William Jenkyn Thomas compiled this collection when he was a schoolteacher in South Wales. Dismayed because his students
didn't even know the lore of their own land, he found their excuse was correct: there were no collections of Welsh fairy tales available. This set contains 83
very short stories. At only 210 pages, most average two pages in length. Because of that, and the fact that the themes are very similar, it is a
challenge to sit down and read the book through. I suggest you don't, because you will appreciate them much more by reading a handful a day. This is an
excellent bedtime story book for little children. They are not scary or violent, many are humorous, and many contain a moral. But Oh! The Welsh names.
OMG. There is a guide to pronunciation. But it might not help. The greatest feat and accomplishment of the Welsh people is that they spoke their native
The people of the British Isles, especially the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish folk had a strong belief in fairies and their actual existence. I don't dispute them. My experience as a shaman tells me there is a pretty good chance that there were, or still are other races living on this planet.(See The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies.) Most of the tales are really about fairies, although a few are about some other beings, some demonic. In the second half of the book, many stories contain magic, spells, or lore with no magic beings or sometimes even no magic at all. There are recurrent themes throughout, corresponding, of course, to what common folk would experience in everyday life before modern times. Music and dance plays a huge role, and many mortals are lured into fairyland by their enchanting melodies and exquisite dancing. Often someone is traveling home late at night and loses their way, or is lured by a light or music to a luxurious fairy castle. They are treated with great generosity and stay the night, but when they awaken in the morning, they find themselves alone, sleeping on the ground. A great many involve lakes, because fairy dwellings were often beneath this body of water. Often magical lore explains how a particular body of water came to be. Many mortals come in contact with fairies as they are tending sheep and fairies have a reputation of stealing cow's milk. But if you want to repel fairies, keep some iron on hand—they can't tolerate it. Fairies are quick to bestow gifts, but even quicker to take them away if the mortal misbehaves. You really don't want to mess with an angry fairy. But these are the tales that often have morals attached to them, and that is good for training children. Adults, too. In a few cases, some really ticked-off fairies put on a curse. Often the curse is delayed for future generations. And in most cases, a visit to fairyland results in a distortion of time in the mortal world. All-in-all these are quite charming stories, and not wicked like most of the Grimm Brothers' tales.
Because there are so many, I have picked out just a few that represent the themes mentioned above:
In Rhys and Llywelyn, these two farm servants are returning home. When Rhys hears music he must go investigate. Llywelyn doesn't hear it, and thinks Rhys just wants to stop at the alehouse, so they part. But the next morning, Rhys still has not arrived home, and Llywelyn is questioned. A messenger is sent to the alehouse, but Rhys had not been there. A search was then done, but Rhys is not to be found. Llywelyn is then charged with his murder and sent to jail until the body can be found. Eventually, someone arrives that knows fairy ways, and suggests Llywelyn and neighbors go to the spot where Rhys was last seen. But now this time Llywelyn steps into the fairy ring and hears the music, and as they all put their foot on Llywelyn's they can also hear the fairy music, and see the dancers, that include Rhys. As he whirls around, Llywelyn catches him and pulls him out. Angrily he complains that he just wanted five minutes to finish the dance, having no idea he had been gone over a year. He dies soon after.
In The Fairy Wife, a young man is enjoying watching the revelry of dancing fairies at Llyn y Dywarchen (the Lake of the Sod). He falls in love with a beautiful fairy dancer, and abducts her, barring the door with iron before her companions can rescue her. He locks her up and begs her to marry him, but she only cries to return to her people. She finally says if he can guess her name, she will agree to be his servant. One night when returning home, he hears the fairies discussing her and calls her by the name of Penelope. She admits it is her name, and becomes a wonderful servant, bringing the young man wealth. She eventually falls in love with him and agrees to marry him provided he never hits her with iron. He can't imagine that he would. They live very happily and have two beautiful children. One day as he tries to catch a stubborn filly to take to the fair, his wife tries to help. He becomes frustrated as the filly gets away, and throws the bridle, accidentally hitting his wife. She immediately vanishes. But she grieves the loss of her husband and family, and though not allowed to return, she makes a floating sod on the lake, where she can now spend hours visiting with her loved ones on the shore, and this she does until they die.
Drowning seems to be a popular way of punishing the wicked, and in Bala Lake it is the cruel prince and his friends who are the recipients of vengeance. Though he is warned, he only scoffs, but when he is celebrating the birth of his first son, his harpist is visited by a little bird that whispers "Vengeance, vengeance." The harpist ignores it, but the bird returns, this time compelling the old harpist to follow. The bird leads him out along a safe path, making him continue. Finally he needs to rest, and finds that the bird is gone. Feeling silly now, he intends to return to the palace, but discovers he has lost his way. When he awakens in the morning, the valley containing the palace is now a large lake.
A Fairy Dog is a very short story of reward, going to the good wife of Hafod y Gareg who found an abandoned little dog. She brought it home, made it a soft bed and fed it. When the fairies arrived the next day, they asked if she preferred a clean or dirty cowyard. Of course, she replied a dirty cowyard, because only a cowyard with a few cows would be clean. The fairies rewarded her by doubling her number of cows, and their milk made wonderful butter.
Nansi Llwyd and the Dog of Darkness is a comical tale of all the ways ladies tried to divine their chances of getting a husband. She and her friends do the yarn test, the water basin test and the egg shell test, and all point to the life of a spinster for Nansi. But it is the Gwyllgi, Dog of Darkness, that really seals her fate!
This is a fun and educational collection for anyone who likes lore and fairy tales, Welsh style. Despite the Welsh names, it's an easy read, even for children.
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