Lettering and Literature

The Thorn Birds

Author: Colleen McCollough

Series: n.a.
Paperback: 692 pages
Publisher: Avon Books; I edition (April 1977)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0380018179
ISBN-13: 9780380018178

The Thorn Birds is a robust, romantic saga of a singular family, the Clearys. It begins in the early part of this century, when Paddy Cleary moves his wife, Fiona, and their seven children to Drogheda, the vast Australian sheep station owned by his autocratic and childless older sister; and it ends more than half a century later, when the only survivor of the third generation, the brilliant actress Justine O’Neill, sets a course of life and love halfway around the world from her roots.

The central figures in this enthralling story are the indomitable Meggie, the only Cleary daughter, and the one man she truly loves, the stunningly handsome and ambitious priest Ralph de Bricassart. Ralph’s course moves him a long way indeed, from a remote Outback parish to the halls of the Vatican; and Meggie’s except for a brief and miserable marriage elsewhere, is fixed to the Drogheda that is part of her bones – but distance does not dim their feelings though it shapes their lives.

Wonderful characters people this book; strong and gentle, Paddy, hiding a private memory; dutiful Fiona, holding back love because it once betrayed her, violent, tormented Frank, and the other hardworking Cleary sons who give the boundless lands of Drogheda the energy and devotion most men save for women; Meggie; Ralph; and Meggie’s children, Justine and Dane. And the land itself; stark, relentless in its demands, brilliant in its flowering, prey to gigantic cycles of drought and flood, rich when nature is bountiful, surreal like no other place on earth

What I thought: I read this after watching the 1982 mini series with Richard Chamberlain. I must say that I feel that both the movie and the book are separate entities that are wonderful.

This story is about relationships between members of the same family as well as the struggle between the love of God and the love of a woman.

I have read this book more than once and would happily re-read it again 🙂 I love this book so much. I really can’t recommend it enough! Don’t even get me started on the mini series. Richard Chamberlain was my mother’s Hollywood crush for years – and I don’t blame her.  Every time I reread the book, his face was always the one I imagined for the tragically beautiful Ralph De Bricassart.

It’s a classic that everyone should experience.

The Quote: There are no ambitions noble enough to justify breaking someone’s heart.

Why I chose it: One of the themes of the novel is the fact that so many of these characters are willing to put aside warm physical love of the people around them in order to pursue an idea. Whether it’s to pursue grace, money, or even a favorite child – so many hearts are broken in this novel because so many characters ignore the love that’s in front of them all along. It makes the story so beautiful and tragic.

About the Author:


Colleen Margaretta McCullough was an Australian author known for her novels, her most well-known being The Thorn Birds and Tim.

Raised by her mother in Wellington and then Sydney, McCullough began writing stories at age 5. She flourished at Catholic schools and earned a physiology degree from the University of New South Wales in 1963. Planning become a doctor, she found that she had a violent allergy to hospital soap and turned instead to neurophysiology – the study of the nervous system’s functions. She found jobs first in London and then at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

After her beloved younger brother Carl died in 1965 at age 25 while rescuing two drowning women in the waters off Crete, a shattered McCullough quit writing. She finally returned to her craft in 1974 with Tim, a critically acclaimed novel about the romance between a female executive and a younger, mentally disabled gardener. As always, the author proved her toughest critic: “Actually,” she said, “it was an icky book, saccharine sweet.”

A year later, while on a paltry $10,000 annual salary as a Yale researcher, McCullough – just “Col” to her friends – began work on the sprawling The Thorn Birds, about the lives and loves of three generations of an Australian family. Many of its details were drawn from her mother’s family’s experience as migrant workers, and one character, Dane, was based on brother Carl.

Though some reviews were scathing, millions of readers worldwide got caught up in her tales of doomed love and other natural calamities. The paperback rights sold for an astonishing $1.9 million.

In all, McCullough wrote 11 novels.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s