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 birds…it 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 misshapen, 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.