Thursday, January 11, 2007

CHARLOTTE'S WEB (2006) Post 2 of 4: A Christ Myth


Aside from the explicitly mentioned moral values in the dialogue and narration (friendship, compassion, kindness, loyalty, etc), there are a good many aspects of the film that are mythic representations of the story of Jesus Christ. In this way, Charlotte's Web is a myth that subliminally reminds us of, and passes on truths from the story of Christ.

Now, many people will misunderstand what I mean by "myth." There are many who connote the word "myths" with "falsehoods" and even "evil." But in this case, a myth is a story that passes on something that is true. A myth story does not necessarily pass on truths about what happens in the story's visual realm, but it does pass on truths about things in the invisible realm, e.g. values. I keep pointing to J.R.R. Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories to undo the "false" notion some have about myths. Tolkien disliked the anagogical stories of close friend C.S. Lewis. The reasons for Tolkien's dislike were these: (a) Allegories always breakdown at some point, and (b) too much time is spent by the reader trying to match up the "true" story with the "allegory" that the truth or point of the story is lost.

A good myth creates "types" and "likenesses" from the true story and incorporates them into original fantasy or story. In this way, the connections and types are loose enough to entice and subliminally involve the reader or viewer, but not so much to distract the reader because nothing matches up perfectly.

In that way Charlotte's Web The Movie (and to a lesser degree the book) is a Christ Myth. There are many "types" in Charlotte's Web that will resonate with the Nativity and other stories of Christ, but not so much that we can't enjoy Charlotte's Web for a story that stands on its own.

Before I launch into the list, I have to reinforce that this is NOT an allegory, and things will NOT line up with the story of Christ as people know it. These are "types." That is, they are very subliminal pointers of other things (physical and psychological or spiritual) that Christians hold to be true. Remember that, please.

Let me enumerate those that I have seen, but in doing so...
NOTE: I do not imply that E.B White or the producers of the movie included any of these elements consciously. A great many of such comparisons can be found in many classic stories because, I suspect, these elements are universal truths that resonate with the human condition, and the particular "myth" story and the Christ story share those elements in common.
A. Wilbur is born a lowly pig, whose primary purpose in life is to die to feed others -- bacon and pork. Most of us love bacon and pork. Christ came as a lowly human, whose primary purpose was to die to give us life, and to feed us spiritual bread. Most of us should love the bread of life he provides.

B. Wilbur is born in a stable, and lives in the basement of a barn. Now, if you remember the book, the startling characteristic of the barn's basement is that it's warm and moist. What from? Fresh droppings of manure. In the book there's a lullaby that Charlotte sings to Wilbur with the repeated line "Deep, deep, in the dung and the dark." Christ was born in a stable, and although it's not mentioned in Scriptures, it was lowly enough, and probably warm and moist from manure.

C. Wilbur eats from a manger. The Christ child slept in a manger.

D. Wilbur draws attention from those beyond the farm because of a web, hanging from what Wilbur later titles the "Hallowed Doorway". The web looks like a star and in the movie there are a couple of shots where the sun's orb is positioned behind the web's center. In the Nativity story, as popularly told, wise men follow a star that hangs over the stable where Christ can be found. Just as there is a crowd of people come to see Wilbur in his barn, so there are many who come to see Christ is his stable.

E. In Charlotte's web are words, that are proclamations or prophecies about the lowly but miraculous pig below. In the Nativity story the star is a proclamation and a prophecy of something miraculous in a lowly stable below.

F. In the book, and implied in the movie, the minister in his sermon explains the words in Charlotte's web this way "words on the web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders." In the Nativity story, the wise men were on the watch for wonders as announced by the star.

G. Shortly after Wilbur is born, Mr. Arable takes an ax and is about to take Wilbur off to be killed. Shortly after Christ's birth Herod sends his minions out to take the life of Christ.

H. In the movie, Fern, the angel that she is, objects to killing Wilbur as a great injustice and thus protects Wilbur's life. In the Nativity story, an angel warns Joseph in a dream of the injustice about to be done with Herod's slaughter of the innocents.

I. In the movie the smokehouse sits ever present on a hill near the barn, as a reminder that the pig's life has an end at the hands of humans. In the story of Christ, Golgotha sits ever present on a hill near the city that awaits Christ's death at the hands of humans.

J. Charlotte looks down from above and is omniscient. One of the movie's tag lines is "Help Is Coming From Above." In the story of Christ, God looks down from above and is omniscient, and it is Christ that is sent as help from above. A tag line for the Bible could be: "Help is Coming From Above."

K. In the movie (and the book) Wilbur escapes his home and chases after the school bus on which Fern rides to get an education. Wilbur soon returns, obediently, because that is where food, shelter, and his friends are. In the Christ story Jesus "escapes" to the temple, a religious school. He soon returns, obediently, to his home with his parents.

L. In the movie, Wilbur looks like an ordinary pig, but his life is miraculous. In the Christ story, Jesus looks like an ordinary man, but his life is miraculous.

M. In the movie, the narrator tells us that Somerset County is an ordinary place with ordinary people and animals, except that "here a little girl did something that would change everything." In the story of Jesus, a young woman, Mary, lived in an ordinary village except she would do something that would change everything.

