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