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Paul Gallico: The Snow Goose: A different kind of love story set in England's hauntingly beautiful Essex marshes (A Revi

Updated on November 4, 2014

Enter a Magical Natural World

I like marshes...the sun on my back, no humans in sight, the small pools full of critters, the flowers hidden in among the grasses, and the birds overhead and those nesting in the grasses. I find a sense of isolation from the world of people and can walk on for hours though the wild watery grass gardens.

Author's Descriptions of the Great Essex Marsh

Paul Gallico, author of "The Snow Goose," describes my kind of marsh in the opening pages of this book. I especially like the ways in which he describes the feelings of loneliness that the birds bring to the marsh, "It is desolate, utterly lonely, and made lonelier by the calls and cries of the wildfowl that make their homes in the marshlands and saltings - the wildgeese and the gulls, the teal and widgeon, the redshanks and curlews that pick their way through the tidal pools."

However, before Gallico introduces our main characters, he describes the balance between humans and the marsh: "Of human inhabitants there are none, and none are seen, with the occasional exception of a wild-fowler or native oyster-fishermen, who still ply a trade already ancient when the Norman came to Hastings."

The Main Characters

In 1930, 27-year-old Philip Rhayader buys an old lighthouse and the marshland and saltings surrounding it tipping the balance between humans and the marsh. Rhayader is a hunchback who prefers, for many reasons, a life away from the nearby towns and villages, He makes a refuge for migrating fowl on his land, and this with his paintings of marsh and birds, plus a sixteen-foot marsh boat fill Rhayader's time.

Three years into this solitary life, a twelve-year-old grimy girl, described as eerily beautiful as a marsh faery but frightened of the hunchback from stories told of him, comes seeking his help. She carries in her arms the burden of an injured snow goose and seeks Rhayader's recognized skill as a mender of wounded fowl. Firth (Fritha, a Norse name for peace and / or protection) is more concerned about healing the goose than her fear of the hunchback. She flees this first meeting once she believes that Rhayader will heal the bird, but promises to return.

The young bird flying her habituated course to southern feeding grounds from her native Canada was pushed far off course enough to end up exhausted in the Essex marsh. Fowlers shot her; Firth found her.

Firth returns regularly to the lighthouse that first winter. She is at there on a June morning in time to call Rhayader to watch their "Lost Princess," La Princesse Perdue, take to the skies. She was heading toward the summer breeding grounds of the snow geese.

The following October, above a lead-colored northeast wind, Rhayader heard the high clear note of the Princess above the lighthouse. She had returned to sojourn with Rhayader and Firth until she flew off for the summer breeding grounds. In the following years, the Princess came and went from the marsh regularly, but there was one year she did not come at all. Rhayader was desolate; Firth did not come to the lighthouse. Moreover, the bird resumed its schedule of leaving and returning. However, the times she was gone decreased in length. Until, she left no more.

Time Moves On

Firth also came and went from the lighthouse and Rhayader. The time is now 1940, and Firth has matured from the twelve-year old girl into a nineteen-year-old young woman. Rhayader is now thirty-seven. As they realize the princess has accepted the lighthouse and the marsh unspoken words rise between Philip and Firth. Firth, suddenly frightened, flees filled with a sharp sense of loss.

Meanwhile the outside world is exploding and burning. Bomber airplanes flew close above across the English Channel and North Sea to France and back. Three weeks later, Firth, ostensibly to on the princess, hurried to the lighthouse. She found Rhayader loading his boat with supplies. She speaks plaintively, "Philip, Ye be goin' away?"

He explains about the men trapped across the North Sea at Dunkirk and how the call was out for all boats to help evacuate the men. Unsophisticated Firth feels danger and lament, "Philip! Must 'ee go? You'll not come back. Why must it be 'ee?” Rhayader charges Firth with looking after the fowl and sails toward the sea. The white-feathered Princess rises from the marsh to follow the boat while Firth stands watching them both.

The Powerful Ending

Gallico stitches the rest of the novella together as though he had heard the story in bits and pieces. I will leave this brilliant and powerful ending full of local dialect and bewilderment for you the reader to enjoy without my comments. Firth waits and watches; Princess finally returns to "tell" Firth what she already senses, Rhayader will not return. The unspoken, but feeling, love between Firth and Philip climaxes in the wilds of the marsh. Firth takes the canvas that Philip painted with all of his soul of her and the Princess that first summer to her village home. Finally, the damages of war allow the sea and marsh to reclaim the lighthouse and all around it. The remaining wildfowl flee.

Author Remarks

This story is as old as I am. First published in 1940 as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post, Gallico rewrote “The Snow Goose" to create a short novella published in book form on April 7, 1941. Though, I remember reading it several decades back I was astonished to find that this novella is listed as one for young adults.

