“Well, I am pretty,” replied Charlotte.
“There’s no denying that. Almost all spiders are rather nice-looking. I’m not as flashy as some, but I’ll do. I wish I could see you, Wilbur, as clearly as you can see me.”
“Why can’t you?” asked the pig. “I’m right here.”
“Yes, but I’m near-sighted,” replied Charlotte. “I’ve always been dreadfully near-sighted. It’s good in some ways, not so good in others. Watch me wrap up this fly.”
A fly that had been crawling along Wilbur’s trough had flown up and blundered into the lower part of Charlotte’s web and was tangled in the sticky threads. The fly was beating its wings furiously, trying to break loose and free itself.
“First said Charlotte, “I dive at him.”
She plunged headfirst toward the fly. As she dropped, a tiny silken thread unwound from her rear end.
“Next, I wrap him up.” She grabbed the fly, threw a few jets of silk around it, and rolled it over and over, wrapping it so that it couldn’t move. Wilbur watched in horror. He could hardly believe what he was seeing, and although he detested flies, he was sorry for this one. “There!” said Charlotte.
“Now I knock him out, so he’ll be more comfortable.” She bit the fly. “He can’t feel a thing now,” she remarked. “He’ll make a perfect breakfast for me.”
“You mean you eat flies?” gasped Wilbur.
“Certainly. Flies, bugs, grasshoppers, choice beetles, moths, butterflies, tasty cockroaches, gnats, midges, daddy longlegs, centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets – anything that is careless enough to get caught in my web. I have to live, don’t I?”
“Why, yes, of course,” said Wilbur. “Do they taste good?”
“Delicious. Of course, I don’t really eat them. I drink them – drink their blood. I love blood,” said Charlotte, and her pleasant, thin voice grew even thinner and more pleasant.
“Don’t say that!” groaned Wilbur. “Please don’t say things like that!”
“Why not? It’s true, and I have to say what is true. I am not entirely happy about my diet of flies and bugs, but it’s the way I’m made. A spider has to pick up a living somehow or other, and I happen to be a trapper. I just naturally build a web and trap flies and other insects.”
“It’s a miserable inheritance,” said Wilbur, gloomily. He was sad because his new friend was so bloodthirsty.
“Yes, it is,” agreed Charlotte. “But I can’t help it. I don’t know how the first spider in the early days of the world happened to think up this fancy idea of spinning a web, but she did, and it was clever of her, too. And since then, all of us spiders have had to work the same trick. It’s not a bad pitch, on the whole.”
“It’s cruel,” replied Wilbur, who did not intend to be argued out of his position.
“Well, you can’t talk,” said Charlotte. “You have your meals brought to you in a pail. Nobody feeds me. I have to get in own living. I live by my wits. I have to be sharp and clever, lest I go hungry. I have to think things out, catch what I can, take what comes. And it just so happens, my friend, that what comes is flies and insects and bugs. And furthermore,” said Charlotte, shaking one of her legs, “do you realize that if I didn’t catch bugs and eat them, bugs would increase and multiply and get so numerous that they’d destroy the earth, wipe out everything?”
“Really?” said Wilbur. “I wouldn’t want that to happen. Perhaps your web is a good thing after all.”
Charlotte stood quietly over the fly, preparing to eat it.
Wilbur lay down and closed his eyes. He was tired from his wakeful night and from the excitement of meeting someone for the first time. A breeze brought him the smell of clover—the sweet-smelling world beyond his fence.
“Well,” he thought, “I’ve got a new friend, all right! But what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty—everything I don’t like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?”
Wilbur was merely suffering the doubts and fears that often go with finding a new friend. In good time he was to discover that he was mistaken about Charlotte. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.
Wilbur, the protagonist, is a boy who is not afraid to say he’s afraid. And gets to live.
Charlotte, the hero, is a girl who is blood-thirstily smart and loyal. And saves the day.
This is an original extract from E.B White’s book, Charlotte’s Web, published in 1952. He loved pigs and spiders.