Old Welsh myths have informed and inspired writers, poets, musicians and painters. They were born in fireside storytelling in the Welsh language and contain all human emotion and great poetic beauty. The adventures I’ve selected are woven into the dramatic landscape of Wales: its mountains, rivers, valleys and ancient trees. Some of the novels I have chosen are “expressions” or interpretations of the myths, but others depict the mischief and humour in present day Wales.
1.The Owl Service by Alan Garner
The Owl Service is a set of dinner-plates found in the attic of an isolated house in Wales. Roger and Alison, step-brother and sister, are spending a few weeks in the old house, with their recently remarried parents. The discovery of the dinner plates with their strange pattern of flowers that can be read as owls, when upside down, set in motion an extraordinary and dangerous train of events. They seem to lead back to the ancient myth of a girl conjured out of flowers; a girl whose treacherous infidelity causes the magicians to turn her into an owl.
2. The Grey King (from The Dark is Rising series) by Susan Cooper
When the final battle of Light and Dark approaches, Will Stanton, the last born of the Old Ones, sets out to find help. He must wake the Sleepers, six noble riders who have slept for centuries. In order to do this Will must find a magic harp hidden in the Welsh hills. But his quest will bring him into the presence of the leader of the Dark – the Grey King, who holds the harp. Will must summon a force strong enough to wrench the harp from the Grey king’s grasp.
3. The Red Judge by Pauline Fisk
When Zed’s innocent prank causes his sister to be struck by a car, his adoptive family send him back to his old home in the Welsh hills. Once there, Zed is haunted by the Red Judge of Plynlimon mountain who, Zed knows, comes to get you if you are bad. So Zed embarks on a wild adventure by dogsled, desperate to find safety and somewhere to belong, but the Red Judge seems always to be behind him.
4. Megan and the Pantomime Thief by Frances Thomas
This is the second book about Megan and her friends in the village of Nantglas in Radnorshire. The script for the village pantomime is missing and strange carved heads are appearing all over the village. Who is responsible? Megan turns detective. She must find out what is going on, but she also has to deal with the new girl, Zoe, who is becoming quite a problem.
5. Playing Twm by Ruth Morgan
When Midge moves from London to Mid-Wales, she is teased relentlessly by the other children at her new school. However, she is cheered up by the news that a Hollywood Movie Star – Dylan Blane, is also Welsh. Midge begins to live in her own dream-world, and then Dylan Blane arrives to make a film in the Welsh Hills. Midge manages to get a walk-on part in the movie, but when she meets the great Dylan Blane himself, her dreams turn to nightmares.
6. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Incarceron is a huge futuristic prison that contains metal forests, dilapidated cities and even a wilderness. Finn, a prisoner, feels that he once lived on the Outside, but he can’t remember it. Claudia lives Outside, in a replica world of the 17th Century. She is determined to find Incarceron as she believes the heir to the throne has been imprisoned there. Finn and Claudia are destined to meet.
7. The Magic Apostrophe by Jenny Sullivan
When Tanith Williams learns that she is a witch she is frightened and astonished. She is welcomed by into the world of magic by her six weird aunts, but, just as Tanith is getting used to her strange life of witchery, she meets Astarte Perkins, a new girl at school, and things take an unexpected turn.
8. A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond
An American family, the Morgans, come to spend a year in Wales, hoping to recover from the death of their mother. Angry and miserable, Pete wanders the seashore and finds a strange object washed up by the tide. It is a harp key that shows him scenes from the life of Talieson, the great Welsh bard. The key’s discovery begins to heal the bereaved family, but then the curator of a museum threatens to take the key and lock it away forever.
9. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Poor James Trotter’s parents are eaten by an enormous rhinoceros that escapes from the London Zoo. James, now an orphan, is sent to live with his awful aunts who call him a “disgusting little beast”. A huge peach appears on a peach tree in the garden. James is forbidden to go near it, but, of course, he does. In fact he goes right into the peach; there he meets some delightful insects, and his life becomes a whole lot better. The Welsh connection? Roald Dahl was born in Wales and often spoke of the impact of its landscape on his books and imagination.
10. Northern Lights (the first book in His Dark Materials Trilogy) by Phillip Pullman
Twelve-year-old Lyra lives in an Oxford College with her daemon, Pantalaimon. Her daemon can take the form of any creature he chooses. When Lyra’s friend, Roger, disappears, Lyra and Pantalaimon set out to find him. They travel North, hoping to see the Northern Lights, and to discover something about the mysterious ‘dust’ Lyra has heard about. Their quest leads them to a land of armoured bears and witch queens, and to a group of scientists conducting experiments almost too dreadful to contemplate. The majority of Philip Pullman’s childhood was spent in Llanbedr in Ardudwy, north Wales.
Jenny Nimmo is the author of The Snow Spider, the story of how a modern Welsh boy discovers he is a magician, inspired by Welsh myths and legends. A 30th anniversary edition of the book is published in October 2016. A new look for her best-selling Charlie Bone series is launching in August, and her new book Henry and the Hlcarpenter.coms of the Lost is published in September 2016. To find out more about Welsh literary adventures or to book your own, go to http://www.visitwales.com/explore/literature.