows is Another.” And “Charlotte’s Web” is definitely at the top of the movie list. I remember first watching the movie in my childhood family room with my mom when I was about 6 or 7-years old. And from that first viewing through all the times I’ve seen it since, I always cry when Charlotte dies and Wilbur weeps for his loss.

Not long ago, I watched the movie with Sophie. While I admit that I often leave the room (or turn the movie off) before the painful ending, this time I chose to sit through the movie and experience the ending as an adult. And just like all the times before, I cried when Wilbur lost his friend.

But this viewing was different. Watching the movie as an adult, the ending and story took on a much deeper meaning to me. Specifically, it was the last two lines of the story that the narrator said (that White penned), which really cut to the core of me:

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Those last two lines are so simple, yet so powerful. It really hit me that “Charlotte’s Web” is not only a story about friendship, but also about words and the difference those words can make in people’s lives.

As a writer and a person, I truly believe that words have power — they are tools to heal, wound, inspire, energize … I believe words can forge connections and save lives.

In Wilbur’s case, it was not just Charlotte’s friendship that meant so much to him. It was the words the spider used to describe him; the words that eventually saved his life. Sure, the story is fiction and not at all plausible. But the idea that words can truly make a difference in a friend’s life is far from a fantasy.

That is why those last two lines are the heart and power of the story. The beauty lies with that little spider who changed (and saved) lives through the power of her writing. It’s an inspirational concept to say the least. I can only hope my words can have an impact the way Charlotte’s did, and White’s continue to do.

A version of this post was published on Leah’s Thoughts in August 2011.

60 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2011 3:32 am

    He was brilliant and Charlotte’s Web is a classic for all ages. Nice post, thanks.

    • September 1, 2011 11:15 pm

      Makes me really want to read the book now too.

  2. August 30, 2011 3:37 am

    Great post!

    • September 1, 2011 11:15 pm

      Thanks for coming by. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. August 30, 2011 6:50 am

    I recently heard an very interesting interview on NPR (here’s the link One point stuck out to me: Even E.B. White cried when he read the passage of Charlotte’s death. I think it took him, like, six takes to get it for the book recording. I found that very touching.

    • September 1, 2011 11:16 pm

      Wow, that’s really interesting about E.B. White’s own reactions. I’m going to check out the NPR article. Thanks!

  4. Lena permalink
    August 30, 2011 6:54 am

    Your post made me want to go our and rent Charlotte’s Web. It has been eons since I have read it. Thank you.

    • September 1, 2011 11:17 pm

      What a sweet story about Matthew! Kids really are so sweet and empathetic. And it’s truly from their heart.

  5. August 30, 2011 6:59 am

    Shamefully, I have never read or seen Charlotte’s Web! While of course I am familiar with it, I don’t even know the storyline. I’m not sure how this passed me by, but your post inspires me to check it out!

    • September 1, 2011 11:17 pm

      And here I went, spoiling the ending for you. Don’t hate me! Seriously though, you should read it one day. Or watch the movie. It’s great.

  6. August 30, 2011 7:24 am

    This is one of my favorite childhood books, one that resonates for all ages. The story is simply beautiful. Thanks for the reminder.

    • September 1, 2011 11:18 pm

      Thanks, Monica. I know, it’s a classic in my book too.

  7. August 30, 2011 8:11 am

    Charlott’e Web is one of my favorite childhood stories. Thanks so much for reminding me why I love it.

    • September 1, 2011 11:19 pm

      You’re welcome, Shary. Thanks for commenting.

  8. August 30, 2011 8:14 am

    You touch lives, Leah. I know you do mine.
    Sophie’s behavior was so sweet. I like her suggestion to breath 🙂
    Isn’t CW a great story?! Just love it!

    • September 1, 2011 11:20 pm

      Thank you so much, Cynthia. That means a lot to me. And yes, it’s a wonderful story.

  9. August 30, 2011 8:23 am

    Oh I so agree with Shary, CW is one of my all time favorite books!

    • September 1, 2011 11:20 pm

      It is certainly a classic by me. Thanks for commenting.

  10. August 30, 2011 11:11 am

    I am jealous of people, who have sisters and daughters. I am surrounded by boys, who I adore, but they are not as emotional as we – girls are and your daughter is a living proof of it. Such a touching story!