I question how much an adolescent might be able glean from the marsh descriptions, the dialects, and the underlying yearnings of nontraditional and uncommon love. "The Snow Goose" could be read and discussed as an animal fantasy such as "Old Yeller," "Where the Red Fern Grows," and "Call of the Wild," instead of as a love story.

I do treasure this book as another one, like "Wind in the Willows," that I would love to read aloud.

Music

"Music Inspired by The Snow Goose" is an easy-to-listen-to conceptual album from Camel. A conceptual album derives a theme such as a novel, holiday or place from outside of music. Camel allows the listener to wonder through the environment created by Paul Gallico's novella "The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk."

Film

The BBC originally produced "The Snow Goose" starring Richard Harris (Philip Rhyadar) and Jenny Agutter (Fritha) as a Play of the Month in 1971. Agutter received an Emmy for her work in "Snow Goose." The Hallmark Hall of Fame then presented this production in the U.S. as a TV movie on November 15, 1971. It is almost impossible to find a DVD or any commercial form of this 60 minute movie. However, mark042683 has recorded at YouTube what appears to be the original movie in five parts. There are also several other 50-to-55 minutes copies of "Snow Goose" on YouTube.

The World of the Snow Goose Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - blue phase - By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-es], via Wikimedia CommonsLesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - By Adrian Pingstone, [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsSalt marsh and Creek -  By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsCockle boat, Hadleigh Marsh –  By Julieanne Savage [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Common licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsLesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) – blue phase - By Adrian Pingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsSalt marsh and Sea Wall - By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsDerelict Building in the Marsh - By John Myers [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - blue phase - By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-es], via Wikimedia Commons
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - blue phase - By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-es], via Wikimedia Commons
Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - By Adrian Pingstone, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) - By Adrian Pingstone, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Salt marsh and Creek -  By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Salt marsh and Creek - By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Cockle boat, Hadleigh Marsh –  By Julieanne Savage [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Common licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cockle boat, Hadleigh Marsh – By Julieanne Savage [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Common licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) – blue phase - By Adrian Pingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) – blue phase - By Adrian Pingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Salt marsh and Sea Wall - By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Salt marsh and Sea Wall - By Glyn Baker [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Derelict Building in the Marsh - By John Myers [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Derelict Building in the Marsh - By John Myers [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Birding Points in the Great Essex Marsh

show route and directions
A markerCanvey Island, Essex Marsh, UK -
Marsh House, Vange By-Pass, Basildon, Essex SS16 4QG, UK
get directions

B markerGreat Essex Marsh, UK -
Marsh Cottages, 29 Ongar Road, Abridge, Romford, Essex RM4 1UD, UK
get directions

C markerRainham Marsh, Great Essex Marsh, UK -
Rainham, Greater London, UK
get directions

D markerTollesbury Wick, Great Essex Marsh, UK -
Tollesbury, Maldon, Essex CM9, UK
get directions

E markerFingringhoe Wick NR, Great Essex Marsh, UK -
Fingringhoe, Colchester, Essex CO5, UK
get directions

Golden Marsh Grasses

Source

Is the Great Essex Marsh a Place for You to Visit?

How did this novella or its review make you feel about this part of England with its seas of grass and proximity to the English Channel and France?

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    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @WriterJanis2: Hi Janis, Thanks for taking the time ti stop by and read this lens, and comment upon it. I appreciate all three. I certainly hope that you might also find time to read this novella.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      I have never read this book, but you make it sound quite interesting.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @ecogranny: Grace, Thanks so much for visiting and reading my review, and taking the time to comment so thoughtfully on it. At the ages of 13 and 14, I probably would have loved the book - probably did read it for the first time around that age - but I have always used books to escape and dream - take me to other times and worlds. I will have to check out whether a story like this appeals to my young teen grandchildren whom I am happy to say are taken up with C.S. Lewis - "Narnia" - and J. R. R. Tolkien - Hobbit books. And I digress, to say that, my husband and I found, and still find, these series by such thoughtful and meticulous writers, to be wonderful springboards of conversation. On the other hand, there is a review on GoodReads by a homeschooled teen who absolutely trashed "Snow Goose." Again, thank you so much for your comments.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Jo-Jackson: Hi! I bet there are lots of lovely birds, but no snow geese in your part of the world. Thanks, however, for visiting, reading and taking the time to comment on my review!

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @RinchenChodron: Hi, Thanks for visiting, reading and commenting upon this book review. Actually, I've lived most of my adult life in New England which abounds with swamps and marshes - my favorite haunts - and I have visited England and some of their north-east marshes. Yes, indeed, these marshes are very different to your high and dry Colorado meadows. It's good to imagine though, isn't it?

