Charlotte’s Web Wouldn’t
Get Published Today
Hans Ness, Nov 19, 2023
Nostalgia is so powerful it can blind our other sensibilities. We look back at the classics with great fondness, but are they really that great? They certainly were in their time, but if they were written today without the glow of nostalgia, would they still be praised ... or even published?
Look at Charlotte’s Web
. Let me posit my controversial opinion that it does not stand up to today’s literary standards and would not get published today. Here’s why:
- The first two chapters are about the girl Fern. But then it switches to Wilbur’s story, and she fades from the plot with no significance.
- Wilbur is a passive protagonist. First he is saved by Fern then Charlotte out of random kindness. Then he is saved by luck of winning a special prize at the fair. He does nothing to earn these; they were just handed to him.
- He makes only two decisions in the whole story: 1) He follows the goose’s advice to escape from his pen, only to change his mind and never do it again. And 2) he decides to take Charlotte’s egg sac back home from the fair. Aside from that, things just happen to him.
- Plot hole: Why aren’t people amazed by the spider that can write? Why instead are they amazed by the pig who does nothing but stand beneath the miraculous spider’s webs?
- Plot hole: Despite the miraculous webs, Mr. Zuckerman still plans to slaughter Wilber unless he wins a prize ribbon at the fair, but why? Why does a prize make any difference?
- Wilbur is whiny and naive, not the most likely protagonist to root for.
- Omniscient narration is unfashionable today.
- The plot is thinner than most stories today.
There, have I ruined your childhood? Ha! 😈
Can you find a successful contemporary book that has the qualities/flaws above? Because of nostalgia, we give a free pass to the classics, even recasting their flaws as brilliant strokes of genius while criticizing those exact same qualities in contemporary works.
I’m not saying Charlotte’s Web
is a bad book. Jus’ sayin’ times have changed.