The original sketches by Garth Williams for EB White's 'Charlotte's Web' (1952) were sold by his Estate at auction in October. The collection sold for more than $750,000, including over $150,000 for the book's cover design.
'Charlotte's Web' was listed by Publishers Weekly as the best-selling children's paperback of all time as of 2000. The book has been translated into thirty five foreign languages and is still in print in more than twenty of them.
The illustrations remain under copyright and appear here for so long as no objection is received from any rights holders. The intent with this post is homage to a classic children's book, so you might consider buying 'Charlotte's Web' to keep the goodwill circulating.
"Wilbur is a of a sweet nature--he is a spring pig--affectionate, responsive to moods of the weather and the song of the crickets, has long eyelashes, is hopeful, partially willing to try anything, brave, subject to faints from bashfulness, is loyal to friends, enjoys a good appetite and a soft bed, and is a little likely to be overwhelmed by the sudden chance for complete freedom. He changes the subject when the conversation gets painful, and a buttermilk bath brings out his beauty. When he was a baby he was a runt, but the sun shone pink through his ears, endearing him to a little girl named Fern. She is his protector, and he is the hero.
Charlotte A. Cavitica ("but just call me Charlotte") is the heroine, a large gray spider "about the size of a gumdrop." She has eight legs and can wave them in friendly greeting. When her friends wake up in the morning she says "Salutations!"--in spite of sometimes having been up all night herself, working. She tells Wilbur right away that she drinks blood, and Wilbur on first acquaintance begs her not to say that.
Another good character is Templeton, the rat. "The rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feeling, no friendliness, no anything." "Talking with Templeton was not the most interesting occupation in the world," Wilbur finds, "but it was better than nothing." Templeton grudges his help to others, then brags about it, can fold his hands behind his head, and sometimes acts like a spoiled child.
There is the goose, who can't be surprised by barnyard ways. "It's the old pail-trick, Wilbur * * *. He's trying to lure you into captivity-ivity. He's appealing to your stomach." The goose always repeats everything. "It is my idio-idio-idiosyncrasy."
What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done. What it all proves--in the words of the minister in the story which he hands down to his congregation after Charlotte writes "Some Pig" in her web--is "that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders." Dr. Dorian says in another place, "Oh, no, I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle." The author will only say, "Charlotte was in a class by herself."
"At-at-at, at the risk of repeating myself," as the goose says, "Charlotte's Web" is an adorable book."
From Eudora Weltey's review of 'Charlotte's Web' in the New York Times : 'Life in the Barn Was Very Good', October 19, 1952.
Please note that, aside from the cover design illustration, all the images below have been background cleaned of most stains and extraneous scribbles. Click on any image for an enlarged version.
Charlotte's Web, book cover, 1952
Graphite and ink on paper
14 x 11 in.
Signed lower right
"'Where's Papa going with that Ax?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast...'One of the pigs is a runt...so your father has decided to do away with it' said her mother...Fern pushed her chair out of the way and ran outdoors. 'Please don't kill it!' she sobbed."
"But Fern couldn't eat until her pig had a drink of mink. Mrs. Arable found a baby's nursing bottle and a rubber nipple. She poured warm milk into the bottle, fitted the nipple over the top, and handed it to Fern."
"If she took her doll for a walk in the doll carriage, Wilbur followed along. Sometimes on these journeys, Wilbur would get tired, and Fern would pick him up and put him in the carriage alongside the doll. He liked this."
"Fern came almost every day to visit him. She found an old milking stool that had been discarded, and she placed the stool in the sheepfold next to Wilbur's pen. Here she sat quietly during the long afternoons, thinking and listening and watching Wilbur."
"'Will you please play with me?' he asked. 'Certainly not,' said the lamb. 'In the first place, I cannot get into your pen, as I am not old enough to jump over the fence. In the second place, I am not interested in pigs. Pigs mean less than nothing to me.'"
"'Will you play with me, Templeton?' asked Wilbur...'Play? I hardly know the meaning of the word.' 'Well,' said Wilbur, 'it means to have fun, frolic, to run and skip and make merry.' 'I never do those things if I can avoid them,' replied the rat, sourly...Friendless, dejected, and hungry, he threw himself down in the manure and sobbed.'"
"Stretched across the upper part of the doorway was a big spiderweb, and hanging from the top of the web, head down was a large grey spider. She was about the size of a gumdrop. She had eight legs, and she was waving one of them at Wilbur in friendly greeting. 'See me now?' she asked."
"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..."First,' said Charlotte, "I dive at him.'...'Next, I wrap him up.'...'There!' said Charlotte. 'Now I knock him out, so he'll be more comfortable.'"
"You may have the egg. But I'll tell you one thing Templeton, if I ever catch you poking-oking-oking your ugly nose around around goslings, I'll give you the worst pounding a rat ever took."
"'I can't be quiet,' screamed Wilbur, racing up and down. 'I don't want to be killed. I don't want to die. Is it true what the old sheep says, Charlotte? Is it true they are going to kill me when the cold weather comes?'"
