A World War II story.
Rhayader has never been loved. He’s always been the ugly, deformed hunchback who, if anyone took the time to talk to him, it was obviously with great effort on their part. By all rights Rhayader should be consumed with hatred – but he isn’t. His own soul is too big to be bitter. But he does yearn for companionship.
But since the joys of human friendship cannot be his, Rhayader removes himself to a deserted lighthouse where he offers the migrating fowl his protection and hospitality. He becomes known as the man who cares for birds. And then one day, a young girl – Saxon-blooded and eerily beautiful – trudges up to the house. In her arms she carries a wounded snow goose. Together Rhayader and Fritha bandage and nurse the goose. Together they begin to weave the faintest hint of friendship.
When Rhayader sails off to help ferry soldiers from Dunkirk across the Channel, Fritha is fearful. Will Rhayader return?
Some books tell you what is happening. Other books show you what is happening. And then some books exude a spell-ish atmosphere and croon to you in soft tones the words of the tale. The Snow Goose is the latter kind. The fact that sketchy pictures illustrate each page, their lines drawn in blue sea mist, helps weave the atmosphere. But the words themselves have a lulling lyrical sway to them as well.
The story reads like an ancient myth set in comparatively modern times. Fritha is described as being “as eerily beautiful as a marsh faerie.” When she first brings the goose to Rhayader, it is with the knowledge that “this ogre who lived in the lighthouse had magic that could hear injured things.” [pg. 12]
Of course, no magic is used to heal the goose, but the imagery continues. As Rhayader and Fritha watch the goose (whom the call “The Princess”) flying it is said “the bird in its close passage seemed to have woven a kind of magic about her.” [pg. 24] When Rhayader sails off to rescue soldiers, The Princess flies along and is viewed alternately as a good and bad omen by the soldiers on Dunkirk. When Rhayader dies, The Princess returns to where Fritha is waiting and it is said that
Wild spirit called to wild spirit, and she [Fritha] seemed to be flying with the great bird, soarin with it in the evening sky, and hearkening to Rhayader’s message.
Sky and earth were trembling with it and filled her beyond the bearing of it. “Fritha! Fritha! Frith, my love. Good-bye my love.”
As the goose flies off,
Watching it, Frith saw no longer the snow goose but the soul of Rhayader taking farewell of her before departing forever. [pg. 46]
It’s an evocative scene, but rather deep to be in a children’s book.
Conclusion. A book with a definite atmosphere, The Snow Goose only barely touches on the battle of Dunkirk, instead focusing on the local, near mystical relationship of Rhayader, Fritha, and the Princess.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret