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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

E.B. White’s Talking Animals Live On

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: animals, literature, nature writing, children’s literature, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Orb weaver spider 

E.B. White is one of my favorite nature writers who’s not necessarily known as a nature writer. His classic essay collection One Man’s Meat, chronicling his life on a Maine farm, sits on my bookshelf near Muir, Lopez, and Leopold for its concise elegance in detailing a life lived close to the land.

A large part of that life, Michael Sims reminds us in The Chronicle Review, was White’s relationship with creatures. Sims, the author of a new book on White’s “eccentric life in nature” that led to the creation of the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, found during his research that “nothing else about [White] caught my own imagination more than his attitude toward animals.”

Writes Sims:

The talking animals in White’s children’s books—the spider Charlotte, the mouse Stuart Little, a family of swans in The Trumpet of the Swan—were precursors to today’s pop-culture “babel of talking animals,” writes Sims, but to accuse White of mere anthropomorphism for its own sake, as Paul Theroux once did, is to miss the point:

White researched animal behavior intensely and incorporated natural science facts into his writing. Moreover, Sims contends, animal characters allowed White to convey more than he himself could sometimes muster, especially when he sat down to pen Charlotte’s Web, “a seemingly innocent tale of talking animals that, paradoxically, would be haunted by mortality’s scythe from the very first sentence”:

Read more articles on our relationships with animals in the current issue of Utne Reader.

Source: The Chronicle Review 

Image by Tobyotter, licensed under Creative Commons.