This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
One Friday afternoon, in a small school in the Teifi valley, a young boy was invited to the big children’s class to hear the headmaster read a piece of a story. The story was an exciting one. It spoke of a dark and stormy night and of a lonely tollgate in the country. The gatekeeper heard the sound of horseshoes approaching in the distance, and the rider calling ‘gate’. After venturing out to the gate, the rider handed him something – a parcel wrapped in a cloak – before riding off into the darkness. And what was in the parcel? The gatekeeper saw after returning to the house – a baby.
The young boy listening to this story was non-other than T Llew Jones. For some reason, he didn’t hear more of the story, but it left a deep impression on his imagination for a long time. Later, he learnt that the story was Y Golud Gwell 4557 (1910) by Anthropos (Robert Davies Rowland; 1853?-1944), but not before he’d written his own version and published it as Un Noson Dywyll (1973).
Excitement, romance, intrigue – these are the corner stones of the story mentioned above. These are also the cornerstones that feature often in T Llew’s children’s literature – in his poetry and his prose. This is the gentleman who used historical and semi-historical figures like the pirates Harry Morgan and Barti Ddu, and the highwayman, Twm Siôn Cati as his raw material. This is also the gentleman who created legends from his own life, with the poachers of Pentre-cwrt, the ‘Pishyn Padis’ gypsies and the adventures of the Cilie poets all a part of one larger colourful saga, which he used to entertain audiences of children and adults alike.
It’s easy to romanticise T Llew. He was a romanticist. In some ways, that honourable and heroic title bestowed upon T Llew – ‘Brenin Llenyddiaeth Plant Cymru’ (King of Welsh Children’s Literature) is just as romantic. But, bestowing such a title upon him highlights the magnitude of his contribution to the field.
In the period following the Second World War, the Welsh publishing industry was in a sorry state. In 1950, of the 100 books published in Welsh, only 13 were publications for children. Alun R Edwards, a librarian from Ceredigion, was all too aware of this crisis. In September 1951, he organised the first of a series of conferences during the 1950s in Cilgwyn near Newcastle Emlyn, with the intention of encouraging budding writers to create Welsh reading material for children. 48 teachers from the old Cardiganshire were invited to this special conference, and in their midst was T Llew – a young poet and headmaster of Tre-groes at the time.
In his biography, Yr Hedyn Mwstard (1980), Alun R Edwards refers to T Llew as ‘y pysgodyn mwyaf a ddaliwyd gan y Cilgwyn’ (the biggest fish caught by the Cilgwyn). He wrote these words at the end of his career, when T Llew had already claimed his place as one of Wales’ foremost children’s authors. T Llew died nearly three decades later in 2009, and between then and the first Cilgwyn conference in 1951, he published around 50 volumes – most of them for children.
As a teacher – in Tre-groes (1951-1957) and Coed-y-bryn (1958-1976) – T Llew was aware of the need to entice children to read, and the importance of exciting material which would educate and entertain. His stories Trysor y Môr-landron (1960), Corn Pistol a Chwip (1969) and Cri’r Dylluan (1974), which take pieces of Welsh history and turn them into adventures full of heroes and villains, belong to this category. His poetry for children – which was published in Penillion y Plant (1965) a Cerddi Newydd i Blant (1973) – venture out of the classroom to the great outdoors, and attempt to open the reader’s eyes to the wonder of the world around them.
In an interview for the magazine Llais Llyfrau in 1968, T Llew said that he felt “mai’r hyn oedd eisiau fwyaf ar blant Cymru oedd arwyr” (what Welsh children needed most was heroes). Heroes are created at a time of need. And in the Welsh speaking Wales of the twentieth century, there was a need for an author like T Llew Jones in children’s literature.
- T Llew Jones Archives and Manuscripts at The National Library of Wales
- T Llew Jones on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography
This post is also available in: Welsh