Is there a story you read in your childhood that has stayed with you forever? That when you go back and read it, even just a few lines, it brings back a wave of emotions that you thought you would never feel again?
Well for me, unfortunately, Charlotte’s Web wasn’t one of those books.
The eighth book in my 100 book challenge somehow missed my childhood altogether. I don’t remember reading it. At a stretch I might have seen the movie.
I got to read this one for the first time as an adult. And I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.
It could be that I was coming right off the back of The Catcher in the Rye, written just one year earlier in 1951. I stepped from fist fights on the rough and raw streets of New York to a country farm where pigs spoke with geese and spiders spelled words like ‘humble’ in their web. It just seemed too unlikely. And I get that it’s fiction and a children’s story and all that. And it is kinda sweet that animals talk to each other. But even the realistic bits of the story seemed unlikely. Honestly now, how many farmers would stop to check if there’s a word in a spider’s web anyway? In fact, there’s probably lots of spiders out there writing words in webs, just nobody bothers to check.
It could also be that the gender stereotypes in this story infuriated me. I wouldn’t usually complain because I know it happens in most books (especially those from the 1950s) and that’s just the way it was back then. But if I were to read this book to my son I’d need to ad-lib so many chapters, in particular the whole section where Fern chooses boys over animals and her mother heaves a sigh of relief.
Or it could be that my husband completely spoiled the ending when he saw my book and said, ‘Oh, I love Charlotte’s web! It’s really sad at the end when xxxxx happens to the xxxxx and the xxxxx xxxxx.’ (hint: he wasn’t as thoughtful with his censorship).
But the main reason I was disappointed was because it didn’t draw me back to my childhood. It didn’t remind me of a world that I’d known before. For me, those stories were The Chronicles of Narnia and Winnie the Pooh, both of which are on the 100 book challenge list (I can still remember the feel of the covers and the smell of the pages), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (where me and boys up the road giggled every time the ‘tits in the tree’ were mentioned), Ann M Martin’s Baby-sitters Club series (almost embarrassed to mention that one) and my all-time favourite Sarah’s Nest by Harry Gilbert (where a young girl falls into a canal and wakes up an ant), a book that I’m shocked to see it’s so obscure that I had trouble finding it on Google.
Now back to Charlotte’s Web.
It’s a cute story, but unless it meant something to you as a child, I don’t think it deserves to be on the list.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.
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