Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Eponymous


This weekend I took my daughters to see the eponymous Charlotte’s Web, except in Germany it is called Schweinchen Wilbur und seine Freunde, which really doesn’t have the same ring to it. I was a little nervous because the last time I took them to a movie (The March of the Penguins), Daisy was hideously bored and spent her time breathing hotly down the necks of the people in front of us, craning round to stare at the people behind us, talking loudly, squirming and generally indicating that she would rather be having her toenails pulled out. This time both she and her older sister were gripped.

I wish I could say I had been. While it was delightful and enchanting and well worth seeing, the German habit of dubbing all movies rather than providing subtitles means that, for me, something is always lost in translation. At least, since most of the cast are animals, I didn’t have my usual trouble trying, but failing, not to lip-read in the hope of catching what is really being said. I understand and speak German, but the English-speaking part of my brain is dominant and is always double-guessing the German bit. So instead of relaxing and enjoying the movie, I’m party to an exhausting internal dialogue. This is the main reason why I don’t watch many movies in the cinema anymore (not to mention the small babysitting issue), and why DVDs rule.

I think for a grown-up, half the fun of Charlotte’s Web – the Movie is the actors who voice the animals: Julia Roberts as Charlotte, Oprah Winfrey as Gussy the Goose, Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat and John Cleese as Samuel the Sheep. Seeing the German dubbed version also means missing out on Sam Shepard as the narrator and Robert Redford as Ike the Horse, which is a pity. It looks like I’ll be buying the DVD.

The movie, every bit as charming and whimsical as its reviews suggest, is slighter than the book, which I read to my girls last year and which I loved as a child. The movie focuses less on the family (Fern’s troublesome big brother Avery is much more anodyne, Fern’s emotional problems are not intensely dwelt upon) and more on the animals. However, Wilbur’s story is very well told, his relationship with Charlotte is sweet and the scenes of her spinning words in her web are lovely. The three of us wept when she died.

The movie does adhere to the message of the book: miracles are possible, friendship can transcend barriers and words are powerful. When my teacher read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my class in Grade 4, I fell in love with the book. I quickly got over the fact that Charlotte was a spider, but what always appealed to me was that she was a writer and a good friend. She was tiny and insignificant, but she made great things happen and she used words to do so. She looked at someone who was ordinary, and by carefully selecting the perfect words to describe him, she showed that he was special. Where everyone else ignored him or couldn’t be troubled to become his friend since he was going to the smokehouse to turn into the Christmas roast, Charlotte made the effort to be his friend. She looked at his heart, instead of at his pigginess, and saw the goodness there.

For what is really just a children’s story, the messages are so powerful and inspirational. When it came to naming my blog in March last year, I didn’t even have to think. It could only be Charlotte’s Web – a place where I come to write, where I try to see the good in the ordinary, where I try to be a friend, where I select my words carefully. I want my world to be a bit terrific, to be somewhat radiant, but also to be a little bit humble and I try to reflect that here.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

15 thoughts on “The Eponymous

  1. I have never seen Charlottes Web nor have I read it as awful as that sounds… I don’t like it when someone dies in a book or movie … but I do think that I will take myself and the two cherubs to see it and cross fingers for a better experience than Happy Feet! As for your Charlottes Web… it is a happy place for me to come to and read and think, and I do look forward each day to see what words Charlotte has spun in her magical web! Thank you for brightening so many peoples day across the web!

  2. Well put Tanya. Charlotte’s Web is truly a happy place for readers to come to and let their worries fall away.

  3. How lucky you are to be named Charlotte!
    🙂 I adored that book as a child and I don’t know if I could bring myself to watch the movie. Luckily my boys are a bit old to be interested, but we do have the book at home. Must read it again with a lots of tissues by my side.

  4. This is a really nice post! Charlotte’s web does mean all that and more! I took my youngest brother (4 years) to see it and he adored it too. I haven’t read the book in a while though, I really should. Also I thought Dakota Fanning did well for herself as Fern- a tough role to fill!

  5. The movie title was certainly lost in translation. How about renaming your blog: “Wilbur piglet and his friends”. I am sure this would totally rock!

  6. I have vivid memories of reading Charlotte’s Web when I was little. I read tons but that book always stands out. I like the way you use the name for your blog. The talking animal factor has put me off seeing the film so far, but I’m intrigued by the famous voices now so maybe I’ll be getting it out on DVD!

  7. Me threeing Tanya and Lilalia: I look forward to my regular dose of your Charlotte’s Web — your words do make the world seem a better and more radiant place to be. Thank you.

    Now, if only I could convince my husband to take me to see the movie… 🙂

  8. I had very little awareness that a movie had been made! But that was a favorite book when I was a girl, and I believe I still have my copy in a box in the basement, waiting for my kids. I can clearly picture the illustrations by Garth Williams, my favorite children’s book artist from childhood.

  9. Some Blog, Charlotte!

    I read CW to my boys when they were younger too, but for some reason we left off toward the end, and saw the movie before we got back to the book (I can’t remember if it was animated or not, but it was a different version that came out a long time ago). Anyway, they didn’t know about Charlotte’s end, and one of them wept and wept, so sad was he that the good Charlotte couldn’t stay with her friends.

    I’m glad you’ve not gone anywhere!

    xo, BL

  10. What a lovely post!

    I’m lucky because it never bothered me that children’s films were dubbed into Norwegian (I do think dubbing is better for kids) as both languages sounded equally as natural to me. And if I’d never heard the “stars” talking the roles, I never missed them. People keep telling me I should watch Lion King in English but I’m perfectly happy with it in Norwegian because that’s how I got to know the film.

    My daughters (almost 18) wants us to go see Charlotte’s Web so we’ll probably take ourselves off to the cinema next week. As Tanya wrote, I’m hoping for a better experience than Happy Feet!

  11. Oh, this makes me desperate to re-read “Charlotte’s Web” – I had forgotten how much I loved it as a child. Some movie trivia – one of the lawyers I work with told me that the movie was shot on her grandparents’ farm (in Australia). The company rented part of the land, and built an enormous American barn for the production. I must go and see the movie (although I find the girl who plays the lead rather irritating. Perhaps in this role she will change my mind.)

  12. Yes you are right that half the fun was in the star spotting when it came to the voices – it was an eclectic mix – who’d have thought John Cleese could make a convincing sheep? It was a lovely film and I am very happy to have found your excellent blog via The Times. All the best to you and yours.

  13. Pingback: Some pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble. « my so-called blog

  14. Charlotte I have just read this book for the first time and I LOVED it. I read it because of your post (and also because I have always meant to but never got round to it). I posted about it here and I hope you don’t mind but I quoted you too…

  15. Pingback: Some pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble. « all five horizons

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