A Christmas Gift: I Saw Three Ships

Posted December 15, 2014 by Lory in reviews / 17 Comments

Elizabeth Goudge, I Saw Three Ships (1969)


Just in time for Christmas, the wonderful folks at David R. Godine, Publisher have reprinted their edition of Elizabeth Goudge’s story I Saw Three Ships. In this brief tale set in the West Country of England a couple of centuries ago, we are introduced to the irrepressible orphan Polly, who knows she has heard angels climb the stairs on Christmas Eve; her very proper maiden aunts, Dorcas and Constantia, who yet harbor secret dreams and longings; and three wise men of a rather unexpected sort. How they all come together is Christmas magic of the very best kind.

As fans of Elizabeth Goudge may expect, there is a marvelously evoked historical setting, with a lovably mischievous child character, adults of varying degrees of eccentricity, and a contented cat. There is charm and mystery and humor, and a hint of something beyond the everyday world. At appropriate moments, the old English carol named in the title enlivens the text with its jaunty tune — a different one than most Americans may be familiar with, so it’s good that words and music are included at the end. The numerous pen-and-ink drawings by Margot Tomes capture the early-nineteenth-century atmosphere perfectly, and Godine’s usual fine production values enhance the book’s appeal even further. A small paperback (about 5 by 7 inches large and 60 pages long), with a heavy, durable matte cover and French flaps, it would slip nicely into a large stocking. If you’re looking for a gift for an older child — or adult! — who enjoys historical fiction by the likes of Joan Aiken or Leon Garfield, this would be a fine choice.

For those who already know and love the books of Elizabeth Goudge, or would like to discover a splendid but often sadly underrated author, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be hosting an Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week from April 24 to 30. Keep your eye on these pages for further details in the New Year, and enjoy whatever you choose for your holiday reading.

A Christmas Gift: I Saw Three ShipsI Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge
Published by David R. Godine in 2009 (originally published 1969)
Format: Paperback from Publisher

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17 responses to “A Christmas Gift: I Saw Three Ships

  1. I love Elizabeth Goudge, this sounds gorgeous, and I must see if I can track down a copy before Christmas. A reading week is a wonderful idea and I'll definitely be there!

  2. Oh yay! I read The Little White Horse for the first time this year and it surprised me. I'll be glad of the excuse to read more Goudge.

    • Me too! I'm especially looking forward to the reissue of Linnets and Valerians, also from Godine, this spring (over there you can get it as "The Runaways"). I read it long ago but I don't remember a thing about it.

  3. This sounds lovely. I haven't read anything by Elizabeth Goudge but I do want to, so I'll look forward to your reading week!

  4. I got this one for Christmas last year! I have been a lifelong Goudge fan, and reread the Christmas bits of Dean's Watch and Pilgrim's Inn every year around this time….

    • Excellent taste your gift giver has. : ) I bought a copy of The Dean's Watch recently and this Christmas would be a wonderful time to read it.

  5. I love Elizabeth Goudge – she's one of my all-time favorite authors – and yet for some reason I always forget this charming little book at Christmastime. This is a lovely review, and thank you for the reminder! Sadly, my copy is at home and I'm at my dad's, but maybe I can find a copy somewhere. 🙂

    • So many Elizabeth Goudge fans coming out of the woodwork. . . I'm really looking forward to the Reading Week in April.

  6. I've never heard of Elizabeth Goudge but I love the sound of this book. I am a big fan of the English country village genre, and I Saw Three Ships is one of my favorite carols, so it's a winner on multiple fronts.

    Will put it on my Xmas reading list.