A Canticle for Leibowitz | 1981 | WHA Radio/Wisconsin Public Radio

Note – I’ve been trying to have people’s names in the title but try Googling this production and you’ll find all kinds of somewhat conflicting information about who exactly was behind it. Adapted by John Reeves? Or is his name John Reed? Karl or Carl Schmidt directed. But all sources I read agreed that it was produced at WHA for Wisconsin Public Radio and it was aired and probably funded at least partially by NPR.

This is probably my fourth time listening to this.
When October starts, I’m gonna try to listen through the entire series of The Byron Chronicles since it’s sure to be a great Halloween month choice and it’s apparently ending soon. Until then, I have to fill a few days of headphones time so I’m revisiting one of my all time favorites.

15 not-quite-a-half-hour episodes, divided into 3 large parts, set hundreds of years apart from one another.

My favorite is part one – the first five episodes. Poetic, hushed, minimal. The dialogue, effects, and even the score are all so subdued, I can just imagine the director repeating “shhh” as his most used direction. I find these episodes calming and soothing.
Until it’s not.
And those moments jostle the senses after mentally leaning in to listen closer for so much of the time.
The second and third parts have a lot more of this. This is a post-apocalyptic story and each of the three parts is further along in the rebuilding of society. The amount of sound effects increases accordingly.

As for the production as a whole, the acting is so natural I always forget to judge the acting. The sound effects are excellent. The writing is also nearly flawless. The story is adapted from a novel but the script itself is perfectly written – great pacing, great dialogue, and good amounts of nuance and subtlety. Again, the script writer can only take a certain amount of credit but I certainly admire his selections from the source material – it doesn’t feel abridged. This is a big story of global changes over many, many centuries of time, yet told through a small, personal story (three, actually) so it is still emotional with few and therefore rich and believable characters.
Perhaps the most vital ingredient is the narrator. I am a firm believer in using a narrator in audio presentations. Many productions I’ve heard and thought were deeply flawed, I also thought could have been saved by use of a narrator. And the narrator for this show is perfect.
It all combines to make what is possibly my single favorite production I’ve ever heard. This is nothing less than a masterpiece of audio theater.

Needless to say, I give this an A+ and have my own copy of it in my stash. (Which, btw, is better quality than what you’ll find at the link below. If you want a copy, contact me via one of the methods over on the sidebar.)

A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by American writer Walter M. Miller, Jr., first published in 1960. Based on three short stories Miller contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is the only novel published by the author during his lifetime. Considered one of the classics of science fiction, it has never been out of print and has seen over 25 reprints and editions. Appealing to mainstream and genre critics and readers alike, it won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.
Set in a Roman Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man’s scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.
Inspired by the author’s participation in the Allied bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino during World War II, the novel is considered a masterpiece by literary critics. It has been compared favorably with the works of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Walker Percy, and its themes of religion, recurrence, and church versus state have generated a significant body of scholarly research.
This 15 part serial is based on the novel by Walter M. Miller, Jr. published in 1959. The story had previously been published as a series of novellas in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science. The book won the Hugo award winner for best science fiction novels of all time.
The radio drama adaptation by John Reed, and produced at WHA by Carl Schmidt and Marv Nunn.
The play was directed by Karl Schmidt, engineered by Marv Nunn with special effects by Vic Marsh.
Narrator – Carol Collins and includes Fred Coffin, Bart Hayman, Herb Hartig and Russel Horton.
Music was by Greg Fish and Bob Budney and the Edgewood College Chant Group.

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