OK, I admit to you all that I had a book on my shelf that I bought for my children when homeschooling them. It sat for many years. I am not even sure that any of them read it, but last night, I said to myself that the book had sat long enough neglected. I pulled out my ex-library copy of Paul Gallico’s novella The Snow Goose.
I have a vague memory of seeing this as a movie and it haunted me. For some reason, I thought it was a Christmas tale but it isn’t. However, it does convey the spirit of Christmas as the main character gives his life for others.
Paul Gallico’s short story was first published in the Saturday Evening Post and then made into a novella. Philip Rhayader is the main character, but he is deformed. His one hand is like a claw and he is hunchbacked. Society shuns him so he lives in a lighthouse all alone, but he has a magic touch with the birds he encounters along the English shoreline. One day a disheveled little girl comes to him with a wounded snow goose in her arms. He is able to nurse the goose back to health, and he and the goose eventually becomes attached to Philip.
Though the bird is from Canada, it does not return there, but every winter will fly down to winter with Philip. The little girl, Fritha, comes back every year to see the snow goose. Eventually, a deep friendship grows between Fritha and Philip, even though she recoils because of his deformities at first.Fritha looks beyond the outward and realizes she loves Philip as she grows into a woman.
Britain is at war with Germany in the second World War and Philip hears of wounded soldiers trapped at the Battle of Dunkirk. One day Fritha sees Philip getting into his boat. She wants to go with him, but he must go alone across the sea to rescue the wounded soldiers and collect them off the bloody beach. But actually, Philip is not alone, for the snow goose is flying with him.
He ends up rescuing hundreds of soldiers. But the Germans attack with their machine guns and Philip is killed. The snow goose protects him whenever someone comes near. The bird becomes like a legend. and anyone who sees him is protected.
When the snow goose returns to the lighthouse alone, Fritha knows that Philip is gone. She comes to the lighthouse every day to care for the birds. But, at last, the lighthouse is destroyed by a German bomber.
The Snow Goose teaches adolescents, well, all of us, valuable lessons. Fritha looked beyond an apparent handicaps and saw true beauty in Philip as he cared for the creatures, and the soldiers on the beach. The Snow Goose shows us his loyalty by coming back to Philip’s lighthouse year after year, and guarding his body in death. Philip was kind to all, in spite of being an outcast. Good lessons, all, and revealing the wonder of the spirit of giving as exemplified when God became a tiny baby for our sakes.