There are short stacks of books piled all over our home. Stacks available at the foot of rocking chairs, spilling over onto the floor beside night tables, stacks of cookbooks, poetry, text books. More often than not pulling apart a stack reveals a book that is familiar yet obscure; and in its reading opens a rich world that was always at your fingertips.
Such is what happened with How Green Was My Valley a quick pass of the back cover and the words coal mines and fighting had me tossing it back to the heap. But my husband picked it up and began to read it. Over that week we were often heard to say, “How green was my valley?” posed as a question mimicking the New England accent and cadence of Katherine Hepburn, not for any particular reason, except that I had just finished a book taking place in the Jersey Isles and he a book of London, and now in How Green… he was deep in the country of Wales.
At his urging I read How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, and it is a most remarkable book. We were both oddly surprised at it’s obvious omission from every list of classic reads we have ever encountered. When I mentioned it to others, no one had read it, but rather saw the movie, which was revealed with eye rolling and ho-hums.
I found How Green Was My Valley a vibrant window into a the past when hard work and awareness of providence at every turn went hand in hand. It tells the story of the youngest in a large family, where the father ruled the household and God ruled him.
In fact in this valley the town has no jail. It has no police department. It has no judge. It has no need of these things. The collective conscience of the people is guided by the rules laid out in the bible. The church is the center of the town, and the doings of the people reflect that.
We follow the young boy Huw, as he matures and learns life lessons. Always watching his older brothers and sisters, he grows and gains right before your eyes, subtlety advancing and piecing together how the mystery of life works. Sacrifice and unity of family is at the heart of the novel, and the character of the Pastor parses out life lessons and scripture throughout.
And that is one of it’s charms. It takes the life lessons and mishaps of this spirited young boy and adds real application of God’s Word to his life. It is not overwritten and each character comes alive through conversation and a love story is entwined as well.
Huw loves his family, he loves the land and its beauty is an integral part of every page, and he learns how feelings mix with actions and cause outcomes that need to be reigned in or consequences meted out.
He learns to sneak out of the house, how to fist fight, how to fall in love. Huw meets up with death and love alternately and we watch him process both as a child and ultimately as a man. The indelible writing marks your mind and you can’t forget the family and their heartaches and triumphs.
Llewellyn weaves tender observations of the physical world in and around each plot narrative reeling in the reader with lyrical notes that you always knew but never in a million years would be able to articulate so beautifully. The mountain that they live beside and work inside of is alive serving as provider and protector and unconquerable foe as well. It is as much a character as are the people in the book.
He explores all the varying types of love exposing their vulnerability and cost. Through Huw we learn the complication of unrequited love, the unconditional mother’s love, the first blush of puppy love, the daring truth of passionate love and the simple loyalty of family love. The prose is colorful and warm with insights as to the joy of eating favorite foods and the many flickers of emotion that pass across the face of the one you love most voiced with unflinching beauty.
Get a copy of How Green Was My Valley and dig in. You will not be disappointed, but thoroughly surprised and impressed. And you will begin speaking with a lyrical sing-song, giving a neat roll to your “r’s”, learning about times past and love worth fighting for, is it?