For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
My initial unease concerning another film version of E.B. White’s splendid children’s classic melted away within a few minutes of the opening of the film. Director Gary Winick and screenwriters Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick have brought forth a film that should appeal to young and old viewers. They have treated the novel with great respect, and their addition of the little speech by farmer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba) at the county fair is a nice touch. Hopefully, with the wonderful Dakota Fanning playing Fern, the girl who stops her father from killing the newborn runt that he deems an excess to the litter, the film will attract a large audience. Church leaders would do well to organize theater parties for the children in their charge because the film offers a golden opportunity to explore themes of friendship and love.
There have been many a tale leading us to overcome our prejudice against the small or the weak—The Little Engine That Could, Babe, The Fellowship of the Ring, Sea Biscuit—and even a few that taught us to see beauty in the ugly—”The Ugly Duckling,” The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast—but none that dared to make a member of the most feared of crawling creatures (there’s even a phobia named after arachnids) into a heroine. E.B. White’s story makes us see that both the small and the ugly can be beautiful. Fern’s decision to turn over the little pig she has named Wilber to the care of her Uncle Zuckerman turns out to be the right one, though she herself will never come to know the spider Charlotte, who becomes friend and benefactor of the pig.
The other animals sympathize with Wilber’s plight, namely that he is destined not to see the next spring because he will be slaughtered for the family’s holiday feast, but Charlotte is the one who determines to do something about the problem. Her spinning of the web-words that capture the interest of the Zuckermans, and then, through media reports, of the world, show again the importance of using to the best of our ability our God-given gifts. And her quiet acceptance of her own fate, which, unlike Wilber’s, no intervention can prevent, is also a fine lesson that Koholeth affirmed in the third chapter of his book. The film ends appropriately with the same words that concluded the novel: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
1) How is Fern’s father typical in regard to treatment of the small and powerless? At school and on the playground, who is usually chosen first to be on a team? Of whom do bullies almost always take advantage?
2) How is Fern following in the tradition of the prophets who sought to protect the weak and the powerless of society?
3) What are the two promises made in the film? How does Fern keep hers? Charlotte? What promises have been made to you in the past? What have you promised others? Have these been kept as well as Charlotte’s? What did this cost?
4) Scan through the Scriptures and see what promises were made (such as those to Noah, Abraham, and othesr. What promises did Jesus make (see the closing of Matthew and John 14-17)?
5) How have the barn animals become a community? How does this benefit little Wilbur? How is your church such a community? How has it supported you? And you other members?
6) What do you think of the various words that Charlotte spins for the benefit of Wilbur—”Some Pig” “Terrific,” and “Radiant.”? Why might “Humble” be the best? What does all this say about our concept of “miracle”? Wilbur is called an “ordinary pig,” yet also special—how are all of us ordinary people special in God’s eyes?
7) How can Charlotte’s campaign be seen as, in the words of one reviewer, “a stroke of public relations genius”?
8) What does the film reveal about the transforming power of love? How can this change our attitude toward others, as it did in regard to the farm creatures’ toward the spider? (See Beauty and the Beast and 2 Cor. 5:16-17) How is even the hedonist Templeton changed, at least a little?
9) How can the story help children understand death? How important do you think it is to go against our society’s avoidance of or denial of death? How can our Christian gospel help children face death as a fact of life? How can Charlotte be seen as a miniature Christ figure? That is, how does she give herself in ways similar to what Christ did?