    • September 1, 2011 11:21 pm

      There’s a lot of sweet sensitive boys out there too, Rada. Thank you for your nice words.

  11. August 30, 2011 11:34 am

    This was our favorite childhood book (my 2 siblings and I). Hands down. Your post reminds me of beautiful and heartbreaking story. I may have to read it again!

    • September 1, 2011 11:21 pm

      Thanks, and thanks for commenting. I think we should all re-read Charlotte’s Web together.

  12. August 30, 2011 12:52 pm

    Wow — I didn’t remember the ending line. Quite powerful, especially in the context of a blog. I know that I have come to rely on certain blogs — yours among them — as touchstones of my day. So in a way, you are a Charlotte to your readers, like me. Beautiful post!

    • September 1, 2011 11:22 pm

      Oh, thank you so much, Julia. That truly means a lot to me. I’m so honored to be thought of in Charlotte’s company at all.

  13. August 30, 2011 1:49 pm

    What a great reminder of the last line. I have never thought about Charlotte’s Web in that way. For my two oldest kids I made a web and put words in it as they were learning to read. You have reminded me that it’s time to do that for the twins! Thank you for your awesome post!

    • September 1, 2011 11:23 pm

      Thank you, Julie, for your nice comments. I didn’t even know that last line existed until I watched it again. Funny how things come into your life at certain times.

  14. August 30, 2011 2:07 pm

    I am always in awe of writers and their works that continue to inspire as well continue to reappear in new generations. The closing line, to be cliche, speaks volumes.

    • September 1, 2011 11:23 pm

      Yes, it really does, Brenda. Thanks for commenting.

  15. August 30, 2011 2:37 pm

    Wow. Leah, that is very profound. At least to me, because I was clueless about this too. I always focused on the friendship–but not about how WORDS were the vehicle. Amazing insight here. Thank you!

    • September 1, 2011 11:24 pm

      Thank you, Michael Ann. And I too always focused on the friendship part. Not until this recent viewing did I realize the impact that words and writing had in the story.

  16. August 30, 2011 5:14 pm

    I have to read this again. I don’t remember much about it. I think I remember being a little traumatized…Thanks for your insights..I’ll have better food for thought in my reread.

    • September 1, 2011 11:26 pm

      It is traumatic. Especially because Charlotte’s death is such a part of the end of the story. But the words at the end also reveal a lot about the lessons.

  17. August 30, 2011 5:28 pm

    Oh, my….what a beautiful, touching post. I also read Julia’s comment (wordsxo) and she’s absolutely right!

    ….give Sophie a hug from me – she is too sweet for words.

    • September 1, 2011 11:26 pm

      Thanks, Ann. And I will give Sophie a hug for you. She’s a neat kid and I’m proud to call her my daughter.

  18. August 30, 2011 7:25 pm

    Beautifully written Leah. I have no doubt your words will have a mighty impact on your readers, because you want them to and there is such a great heart of love behind the hand that writes…

    • September 1, 2011 11:28 pm

      Thank you so much, Elizabeth. That really means a lot from you. And I love the words you used — “the hand that writes.”

  19. August 30, 2011 8:37 pm

    Lovely. Aw, the post made me cry. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie in years.

    • September 1, 2011 11:28 pm

      Thanks, Margaret. I want to re-read the book after watching the movie so recently.

  20. August 31, 2011 4:19 am

    This inspires me to re-read it, I can’t for the life of me really remember.

    • September 1, 2011 11:29 pm

      Maybe you blocked it out. It is a sad story. Thanks for commenting.

  21. August 31, 2011 11:11 am

    The first “real” book I ever read, and still one of my favorites. I wrote about our experience with it here… and was touched by some of the similarities in our posts. Timeless, that Charlotte.

    Can’t wait to go click on Rivki’s link!

    • September 1, 2011 11:30 pm

      Thanks, Michelle. I haven’t read your post so I’m excited to check it out in just a few minutes. The NPR article is quite interesting.

  22. August 31, 2011 12:35 pm

    Love how Charlotte keeps reaching us in new ways the older we get. That ending certainly does take on deeper meanings for us as writers, doesn’t it! Wonderful, thoughtful post, Leah, as always.

