I am a reader of ghost stories.
I’ll read them while I clutch one hand over my eyes, peeking through my fingers like they were blinds over a forbidden window.
To be more accurate, I’m a reader of the ghosts inside stories. It’s the beauty of the prose, the very words that are used to tell the story, that are the ghosts that stay with me. Words are the tangible imprints of ghosts and can be embodied as characters that have been given life in paper and ink. Words can make a mark on someone else’s soul, can take someone to a place and a time they’ve never been. The stories that are created by those words take shape in my own life and make me homesick for places I once was, if only in my imagination.
Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley is one of those books that has haunted me. The book was given to me by my mother, and it sat on my nightstand for weeks because I thought it didn’t fit my taste at the time. She assured me I would love it, if not for the story, but for the magic that was created by the poetry in Llewellyn’s pen. I finally cracked it open—and then I couldn’t put it down. His words were like a drug, laced with beauty and ache and joy and sadness. They took me to Wales and I didn’t want to leave. I could see the lush green valley, I could smell the taint of coal in the air, and I could feel the damp fog cloaked around me.
Llewellyn draws the reader into the story, and Wales itself, with his mastery of language. The Valley becomes a character as if it too were a living breathing entity that Huw Morgan, the main character, must leave behind. The Valley is personified like a lover, and Huw’s separation from it is just as painful as the loss of that love: “the Valley was a part of us and we were part of the Valley, never one without the other…and every blade of grass, and every stone, and every leaf of every tree, and every knob of coal or drop of water, or stick or branch or flower or grain of pollen, or creature living, or dust in ground, all were of me as my blood, my bones, or the notions of my mind” (231).
Llewellyn also gives the reader a taste of the Welsh language by placing verbs and nouns where they would structurally appear in Welsh: “Beautiful is the voice rising to the quiet of the night. Nobody, now, to cough, or rattle paper, or come in late and make the noise of the devil with a chair or a dropped umbrella, and put heavy feet on loose boards” (304). This is a Welsh novel written so that English is made to sound Welsh, crafted beautifully by a masterful writer, using the device of words and language to immerse the reader even deeper into the land and the story.
I emerge from the novel’s pages breathless but also armed with new insight, knowledge, and even courage. Perhaps it isn’t a bad thing to be haunted. I’m taken to worlds I might not ever see in the flesh, but can visualize so clearly because of a writer’s pen. These are ghosts that help me to see my own world with an eye for the beauty in everything that touches me.
Llewellyn, Richard. How Green was My Valley.1939. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1997. Print.