WHA Los Angeles, 1961
First published in 1960, A Canticle for Leibowitz is set
in a Roman Catholic monastery in the desert of the south west of the United States after a devastating nuclear war. The nation
tries to rebuild itself through the initiative of the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, who preserve the remains
of human scientific knowledge until everyone is ready to embrace it once more. Inspired by the author's participation
in the Allied bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino during World War II, the novel focuses on such important themes as
religion, recurrence, and the role of the church vis-a-vis the state.
Directed by Karl Schmidt, this fifteen-part adaptation of the novel
is the product of an era when broadcasting organizations took their time; rather than trying to shoehorn the text into two
or three parts, they preferred to focus on character development and narration. To contemporary listeners the pace might seem
slow-moving, almost statuesque; but I admired the way in which the cast - including Carol Collins as the narrator, supported
by Fred Coffin, Bert Hayman, Herb Hartig and Russel Hartin - made strenuous efforts to portray a world in which the rule of
law no longer prevailed.
We have to look at the novel and the adaptation in their
contexts of production, at a time during the late 1950s when it really seemed as if nuclear war would envelop the universe, while
the United States and the Soviet Union played a game of brinkmanship with one another. Protests were widespread, but
they seemed to have little effect. A Canticle for Leibowitz captures that mood of helplessness, when it seemed
that the only source of stability was the church; not just the Catholic Church, but any church.
The entire adaptation is available for download on the "Old Time
Radio" section of the archive.org site, an excellent source for all kinds of historic material, both aural and visual.