Saturday 9 August 2014

The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk by Paul Gallico

The Snow Goose is a short poignant story centred around an injured snow goose and a reclusive artist's growing relationship with the young girl who brings the bird to him for care and climaxes with the 'little ship' evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.
The book was first published a year after the miracle at Dunkirk and became a world-wide best seller.

Philip Rhayader, a lonely twenty-seven year old wildlife artist, bought an abandoned lighthouse on the desolate Essex Coast in 1930 and withdrew from the world. Physical deformity had driven this kind and warm-natured man into seclusion where he poured his sensitive nature into his painting. His only human contact was twice a month when he went to purchase supplies at a small village but he was a friend to all wild creatures and provided   sanctuary and food for them through the winter.
One day, three years after he had come to the lighthouse, a young girl timidly arrived at his door bearing in her arms a large white bird which had been injured by fowlers. Twelve year old Frith had heard that Rhayader was skilled in healing injured things, and her concern for the wild bird had overcome her fear of meeting the strange, ugly man.
The bird was a Canadian snow goose which had been caught in a storm whilst migrating south for the winter and thrown off course and Fritha became a frequent visitor to the lighthouse while La Princesse Perdue, the Lost Princess, was restored to full strength.
One day, about six months later, the bird rose up with a group of others and headed back to the north.
The bird's departure brought Frith's visits to an end and Philip dejectedly returned to his solitary existence.
Four months later, to  Philip's surprise and joy, the snow goose returned, and so too did Frith. Over the years the bird's absences grew shorter until one day it didn't fly off with the other had chosen to stay with Rhayader.

'The spell the bird had girt about her was broken, and Frith was suddenly conscious of the fact that she was frightened, and the things that frightened her were in Rhayader's eyes...'

The year was 1940 and across the Channel a British army was trapped at Dunkirk. The call had gone out to all the English villages on the coast and men were putting out to sea in their small craft determined to be a part of the rescue attempt.
Philip Rhayader was one of them.

'Frith stared at Rhayader. He had changed so. For the first time she saw that he was no longer ugly or mis-sharpen, or grotesque, but very beautiful. Things were turmoilng in her own soul, crying to be said, and she did not know how to say them.'

This haunting little story, with it's backdrop of the English marshlands and its wildlife, is beautifully illustrative of love's power and the role trust plays in gaining love. Outward appearance is often elevated above true character and this superficial way of seeing people can cloud our ability to understand what really matters. A story that brings true beauty and loveliness into focus is refreshing and this one helped open up some important discussion when I read it aloud. Although it's a simple story I think it would be most appreciated by mid to late teens and up.

 Essex Marshes
                            © Copyright J Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


God's Speed

As Frith farewells Philip she calls to him, 'God-speed, God-speed, Philip!'
This song was based on the story of The Snow Goose.


hopeinbrazil said...

When I first read this story (ages ago), I disliked it since I only enjoyed books with happy, predictable endings. I need to try it again now that my tastes have matured a bit. Thanks for the good review.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is a beautiful story, Carol! I need to add it to my list. So many levels of application with it--but I will let me student make those connections 😉. Betty

Carol said...

Hello Betty! As Hope mentioned it does have a sad ending. One of my sons (the 14 yr old) is very sensitive to that sort of thing and he didn't like how it ended - but it is a war story.

Sara said...

We loved the story when we read it last year. I particularly enjoyed the care the author took describing the landscape and animals of the Essex coast.

Carol said...

I felt the same way, Sara. You could almost imagine you were on those bleak marshlands!

Annie Kate said...

Thanks so much for this review! I ordered it from the library immediately and just read it tonight. Lovely story, and lovely review too!

Kirsten Edwards said...

Wonderful review. I have this book and look forward to reading it. I also love the snowflake by the same author.

Carol said...

Warning Kirsten -sad ending! But it's a lovely story. The Small Miracle is another one he wrote about a boy and his pet donkey.

Unknown said...

I listened to it as a 12 year old boy in South Africa - on a long playing record I got from my Grandmother- My wife bought me the audio cd for my Fj on my 65th Birthday in the USA to listen to all over again on my way to work in the morning --Cried again like a twelve year old boy :)can't wait to listen to The Small Miracle now

Unknown said...

Oh Carol = my name is Alan Berning

Carol said...

Hi Alan, lovely to read about your experience with this book! As C.S. Lewis said, 'No book is really worth reading at age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.'Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Noel McDonough said...

I have known The Snow Goose since I was a 13 year old boy living in Far North Queensland, in Australia. I am now 78. As a teacher (I taught for 55 years) it was my custom to read The Snow Goose out aloud to my years 7, 8, 9, and 10 students (roughly 11-15 yr olds) as well as occasionally to year 11. It takes only one period to read it through. I used Anzac Day (Australia's day of remembrance for all lost soldiers) as the trigger. All the children to whom I read the story were moved, no matter what their cultural, religious or ethnic background. I must say that I never managed to get through it without crying openly myself - and the students accepted a grown, adult male crying with no difficulty. The simplicity, the almost poignant banality, of Gallico's writing, makes this so special. Thank you for your incisive and touching summary.

Carol said...

Hi Noel,

Thank you so much for your lovely comment!
It's wonderful that you read aloud to your students, especially in the high school years. I don't remember any teacher of mine who did that.
I'm so grateful for beautiful stories like this to share with my own children. Thanks for taking the time to comment. It was very encouraging to read of your experience.