Cover image for Godhanger
King-Smith, Dick.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, 1996.
Physical Description:
154 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
When a mysterious bird arrives in Godhanger Wood to protect the frightened animals from the cruel gamekeeper, this Christ-figure deliberately sacrifices himself to save them from death.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.5 5.0 32423.
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X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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There is terror in Godhanger Wood. With each passing day, another animal falls prey to the bloodthirsty gamekeeper, and another corpse is nailed to his gibbet. As the death toll rises, it seems that nothing can save the creatures of Godhanger. But there is one who brings new hope: the Skymaster, a mysterious and mighty bird who appears suddenly on a winter's day. His followers speak of his strange powers and listen faithfully to his wise words. Gentle yet formidable, the Skymaster is determined to stop the gamekeeper for good. But to do so, he may have to make the greatest sacrifice of all. Dick King-Smith breaks dramatic new ground in this novel for older readers--an unflinching and allegorical look at life in the wild.

Author Notes

Dick King-Smith was born on March 27, 1922 in Bitten, Gloucestershire, England. Before becoming a full-time author, he was a farmer and a schoolteacher. He served in the Grenadier Guards during World War II and attended Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

He has written over 100 children's books including The Fox Busters, The Hodgeheg, and The Sheep Pig (aka Babe-The Gallant Pig), which was adapted as the 1995 film Babe. The 1995 TV miniseries The Queen's Nose was also based in one of his books. He was voted Children's Author of the Year at the 1991 British Book Awards. He died on January 4, 2011 at the age of 88.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-10. Best known for Babe the Gallant Pig, King-Smith is one writer who successfully brings his animal characters to life by using anthropomorphism. In this dark tale, the animals of Godhanger Wood are being mercilessly hunted by the gamekeeper who enjoys nothing more than hanging his victims on his gibbet. The Christlike bird Skymaster has come to save the animals. It sits in a Cedar of Lebanon with 12 "apostles," a collection of woodland birds awed by Skymaster's strange powers and predictions of the future. Eventually, Skymaster pays for their safety with his life. The story is not for the faint of heart: the nature of the woodland food chain and the blood thirst of the hunter are graphically depicted. Although King-Smith's fans will find the book an abrupt departure from his lighter fare, they'll also discover it to be real page turner, with marvelous descriptions of the setting and the characters that will satisfy more sophisticated readers. Andrew Davidson's beautiful wildlife etchings add a dramatic opening to each chapter. --Helen Rosenberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

Far less accessible than King-Smith's animal-centered novels targeted at younger readers (Babe: The Gallant Pig; Harriet's Hare), this heavy-handed allegory set in hierarchical Godhanger Wood features the mighty bird, Skymaster, as a Christ figure. Skymaster attempts to protect his woodland brethren from the trigger-happy gamekeeper. From the start, the densely written narrative offers repeated, graphic descriptions of death, as when the man's spaniel retrieves the rabbit he has just shot (the author describes the hare's guts as "a little festoon of warm innards whose coils still wriggled and slid uneasily"). Readers who move beyond a sequence of these violent scenarios come to the story's larger focus: Skymaster tells Loftus, the most trusted of his "12 followers" about his birth, which was followed by a visit from three birds carrying offerings and led by "strange lights" in the sky to locate the newly hatched fledgling. With the exception of Loftus, the development of this large cast of characters is superficial, and repeated shifts in viewpoint and in time frame from one paragraph to the next exacerbate the problem. Skymaster's sacrifice of his own life ("He died that I may live," says Eustace, the owl who "disobeyed him" and whom Skymaster swoops down to save) and fleeting reappearance to Loftus in an apparition are meant to signify rebirth ("Cuckoo! The spring is here!" cries one bird). Yet with the absence of fully developed characters, most readers will be confused about what the mysterious bird means to the other inhabitants of Godhanger Wood and find this tale more upsetting than hopeful. Ages 12-up. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8‘In a dramatic departure from his usual humorous fare, King-Smith presents a dark, brooding, message-laden tale of a mysterious bird that sacrifices his life to save another bird (and all of the animals) from an evil gamekeeper. A golden eagle appears suddenly in Godhanger Wood and attracts a following among its inhabitants. They call him the Skymaster and are in awe of his wise words, kind deeds, and mixture of fierceness and compassion. This novel makes frequent allusions to the story of Christ and portrays the Skymaster as a Christ-like figure. For instance, his closest followers are a group of 12 birds and when he relates the story of his hatching, he tells of 3 great birds that brought him gifts. Much of the symbolism will be lost on young readers. The characters are painted in such broad strokes that they have little depth, resulting in a lack of emotional investment on the part of readers, so even climactic moments like the Skymaster's death have limited impact. With little character depth and not much story to carry the sophisticated language and heavy symbolism, this book will have slight appeal for most readers.‘Arwen Marshall, New York Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.