9 Charming Facts About E.B. White’s Stuart Little

HarperCollins Publishers
HarperCollins Publishers

The charming tale of a tiny mouse doing his best to live a normal, human life in the Little family has captivated readers young and old for the past 75 years. Find out more about Stuart Little, the novel that jumpstarted E.B. White’s career as a children’s author and caused a little unease in the publishing world on its way to shelves across the United States.

1. Stuart Little was E.B. White’s first children’s book.

e.b. white
Cornell University Press, YouTube

In the late 1920s, Elwyn Brooks White rose to renown for his work as a writer and editor at The New Yorker. He also teamed up with James Thurber on a satirical collection of essays called Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do. It wasn’t until 1945 that White published Stuart Little, his first (but not last) novel for young readers. He’d go on to write Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, solidifying his reputation as one of America’s greatest 20th-century children’s authors.

2. Garth Williams illustrated the original edition of Stuart Little.

Stuart Little was also the first children’s book illustrated by Garth Williams, a former aspiring New Yorker cartoonist who would later provide the artwork for Charlotte’s Web, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square and its sequels, and several books by Margaret Wise Brown (though not her most famous story, Goodnight Moon). White’s publisher had already tapped Williams to illustrate Stuart Little before she even received the manuscript—when she did, it came with a note from White saying “Try Garth Williams.”

3. E.B. White got the idea for Stuart Little from a dream.

Around the same time White joined The New Yorker, he dozed off on a train ride and “dreamed of a small character who had the features of a mouse, was nicely dressed, courageous, and questing.” The trumpet-playing swan and the eloquent barn spider from his other books were conscious inventions, though. White said Stuart Little was “the only fictional figure ever to have honored and disturbed [his] sleep.”

4. Dr. Seuss was sort of involved in encouraging E.B. White to write children’s books.

In a November 1938 essay for Harper’s magazine, White mentioned the only current children’s book he really liked was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), and contemplated how fun and easy it would be to write for children. Geisel shared the essay with the New York Public Library’s children’s librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, who bombarded White with letters encouraging him to try it. White told her he had, in fact, already started.

5. Anne Carroll Moore then tried to prevent Stuart Little from being published.

A woman browses the shelves at the New York Public Library.
Anne Carroll Moor wielded great influence over the children's literature at the New York Public Library.
ponafotkas, Flickr // cc by 2.0

In 1945, White finally finished a draft of Stuart Little and sent it to Ursula Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls. Nordstrom passed along an advance copy to Moore, who did little to hide her loathing for a story that spliced together fact and fantasy in what she believed was a distasteful way that would confuse children and ruin White’s reputation. She urged Nordstrom not to publish it, sent E.B. White a 14-page letter detailing her criticisms, and proclaimed she “never was so disappointed in a book in [her] life.” It's believed Moore used her influence to keep the tale off the shelves of the New York Public Library—and libraries around the country.

6. Not all the critics loved Stuart Little.

Fortunately for fans of anthropomorphic mice, Nordstrom ignored Moore’s melodramatic warning and published the novel anyway. Plenty of people enjoyed White’s somewhat strange foray into children’s stories, but Moore wasn’t the only disappointed reader. The New York Times book critic Malcolm Cowley, for one, didn’t think White had created a classic by any means.

“If I also found it a little disappointing, perhaps that is because I had been expecting that E. B. White would write nothing less than a children's classic,” he wrote in his review. “Mr. White has a tendency to write amusing scenes instead of telling a story.”

The New Yorker’s Edmund Wilson also found it amusing, but was “disappointed that [White] didn’t develop the theme more in the manner of Kafka.”

7. It’s not totally clear if Stuart Little is actually a mouse.

In the 1999 film adaptation of Stuart Little (with a screenplay co-written by M. Night Shyamalan, by the way), there’s no denying the titular character is a mouse—not only does he look like a furry white mouse that came straight from a laboratory experiment, but he also refers to himself as a mouse. The book, on the other hand, isn’t quite so clear. The story opens with the birth of Stuart, whom White calls a “baby” who “looked very much like a mouse in every way,” and the rest of the book contains references to Stuart as a “boy,” a “man,” and a “person.” In other words, while Stuart is frequently compared to a mouse, White never actually comes right out and says he is a mouse.

8. E.B. White slightly altered the book's first sentence for later editions of Stuart Little.

In the original edition of Stuart Little, White’s first sentence begins, “When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son was born …” implying Mrs. Little literally gave birth to a mouse (or mousy creature). After reading it, New Yorker co-founder Harold Ross reportedly told White he should’ve had the Littles adopt Stuart instead—possibly because the idea of a human woman giving birth to a rodent or rodent-like being seemed a little too off-putting for the time. White didn’t go so far as to add an entire adoption scene in later printings of his novel, but he did tweak one tiny verb to make the circumstances of Stuart’s birth a little less explicit: If you pick up a copy of Stuart Little today, you’ll notice Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son “arrived.” The 1999 film, however, did add an entire adoption scene. In it, the Littles visit an orphanage and end up bringing home a teenaged Stuart.

