Around Christmas time, the word ‘shepherd’ would always remind you of the shepherds whom the Angels first announced the birth of Christ. But the shepherd in this story is far from it. The shepherd in aviation refers to the rescue aircraft which would lead another plane which is in trouble back to a safe landing, flying wing tip to wing tip.
On a Christmas Eve of 1957, a pilot of British Royal Air Force jet fighter was flying home to England from Germany. It is a clear frosty night, and Christmas spirit is already in the air. Everything has been well planned, and our pilot is supposed to celebrate Christmas with his family very soon. However, ten minutes after take off, he finds several instruments inside the aircraft do not work properly. Nothing to be panicked, he would contact the nearest air control. However, now he also finds that his radio doesn’t work either. Fine, he would do his best using his eyes to locate his destination and finally land safely.
But, this Christmas seems not in favour of our pilot, or does it? Because he soon realizes that a thick fog is on his way, so he could not see a thing. With these troubles at night and with fuel which is enough only for the next several minutes, our pilot desperately thinks that that night would be his last on earth. Nevertheless, he takes a final attempt to raise attention of nearest RAF (Royal Air Force station), who he hopes would send their shepherd to guide him through the fog to land safely on their runway; while at the same time doing what he has not been for a long time: praying to God!
Just as he finishes this last action, our pilot sees the shadow of another aircraft; the shepherd finally comes! The shepherd’s pilot guides him to leave the fog and descent slowly, until our pilot could see a row of runway lights, and finally…..he could finally land safely, just in time with his near empty fuel. However, to his surprise, he has landed on an abandoned RAF which could not possibly have seen his SOS action, let alone sending a shepherd. Who, then, is his shepherd? And who has sent him?
Until now you might be thinking, where is the Christmas theme in this story, then, other than that it’s happening on Christmas Eve? Well, you won’t find it before you finish the book. Only then, you would realize why Forsyth has written this novella for a Christmas gift to his wife right on Christmas day 1975, which was published the year after. This is not a mystery, so it would be useless to seek reasonable explanation behind the ending. Anyway, isn’t Christmas itself always a mystery, how God could be born as a human? So, if God could send a Savior for all human being twenty thousand years ago, He could certainly do another impossible things for any man who needs Him. Although there is not any Christmas theme here, I enjoyed reading it, as it sent the warmth of God’s Love to us. It is another proof that He always listens to our prayers, especially in the one Holy night like Christmas Eve…
Four stars for The Shepherd; and half more for the black and white illustrations, which add the solitary nuance to the story, and to the (real) Christmas Eve.
I read Bantam illustrated edition paperback, for: