The Snow Goose (novella)

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First edition (publ. Knopf)
Cover artist: George Salter

The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk is a novella by the American author Paul Gallico. It was first published in 1940 as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post, after which he expanded it to create a short novella which was published on 7 April 1941.

Plot summary[edit]

The Snow Goose is a simple, short written parable on the regenerative power of friendship and love, set against a backdrop of the horror of war. It documents the growth of a friendship between Philip Rhayader, an artist living a solitary life in an abandoned lighthouse in the marshlands of Essex because of his disabilities, and a young local girl, Fritha. The snow goose, symbolic of both Rhayader (Gallico) and the world itself, wounded by gunshot and many miles from home, is found by Fritha and, as the human friendship blossoms, the bird is nursed back to flight, and revisits the lighthouse in its migration for several years. As Fritha grows up, Rhayader and his small sailboat eventually are lost in the Dunkirk evacuation, having saved several hundred men. The bird, which was with Rhayader, returns briefly to the grown Fritha on the marshes. She interprets this as Rhayader's soul taking farewell of her (and realizes she had come to love him). Afterwards, a German pilot destroys Rhayader's lighthouse and all of his work, except for one portrait Fritha saves after his death: a painting of her as Rhayader first saw her – a child, with the wounded snow goose in her arms.


The Snow Goose was one of the O. Henry Prize Winners in 1941.[1]

Critic Robert van Gelder called it "perhaps the most sentimental story that ever has achieved the dignity of a Borzoi [prestige imprint of publisher Knopf] imprint. It is a timeless legend that makes use of every timeless appeal that could be crowded into it". A public library put it on a list of 'tearjerkers'. Gallico made no apologies, saying that in the contest between sentiment and 'slime', "sentiment remains so far out in front, as it always has and always will among ordinary humans that the calamity-howlers and porn merchants have to increase the decibels of their lamentations, the hideousness of their violence and the mountainous piles of their filth to keep in the race at all."[2]

Popular culture[edit]

Musical adaptations[edit]

In 1975, the British progressive rock group Camel made an orchestrated instrumental album based on Gallico's novel, initially titled The Snow Goose. Gallico threatened to sue the band for copyright infringement, and therefore the band had to change the title to Music Inspired by The Snow Goose. The album was a great success and established Camel as a successful group, leading to a sell-out performance with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in October 1975, which was later released as part of their first concert album A Live Record. Camel toured Europe in late 2013 and early 2014, performing the album in its entirety for the first time since 1975. In 2014, readers of Prog magazine voted it no. 31 in the Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time.[6]

In 1976, RCA released an album[clarification needed] with music written and orchestrated by Ed Welch and Spike Milligan. Contributions were made by Harry Edgington and Alan Clare. The album was produced by Welch and Stuart Taylor for Quarry Productions Ltd, with artistic direction from Milligan. Gallico's original story was adapted for this recording by Milligan in Australia in 1976. The music is published by Clowns Music Ltd. Milligan provided the narration throughout. Virginia, the widow of Paul Gallico, co-operated on the project.[citation needed]

Allusions and references to real things[edit]

  • The character Rhayader is loosely based on ornithologist, conservationist and painter Peter Scott,[citation needed] who also did the illustrations for the first illustrated English edition of the book, using his first wife Elizabeth Jane Howard as the model for Fritha.[7]
  • Rhayader is a town in Wales, and also the Welsh word for waterfall.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Henry Award Winners Archived December 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Allardice, Lisa. "Winter reads: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico", The Guardian, December 19, 2011
  3. ^ "Sunday Highlights". The Nebraska State Journal. April 30, 1944. p. 32. Retrieved March 31, 2015 – via open access
  4. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1422. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  5. ^ Gallico, Paul (2016). The Snow Goose. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). ISBN 9780900806681.
  6. ^ Patuto, John. "The 100 Greatest Prog Albums of All Time - PROG Magazine - August 2014 - courtesy of Cygnus-X1.Net". Retrieved 2016-12-21.
  7. ^ Scott 1961, p. 543
  • Scott, Peter. (1961). The Eye of the Wind. An Autobiography. Hodder & Stoughton: London.