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @MariaMontgomery: Mia, Thanks so much for visiting my Snow Goose lens, reading it and commenting upon it. I am so happy that my review was able to help bring this story to life for you.

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      MariaMontgomery 3 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      You really brought this story to life for me. Well done.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Arachnea: Thank you so much for stopping by, reading and commenting on this lens. All three are deeply appreciated. Much of this area is now devoted to bird and natural sanctuaries.

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      Colin323 3 years ago

      I lived in Essex close to the marshes for a number of years ( I was a village bobby at one of the villages along the coast). It's a beautiful, raw, lonely place, and this novella certainly catches the essence of it. There is an illustrated edition of this book - illustrations by Ornithologist, Peter Scott - that is worth searching for: glorious colour illustrations, and very collectable in first edition, with its dustjacket intact.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I would enjoy surroundings such as you describe. This sounds like a peaceful book to read when quiet is what I'm in need of. Great review.

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      RinchenChodron 3 years ago

      I have visited England and this does sound like a wonderfilled book relating to nature in your neck of the woods, which is way opposite of the high dry country here in Colorado. Great review!

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 3 years ago

      Lovely book Lovely review.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      It's been decades since I last read this story. You've inspired me to take it off the bookshelf and enjoy a lovely pot of tea and a re-read. I remember shivering deliciously with the cold when first I read it, although it was hot summer where I lived at the time, so I would say it gave me good feelings about the faraway seashore marshes in England.

      Regarding your questioning the book's appropriateness for adolescents and young adults, If memory serves, I first read this story in junior high or high school. I found it wonderfully tragic, romantic and evocative. Young people have strong, agile, questioning minds. I have no doubt this story can touch their hearts and inform their minds, as it did mine all those years ago.

      I love that you brought that up, and I appreciate so much your thoughtful review.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Virginia Allain: Hi! Thanks for stopping by, reading this lens and commenting upon it! You've made my day because I love sharing books with others. I am so glad to be the impetus behind your rereading this wonderful story...even if it ends sadly.

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      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      It has been ages since I read this book. Time to get it out and savor the story again. Each time one rereads a book, you bring a different perspective to it.

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Elsie Hagley: Hi! Thanks for stopping, reading and commenting on my lens. I appreciate all :+) I am thankful that this lens inspired you to reread "The Snow Goose." Obviously, I think it is a great read.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Very nice review, I enjoyed it, I will be reading this book again as I enjoyed it very much when I last read it, thanks for reminding me I had forgotten about it. Thanks.

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Merrci: Hi Merrrci, Thanks so much for visiting this lens and for your gracious comments I am glad to hear that you also enjoy the acting of Richard Harris! Have a great day!

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      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I wish I could be there right now. Lovely review with such a sweet story. Going to back to watch Richard Harris (just love him) now. Thanks for sharing this.

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Heidi Vincent: Thank you, FreshStart for visiting this lens. It is a lovely sight to behold. I am so sorry that the Book Review template, while a good one does not allow for more art work / photos in a large format. I had to made a choice of whether to use the illustration of the 1st edition book or a photo / illustration that a colleague in photo group did of the snow goose flying over Dunkirk.

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @sybil watson: Hi! Thanks for visiting! The book is great for any day especially if you have someone to read it to, or you're the recipient of the reading. There have been many movements in England to preserve the marshlands to provide grounds for migrating wildfowl. As a result there is a lot of online information about the marshes / fens.

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @SteveKaye: Hi Steve...Honk! Honk! this book is such a wonderful depictions of these magnificent birds. (I even like Canadian Geese!)

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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @smine27: Hi! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting on my Snow Goose lens. London is indeed a beautiful and historic city, but I've always really loved exploring the byways like the Essex Marsh. It also has probably changed a lot since the days of the early 19th century that is portrayed in the book. It's been too many years since I last visited England.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image
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      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @SusannaDuffy: Hi Susanna! Glad to know we have something in common - wetlands / marshlands. Granted the book is readable by YA, but the beauty and subtle themes probably escape most except for the dreamers.

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      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I love the Wetlands, they're beautiful, magical places and I love this book too. It's been a long, long time since I read it and, like you, am surprised to see it listed as YA.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I dream of visiting places like this. The only place I got to visit in England was London, which I found to be such a beautiful city.

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      SteveKaye 3 years ago

      Well done. Honk if you like geese!

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      sybil watson 3 years ago

      I would love to visit this part of England and see the marsh and birds. The Snow Goose sounds like a great book for a rainy day.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 3 years ago from GRENADA

      I would love to visit. It would be a lovely sight to behold. Nature always holds wonder and beauty. Thanks for sharing, Cercis.