The actress was joined by more than 20 other narrators to bring the beloved tale to life

By Sam Gillette
October 29, 2019 11:45 AM
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Meryl Streep is one of the best actors of our time, and now she’s bringing her prowess to audiobooks.

On Tuesday, Listening Library released a full-cast audiobook recording of E. B. White’s beloved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, with Streep as narrator. It’s the first recording of the story since the author’s own narration almost 50 years ago. PEOPLE has an exclusive clip of the the Oscar winner’s captivating performance.

“As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done,” wrote Eudora Welty in her New York Times review of the book after it was first published in 1952. “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.'”

Streep led the audiobook performance and was joined by more than 20 other narrators. Together they’ve brought White’s story of the friendship between Charlotte, a barn spider, and Wilbur, a pig who is the runt of the litter, to life. First published in 1952, Charlotte’s Web has moved generations of readers and inspired two film adaptations.

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing,” Charlotte famously tells Wilbur in the book. “I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Marion Curtis/StarPix for Columbia Pictures/Shutterstock

White, also the author of Stuart Little, was born in 1899 and loved farm animals since he was a child. In 1933, he and his wife, Katharine Angell, bought a farm in Maine — the setting that would later inspire White to write Charlotte’s Web, according to NPR. (White died in 1985 at the age of 86.)

“One of the pigs [White] was raising died,” Michael Sims — author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic — told NPR in 2012. “While he was carrying the pails of slops every day to the replacement pig in the barn, he noticed there was a spider attending its web every day, expanding the web, rebuilding what had happened the night before, and then one day he saw that it had spun an egg case.”

Penguin Random House Audio

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White took the spider’s egg case with him when he had to move to New York City. He studied spiders for a year before he wrote the children’s tale, according to Sims’ book.

“I discovered, quite by accident,” White once explained, according to The Story of Charlotte’s Web, “that reality and fantasy make good bedfellows.”

The author was just as attached to the story of Charlotte’s Web when he narrated the book in 1970.

“He, of course, as anyone does doing an audiobook, had to do several takes for various things, just to get it right,” Sims told NPR. “But every time, he broke down when he got to Charlotte’s death. And he would do it, and it would mess up. … He took 17 takes to get through Charlotte’s death without his voice cracking or beginning to cry.”

The new Charlotte’s Web audiobook by Listening Library is on sale now.

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