    And, by the way, I used to read Old Yeller with my students when I was a classroom teacher, and we all would cry when we got to the part where…well, you know. Still can’t talk about it. Sob.

    • September 1, 2011 11:31 pm

      OMG, I can’t watch Old Yeller. That’s another one where I end up crying hysterically. It’s so sad. Movies with animals that die or are hurt always get to me. Yes, Charlotte lives on differently as we grow older, doesn’t she?

  23. August 31, 2011 5:50 pm

    I loved Charlotte’s Web growing up, but your perspective is interesting as an adult! I didn’t remember the ending sentence either & I love when children’s books/movies have a deeper meaning.

    • September 1, 2011 11:34 pm

      I never remembered that last line either until this time when I watched it again. It really did open an entire new window for how I viewed that story. and thank you for your nice words about Sophie.

  24. August 31, 2011 4:26 pm

    Wow, now you have me teary-eyed. I guess I never really felt that angle at a gut-level before, but for a writer or reader it really is a profound truth, isn’t it: the power of words to connect us, to transform us, and yes, sometimes if we’re lucky – to save us? Thanks for sharing your thoughts on one of my favorite stories.

    The book that made me want to become a writer was “Little Women.” I wanted to be Jo. Though she didn’t save a life like poor Charlotte did, Jo’s writing made her sister Beth come to life for others. The whole book was a wonderful illustration of writing from the heart.

    • September 1, 2011 11:32 pm

      “Little Women” is my other favorite book and movie. And Jo is my favorite character. I so admired Jo for wanting to be a writer and going after her dream. She was a brave woman. And a remarkable story. I had not made the comparison with Beth though until I read your comment. Thanks, really insightful!

  25. August 31, 2011 4:39 pm

    I love Charlotte’s Web. E.B. White left us a with classic I will always treasure. Thanks for sharing its impact on you, Leah.

    • September 1, 2011 11:33 pm

      Thanks, Nancy, for commenting. I’m looking forward to re-reading the book after all the wonderful comments people left.

  26. August 31, 2011 8:33 pm

    Whoa! Now that was an amazing blog, Leah. At least as amazing as those last words in Charlotte’s Web. I need to watch it again. I remember watching it with you guys. You’re a beautiful writer, Leah and you made me cry.

    • September 1, 2011 11:35 pm

      Thanks, mom! I always remember watching that movie for the first time with you too. Maybe Sophie will have the same memory as she grows.

  27. September 1, 2011 2:58 am

    Charlotte’s Web was one of my favorite stories as a child. I can’t watch the original animated fildm without bawling, forget about shedding a few tears. Thank you for this post. It may be time for a reread of the old classic.

    • September 1, 2011 11:35 pm

      Thanks, Jennifer. Glad I could inspire you to reread the book. Yeah, I say shed tears, but I really mean bawl hysterically. It was not a pretty site.

  28. September 1, 2011 11:19 pm

    Wow, thanks for saying that, Susan. I hadn’t even thought about Sophie’s actions as a testament to my mothering. Since you’re local, I think Sophie may be available to help you too if you decide to re-read it.

  29. September 1, 2011 11:25 pm

    Thanks, Shari. It was a really sweet feeling when Sophie did that for me. I know what you mean though — the ending is torture. It was hard to watch. But I knew I had to. And I’m glad I did, especially since I re-discovered that last line.

  30. September 1, 2011 11:27 pm

    Oh that part in “Dumbo” kills me, even now! So true about those Disney movies too. I’m glad Sophie helped you think of your daughter too.

  31. September 1, 2011 11:36 pm

    Thanks so much, Julie! Can’t wait to check it out now!

  32. August 7, 2019 6:43 am

    As a preschool teacher I read that book to my class every year. Those final lines were always the hardest for me to read and my voice was thick with emotion each time. I keep those words with me, everywhere.

  33. Deborah Holt Williams permalink
    March 15, 2020 1:02 pm

    Great, thoughtful post! If I had to pick one favorite book, it would be Charlotte’s Web., Like you, I noticed different things when I read it as an adult, most notably the changes in Fern as she grows older. I was ready to hate the animated movie, but it was wonderful. Didn’t you love Paul Lynde as Templeton?! When I went to an exhibit of 100 years of picture book art, I came around the corner and there was the original watercolor of the Charlotte’s Web cover illustration, and I started crying!

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