9. A fifth-grader in Illinois came up with a much happier ending for Stuart Little.

Stuart Little ends on a somewhat hopeful, open-ended note, with Stuart speeding off in his little car in search of Margalo, the songbird who had fled to avoid being eaten by the Littles’ cat, Snowball. “The way seemed long,” White writes, but “he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.” In 1946, for a school assignment, a fifth-grader in Illinois envisaged a much less melancholy ending for the young mouse-man and his avian companion. In hers, Stuart runs into Margalo at a gas station and offers the owner “a whole ten dollars” for his bird. He agrees, and the pair returns to New York where they get married and raise “a family of half mice and half birds.” It’s unclear if half their children were mice and the other half were birds, or if all the children were half-mouse, half-bird.

Party Like a Hobbit at Chicago’s Lord of the Rings Pop-Up Bar

Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Gollum and a Ringwraith loom near Bilbo's hobbit hole at Replay Lincoln Park's Lord of the Rings pop-up bar.
Replay Lincoln Park

One does not simply walk into Mordor, but one does simply walk into The Lord of the Rings pop-up bar in Chicago—as long as you’re at least 21 years old, of course.

Replay Lincoln Park, known for elaborate themed pop-ups for Game of Thrones, South Park, and other entertainment franchises, has transformed its premises into a magical reproduction of Middle-earth aptly called “The One Pop-Up to Rule Them All,” open now through March 23.

Inside, you’ll be able to crouch under an outcropping of tangled tree roots while one of the dreaded Nazgûl lurks above you, high-five a grimacing Gollum, and snap photos with all your favorite Lord of the Rings characters.

nazgul at the lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Nazgûl like to party, too.
Replay Lincoln Park

You might want to skip elevenses to make sure you have plenty of room for a Hobbit-approved feast during your visit. The menu, catered by Zizi’s Cafe, features items like Fried Po-tay-toes, Lord of the Wings, Beef Lembas, and Pippen’s Popcorn.

ent replica at chicago's replay lincoln park pop-up bar
Say hello to a friendly Ent while you munch on "Pippen's Popcorn."
Replay Lincoln Park

According to Thrillist, there will be three different counters in the bar, each with its own specialty drinks. Head to The Prancing Pony for a second breakfast shot (maple whiskey, bacon, and orange juice), or take a trip to Minas Tirith to toss back a palantir shot, made of silver tequila and passion fruit purée. If you’re in the mood for a little dark magic, you can trek over to Mordor and try a “my precious” shot, a fusion of dark rum, orange liquor, and Cajun seasoning.

lord of the rings pop-up bar at chicago's replay lincoln park
The Eye of Sauron is watching you order another round of Mordor shots.
Replay Lincoln Park

For those of you who are happy to accompany your Tolkien-obsessed friends to the pop-up but aren’t exactly tickled at the sight of a moss-covered Ent replica yourselves, take heart in this added bonus: Replay Lincoln Park also boasts more than 60 free arcade games and pinball machines.

[h/t Thrillist]

First Editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Other Jane Austen Novels Can Be Yours

GeorgiosArt, iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt, iStock via Getty Images

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen hasn't been out of print since its initial publication in 1813. Now, fans of the British classic have a chance to own an original copy. On February 20, first editions of all of Austen's beloved books—including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion—are hitting the auction block.

Born in England in 1775, Austen is one of the most influential British writers of all time. Her stories are famous for their witty commentary of English society, and they've been adapted into everything from modern rom-coms to an apocalyptic zombie novel.

First editions of her books from the early 19th century will go up for bid at an auction organized by Swann Auction Galleries in New York. A three-volume print of Pride and Prejudice from 1813 is expected to fetch between $20,000 and $30,000. The copy of Emma, which was printed in 1816, has an estimated value of $15,000 to $20,000, while Sense and Sensibility from 1816 is projected to earn $30,000 to $40,000. The first edition of Sense of Sensibility (published as "By a Lady") comes from a run of no more than 1000 copies that sold out in less than two years. The two other novels up for bid are Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park.

The Austen works for sale are part of Swann's upcoming auction of fine books and manuscripts. A signed limited-edition copy of the Virginia Woolf short story "Kew Gardens" will be sold at the same event. You can view the items here before the auction goes live on Thursday.

First-edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Swann Auction Galleries

First-edition of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
Swann Auction Galleries

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