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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #196: Louis

Ignoring the fact that swans are huge jerks in real life.

There are things to love about each of E.B. White's three classic children's novels. Charlotte's Web is an achingly poignant fable about love and loss and the durability of friendship, and Stuart Little is a funny story about finding your way in a world that wasn't made for you. I read both many times as a youngster, and have shared both with my own boys. But my favorite of the three has always been The Trumpet of the Swan. I always felt that it had a grander scope, a more heroic protagonist, and a deeper sense of striving. Where Wilbur was often a passive observer in his own story, and Stuart a fairly blase tourist in life, Louis the swan was a creature of passion and ambition and drive.

Consider: here is a swan born without a voice. He cannot engage in the rich cultural traditions of his species, or attract a mate. And yet, he endures, and with the help of his family and friends, overcomes his challenges to become his best self. His father's fierce devotion (and thievery) delivers a trumpet. His human friend Sam Beaver arranges for a chalk slate and a classroom education. With these accommodations, Louis becomes a lifesaver, a nightclub performer, and in the end, a father in his own right. There are moments of farce and moments of sadness and moments of triumph, and through it all Louis displays a fully human range of emotions and motivations, and in the end his disability is less crippling than ennobling. For a children's book from 1970, it is a remarkably modern and mature narrative about how support and love can help us conquer the things about us that would hold us back.

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