Charlotte’s Web

“People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”

E.B. White

Yes, all right, this was another of those freebie audiobooks you get in the Sunday newspapers sometimes. But it is quite soothing having someone wittering away in the background when you’re doing the housework.

Charlotte’s Web, when you actually listen to the wittering, turns out to be a well-loved children’s story about a pig called Wilbur who makes friends with a spider. Said spider (the Charlotte of the title) makes a cunning plan to save Wilbur from the pot, and everyone learns some valuable lessons along the way.

The story is charming enough. Well, come on, it’s a tale about talking animals, there’s very little that can go wrong. (Unless you really hate spiders, of course.) But E.B. White’s reading (it’s read by the author) is not exactly brilliant. As a general rule, authors don’t usually do well reading their own work. Look at T.S. Eliot, or Tennyson. They sound dry as dust. White’s reading is perhaps not as mind-numbingly dull as the poets’, but it’s exactly what you might expect from someone reading a children’s story: uninflected and slightly unconvincing. Verbs like “screamed” and “yelled” begin to lose their force when the speech they’re supposed to be describing sounds merely mildly annoyed.

On that note, I wasn’t convinced by the general reaction of the humans to Charlotte’s plan. The word “miracle” is flung around a lot, and not one person, apparently, thought it might be a trick. I mean, yes, people are gullible, but not that gullible, in my experience.

But that’s not really the point of the story, so I won’t go on about it. Charlotte’s Web is a pretty story, and a simple one, perfect, really, for soothing background wittering.

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