Thursday, January 25, 2007

Snow Treasure and Pimpernel Gold

Marie McSwigan's Snow Treasure is listed on my profile as one of my favorite books. This children's book was a favorite for three generations in my family. My mother read it. My sisters and I read a copy to pieces. My niece and nephews read it. It's the story of how Norwegian children smuggled gold out of Norway on their sleds during World War II, right under the noses of the Nazi soldiers. When I read the book, it said it was based on a true story. Now, current versions of the book no longer claim that. No matter what, it's one of the most exciting stories I ever read. (In 1968, a movie came out based on the book. It starred James Franciscus, and it stunk. DO NOT watch the movie.)

There were recent conversations on DorothyL, the mystery list, about Snow Treasure. Those of us who read it, universally loved it. Finally, someone wrote to say there was a nonfiction book about the rescue of the Norwegian gold reserves in 1940. Pimpernel Gold by Dorothy Baden-Powell is that story.

The Germans had been told that the Norwegians would not fight back when they were given an ultimatum as their country was invaded. They made a mistake. The Norwegians fought back. The Germans were delayed by ten hours in attacking Oslo. King Haakon, the Crown Prince, and the Government escaped and headed for the west coast and rescue. Eighty tons of gold bullion were taken from the bank under police escort, and started on a frantic journey to the coast. A small group of volunteers headed west with the gold, travelling via lorries, trains, and finally ships, hiding from the Nazis, and sometimes tricking the Germans in order to keep the gold moving.

I read Pimpernel Gold with the same sense of urgency I felt when reading Snow Treasure. This is a page-turner, a nonfiction adventure story of unknown Norwegian people who fought to preserve their country. It's no longer in print, but there are a number of copies available in libraries throughout the country. If you're interested in a wonderful story, ask a librarian about interlibrary loan.

Pimpernel Gold: How Norway Foiled the Nazis by Dorothy Baden-Powell. Ulverscroft, ©1978 (Large Print Edition), ISBN 0-7089-0700-8, 353p.


Richard said...

just read snow treasure to my children, i will locate a copy of the dorothy baden- nonfiction account.
do you know of any actual news reports of the arrival of the norweigan ship in baltimore?

thanks, patti

Lesa said...

I'm afraid I don't know of any actual news reports, Patti. I'm sorry. When I was a kid, my copy of Snow Treasure said it was based on a true incident. By the time I reread it as an adult, the book said something like, this used to say it was based on a real incident. So, I don't know if it actually was. Doesn't matter. It's a terrific book.

Mary said...

Yes, there was an AP news report published in several newspapers on July 4, 1940, among them the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That paper was delivered daily to Marie McSwigan's front porch and in it was printed the story that inspired her to write "Snow Treasure."

Marie was one of my mother's sisters and I often heard family members say that "Snow Treasure" was based on a real incident that Marie read about in the P-G. Few details were revealed, leaving Marie to supply them.

Was the basis for the story real? Maybe, maybe not. But there was a real news item that she read, and it was the inspiration for the story.

Many of Marie's later books of juvenile fiction took characters and situations from friends and family, and from their experiences. They were imaginative stories--full of kernels of reality--but they were not historical accounts.

It is gratifying to know that schools still include "Snow Treasure" on reading lists, and that adults blog about the book. (Marie, who died in 1962, would have been very curious to know what a blog was!)

Lesa said...


Marie might have been right there with the rest of us blogging if she was here today. I can't tell you how much pleasure Snow Treasure has given my family over the years. Thank you so much for commenting, and mentioning the newspaper article she read. Whether or not it was true, Snow Treasure was a wonderful book!

lobo119 said...

What is the significance of "pimpernel" in the title? It's a flower, but I can't find anything about the author's choice for the title. It is an exciting story and I don't understand why there hasn't been a movie made.