Saturday, March 3, 2012

E.B. White

E.B. White and friend
I do adore E.B. White. His classic The Elements of Style written with professor William Strunk Jr. is a writer's bible. I read it yearly just for the sheer entertainment of the writing. I think maybe I have three different editions of the little book. And as for White's collected essays, I must have five or six on my shelves. For a writer, he is the ultimate mentor. His essays are concise, humorous, and clearly written. He is the master.

But, I have a confession: I was an adult before I had the courage to read Charlotte's Web. As a child I knew it was going to be sad, so I wouldn't read it. I knew that it would still be sad when I decided to read it as an adult but I thought by then I could handle it. I couldn't. I wept. And wept some more. And then a little bit more.

I can't bear to read stories in which an animal dies, is hurt, shot, or mistreated. I can read a gruesome murder mystery (well not too gruesome) about a stabbing, shooting, or poisoning, but don't you dare harm a dog, horse, cat, tiger, lion, dormouse, deer, or...well, spider.

For this reason I never read Black Beauty or watched the movie Old Yeller. I was afraid to read Watership Down, White Fang, or Shiloh. I did read Wind in the Willows and found it delightful but then none of the characters die. They just have adventures.

In his book The Story of Charlotte's Web author Michael Sims does a fine job of recounting White's early years as a boy growing up fascinated with the natural world. He spent hours poking around ponds and creeks and observing the goings on of the inhabitants of his family's own stable and barn. He was introspective and shy and felt more at home with his dog than with other children. And forget about even thinking about getting to know a girl in high school.

So his fiction, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little, all populated with animals, springs from his early observations and interactions with the natural world. Not a bad place to start.

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