Sunday, March 4, 2012

Salutations to Charlotte, My Best Girl Spider!

A dear friend of mine turns 60 this year.  On October 15, 1952, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was published and I have always admitted freely to it being my favorite book.  The one that started it all for me – the love of the written word and the ability to tell a story on the page. 

It is also the ONLY book I have ever seen portrayed in a movie or a play that has stayed true to form and dialogue to the book.  Somehow I must have just lucked out with the versions I saw.  But still……the book is the heart of it for me and will always be the best medium for the story.
A few years ago in a writer’s group, we were challenged to write a story that mentioned our favorite book.  Following is my story – and my vision of what the three (come to life) mediums of Film, Play and Book offer to The Writer.

To Vie for Charlotte’s Web

The Writer at the head of the table sighed. "We've been in this room for hours and we're not getting anywhere. I don't mind telling you all that I’m getting a little disheartened."

Film paced in front of the window, and glanced at the street far below. Without missing a step, he took a sip of coffee and a bite of a glazed donut. Mouth full, he replied, "Well now, we are talking a children's story here. How long can their attention span be? Best to just spit it all out for them I say."

"So they’re children! Give them a chance." said Play. He stood from the overstuffed chair in the corner. He continued with a step forward, arms rising above him and then slowly descending in a circle arc to his sides. "Imagination, my dear Film. Think of it. The oversized background painting of a barn with the door open. Here we see Charlotte, perched in the middle of her web looking down upon Wilbur, resting alone in the pen below. "Salutations!" she says to the little pig." With this, Play leaned forward and stared down at the floor as if he were Charlotte glancing down at Wilbur.  In a moment he rose. "I tell you Film, it was made for the theater."

The Writer observed the three collected before him. He looked at the quiet presence at the end of the conference table. "Have you nothing to say on your behalf?"

Book took a slow glance around the room.  Closing his eyes, he recited. "Poor Wilbur was dazed and frightened by the hullabaloo. He didn't like being the center of all this fuss. He tried to follow the instructions his friends were giving him, but he couldn't run downhill and uphill at the same time, and he couldn't turn and twist when he was jumping and dancing, and he was crying so hard he could barely see anything that was happening. After all, Wilbur was a very young pig – not much more than a baby, really. He wished Fern were there to take him in her arms and comfort him. When he looked up and saw Mr. Zuckerman standing quite close to him, holding a pail of warm slops, he felt relieved. He lifted his nose and sniffed. The smell was delicious – warm milk, potato skins, wheat middlings, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and a popover left from the Zuckerman's breakfast." He opened his eyes and spoke. "Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Which of you could portray the essence of the five senses in just one scene?"

"Not fair, I say, not fair at all." said Film. He got another cup of coffee adding three heaping teaspoons of sugar, the metal spoon clanking in the mug. "I may not read aloud the description of the rotten goose egg when Avery falls on Wilbur's trough and breaks it, but one look at Avery and Fern's face, awash with tears and holding their noses expresses quite adequately to anyone watching just how rancid it is. We ALL draw on our audiences collective senses old boy, whether it be implication, memory or association."

Interrupted only by the repetitive sound of the spoon in the mug, the room fell silent.

The Writer stared in Film’s direction.  "Do you mind Film? I find it hard to concentrate with that distraction."

With a sigh, Film stopped clinking, stood and returned to the window, swaying in stony silence.

"I'm sure we can all agree, that puts another feather in my cap,” said Play, rising again and coming to the table.  He rested his foot on the chair, placed his elbow against his knee, and looked directly at The Writer. "When the Tucker's find SOME PIG, the second message Charlotte writes in her web, and they decide to take Wilbur to the state fair, the anticipation is high and we have a delightful pause between acts. The audience is afforded the time to reflect on what is happening." He held up his hand as if to speak, held it in midair for a moment, then slowly returned to his seat. "The element is the HUMAN connection you see. There is nothing that can compete with that. As you all sit staring at me, I can honestly say I do command your total attention. There is no popcorn eating and drink slurping", this with a sideways glance to Film, and then redirecting his gaze to Book, "and no phone interruptions or laundry to change." This last line, delivered with a flourishing bow as he sat down.