N. In the movie, Fern cares for Wilbur over whom the threat of death is constantly present. In the Nativity story, Mary cares for Jesus over whom the threat of death is constantly present.

O. In the movie, it is Wilbur's respect for the beauty of all life (even ugly spiders), which brings a greater degree of grace to Somerset County. In the Christ story, it is Christ's respect for all kinds of people, no matter their heritage or race, which brings a greater degree of grace to mankind.

P. In the movie, what appears ordinary, is quite miraculous. Jesus Christ appeared to many as quite ordinary. But he was quite miraculous.

Q. Charlotte prays over her food before she drinks its life giving blood. Her action is an offense to most in the barn at first. But Wilbur and his friends come to understand that it is Charlotte that keeps the pesky flies and other insects from being worse. A priest prays over the gifts before Catholics drink Christ's life giving blood. It is an offense to those that do not understand (John 6:66). It is God's grace, through Christ, that helps to keep sin from getting worse.

R. Charlotte, the omniscient looks down from above, she always keeps her promises. God, the omniscient looks down from above, and always keeps his covenants.

S. Wilbur always looks to Charlotte for friendship, comfort, assurance, and oversight, and she provides all that and protection, too. That is how Jesus looked to his father, and how Christians look to and trust the Trinity.

T. In the movie, Avery, Fern's brother, takes a pitch fork and stabs it at Charlotte trying to kill her, while Fern watches. In the story of Christ, while Christ hangs on the cross a soldier spears his side to see if he is dead, while Mary watches.

U. In the movie, Wilbur draws a crowd due to the presence of miracles, literal signs like "SOME PIG", and wonders. In the Christ story, Jesus draws crowds because of his miracles, signs, or wonders.

V. In the movie, at the very end, Wilbur promises to Charlotte's daughters, now spinning their web in the "hallowed doorway": "I pledge to you my friendship forever." Jesus' last words to his followers (as recorded by Matthew) are: "I am with you always, until the end of the age."

W. Charlotte repeatedly reminds those in the barn to be patient and "Never hurry, never worry. Don't be afraid." Christ repeatedly reminded his followers "Do not worry. Do not be afraid."

X. While Wilbur sleeps, Charlotte works. Wilbur doesn't always see what Charlotte is up to, but what she does is always for Wilbur's good. Jesus told his followers that they will not always see or understand, but the hidden wholeness of God's providence will always work out for their good.

Y. Miracles can have a conversion affect on people. In the book, when the farm hand, Lurvy, first sees Charlotte's "SOME PIG," he drops to his knees and says a short prayer. In the movie, when the sloppy farm hand, Harvey, sees "SOME PIG," he goes to town, gets a haircut and new clothes. Christ's miracles had a similar affect on people.

Z. Charlotte says to Wilbur "I will save you, trust me."...which Charlotte reinforces to mean, do what I say. God promises to save us if we trust Him and do what he says.

GL. Just got off the radio with Gus Lloyd, and he came up with a great mythic type in the movie that relates to Christ and the Church. At the very end of the movie, hundreds of Charlotte's babies throw a thin thread of silk up into the air, and trusting the wind to carry them aloft, they float off to places far and wide to spin their own web. This reminded Gus of how Christ sent out his disciples, and later the church, trusting the winds of the Spirit to carry the Good News into all the world. And in each new city they settle they would cast their nets (look like webs) and proclaim the Good News with both their words and actions. As E.B. White writes at the end of the book (and it's in the movie as well) "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." -- I suppose we could say the same of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a good friend and a good writer.

"Now there are a few more, but I've run out of letters," said Charlotte.

Well, okay, if you insist, one more, but this last one is pushing the envelope:

ZZ. There are four times that Charolette writes in her web, communicating with humans. The words are "SOME PIG", "TERRIFIC", "RADIANT", and "HUMBLE." There were four events in Christ's life that correspond to these words. (Maybe there were more but I'm blocking them out right now.) The first was when Jesus was born and God revealed the birth to shepherds and wise men essentially saying this is SOME BIRTH and you need to pay attention to it, which is what Charlotte is saying about Wilbur's arrival. The second time, was when Jesus was baptised, and a voice came down from heaven saying "This is my TERRIFIC Son, with you I am well pleased." (Okay, so I'm paraphrasing a little. But I think I have the inflection right.). The third time, was when Jesus was transfigured and shone RADIANT as he talked with Elijah and Moses. The fourth time, was when Christ took on his most HUMBLE estate and was crucified.

Please go on to POST 3 on Charlotte's Web where I discuss the film's "pro-life" themes, and finally, in Post 4, the Moral Premise and Moment of Grace.


Puzzled by the Pig said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure that equating "Some Pig" with Jesus is the most flattering comparison.

Stan Williams said...

Puzzled: You're confused between what's a MYTH and what's an ALLEGORY. Myth's hint, Allegory's point. Charlotte's Web is a myth. There is no "equating". Actually, there's no "equating" even in an allegory. It's "like". But the Christ figure is Charlotte, anyhow, not Wilbur the pig... if I fault into allegory.