Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for (double) Header

Today I find myself confronted with two totally different books, both beginning with H, both personal favorites.  Call it a double Header if you wish.

I first read How Green was My Valley as a high school freshman, but I was already acquainted with the story from the classic film by John Ford starring Donald Crisp, Maureen O'Hara and Roddy McDowall. I have said before that watching that movie as a child was the first time I realized I was watching a great film. When I ran across a copy of the book in our high school library I decided to read it.

My first impression was to be pleasantly surprised by how faithful the movie was to the first half of the novel. LIke the film, the book is told in flashback, with Huw, the narrator, leaving his home village for the last time, upon the death of his mother. He then reflects back upon life in his valley, a valley of his youth. . Huw is the youngest son of a family of coal miners that have done well  for their profession, their family owns their house, and with so many sons of the house all employed the family has prospered. They can even afford to send Huw to school in the hope that he will become a professional man and escape the mines.  Times are changing however and the changes will destroy the family unit.

Huw's father, Gwilliam  is the head of the house, a supervisor in the mine, the sort of person the other miners choose to represent them.  But he is a company man, grateful the company has given him a good living, and he opposes the idea of a union. Huw's mother, Beth, is the center of the family, holding everyone together. She dismisses herself as unimportant, but she is capable of speaking forthrightly when called to do so, and clearly nothing will function without her.

The older brothers have all made careers in the mines, but times are changing. Other mines have closed, bringing out of work men to their valley. Desperate for work, they will take lower wages than the native miners. Meanwhile a younger generation is taking over the business and they lack loyalty to those who built the business. There are strikes and layoffs.

The son of the mines owner wishes to marry Angharad, the beautiful daughter of the family, but she is in love with the village minister, who loves her as well, but rejects marrying her because he doesnt want her living the life of a minister's wife. So Angharad marries the man she doesnt love but finds it hard to hide her feelings. The insular nature of the village leads to gossip and scandal. The author  relates the spread of gossip to the spread of slag from the coal mine, each destroying things of beauty.

The quest for employment eventually leaves all but on of the sons to leave the valley to seek work elsewhere. This son, Ivor, marries Bronwen, but is later lost in the mines.  Growing from youth to adulthood, Huw watches everything he knows dissolve.

If a lot of this material sounds familiar, for a novel that begins in the early 20th century, there is much of relevance to our own time.  Exchange coal mines for factory towns and you have an exact analogy of what goes on in many American communities today. Parents who have built good lives for their families, remaining faithful to their employers, and expecting their children to follow after them and find the same success , find that the next generation can't find jobs in their field, nor can they manage a lifestyle as good as their parents. This is a book that can be read both as a memoir of the past, and a reflection of the present day.

Much as I love this book however, I can't let this letter go by without noting that H also can stand for Holmes as in Sherlock, and his most famous adventure Hound of the Baskervilles. Thanks to two hot TV shows (Elementary on CBS and  Sherlock which is produced by the BBC and airs in America on PBS, Holmes is currently a hot topic, but he has rarely been out of fashion at any time in the past 125 years,  Hound of the Baskervilles is probably his most famous adventure. This classic story of a family cursed to be attacked by a ghostly hound, and Holmes attempts to save the last of the line from meeting the fate of his ancestors, the story has everything: deductions, red herrings, false trails, a spooky setting, eccentric comic relief, and of course that Hound. Conan Doyle had a great narrative style, at least when he was writing as Watson, and this book is a great way to pass an evening.  I personally rely on a copy  of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, so I don't have to prune my collection,  but if I could only have one of the tales, it would be this one.

This post is part of the A-Z blogging challenge. To read more on the challenge click on the button on the right.


  1. My dog is called Watson, I'm such a fan of the books and series. What a lovely blog post, nice to follow and connect through a to z

    1. Thank you for the kind words Charlotte. A dog named Watson is a great idea. I just love the new Shlock partly because it really gives Watson his due.