Chapter 28: The Charlotte Papers
If by chance you've forgotten what a great writer E.B.White was, just read his next letter to me, and feel my inspiration.
NORTH BROOKLIN, MAINE
February 3, 1971
Thanks for your great letter. I agree with William James. If the film of CHARLOTTE'S WEB, or any other film you make, outlasts you, you are 1iving properly. It is true that my story celebrates the great themes, birth, death, renewal; and it is true that it explores the high virtues---friendship, love, loyalty, fidelity. But being a fabulist, I can assure you that this is a story of the aninma1 kingdom, which of course includes that strangest of the mammals, man. It is not a story of the human kingdom, or human condition, and any attempt to cut it down to that level would invite disaster. When I wrote the book, I was operating on the highest level (which incidentally is where you meet children face to face and where dumb creatures and humans mingle in perfect equality).
It is all very well to say that "Charlotte's Web was a web of love which extended beyond her own lifespan." But you should never lose sight of the fact that it was a web spun by a true arachnid, not by a de facto person. One has eight legs and has been around for an unbelievably long time on this earth; the other has two legs and has been around just long enough to raise a lot of hell, drain the swamps, and bring the planet to the verge of extinction.
I am not trying to disclaim the message in the book. I just want to make sure you've got the message. A fabulist takes animals and gives them an extra dimension, in this case speech. Certainly one of the commonest assumptions of the human animal is that the universe was constructed for his particular benefit, that he is the center of it, and that the, other creatures are of an inferior sort ~ spotted about to lend variety to the scene. A false and dangerous assumption. Remember Warty Bliggens? - the toad that believed that the earth existed for his particular enjoyment, the sun to give him light by day and the moon and wheeling constellations to make beautiful the night for the sake of Warty Bliggens." Warty was the creation of Don Marquis, another fabulist. It's one of his best pieces. As you say, spiders do not talk to pigs, except in the world of the fable. But when conversation does finally take place, in that fabulous and pure world, it is indeed a spider who talks, indeed a pig. It is not a woman in spider's clothing, or a boy in a pig's skin. Be true to animals, O Good Gene, and you will live forever. When you enter the barn cellar, remove your hat.
May good luck and a steady faith go with you!