What could I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said? Absolutely nothing. However, this post is not really about the book, but rather the audiobook. Lulu and Louise got several audiobooks for Christmas. The Little House audiobooks are daily fare here at the House of Hope. In fact, I often have to limit the amount of time Lulu gets to listen each day (is this wrong?) because if I didn’t, she would listen for hours on end. What was intended to be a rest time diversion has become a near-obsession. Because of this, though, we really haven’t listened to Charlotte’s Web except on a few short trips we’ve taken the past couple of weeks.
Today we made one of those trips, and we happened to listen to the third CD on the first part of the trip. Since the third CD is the last one, I had an opportunity to listen to the Peter F. Neumeyer essay that is read by George Plimpton at the very end of the story. I believe this is the same essay that is printed in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the book. This essay was so enlightening and poignant that after listening to it, I felt like I had been given new eyes (or in this case, ears) through which to perceive Fern and Wilbur. Am I waxing too poetical about a pig and a little girl? Forgive me, but I do love it. The essay provides glimples of White’s process of writing this beloved novel. For example, some of the first lines of the story that E.B. White “tried out” before settling on Fern’s startling question posed to her papa are revealed in this essay. White’s sense of guardianship over the story that made him disdain movie offers for a quite a while is mentioned for its revelation of how much he loved this story. Also included is the discussion between White and Garth Williams over just how Charlotte should be portrayed (the look on Lulu’s face was priceless when she heard Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned as one whose works had also been illustrated by Williams).
I nosed around the internet for a little bit before beginning this post, hoping to find a reproduction of this essay somewhere. I didn’t find one after a very cursory search, but I did find this article on the NPR website that contains some of the same information and thoughts. I was touched by White’s response to Charlotte’s death when he recorded the audiobook in 1970. Joe Berk, the audiobook producer, told NPR in 1991 that White himself said, “It’s ridiculous: a grown man reading a book that he wrote, and being unable to read it aloud because of tears.” Imagine my delight and surprise when I realized that the audiobook that we listened to today was indeed read by the author. (How did I miss this?) Hearing a great book like this read by its author? It doesn’t get any better, folks.
(Disclaimer: Please note that I only used the above image because this is the current audiobook for sale at Amazon. I personally prefer the orginal Garth Williams illustrations. I have watched both of the movies (forgive me, Mr. White), and while I did enjoy the non-animated one in its own right, I do not think it is on the same plane as the book, nor could any movie ever be.)