Beloved children’s book author EB White was born and raised in New York and attended Cornell College. In 1927, he began work at The New Yorker. He wrote several humorous books and essay collections before publishing Stuart Little in 1945, for which he received national acclaim. This was followed in 1952 by the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, and finally, in 1970, by a much quieter novel, The Trumpet of the Swan. In a New York Times review, the writer John Updike noted that it did not have the energy of his earlier children’s books, but was nevertheless “a joy-ride through the gentle terrain of the highly unlikely.”
The novel features a voiceless trumpeter swan named Louis, who is taught to read, write, and play the trumpet to communicate with a collection of swans and humans alike. After success as a camp bugler, Louis leaves his winter home in Billings, Montana and flies to Boston to play the trumpet for—of course—the Common’s swan boats:
“Louis liked Boston the minute he saw it from the sky. Far beneath him was a river. Near the river was a park. In the park was a lake. In the lake was an island. On the shore was a dock. Tied to the dock was a boat shaped like a swan.”
The boats, docked beside the footbridge in the Public Garden, had been an institution for almost a hundred years by the time The Trumpet of the Swan was published and they have changed very little since White’s time (though none feature trumpet-playing swans).
Eventually, Louis’ career in music allows him to rise to fame and win his love, the swan Serena. The novel concludes,
“As Louis relaxed and prepared for sleep, all his thoughts were of how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day.”