A couple of weeks after I adopted my second dog, I spent many hours everyday observing the differences between both the dogs. The first one – Calvin, a 12-year-old Labrador – is haughty, attention-seeking, and slothful. The second one – Boo, a 1.5-year-old mongrel – is patient, obedient, and more watchful and intelligent than Calvin. Despite knowing the fact, that each animal has a distinct personality, I was amused at the way they exhibited their attitude. Perhaps for one, who hasn’t befriended animals, they all might look alike. But, for animal-lovers, who observe them at close quarters, they are like our friends with queer, interesting personalities.
“If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.” — Mark Twain
In most adult books, the unique traits of animals are usually ignored. While pet animals are perceived as companions, the wild ones are blindly considered dangerous. In children’s books though, where animals are anthropomorphised, their characters are explored in a profound way. There may be faults. Their emotions may be manipulated. Their abilities may be exaggerated. But, I choose not to complain because they make arresting reads.
For so long, I reckoned that animals in AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh are the most intelligent and endearing. Then I read Charlotte’s Web, The Art of Racing in The Rain, Stuart Little, Coraline, and The Ocean at the End of Lane, and met more lovely animals. In some of the said books, animals are the protagonists. They are the narrators. In a couple of books, they play integral roles. Every time I read a book, in which an animal appears in a memorable character, I fall in love with the author. I ensure that I read more works of that writer. And, that’s why I chose to read EB White’s books. Because Charlotte’s Web was terrific. If I were wealthy, I would gift that book to every child on this planet.
Stuart Little was not as brilliant as Charlotte’s Web. So, I started reading The Trumpet of The Swan with an open mind.
The third and the last children’s book of EB White offers those moments, when I smile involuntarily, when I read quite a few passages over and over again, and when I wish I could raise a swan that can write.
Louis, the trumpeter swan, is dumb. He wallows in self-pity initially, when his siblings go ‘ko-hoh’. However, he gathers self-confidence after his father – an adorable verbose cob, who makes long, formal speeches at the drop of a hat – promises to help him cope with his defect. Spring arrives and Louis tries to find a partner. Serena, whom he admires, ignores him, for he can’t ‘ko-hoh’. Louis’s father flies to another city, breaks through a music store’s window, and thieves a trumpet for his son. And, the adventures begin.
Sam Beaver, a school student and Louis’s trusted friend, helps the swan to learn reading and writing, and arranges a job. Louis becomes a musician, and plays at a boys’s camp, a nightclub, and a couple of other places to repay the debt that his father owes to the music store’s owner. He works hard and earns a great deal of money. Louis robs Serena’s heart and the story ends on a happy note. But his way to success is bumpy.
One of the most impressive aspects about EB White’s books is that they remind readers (children and adults) that life is not a fairy-tale. They subtly highlight that life is replete with unfortunate things, and all that one can do is try overcoming it. In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur – the diffident pig – is made to deal with the loss of his best friend. In Stuart Little, the story ends when Stuart – the smart mouse – decides to keep travelling to find his friend who fled for her life. We will never know if Stuart would find her. Louis’s life too is not a bed of roses. From winning his disability to restoring his father’s honour, the young swan is burdened with a lot more than what he can handle.
And, the soul of EB White’s books lies there – when his characters face adversities with logic, hope, and most of all… with unmatched sincerity. It’s a shame that he wrote only a couple of gems.