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Charlotte, Anansi, and Odin, Oh My! (Part 2 of 3)

May 14 2021
Image by TrickyReynaertenCo on Flickr
Image by TrickyReynaertenCo on Flickr

In the three posts in this series, we will be looking at the power of words and the importance of knowledge-sharing by looking at tales featuring three famous knowledge-sharers: Charlotte from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, Anansi the Spider-Man from West African folklore, and the Norse god Odin.

To see part 1, click here

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E.B. White's choice of having a spider as the wisest of the barn animals and the champion for learning and cleverness in Charlotte's Web is rather fitting, as is her use of trickery to achieve a seemingly impossible goal (saving Wilbur). Although it is unclear whether this is intentional, the eight-legged heroine in White's novel shares very similar attributes to a very famous character in West African folklore renowned for being a clever Trickster and an advocate of knowledge-sharing: Anansi the Spider-Man.

In the tale of Anansi and the Story Chest, Anansi notices that humanity is suffering and leads a hard life. He weaves a ladder to the heavens to ask Nyame the sky god to share his story chest with humanity. Nyame outright laughs in Anansi's face. Eventually, though, he agrees to part with the chest if Anansi can complete three impossible tasks for him, which Anansi does through the use of cleverness and trickery. Upon receiving the chest from a reluctant Nyame, Anansi returns to Earth and opens the chest, and the power of stories is unleashed, allowing humanity to prosper.

Although Anansi is specifically an advocate of oral storytelling he nevertheless promotes the belief that it is through stories that one learns about the world and themselves. It is understood that when he brings the story chest down from the heavens what he really brings is knowledge and understanding through words.

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