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Literature / The Trumpet of the Swan

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A 1970 children's novel written by E. B. White.

One day on a Canadian lake, a cob (male swan) and a pen (female swan) are rescued from a fox by a young boy named Sam Beaver. Sam is allowed to watch the swans' cygnets hatch, and he discovers that one of them is mute; instead of chirping to greet him, the mute cygnet pulls on Sam's shoelace. Awww. Thus begins an Odd Friendship between swan and boy.

The story focuses on the swan, named Louis, and his efforts to overcome his handicap. Sam takes Louis to school so the bird can learn to read and write, and the swan's father steals a brass trumpet to give his son a voice. Feeling guilty over the theft, Louis leaves home to earn enough money to pay for the trumpet. Adventures are had by all.

In 2001, an animated film adaptation was released by Richard Rich (the director of The Swan Princess).

Compare to White's more famous novel, Charlotte's Web.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Louis doesn't interact much with his swan peers in the novel. In the animated adaptation, he has a case of All of the Other Reindeer because his peers (sans his family and Serena) find him weird that he's mute.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: In the novel, Serena doesn't interact with Louis because of his disability (Louis's mother points out that his muteness means he can't communicate in the usual way and of course Serena can't read), and Louis wins her over simply by revealing that he can play the trumpet. In the film, Serena is much more sympathetic to Louis and a jerkass rival named Boyd is added instead.
  • Adapted Out: In the book, Louis has four siblings from the same clutch of eggs as himself, and his parents have still more cygnets later. In the film, he has just two sisters named Ella and Billie.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Due to Lost in Translation. Louis is mute, and Serena can't read, so his attempts to talk to her fall flat and she assumes he's not interested in her. In the film, Louis is bullied by most of his peers and treated with shame by older swans, including his father.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: To a lesser extent. In the film a lot of swans have some additional color on their feathers besides white. For instance, Louis has yellow, his sisters have peach pink and green, and Boyd has bright red.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Louis and others. When his father breaks into a shop to steal the trumpet, he flies away feeling guilty for the crime.
  • Animal Talk: The swans 'talk' to each other, and Louis can understand English, but no one can understand him until he learns to write.
  • Award-Bait Song: Kenya Hathaway's "Touch the Sky" from the film.
  • Babies Ever After: The story ends with Louis and Serena starting a family of their own.
  • The Bully: Boyd, the swan added for the film.
  • Camp Wackyname: Camp Kookooskoos. According to the camp director, it actually means "great horned owl" in Native American. When a camper asks him why it's not called "Camp Great Horned Owl", the director says it sounds better for a camp to have a kooky name.
  • Celebrity Paradox: At one point in the animated film, Louis reads Stuart Little, another novel by E.B. White.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Serena just happens to get blown by storm all the way to the Philadelphia zoo while Louis is staying there.
  • Disney Death: Louis and his dad fly to the music store to pay for the stolen trumpet and smashed window. Unfortunately, the store owner thinks they're back to steal again and shoots at Louie's dad, who falls the ground. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, the music owner instantly regrets what he just did. Fortunately, the swan was only stunned from shock. The music store owner then decides to use the money to not only pay for the trumpet and the damages to his shop, but also to preserve all Trumpeter Swans.
  • Distant Finale: Sam is 11 in the beginning and 20 by the end of the novel. Averted in the film, which ends with him still a kid.
  • Fat Bastard: Monty, Louie's con-artist agent in the film, who takes advantage of Louie's skills and uses him for his own selfish gain.
  • Feather Fingers: Played straight in the film adaptation, but averted in the novel, where Louis uses his foot instead. At one point he even asks Sam to cut the webbing between his toes so he can use the valves more easily — the narrative stresses that this is painless, though it does make his swimming stroke a bit weaker.
  • Funny Animal Anatomy: The book doesn't exactly say how Louis, who has no lips, can play a trumpet (though it is at least mentioned that it takes him a while to figure out for himself). It's Hand Waved as saying he uses his tongue and the softer parts of the bill. Swan tongues can be curled and have rough edges, though whether it could actually be curled enough to form a seal on the mouthpiece is probably something best not thought about too closely.
  • Genius Bruiser: Not only is Louis pretty smart for an animal (being able to read and write English and learn to play the trumpet without assistance), but he has the strength of a trumpeter swan (which, true to life, can hit with the force of a baseball bat and give a nasty bite besides). Louis doesn't hesitate to use every natural weapon at his disposal to defend Serena from the Philadelphia zookeepers (who want to amputate part of her wing and render her permanently flightless).
  • Green Aesop: E.B. White seldom misses an opportunity to mention how human carelessness makes life difficult for wild swans.
  • Grudging "Thank You": Averted. Applegate is more than happy to be saved by a "stupid dirty bird". He still doesn't care for birds, though.
  • Hate Sink: Boyd is a magnet of resentment embodying nearly all the mean-spirited hardships that come from Louis's mute condition from needlessly taunting him during childhood to forcing Serena to marry him instead of Louie. And when Louie rightfully earns Serena's love, Boyd spites him by throwing his trumpet in the water.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Allow yourself a free snicker when Serena hears Louis's trumpet and thinks "What a gay bird!"
    • A somewhat more innocent example happens in-universe. Louis's father has to explain to him that he meant "mute" when he said "dumb," reassuring Louis that he doesn't regard his son as stupid.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: In the film, after rage quitting from many losses to Louie in a game of volleyball, when he takes a canoe, he gets caught in a current heading towards a waterfall. Luckily, Louie swims in to save his life.
  • Large Ham: Louie's father in the animated adaptation — voiced by Jason Alexander.
  • Lost in Translation: Louis initially tries to communicate with Serena with his chalk and slate. Unfortunately, Serena can't read.
  • Meaningful Name: Louis plays a trumpet, like a certain other jazz musician. This is lampshaded in the book, when a boy says he'll name him Louis after said musician, only for the swan to write on his chalkboard "That actually is my name."
  • Odd Friendship: Sam and Louis become hesitant allies and eventually true friends.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Boyd's character plays up the All of the Other Reindeer aspect from the novel, as to be expected.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Louis can not only understand human speech but make himself understood with his chalkboard.
  • Race Lift: In the book, Sam Beaver is described as having black hair and dark eyes like a Native American, though whether he has any actual Native American blood isn't mentioned. In the film, he's a generic brown-haired, blue-eyed white kid.
  • The Rival: Boyd in the film is Louis's competition for Serena.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Serena is largely a cypher: Louis falls for her because she's beautiful — and she's there — but the only real personality she gets is when she's utterly spellbound by Louis's trumpet serenade and no longer cares that he's mute.
  • Scary Science Words: Louis's dad injures his wing and is told the wound is "superficial". He thinks "superficial" means "serious".
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Occasionally Sam or another human character will stop and explain what a certain word means.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: In the film, Serena prefers Louis over Boyd.
  • Smelly Skunk: In the film, when A.G. Skinner rage quits after Louie keeps beating him in a game of volleyball, he kicks it to the flag pole and it lands on a skunk, who sprays at him. Phew!
  • Stealth Pun: Louis's species is a Trumpeter Swan, but due to his condition, you could also say he's a "Mute" Swan.
  • Summer Campy: Sam spends some time at Camp Kookooskoos.
  • Swan Boats: Louie at one point gets a job on the real-life Swan Boats in Boston.
  • The Voiceless: Louie of course. To help the audience understand how the mute Louis thinks and feels, the animated adaptation has Louis "talking" through his thoughts — courtesy of Dee Bradley Baker.

Alternative Title(s): The Trumpet Of The Swan