I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge

Oh, this lovely – a beautifully and loving crafted warm security blanket of a book!

The story opens on Christmas eve, in a harbour town in the west of England, two centuries ago.

Polly was spending her first Christmas there with two maiden aunts, Dorcas and Constantia. She had lived with them since the death of her parents in an accident earlier in the year, and she was beginning to realise that her aunts’ ideas about celebrating Christmas were rather different to hers.  At her parents farmhouse home the door had been left  unlocked day and night to offer hospitality to all: friends, neighbours, travellers, the needy …. 

“But we always did it at home,” said Polly.

“My dear,”  said Aunt Dorcas, “at home you had a man in the house.”

“But we’ve got The Hat in the hall,” said Polly.

“My dear,”  said Aunt Dorcas, “it is not such an adequate protection.”

The aunts were eminently sensible; there hadn’t been a man in the house since one of their brothers had married and the other had run away to sea. But Polly couldn’t accept that. She believed that she would see three ships come sailing in, bringing three wise men to see them, and she believed that angels would visit them, because every Christmas she had heard their feathers brushing the panelling on the stairs.

I Saw Three Ships

The aunts locked the door and hid the key. It wasn’t that they were unkind, they were just the opposite; they just wanted Polly to be safe and secure, and they’d had a lovely time creating the perfect Christmas stocking for her.

They would find that their niece had been right. They were visited by three wise men of a most unexpected kind, they brought three gifts that had the same symbolism as gold, frankincense and myrrh, and three ships did come sailing into the harbour on Christmas morning.

They couldn’t have been happier – and neither could I – the ending was perfect!

It was a happy tears kind of ending ….

I’d love to say more, to re-tell the whole story, but I mustn’t.

The story is beautifully written, it’s very well thought out, it’s full of lovely details, and it’s told with warmth, understanding, and just a little bit of humour.

The characters – including a very amenable cat – are nicely differentiated and very well drawn, the historical setting is evoked so well, and the words of the carol that gives the story its title are threaded through.

You might say that the story is old-fashioned, and maybe it is.

And you might think that it sounds sentimental, but I’d say that it isn’t. It’s a story underpinned by real emotions and real faith.

It’s a lovely story for Christmas. A very small book, written for children but very readable for grown-ups.

I just have to thank Lory for mentioning it and Open Library for lending me a copy.

Merry Christmas!

27 responses

  1. Sometimes comfort reading, and something with a cosy, happy ending is all you want! Have a wonderful Christmas, Jane and Briar!

  2. What perfect Christmas reading! I haven’t read anything holiday related this year and I’m regretting it. I like sentimental stories around this time of the year so I’m sure I would enjoy this.

  3. Oh this sounds lovely. I love the cover. I’ve not read Elizabeth Goudge in a long time but want to read her again. An Elizabeth Goudge reading week sounds wonderful.

    • I’ve only started reading Elizabeth Goudge is recent years, though I remember my mother loving her books and recommending her to me a long time ago. I am looking forward to Elizabeth Goudge reading week and I’m sure it will be lovely.

  4. I have never read Elizabeth Goudge but this sounds delightful.
    You say it was written for children. Well that’s another recommendation. It’s a great idea to revisit children’s books from time to time. My all time favourite is Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.
    Have a happy Christmas.

  5. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    I shall find time to re-read A Christmas Carol as I’ve done every Christmastide for the past half century. It has been known for me to be stirring the gravy with a wooden spoon in one hand and my old well thumbed book in the other!

    Love and best wishes xx

    • That is a lovely image, and I do hope that you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas. I re-read A Christmas Carol too, but not every year, and you’ve reminding me that I have some of Dickens’ other Christmas writing still to read.

  6. This does sound lovely. I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Goudge yet, so I’m looking forward to Lory’s reading week. Merry Christmas to you and Briar!

  7. Merry Christmas to you and yours! I always think of Elizabeth Goudge at Christmas with The Dean’s Watch. But reading this I wish I could wave a magic wand and have a copy of this book in my hands instantaneously.

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