Book chuckled out loud. "I'm quite sure there's been a candy or cough wrapper crinkled during one of your performances Play!" Sitting straight in his chair, he placed his hands under his chin in contemplation. "Focused attention is a problem for all of us. What we’re here for today is to decide the best medium for this particular story."

The Writer stood and walked slowly around the room. He stopped first at Film and laid a steady hand on his shoulder. "My friend of constant motion, there is no denying that I see you first as a highly visual medium. So much happens in your short span of audience attention, yet surely there is the opportunity for at least one or two defining and memorable moments. Whether it be the delicate, eager voice of Fern as she first tries to convince her father to not kill Wilbur the runt pig, or a particular visual image, you have the capacity to stay with someone for a lifetime."

Play stood as The Writer moved toward him. Gently The Writer guided him back down to the chair and crouched before him. "No need to put on airs here my friend. Save that for the audience. True, the connection is there. There is no mistaking the thread of human feelings that pass from one to another as they experience something together. There is a depth and rawness in living an experience as you watch it performed when the lights go down. Like film, there may only be one image that stays with the audience, yet remember, it is unavoidable that a small, personal piece of you goes away with each person as well." Play leaned forward and The Writer gave him a gentle hug before standing and returning to the table.

"And so Book, my dear friend, I find myself back to you." Book sat rigid and still as The Writer spoke. "Often times, I feel you are the most difficult. There is not the degree of easy manipulation available to you such as light, sound and music available to Film and Play. You must forge a direct line to your audience's imagination and mind. It is with great skill and craft that they be guided upon a journey. If they are a learned traveler, often the only chance that you will get is when they open the cover. If you stumble or fail, you will be closed and put down. Play and Film most always have the advantage of a plural audience as well as a captive one. Your lot in life is generally a solitary one."

The Writer stood and walked to the window before turning to face the table. "However, you do have the singular advantage of time and opportunity. Time to dwell and ponder, time to leave and come back to revisit a particular passage.  If you are fortunate your pages become tattered at the edges from constant turning. Particular passages that touch a soul will be read and reread, underlined or copied and shared. The permanence of black print upon white paper can be a proud yet humbling responsibility."

The Writer swept his hand to all three. "So hours after we’ve begun, this is where we find ourselves. Play, you come into a life briefly. There is but the memory of you to linger. Film, you come larger and quicker than real life. You can, of course, sometimes be viewed another day. Neither of you are available to everyone. This leaves you Book, as the physical keeper of the three. The tangible one available to all. Yet all three of you, tangible or not, are capable of touching an audience in a way that indelibly stays with them."

The Writer returned to his seat at the head of the table. "I think therefore that I will allow you all to tell the story of a little girl named Fern, who loved a pig named Wilbur, and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte, a beautiful large gray spider. Take to each audience's imaginations and soul all that you have and allow them to meld it with whom they are. Allow them to define for themselves what they gained from each of you. Ultimately it is their choice and what they bring to the relationship that will define for them who best tells the story."

The Writer walked to the door and opened it. As they filed out, Film, Play and Book shook his hand. They joked and walked together down the hallway, deciding where to go for dinner. He called after them, "Let's try again next week. Maybe we'll find the elusive story that one of you can claim as his very own."


  1. Oh, excellent, Amy! This is such a great summary of what each medium can do and what makes it unique. I have to admit I was hoping for Book to come out superior, but I love the other two as well and agree with your arguments. Very nicely done, and a clever response to that challenge.

  2. Truth be told...Book always wins with me, but for the story I kept it objective. :) Thanks Elaine!

  3. Very nice Amy. Having written in all three forms including adapting another's work for the screen, the key to all three in my mind is time in the chair writing, for there is no wrong writing, there is only a lack of writing.

  4. Tim (Fireman) - thanks and I agree about the chair time. :)
    Claudia - glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Very cool! I loved "Charlotte's Web" too! It is a classic!


  6. I love Charlottes web too.
    Great post.

  7. Thanks Laura - glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Excellent! I've long loved Charlotte's Web, the book being my favorite. I will say, though, that the movie is really terrific, too. I'm sure there are many versions, but the one I have is wonderful.

  9. @Kathy & Word Nerd - thanks for stopping by to read - hope the topic brought some pleasant Charlotte memories and a smile!