‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
‘Out to the hoghouse,’ replied Mrs Arable. ‘Some pigs were born last night.’
‘I don’t see why he needs an axe,’ continued Fern, who was only eight.
‘Well,’ said her mother, ‘one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.’
‘Do away with it?’ shrieked Fern. ‘You mean kill it? Just because it’s smaller than the others?’
—Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White (1952)
The story of Charlotte’s Web is well-known. Young Fern’s sharp sense of injustice defeats the quotidian brutality of farm life. At least momentarily.
Papa relents. The runt is saved. And Wilbur is brought into the world.
His name is important. It denotes a sudden elevation of status. The pig is no longer just a pig. It is Wilbur. What exact status Wilbur holds is still a little uncertain. But he’s not just a pig. He’s more like a baby, at first, drinking milk from a bottle. Like he’s one of the family.
And then Wilbur grows.
Wilbur’s status in the Arable household is short-lived. As the runt reaches maturity, Fern is forced to recognize that she can no longer care for it. Wilbur is sent to Uncle Homer’s farm, where he is suddenly just a pig again. Waiting to be slaughtered. It is a cruel blow.
And it will take magic to save him.
“There’s magic in the web of it…”
The internet sensation, Esther the Wonder Pig, has a strikingly similar story. A young woman buys a ‘micro-pig’ and soon realizes that she can’t look after it. She’s just had twins of her own, after all. She has enough to deal with.
So she passes the little pig on to an ex-boyfriend, Steve Jenkins. Not quite Homer Zuckerman, but there you go. This is real life, not fiction.
The little pig finds a home. With Steve, and Steve’s partner, Derek, and their roommate, and their two dogs, and their two cats, and their turtle and their koi fish.
In this small house on the outskirts of Ontario, the pig is no longer just a micro pig. She is Esther.
And, as it turns out, Esther is not actually a micro pig. She is not a micro pig at all. She is, more than likely, a commercial pig. And commercial pigs are large.
Esther begins to grow. And grow.
And so Steve. And Steve’s partner, Derek. And their roommate. And the rest of the household. And the growing number of people following their story on social media. They all start to wonder. They all start to wonder how big Esther will grow.
And Esther is no longer just Esther. She is Esther the Wonder Pig.
On her first birthday, Esther weighs in at 250lbs. At 18 months, Esther has grown to 420lbs. To date, she has topped 650lbs. She weighs more than a female polar bear.
But Esther isn’t the only one growing. Within 80 days of opening her Facebook page for friends and family, Esther has 100,000 followers. In less than six months, she has 250,000 followers.
This little pig does not need Charlotte and her magical web to save her. This little pig is way too big for that. In fact, this little pig is so big that Steve, and Steve’s partner, Derek, and their entourage, need a new home.
They find a farm. It’s perfect. It has 50 acres. It’s only 40 minutes away. They could start a whole animal sanctuary.
But it’s expensive. Almost a million dollars. And Steve and Derek do not have a million dollars. If they could raise $400,000, though. They’d be okay. But where do you find that kind of money?
Not in a talking spider’s web. That’s for sure. Not in the 21st century. Steve and Derek need something bigger than a spider’s web.
So, Steve and Derek crowdfunded. They explained their predicament, set the target of raising $400,000, and waited for the web to talk. They didn’t have to wait long. Within two months, 9,000 people from 44 different countries, with donations ranging from $5 to $50,000, had raised $440,000.
The Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary was brought into the world. It’s still Esther and Steve and Derek, and their entourage. But their entourage has grown. Now they are joined by 3 full-time staffers, 40 volunteers and around 60 other animals seeking refuge, including Cornelius the Turkey. Who is becoming an internet sensation in his own right.
Charlotte’s Web and Esther the Wonder Pig. Both stories celebrate the magic of the web. One is fiction. One is fact. Read beside each other, the real-life story of Esther weaves the magical realism of Charlotte’s ‘web’ into the digital age creating a tale of wonder that resonates with digital natives all around the world.