“The Pelican” by Ann Pilling: Summary of Short Story

The Pelican Ann Pilling Summary
“The Pelican” Summary: Ann Pilling

“The Pelican” is a short story by Ann Pilling, an English author known for young adult and children’s stories. It’s about a family of sightseers visiting an elevated castle with an accompanying church and river. There’s a pelican theme in the church and they’re surprised when they see a bird outside that isn’t native to the area. Here’s a summary of “The Pelican”.

“The Pelican” Summary

Parents arrive at the carpark with their kids, Tom and Gillian. There’s a castle on a hill with a hundred and ninety-nine steps leading up to it. It’s raining and there’s no one else visiting right now. Tom wanted to go swimming. They head for the church to get out of the rain. Inside, someone is playing the organ.

The family is drawn to a brass lectern at the front with a statue of a bird that has the wings of an eagle but otherwise looks like a pelican. There’s another pelican in a stained glass window, drawing blood from itself to feed its young, which their guide book says is an old Christian symbol. The young man playing the organ goes out the front door.

It’s almost stopped raining so the family goes outside and walks around the side where they look down at a river bank. Looking through binoculars, the family sees a pelican on the bank. It cries out and flies away. The organ player approaches and explains the pelican appeared about a year ago and settled in there. They don’t know why it stays. They’ve named it Percy, after the family who used to own the castle. The vicar is fond of it and can tell them more. It returns and pierces itself like the one in the stained glass.

The young man recommends they wait for a drier day so they can see everything. The family returns on a sunny day. Tom has been promised a swim later at the pool. They walk along the river path to a cell cut into the bank where the children play and Dad wants to take a picture. He realizes he’s left his camera back in the church. Mom and Dad walk back and tell the kids to meet them in the carpark.

When his parents are out of sight, Tom gets down to his swim trunks and wades into a shallow side pool of the river. Gillian tries to get him to come out, but he ignores her. She climbs a willow to see him swim out—he’s headed for the main river. When he reaches the faster current, it pulls him in and he calls for Dad. Gillian remembers a boy who almost drowned at the pool once. She freezes in horror as she watches Tom struggle.

Something brushes past Gillian’s face and she sees Tom grabbing for a piece of fencing that dangles out from the riverbank. A huge bird blocks Gillian’s view and then it flies between the river and land, crying out shrilly. She hears a voice and sees someone in a bright blue coat leaning out toward Tom. Gillian realizes she’s been screaming. Mom and Dad are on the scene now, and someone is wrapping Tom in a huge coat.

The family spends the night at a village pub called The Bear. The doctor checks on Tom early in the morning. The family is silent at breakfast, except for Tom, who talks excitedly about the incident. Dad tells him to be quiet. Mom keeps talking about how lucky it was those men were there to help Tom grab the fencing. They disappeared after. The family wants to thank them properly.

The family goes back to the church to get Dad’s camera and talk to the vicar about the men who saved Tom. The vicar arrives a few minutes late with something wrapped in sacking. Gillian knows it’s Percy, which surprises the vicar. He was out for his walk and found Percy had drowned, stuck in some wire fencing. He had to cut the bird out.

The vicar is glad Tom is alright, and goes to get Dad’s camera. Gillian sits under the stained glass pelican window and thinks of the real pink bird she saw on the water. They would never know why the bird had come to live there, but she knew, and gave thanks.

I hope this summary of “The Pelican” by Ann Pilling was helpful.