Ifan Morgan Jones
It amazes me that there are so few original fantasy works available in Welsh, the language that produced the Mabinogi – tales that have inspired The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of the Thrones and, it seems, countless massive multiplayer online games in English, Korean and Japanese!
Sometimes it seems that everyone values our creative abilities in this area apart from ourselves. Perhaps it’s a desire to be Taken Seriously as a language, and as a nation, by writing about Serious Subjects in Realistic way.
Who knows? But this is Elidir Jones’ second attempt at making up for this shortcoming, after the excellent Y Porthwll, an adult fantasy novel that didn’t get half enough attention when it was published in 2015.
Chwedlau’r Copa Coch: Yr Horwth is supposed to be a novel for young people, but I must admit that despite approaching middle age I was as happy as the mythological twrch trwyth in mud wandering the Southern Wilds and getting into scrapes with characters including Heti, Casus and the Abbot Pietro.
Although I mentioned the Mabinogi, Elidir Jones hasn’t just re-cycled an existing fantasy world but has created a whole new one. In the best traditions of the genre, the volume begins with a map with chilling names such as ‘Yr Oerdir Unig’ and ‘Ymerodraeth yr Enfer’.
It’s a reminder of why the Welsh language has been such an inspiration to so many different fantasy series. Without coming over as a modern-day Matthew Arnold, there’s something inherent in the Welsh language, some mix of the rolling rs that sound like the rumbling of mountain roots or the churning of waterfalls, and the lightness of the vowels that tinkle like fairy wings, which sound as if they belong to the world of elves and monsters.
I have mixed feelings about including illustrations in a fantasy book, because part of the fun of reading them is often to imagine a world that is as otherworldly or gritty as you want it to be. But Huw Aaron’s illustrations are so full of character that they are a worthwhile addition here. He tends to depict objects in detail, and landscapes as broad sketches, allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps. And he’s had plenty of practice drawing monsters after his Legends of Wales card game.
The entire book is told as secondhand history, and the reliability of the narrator is deliberately ambiguous. The impression given by the words and pictures, therefore, is that they are a hint of what happened – like reading an old document by a monk writing a long time after the actual events, who has also been scribbling little drawings of beasts with hundreds of eyes in the margins.
Hopefully, this will be the first of many stories in the Copa Coch series. And hopefully it will inspire young readers to want to read more fantasy works in Welsh – and write them too!