Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Report: Alexander Cordell, "Land of My Fathers"

Land of my fathers too. My mother's side, not so much. 

This is the final book of Cordell's double trilogy weaving historical facts and characters into a fictional narrative with some really great characters created by Cordell that seem to cover the Welsh experience in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The last was the best because it uniquely weaves in Welsh mythology with a return to the Chartist March on Newport, 1839. And the main characters are named Taliesin and . . . Rhiannon.

Rhiannon, dark of hair and fair of skin, with incomparable beauty (much like my wife!)
Like a tale from the Mabigonion, The story takes on some very mystical qualities as it leads to a conclusion that you can see coming like an old, familiar tale with all the characters fulfilling epic destiny.

One of the interesting aspects is that the male protagonist, Taliesin Roberts, has a rare manuscript handed down from father to son over generations from a mythic past. It is the Tale of Derwyn that the experts of Welsh Mythology have only heard rumor. He even meets some real historical characters in Lady Charlotte Guest's library to discuss the matter. Charlotte Guest is responsible for producing, not translating, the Mabigonion into English as Cordell convincing explains. The Tale of Derwyn is lived out by Tal and Rhiannon compelled by fate and when Tal believes he will have no male heir (or will he?), he carefully wraps the ancient manuscript, places it in a box, and buries it on a hill. (yeah! Where have I heard that before?)

Checking out things on the interwebs, I have not been able to find anything on a "Tale of Derwyn" so I wonder if that is a fictional creation of Cordell. I do know that the Llyfr Goch or Red Book of Hergest, one of the sources for the Mabigonion, was preserved by my medieval Vaughan ancestors.

Let me leave you with a brief excerpt from Cordell's book as glimpse into mythical reality:
   "[Tal:] There'll be fighting. A lot of people are going to get hurt, even killed."
   She [Rhiannon] groaned. "Oh God, why can't we all live in peace?"
   "Because there's two worlds, love--yours and mine, and mine isn't doing so good. For God's sake, can't you see what's happening under your nose? The cruelty and the injustice?"
   "That's why I want to be with you," she replied. "You think I'm a pampered fool, don't you? You think I haven't given a thought to what goes on, and that if I do, I don't seem to care. But I do care and I hate the inequalities; I hate to see children going to the mines in Dowlais, and women hauling trams; I hate the brickfields and the lime kilns, the rioting, the strikes, yes and the hunger on every side in the middle of wealth." Her voice rose and I noticed Gideon open his eyes. There was  a brief silence of wave-lap and the sigh of the wind and in that silence Gideon said:
   "She shouldn't have to explain, Taliesin. If your father was here he'd say you weren't worth her, and if you've promised you'll take her with you, now's the time to do so."
   "In the middle of a revolution, man?" I shouted this, "Talk sense!"
   "Aye, most of all in the middle of a revolution, for women make revolutions, fight in them, die in them and put an end to them when they've had enough."
My wife and I are going back to Wales this summer. There is much I need to do. The Blaenavon Museum, over the Blorenge from my people's home in Llanfoist, has a corner dedicated to the author, Alexander Cordell. It's also where the World Heritage Blaenavon Iron Works and the Big Pit Mine are where I intend to go underground as some of my people did.

And, if I get a chance while we're on Anglesey, I may climb a certain hill into a forest and search for a box with an ancient manuscript buried by Taliesin. Except, he may have had a son. A son of the earth of Wales. Land of my fathers.

Afon Wygyr, flowing down into Cemaes Harbor
Copyright Paul Buckingham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, Wales
© Copyright 
Phil Williams and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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