"'You there, Templeton?' he called. The rat poked his head out from under the trough. 'Got a little piece of string I could borrow?' asked Wilbur. 'I need to spin a web.'"
"'Everybody watch!' he cried. And summoning all his strength, he threw himself into the air, headfirst. The string trailed behind him. But as he had neglected to fasten the other end to anything, it didn't really do any good, and Wilbur landed with a thud, crushed and hurt. Tears came to his eyes. Templeton grinned."
"'That's a fine spider and I'm going to capture it....I'm going to knock that ol' spider into this box,' he said....Avery put one leg over the fence of the pigpen. He was just about to raise his stick to hit Charlotte when he lost his balance. He swayed and toppled and landed on the edge of Wilbur's trough."
"Zuckerman stared at the writing on the web. Then he murmured the words 'Some pig.' Then he looked at Lurvy. Then they began to tremble. Charlotte, sleepy after her night's exertions, smiled as she watched. Wilbur came and stood directly under the web. 'Some pig!' muttered Lurvy in a low voice. 'Some pig!' whispered Mr. Zuckerman.'"
"'So far,' said Zuckerman, 'only four people on earth know about this miracle.' Secrets are hard to keep. Long before Sunday came, the news spread all over the country...People came from miles around to look at Wilbur and to read the words on Charlotte's Web."
"'How about 'Terrific, terrific, terrific'?' asked the goose. 'Cut that down to one 'terrific' and it will do very nicely,' said Charlotte. 'I think 'terrific' might impress Zuckerman.'"
Neatly in Block Letters, Was the Word TERRIFIC' (page 95)
"Below the apple orchard, at the end of a path, was the dump where Mr. Zuckerman threw all sorts of trash and stuff that nobody wanted anymore...Templeton was there now, rummaging around. When he returned to the barn, he carried in his mouth an advertisement he had torn from a crumpled magazine."
"'Once upon a time,' she began, 'I had a beautiful cousin who managed to build her web across a small stream. One day a tiny fish leaped into the air and got tangled in the web. My cousin was very much surprised, of course...she swooped down and threw great masses of wrapping material around the fish and fought bravely to capture it.'"
"Dr. Dorian had a thick beard. He was glad to see Mrs. Arable and gave her a comfortable chair. 'It's about Fern,' she explained. 'Fern spends a lot of time in the Zuckerman's barn. It doesn't seem normal'..Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes. 'How enchanting!' he said. 'It must be real nice and quiet down there.'"
"The children grabbed each other by the hand and danced off in the direction of the merry-go-round, toward the wonderful music and the wonderful adventure and the wonderful excitement, into the wonderful midway..."
"'It's a good thing you can't see what I see,' she said. "What do you see?' asked Wilbur. 'There's a big pig in the next pen and he's enormous... I'll drop down and have a closer look,' Charlotte said. Then she crawled along a beam till she was directly over the next pen. She let herself down on a dragline until she hung in the air just in front of the big pig's snout."
""What is that nifty little thing? Did you make it?' 'I did indeed,' replied Charlotte in a weak voice. 'Is it a plaything?' 'Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.' 'I don't know what a magnum opus is,' said Wilbur. 'That's Latin,' explained Charlotte. 'It means 'great work.' This egg sac is my great work- the finest thing I have ever made.'"
"'I'm back,' he said in a husky voice. 'What a night!' The rat was swollen to twice his normal size. His stomach was as big around as a jelly jar."
"For a moment after this announcement, the Arables and the Zuckermans were unable to speak or move...Mr. Zuckerman hugged Mrs. Zuckerman. Mr. Arable kissed Mrs. Arable. Avery kissed Wilbur...Fern hugged her mother. Avery hugged Fern."
"Wilbur had been feeling dizzier and dizzier through this long, complimentary speech. When he heard the crowd begin to cheer and clap again, he suddenly fainted away. His legs collapsed, his mind went blank, and he fell to the ground, unconscious."
"'All right, it's a deal,' said the rat. He walked to the wall and sarted to climb. His stomach was still swollen from last nights's gorge. Groaning and complaining , he pulled himself slowly to the ceiling. He crept along till he reached the egg sac...Templeton bared his long ugly teeth and began snipping the threads that fastened the sac to the ceiling."
"As a result of overeating, Templeton grew bigger and fatter than any rat you ever saw...the old sheep spoke to him about size one day. 'You would live longer,' said the old sheep, 'if you ate less.' 'Who wants to live forever?' sneered the rat. 'I'm naturally a heavy eater and I get untold satisfaction from the pleasures of the feast.'"
"Wilbur looked up. At the top of the doorway three small webs were being constructed. On each web, working busily was one of Charlotte's daughters. 'Can I take this to mean,' asked Wilbur, 'that you have definitely decided to live here in the barn cellar, and that I am going to have three friends?' 'You can indeed,' said the spiders."