E.B. White: Be fair to pigs

charlotte's webThe children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, starts with an attempted murder, writes Emily Bazelon on Slate.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Fern asks her mother. She begs her farmer father not to kill the runt of the litter of pigs. “This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of,” she says.”

That note of urgency, and farm life realism, courses through the book, giving it the energy that has made it such an eternally beloved, indispensable classic,” writes Bazelon.

Letters of Note recently posted a letter by E.B. White, the author, to his editor:  “A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors,” White wrote.

I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

White also defended spiders. He watched Charlotte’s real-life namesake spin a sac for her eggs at his place in the country, and then brought the spider and sac to New York, where the eggs hatched.

“They strung tiny lines from my comb to my brush, from my brush to my mirror, and from my mirror to my nail scissors. . . . We all lived together happily for a couple of weeks, and then somebody whose duty it was to dust my dresser balked, and I broke up the show.”

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