Monday, November 21, 2011

How Green Was My Valley: A Book Review

The other day I finished reading a really wonderful book - How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. It's a fictional memoir about a family living in a Welsh coal mining town during the turn of the century. The story is told from the perspective of Huw Morgan, (the youngest boy in the family of six sons and three daughters) as an old man, looking back upon his childhood and coming of age. The book has a very heavy strain of melancholy throughout it, which, surprisingly, seems to add a charm to the narrative, rather than a cloud.

Despite the fact that it is a fictional memoir, the characters, place, and experiences feel so real that I can't help but think that the author really did experience the greater part of what he wrote of.

The book is incredibly enjoyable because of the relationships of the people. It's easy to fall in love with the family, the community, and the way they live. It certainly awakens within you a deep desire to go back to their simplicity of living (at least in some ways).

The Morgan family is very religious, for the most part. The deep faith of the father pervades his wife and children so entirely, that you are not sure they would be as steadfast church-goers as they are but for him. The children know their Bible back-to-front, yet they disobey such basic Christian rules, seemingly without any remorse, that you wonder what the writer was thinking when he wrote it. The breaking of the rules in and of itself is not shocking (for these characters), but the fact that they never feel any discomfort at all is peculiar in light of their foundational Christian upbringing.

There are also some views on Christianity that the main boy holds, which are very out of place. But, to tell the truth, they didn't bother me because they're so out of place that I marked it up to the author pinning his own beliefs upon the main character. In real life, living in his family, he would have never believed what he did.

One thing that Llewellyn highly succeeds in is painting a picture of the beauty and wonder of God's creation in Man and Woman, the peace and glory of Family, and the building of and branching out of life that the love between the two brings forth. He paints a glorious picture of Creation and our place in it - the simple truths and beauties of humanity. You really have to read the book to get the full picture.

But the main point of the book that I want to address is the over-arching sense of "you can't go home again". Llewellyn weaves such a capturing picture of the goodness, hardships, joys, and failures of the character's lives, that it's very touching by the end, and leaves you with a very deep understanding of the reality that days go by, and you can't have them back, no matter how hard you try. I think we've all experienced this truth in different ways - growing up and realizing that some of the most beautiful days of your life are gone, going through the death of a loved one and looking back upon the days you had with them - realizing that they are gone. I could go on. It's very easy to become so entangled in the sadness of these realities that your life becomes one great sorrow.

But in thinking about these things, I've come to realize something that is very freeing.

God has laid out the natural course of our lives to be filled with joy - in every stage. Now mind, this joy is only realized for those who follow His laws. You are an infant, toddler, and child, growing up in innocence and beauty, surrounded by people who love you and will protect you, raising you up in the truth of the Lord. You are an adolescent and a young adult, looking forward to many exciting changes that await you within the next ten years of your life, waiting expectantly for what God has in store for you. You are an adult with a spouse and young children, glorying in the beauty of your little ones, enjoying once again the laughter that you yourself remember as a child. You are middle-aged, watching your children grow to adulthood in the fear of God, and waiting with expectation to see what He has planned for them. Now you're old, your children have children, and once again you bask in the warmth of those little ones and the love that the growing generations have for you.

Life is Beautiful.

What was brought home to me reading How Green Was My Valley is this - that without the fear, peace, and love of God, there is no joy. Life is too hard, filled with too many sadnesses, to get through without Him. By the end of it you will only have joy in the memory of what life was when He was there, blessing you, as Huw Morgan does in reminiscing of his childhood.

I've gone on for a long time now, so I shall cease. In a word, 'How Green Was My Valley' is very much worth the read. I found it enchanting. And if you read it with the knowledge that God is always with you, no matter what changes in life come and what beautiful times are gone forever, it will be all the sweeter.



Briana Mahoney said...

That's a great idea to post book reviews! What a wonderful conclusion you were brought to in the end. It is so important to treasure every stage of life and not to become too anxious to "go back" to lost times, or to pine until the "next step". The seasons of life, like the seasons of the year, are put there by God's perfect understanding. Spring and Summer would not seem so wonderful if we didn't experience the biting cold of Winter. Winter has the joys of rest after tilling, planting and harvest. Joy and sorrows, like Summer and the coming of Winter are put in contrast that we may feel the importance of both."He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: .....I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." Ecclesiastes 3:11-15.
I enjoy reading the books that you all recommend. I have quite a pile to work on right now. It seems that for every book I read, it leads to about five more. I finished the Prydain Chronicles that Jeremiah wanted me to read. I am now in the middle of the Mabinogion which was the Welsh mythology that was the inspiration for the Prydain Chronicles. It is sort of a funny experience, because Lloyd Alexander used the names from the Mabinogion for his characters. When I come across the same names in the Mabinogion stories, they all have different personalities and traits. A little confusing, but sort of fun.:)

Katie Mahoney said...

Gretchen, I have been hoping that sometime one of you all would post a book review!
You did a great job writing in such a way that one feels that they too have just read the book!

Amy Barton said...

I really enjoyed this Gretchen! You are such a smooth and clear-thought-ed writer. :) I've never read this book before but I hope I will soon. (Is it really long? ;D) "without the fear, peace, and love of God, there is no joy. Life is too hard, filled with too many sadnesses, to get through without Him." That is SO true, and so good. A definite life lesson--we're so blessed that we know this now and not on the other end of life. I love you! :)

Gretchen Emily Wolaver said...

Thanks ya'll! The book is really wonderful - and it's medium-long, Amy. :) But it doesn't feel long at all. Think 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn' but country, instead of city, and boy perspective, instead of girl perspective.

That's so funny that you read Prydain, Briana! They are fun books. I enjoy getting caught up in very easy, fun children's literature like that.

I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas season!!!