Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte by
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(179 Stories)

Prompted By Banned Books

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In the Midwest, the voice of a wise, sweet spider as been silenced. Charlotte’s Web is a banned book. Who would have thought? In coming up with ideas for this story, I did research into children’s books that have been banned. When I came across Charlotte’s Web, I couldn’t imagine why it would be on the list.

In the Midwest, the voice of a wise, sweet spider as been silenced. Charlotte's Web is a banned book. Who would have thought?

What a traditional, lovely story about friendship, loyalty, dealing with loss, and how life goes on. It even takes place on a farm! So what is the problem?

In 2006, Kansas banned Charlotte’s Web because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural,” and passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being “inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.” The blasphemy is related to the fundamentalist idea that humans are the highest ideal of God’s creation.

As a child, I remember being saddened by Charlotte’s death but reassured that her eggs were saved. As an adult, I understand the story as a masterly, age-appropriate treatment of death–of pets and loved ones–to help children process such events.

Besides all the issues we worry about in today’s world, I worry a lot about our collective lack of imagination and what that bodes for our future. Banning this book shows a profound deficit of imagination among the Kansans who did this. What would they think of committed Christians like Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis, who wrote about talking animals? Likely the Kansans haven’t heard of those writers. So hang in there Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton, Fern, and friends. Children and parents in other states can still read about you.

To conclude, here is a poem by E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, about a spider.

Natural History

The spider, dropping down from twig,

Unwinds a thread of her devising:

A thin, premeditated rig

To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,

In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,

She builds a ladder to the place

From which she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,

In spider’s web a truth discerning,

Attach one silken strand to you

For my returning.

 

 

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Charlotte’s Web? That really is an example where people have no idea what they are doing when they object—just acquiescing to everything that becomes tainted by someone’s accusation. Rationality is not operative here. Thanks for the research and for the wonderful poem.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    OMG — Not Charlotte’s Web! That’s a beloved and classic book that I loved reading to my children. To ban it is insane. Thanks for sharing that beautiful poem. Good words to remember.

    • Marian says:

      That’s exactly what I thought, Laurie. My first reaction was disbelief. I hadn’t known that E.B. White wrote poetry until, the day before yesterday, someone in my poetry group sent it to us.

  3. Well, now we understand even more clearly why Dorothy was trying to get the Hell out of Kansas, right?
    I taught Charlotte’s Web (some semesters) in my Children’s Literature class. It’s not only a great story about friendship and loss. In rereading it (and consulting secondary sources), I came to see it as a very powerful paean to the importance of writing, to the power of the creative word. What is it that makes Charlotte and not Wilbur the title character in most important character in the book? She’s the writer! As in “Some pig” and other creativity emanating from her web.

    • Marian says:

      Indeed, Dale. It’s not surprising that, given E.B. White is co-author of “The Elements of Style,” that Charlotte’s Web is a paean to writing. I haven’t read it in years, and now would be a good time to revisit it.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Unbelievable. But not. And I am flying to Wichita right now and know a fair bit about this state’s retrograde views. They also shoot abortionists in church here, for example.

    We are going for a grandson’s high school graduation. Fortunately, he is wise enough to be getting out of Kansas to go to college in Boston.

    Great poem, by the way. Had not read it. And, reading Roger Angelo’s obit, I was reminded of his relation to White. Beautiful writers.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. I am glad that your grandson will soon be able to say the phrase, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Then again, maybe Kansas should ban The Wizard of Oz because of witchcraft.

  5. Suzy says:

    Unbelievable, Mare! Charlotte’s Web is one of the best children’s books ever! Although it does make me cry at the end – maybe that’s a reason to ban a book, if it makes you sad? We should only allow happy books! Thanks for the poem too, which is lovely.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, it’s hard to believe, Suzy, and it got me thinking about television. I guess these folks wouldn’t want their kids to watch Sesame Street (think Big Bird, etc), although it’s likely too liberal for them anyway.

  6. Thanx for your wonderfully written story Mare!

    Charlotte’s Web blasphemous? Will those righteous Kansans next ban The Wizard of Oz set in their very own state – or perhaps they have already!

  7. Marian! Can you imagine the punishing narrowness it would take to condemn Charlotte’s Web? I cannot. Dorothy’s oft-repeated line makes twisted sense here: ‘…we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’ The amount of tears I shed for Charlotte and the hope I felt for her progeny was cathartic. And thanks for the E.B. White bonus!

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Unbelievable, Mare! “Charlotte’s Web” was one of my favorite books in 3rd grade (I still have my original copy). My favorite teacher read it out loud, doing all the different voices (I refused to see the movie, as I could still hear her voice acting out the characters). That is why I wanted to get into acting and she encouraged me to do so. Those people in KS are dim-wits, but it is scary too.

    And thank you for that lovely poem. I knew White was half of Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) and a writer for The New Yorker for years, but just learned last week that he was Roger Angell’s step-father. Talk about great writing family.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    It’s hard to find anyone more easily offended than a conservative Christian. That’s one reason I gave up religion; too many annoyed people.

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