By Tomos Wyn
Y Dylluan Wen, penned by Angharad Jones, was the recipient of the ‘Medal for Prose’ at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol in 1995. The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, otherwise known as the National Eisteddfod, is a travelling, annual celebration of Welsh Culture and Arts. The annual contest for prose receives numerous entries per year, with the awarding ceremony having its own very particular traditions! Having studied Y Dylluan Wen for my Welsh Literature GCSE, I think it’s safe to say that I know the novel inside and out – it was most definitely a worthy winner of the prize.
Briefly, Y Dylluan Wen is a story of revenge. But to sell it as a ‘revenge fic’ would be an injustice to the complexity. The novel jots around between flashbacks, present-day, and an owl’s observations (this serves a purpose, trust me). In doing so, Jones presents a near-perfect amalgamation of narrative, mythological reference, and social commentary. Y Dylluan Wen fits the textbook definition of literature.
The myth in question is the story of Blodeuwedd. A tale of love, magic, and betrayal, Blodeuwedd is a woman born of flowers, whose reason for existence is to wed a cursed prince. However, when she takes her life into her own hands and falls for another man, she is cursed and turned into an owl. The protagonist, Myfi, whose name is effectively translates to “Me”, granting her anonymity, is an actress who visits the little village of Y Llan under the guise of helping the local primary school children to prepare and perform a stage adaptation of ‘Blodeuwedd’ for the Christmas show, in place of a performance of Jesus’ Birth. The integration of the Blodeuwedd myth into the story itself is done excellently through the inclusion of said show, and we see as the story develops how the narrator owl is implied to be Blodeuwedd herself. The story is fantastically constructed; each and every word used is important and holds some double-meaning or cultural/mythological reference.
In regards to the revenge aspect of the novel, I love how Jones doesn’t shy away from shocking the reader with the twisted nature of Myfi’s revenge. She wants those who hurt her to hurt just as much as she did, if not more. She wants those who wronged her to suffer, and doesn’t care who she peripherally damages in the process. She has her eyes firmly set on the destruction of one individual and it is thoroughly engaging to read. Her presence and actions in ‘Y Llan’ are like a meteor crashing into an ice sculpture; she completely eviscerates the town and its relationships, leaving no goodness in her wake.
Finally, I enjoyed how the author discussed the secularisation of Wales in the novel. They were subtle nods throughout the text i.e. replacing the Birth narrative with the Blodeuwedd myth for the Christmas show and comments on the emptiness of the chapels, but I believe they were an effective way of discussing a contemporary issue that didn’t draw too much attention from the narrative as a whole. In some novels, I feel as though the author shoehorns cultural commentary into a novel, where said commentary is not relevant to the plot and draws too much attention; it’s clunky. However, Y Dylluan Wen does the inverse – Jones masterfully incorporates cultural commentary without drawing too much attention from the narrative. All in all, Y Dylluan Wen is a fantastic piece of literature that is sure to become a timeless classic.
Because of my love for this novel, I wish I could share it with my friends and the masses of non-Welsh people who have never encountered the text. However, Welsh novels are very firmly set in a cultural context that is far beyond that of the English-speaking world. In a sense, they are untranslatable because the settings are simply too dissimilar to everything else. An English audience reading a hypothetical English translation would lose the nuance of the names, the places, and the mythological context, simply because they wouldn’t know it from what they’d been taught at school. The effort required for an individual to translate and contextualise Welsh novels for the consumption of non-Welsh audiences would arguably result in a product so far removed from the original text, or a true-to-the-source material novel that would not appeal to the new audience. I assume this is a tension that many who write and consume minority-language literature grapple with and the resolution of this tension likely varies from person to person. As for myself, I’m still not sure where I stand. I would love for my friends to share the experience that comes with reading my favourite novel but I worry that a translation would depreciate its authenticity – I guess only time will tell whether or not Welsh novels will ever grace Anglophone shelves.
Image credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash