Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White
Rating: 3 out of 10 stars
Charlotte's Web is a well-known children's classic. It is the story of a pig, Wilbur, the runt of a litter who is originally going to be killed by the farmer simply because of his small size. The farmer's daughter, Wendy, begs her father to give her the piglet, and tenderly cares for him until he is too old to stay on the farm, when, despite Wendy's entreaties, he is sold to a nearby relative.
Of course, Wilbur's new owner has sausage, ham and bacon in mind when he purchases the piglet. When Wilbur discovers this in conversation with the other animals he is inconsolable for some time. Finally, a friendly spider named Charlotte comes up with a plan to convince the farmer that he is too splendid a pig to butcher, and must go to the fair instead. Of course, the wise spider knows that ribbon winning pigs are kept as prized breeders, instead of being sent to the smokehouse.
Eventually, through messages which she cleverly weaves in her web, she creates enough interest in Wilbur to send him to the fair, where he receives an unusually high award, and is secured from the fear of being butchered.
The story ends with the death of Charlotte, and hatching of her 100,000 eggs, when one of her daughters becomes Wilbur's new friend.
1: Rebellion against parents portrayed as righteous love of animals. In multiple places in the story, Wendy argues with and contradicts her father. She does not always win, and she has some good points, but the whole tone of her address to him is that of a spoiled child who is driven frantic at the thought of the "gross injustice" of killing a piglet which would probably either be a pain and expense to raise, or die a lingering death.
Her father, instead of lovingly explaining the issue and then carrying out his plan, or helping her adjust her attitude and then giving her the pig, knuckles under and concedes to her. Wendy triumphs, and proves her father wrong by raising the piglet that eventually wins high awards at the fair.
There is nothing wrong with a child requesting something earnestly from a parent, as long as it is done in the right spirit. Here, Wendy is shown as the righteous friend of animals, and her father is viewed as an insensitive man who does not understand animals, and weak leader who gives way to his spoiled daughter.
2: Humanizing animals, and placing them on a level with people. Throughout the book, animals are portrayed as having the same (or greater) intellect, feelings, and rights as humans. They talk to each other using human expressions, and showing human understanding and feelings. The idea of butchering an animal for food is viewed as murder.
The fact is, however, that God created animals on a wholly different level from mankind. We are not merely highly evolved animals, we are created by God in His image. He gave man the liberty to eat animals, and commissioned man to subdue the earth, and have dominion over all animals. (Genesis 1:28). We should be kind and considerate to animals, for "a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. " (Prov. 12:10), but certain ones are given to us for food.
Animals do communicate with each other, but not in some kind of universal, complex language, as they use in Charlotte's Web. We do not understand fully how well they can communicate, but they certainly do so. (Anyone who has spent time with them, as I have, will agree with me.) Children however, should never be taught that they speak to each other in the same way we do. This is simply not true, and will create a wrong idea of animals feelings, intellect and rights in a child's mind. It is because of books and movies like Charlotte's Web, Bambi, and Babe that we have organizations such as PETA (who say it is wrong to eat an infertile egg because it is stealing the chicken's property*), and people who say: "The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration." **
This idea, that animals are on an equal footing with humans is rooted in evolution, and is a direct insult to God; for He created man in His own image, and placed him in authority over the rest of Creation.
3: Inappropriate boy/ girl friendships. This is not a major, obvious issue with this book, but the idea that it is perfectly acceptable for unrelated boys and girls to be best friends, and spend large amounts of time together without adult supervision is taken as a matter of course by the author. This appears especially at the end of the story, when Wendy loses much of her interest in Wilbur, because she is "growing up" and prefers to spend time with her boyfriend than her pig.
In my opinion, though this book is considered a classic, it has no place on a Christian's book shelf, and certainly not in the hands of children. I realize that most people do not see the sinister dangers of a warped view of life hidden under the gloss of a humorous, and apparently innocent child's story. But just as weed seeds grow into noxious plants which choke valuable flowers and cumber the ground, books like Charlotte's Web hold the seeds of dangerous ideas regarding disrespect of authority, the rights of animals, and boy/ girl relationships.
Just because "plenty of others have read it and come to no harm" doesn't mean you should knowingly plant ideas into children's heads that will later have to be rooted out. There are plenty of better, far more realistic and well-written books for them to read.
* “The eggs are not ours, they belong to the chickens. We don’t take what belongs to another individual.”
(Posted by andersbranderud in response to question “Could I still be considered vegan if I eat my own chicken’s eggs?” on Peta2.com’s web-boards).
** ““The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.”
- Michael Fox
In Inhumane Society, 1990.