Charlotte and Real Spiders

I don’t remember confusing Charlotte of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” with real spiders as a child but, apparently, there’s some confusion out there between anthropomorphized creatures and the real deal in children’s lit.


(See link below to Smithsonian article on the subject.)


            The animals in children’s storybooks and works of fiction not for kids, including George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Art Speigelman’s “Maus,” are obvious surrogates for people. But I can see where some kids might get confused. Maybe it’s the live action, hyper-realistic and yet completely fanciful depictions of animals in current kid’s movies? I can’t speak with any authority about films for kids. Even as a child I didn’t like kid’s movies and preferred old movies on TV over the often soppy and silly things made for kids back then.


Now, movies aimed at children are much more sophisticated and maybe that’s the problem? The appearance of reality causes children to think that pandas are goofy and lions are intellectuals and zebras are comedians… and that in nature animals play together like kids in a schoolyard.


            Because we had a cat, I remember how my allegiance migrated from Tweety Bird to Sylvester. After all, Sylvester was just doing what a cat did naturally and that canary was always taunting him. Eventually, I concluded that the old lady was at fault for having a bird and a cat in the same home and expecting peace and quiet.


            Real animals, even the beautiful all white, longhaired stray that was our first family cat, behave as ANIMALS.  She was a great ‘birder” and I remember her delivering her prey to my mother’s feet (as my mom was ‘her person’). A sentimental friend of the family was appalled, but my mother ‘thanked” the cat for her tribute and then we buried it in the garden.


            The article in Smithsonian brought another aspect of wildness to mind — the role that MONSTERS play in our lives. They often represent the animal in human beings. The overwhelming hunger of the werewolf is like the wild cat on the hunt or the human obsessed with ambition. The loneliness of the ostracized giant is like the male turned out of a pack of wolves when he’s replaced as its leader and the politician put out to pasture or the tycoon after the crash in human society.


There are so many potential analogies. Still, I never mixed up Charlotte with a real spider.



Smithsonian Magazine article link:




  1. This topic speaks volumes to me. I’ve been editing one of my national park memoirs and one is devoted entirely to tourist interaction with Yellowstone wildlife based on the perception that the animals should be cute and cuddly, when indeed they can charge and gore people who bug them or get too close. Cartoons and YouTube videos etc. do indeed mess with people’s minds in a way that makes animals no longer animals….

    • Candy Korman

      The inspiration for this post came because I made a slightly snarky comment about never confusing Charlotte with a real spider in response to the Smithsonian article on Facebook. A friend with two small children called me out on it. He was adamant about children needing to understand that animals are ANIMALS. He wants his kids to understand that the cuddly bear in a movie is FICTION and a bear in real life is a formidable creature not a buddy. He also wants his children to understand that predators and prey are not friends — even if they appear that way in cartoons.

      Your Yellowstone experiences are the far end of the continuum — where people can get hurt or killed, by confusing the fantasy of nature with its reality. I’m now sure that I underestimated the impact of movies, cartoons, videos, etc. on how people think. Maybe I’ve also overestimated the intelligence of human beings?

  2. This shows the lack of knowledge many people have in the world around them. Imagine a world where people think that meat in a super market doesn’t hurt animals but hunting is evil. Yes people exist who think this.

    Questions of this nature leads into similar questions of violence represented in art and how it desensitizes our children to the violence in their lives.

    The crazy thing is, violent art and such have existed since the first cave paintings and such. Where the problem lies is are lack of education in thinking for ourselves. Open our eyes and look at the world around us to see the reality of nature and life.

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, I think there’s a natural tension between wanting to protect ourselves (and children) from the real world violence of nature and our fascination with violence. What a wacky dilemma! We entertain ourselves with fantasy versions of animals and we entertain ourselves with wild violence.

      Makes me think we’re a very strange species!

  3. We are indeed a strange species for we capture animals in the wild, put them in zoos to educate people but don’t replicate their natural environment. All that does is let a child see the animal but tells them very little about it.
    Personally I’m not a fan of zoos or Seaworlds for the sake of the animals
    and I’d much rather see them phased out in exchange for mobile film units that went to schools and showed how animals react when in their own environment. I hate to see a lion kill a zebra but it does wake you up to the realities so that going to the movies then becomes what it always has been, an escape from reality.
    xxx Huge Hugs Candy xxx

    • Candy Korman

      A long time ago when I was in Buenos Aries I went for a long walk and found myself in an old zoo. The buildings reflected the culture and architecture of the countries of origin — not the natural environments of the animals. I giggled at the mock Islamic arches and the exotic columns, wondering what the camels, giraffes and elephants thought of the architectural details. On subsequent trips, I thought about returning to that zoo — just to see if it had been updated. The Bronx Zoo in New York has huge expanses for animals and it’s still not being in the wild.

      We really are the strange creatures.