I recently purchased Charlotte’s Web for one of my daughters. Her school teacher has been recounting various episodes from the book and she wants to read the book for herself now (God bless enthusiastic and inspiring teachers). I read it myself when I was a child, though like many of us of a slightly younger generation (I suspect) I have more vivid memories of the 1973 film version.
The particular book I purchased is the 60th anniversary edition, and it contains a foreword written by Kate DiCamillo . It’s a brief, beautiful, and poignant meditation not only on the text itself, but also on the complex unbearableness and joy of the world we live in. I wanted to share this excerpt in particular:
Things didn’t turn out well.
But they also did turn out well.
And that, for me, is the crux of the miracle of this book: within the confines of its pages, something terrible, something unbearable, happens. And yet, we bear this unbearable thing. And in the end, we even rejoice.
E.B. White said, “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”
White loved barns and pastures, dumps and fair grounds, ponds and kitchens. He loved pigs and sheep and geese and spiders. He loved rain and, harnesses, pitchforks, springtime, fall. He loved spiderwebs, monkey wrenches, Ferris wheels.
Every word of Charlotte’s Web bears the full weight of White’s love for the people, seasons, animals, and arachnids of this world. And every word of the book shows us how we can bear the triumphs and despairs, the wonders and the heartbreaks, the small and large glories and tragedies of being here.
We can bear it by loving it all.
These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, then the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world….Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur–this lovely world, these precious days….
This is Charlotte’s promise to Wilbur.
It is also E.B. White’s promise to his reader: things will continue, life will go on. It will be beautiful, astonishing, heartbreaking. And as long as you keep your eyes and heart open to the wonder of it, as long as you love, it will be okay.
We in this community might see this more as Charlotte’s blessing upon Wilbur, a sealing upon him that no matter what happened to him he would be enabled to endure in loving the world and seeing it truly in both its beauty and its unbearableness and so not entirely be overcome in hopeless despair.
Echoes of a divine voice, perhaps, first uttered before the foundation of the world:
Things will not turn out well. But they will also turn out well.
 Kate DiCamillo, “Foreword,” Charlotte’s Web (HarperCollins, 2006).