Thursday, September 30, 2010

Childhood Favorites Post #9 Stuart Little and an Ode to E.B. White's Craft

After rereading both Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little in recent months, my love for E.B. White has grown immensely.  I think that it is rare to find an adult writer who so richly describes the imaginary hopes of children: his details are so realistic that I come to believe that animals must indeed talk, that the Central Park boat pond is capable of squalls, that people can really befriend creatures.  While I was reading Stuart Little, I found that I couldn't find the same depth as in Charlotte's Web, but his literary attention to imaginary details made me really believe that this was a real story. Here are some favorites:

"...and the west wind (which had come halfway across America to get to Central Park) sang and whistled in the rigging and blew spray across the decks, stinging Stuart's cheeks with tiny fragments of flying peanut shell tossed up from the foamy deep."  I love how alive the wind seems--as though it were on an arduous journey to get to New York City at this exact moment. White goes on to create an entire ocean on the small pond and I can't help but get caught up in it.

I also love White's passion for the country, which can be heard in the sweet bird Margalo's voice (and reminds of The Cricket in Times Square, sigh): "I come from the fields once tall with wheat, from pastures deep in fern and thistle; I come from vales of meadowsweet, and I love to whistle."  White not only describes but creates an entire sense of place and person (well, bird). This kind of writing makes me want to write my own Ohio version of this sentence.

Stuart is incredibly endearing when he asks to the class he substitute teaches and E.B. White comes across as one of those adults who truly understands children and never lost his sense of wonder:
"How many of you know what's important? Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what's important." 
"A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby's neck smells if it's mother keeps it tidy." 
"Correct. Those are important things. You forgot one thing, though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?" 
"He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it." 

Stuart Little is the kind of book that did not exactly carry me away the way that Charlotte's Web did--the ending seems way to abrupt and we don't find Margolo.  I remain wondering what happened to sweet Margolo and whether she was just White's impetus to get Stuart out of the city and into a life of adventure, or whether the rumors I researched are true and he had a deadline he had to meet. Either way, I suppose I'm left thinking. But this was a story, for me, less of narrative perfection and more of an endearing escape and a reminder of sweet things that are far too often on the periphery of my mind.

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