Day 6 of 12 Days of Christmas : 6 Geese a-Laying & Paul Gallico

Day 6 goose stamp 1977Day 6 and that obsessive True Love is back in the poultry groove again. At least this time they are laying, so the eggs can be sold.

Though goose eggs are large and very rich and not to everyone’s taste. Possibly not an easy sell. Or even give away.

And they’re very noisy, geese. Better than guard dogs some people say. And they can be aggressive.



Day 6 12 days of ChristmasThis one is a blast from the past: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I read it as a child and wept buckets – but in a good way. It is a fable about the healing power of love with more than a nod to Beauty and the Beast.

It is set in the bleak landscape of the Essex marshes over  seven years, ends following the hero’s death at Dunkirk.

Gallico was earning his living as a short story writer and that is how it appeared, in The Sunday Evening Post, in 1940. The Dunkirk evacuation was 26 May – 4 June 1940. He expanded it to a novella and Michael Joseph published it in 1941, perfect for paper-rationed wartime.

snow goose cover 2017Local child Fritha finds a wounded snow goose and takes it to the reclusive, hunchbacked artist Philip Rhayader, although she fears him. She finds he is gentle and kind and helps to heal the snow goose, which then flies off on migration, and returns every year, as their friendship grows.

Then comes Dunkirk and Rhayader takes his small sailing boat to Dunkirk, with all the “Little Ships” that went to aid the evacuation.

He brings back many soldiers but dies in the process. The snow goose, which accompanied the boat, returns to Fritha. Now grown up,  she realises she loved him.


Sentimental? Undeniably. But I think a book which has been loved so much over the years, and by so many different people, has to have come from the heart.

Rhayader’s lighthouse was inspired by Gallico’s friend Peter Scott who was receiving migrating wildfowl at his lighthouse in Sutton Bridge in the 30’s.

Ronald Colman read it on CBS radio in 1944. The 1971 TV film, starring Richard Harris and Jenny  Agutter, won a Golden Globe. It inspired William Fiennes in writing his award-winning The Snow Geese and Michael Morpurgo in War Horse. It subsequently won the BBC Radio 4’s quest to find the most neglected classic, championed by Morpurgo. Thereafter it was dramatised for radio and is available to buy.

And if ever I mention it at a party there is always someone who says, “Oh yes, loved that story. I’ve never forgotten it.”


Because it’s only 64 pages, so you can afford the time. And it’s uplifting and kind.

Because Gallico, a US former sports journalist, gets a hard time from various pundits. The style purists say he tells too much, instead of showing. (Plenty of showing, though, and admirably spare writing.) His critics say the sentimentality makes them wince. (Little Nell? Little Paul Dombey, anyone?)

Because it’s lovely. Keep a hankie handy.

11 thoughts on “Day 6 of 12 Days of Christmas : 6 Geese a-Laying & Paul Gallico

  1. Liz Fielding

    Lovely choice for Day 6. One of my favourite books. One of my earliest cinema memories is being take to see the film adaptation of For the Love of Seven Dolls.

    1. Sophie Post author

      The Snow Goose is very touching, isn’t it, Liz?

      Don’t know Seven Dolls. Is the movie the one starring Leslie Caron and a wonderfully brooding Mel Ferrer as the puppeteer? It had never occurred to me before, but that certainly has a touch of Paul Gallico strangeness about it.

      1. Elizabeth Bailey

        I know that movie, Sophie. Not Seven Dolls. Of course I can’t remember the name! Googling. Yes, it’s “Lili” – with the memorable song Hi Lili, Hi Lo, which goes “A song of love is a sad song…” How true.

  2. lesley2cats

    Yes to all that. It’s as good an evocation of the marshes as Allingham’s, but I daren’t read it again – I won’t be able to forget it for days.

    When Lou was about 11, we went to stay with some friends who had a smallholding. She was great friends with their daughter, who was roughly the same age, and naturally, they had a whale of a time around the farmyard – real Enid Blyton stuff. Until, that is, the enormous Guard Goose, head of his tribe, chased them on to the roof of the hen house. And there they were – treed. And all us grown ups laughing our heads off. Lou hasn’t been too keen on geese ever since…

    1. Sophie Post author

      Love it, Lesley. John Julius Norwich did something similar, I think. The last letter was from the recipient’s lawyer!

    1. Sophie Post author

      Me too, Angela, though I haven’t read it for years. But whenever someone mentions it, it comes back as fresh as the first time. .

      I remember that little shaft of delight when I recognised the story that my father had told me about the little ships going to Dunkirk. It was like putting two bits of patchwork together and finding they fitted. Very pleasing.

  3. Sue McCormick

    As to the critics: they say it’s too sentimental. So what; they always say that. Far be it for most critics to simply say this is a good book, it makes you feel.

    They would loose they “smarter than everyone” status.

    P. S. Can you tell that I don’t think much of most of the professional critics. I don’t believe they have EVER helped me to find a good read.

    1. Sophie Post author

      What a good point, Sue. Must try and think of a critic’s review that has introduced me to favourite. I admit that mostly the good recommendations have come from friends and colleagues.

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