The Welsh Fairy Book is a classic collection of Welsh stories and legends. Reprinted many times since its first appearance in 1907, this collection has had a significant influence on peoples’ conception of the nature and content of Welsh folk tradition. W. Jenkyn Thomas’s refined prose and Willy Pogany’s imaginative illustrations are characteristic of a romantic view of fairytales. However, the study of folklore has moved away from the romantic to become more rigorously, academic. Juliette Wood’s introduction places the author and the book in context and charts the changes in attitudes to collecting and editing folktales and the development of Welsh folk studies.
There are eighty-three stories in this collection. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of short stories (but that may be because I’ve not read a lot) so I’m not really an expert on how many stories should be in a collection.
But that’s a lot of folklore.
I was on a bit of a strict deadline with my reading so, even though I didn’t rush through this book, I wonder if I would have enjoyed this book more if I had taken my time and dipped into it leisurely instead of sprinting and cannonballing right, slapbang into the middle.
Um… that metaphor worked better in my head.
Anyway, please don’t get too daunted by the vast amount of stories, because the majority of them are only a page long.
I loved how Mr Jenkyn Thomas told these stories. I could just imagine sitting in a warm country pub deep in the Welsh valleys listening to him tell these stories. As with all good myths and legends, these stories are meant to be read out loud.
From poor Grassi, the forgetful dame is left the lid of the well open and caused the lake of Glasfryn to form (you may recognise her as the weeping ghost “dressed in white silk and a white velvet bonnet”), to the well that sprung in the place where St Winnifred’s decapitated head landed before she was restored to her life by her uncle, St Beuno; these stories were so fascinating and intriguing.
Is there really a lake (again made by someone leaving their lake uncovered. I have to wonder whether the British Isles would have any llyns, lakes or lochs if we weren’t all so forgetful? ) on Mynydd Mawr that kills sheep?! And how about the sighting of so-called Corpse Candles (will-o’-the-wisps)…would they really predict a funeral in the area? And is there a well in Llanbedrog that can tell you who has wronged you with the aid of just a list of names and a loaf of bread? And is that really the reason why a red dragon is the emblem of Wales and inspiration behind many a stuffed toy (I may or may not own a few of them… *cough*)?
This is what I want to know.
However, my favourite favourite story is the tale of poor Gelert.
I won’t go into the particulars, though I’m sure you a few of you might know the unfortunate story. I like to think that somewhere out there him and a little Scottish dog named Bobby are sucking up to the Lord of the Dogs to battle for the title of “The UK’s Most Beloved Dog”.
All in all, I really enjoyed this collection. There were a few that I wasn’t entirely sure of and a few that were incredibly similar; but if you enjoy fairy tales or are interested in finding Arthur’s treasure Celtic mythology I would really recommend this book.
Most of these stories don’t have a moral or a definite point so I thought I’d think of one myself.
If you ever find yourself walking through the mountains of Wales and you see fairies dancing to music played on a harp: leg it.
This review is part of Wythnos Cymraeg || Welsh Week. Found out more!