Nine Tales From Wales by Jude Johnson: Review & Interview
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Author Interviews
Ever wondered how the town of Denbigh in north Wales got its name? Well, look no further than Jude Johnson's Nine Tales From Wales for the answer. The story of Siôn Bodiau and the Gwiber is one of the fables included in this superb collection.
Intended for children, this book would make an excellent Christmas stocking filler for any youngster who wants to be acquainted with the rich archive of traditional Welsh folk tales. Divided into three sections the book includes stories about dragons, mermaids and fairies ( three on each ). The titles are listed below. Whilst many of these tales will be familiar to people with a knowledge of Welsh mythology, they are all retold in Jude Johnson's inimitable style and humorous details and embellishments are inserted into the narrative here and there to make them more approachable and entertaining for a modern audience.
Some Welsh vocabulary is included ( although not enough to be off-putting) and there is a short glossary of relevant terms at the beginning of each story. As Jude explains:
"These stories were written and compiled mainly for an American reader who is unfamiliar with old Welsh folk tales. It was a deliberate decision to limit the amount of Welsh vocabulary used, but if you get anything out of this book, at least you can learn how to say, “Good Morning,” “Thank you,” and “Yes, certainly.”
There is also a short appendix which lists the three Welsh folk songs ( Calon Lan, Suo Gan and Ar Lan y Môr ) referred to in the tales, together with the lyrics in Welsh and English.
All in all we can unreservedly recommend this book for the younger members of your family who have not yet begun to explore their Welsh heritage. An introduction to the folk tales, language and traditional songs of Wales is not a bad start and all are featured in this delightful volume in such a way as to promote and encourage further exploration.
Sian Bodiau & the Gwiber
Llyn Ar Afanc
The Dragons of Dinas Emrys
Llyn y Fan Fach
Nefyn the Mermaid
Y Tylwyth Teg [Faeries]
The Faerie Bride
The House With the Front Door at the Back
AmeriCymru: Hi Jude and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new book, Nine Tales From Wales for our readers?
Jude: S'mae, Ceri, and thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about my book, "Nine Tales From Wales: Dreigiau, Môr-forynion, & Y Tylwyth Teg [Dragons, Mermaids, & Faeries]". (We'll just call it "Nine Tales" for short.) It's a collection of stories primarily for American readers, or those who maybe aren't all that familiar with Welsh folklore. My main thought was to provide something for parents to read aloud before bedtime, short and fun. And what's better for a bedtime story than something with magical creatures?
I also wrote it for children to read to themselves as they feel more confident in their reading skills. I don't think there is a particular age group per se as reading level. My personal feeling is that books are doorways to adventure, and if a child feels ready to learn new words they should go for it and not be limited to their age group. Read to them every night and let them learn to love books and reading. I am absolutely gutted when I hear a someone say they hate reading or that reading is stupid. I can guarantee this: that is a person no one ever read aloud to as a child, and their life is so much poorer for it. Studies have shown that children who are encouraged to read - and especially to read fiction - are more empathetic and compassionate adults.
There are Welsh words in every story, which I list at the beginning with a rudimentary pronunciation guide for someone to sound them out. I deliberately limited the amount of Cymraeg I used so children - or adults for that matter - wouldn't be intimidated by all those consonants and mutations. As much as I love the language, you have to admit it's difficult. At the very least, someone will learn how to say, "Y Ddraig Goch" and "Bore da".
AmeriCymru: There are nine tales in this book - "three of Dragons, three of Mermaids, and three of Faeries" . Care to tell us which Dragon tales are featured?
Jude: I start with Siôn Bodiau and the Gwiber - or the story of how Dinbych / Denbigh got its name. Storyteller's license here: I made it a bit less bloodthirsty than the traditional version and tried to throw in more humor. Kids love fart jokes.
Llyn Ar Afanc has always stuck me as a weird story - I mean, Afanc does mean Beaver but the Monster in all the versions I've read is large and fierce and scary, much more like a water dragon or Nessie. I've never been scared of a beaver, no matter how big it might be. So in my telling, the Afanc is a combination - dragon in the front, Nessie in the back. Like a Ford assembled on the Monday after the Superbowl. Plus introducing Hu Gadarn and Yr Ychen Bannog might remind Americans of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox just a little bit. (If they still tell that one in elementary schools. I know Disney did a version long long ago but I haven't seen it in years.)
Of course I had to include The Dragons of Dinas Emrys - most children have heard of Merlin the Magician but most American children have no clue he was Welsh. (Yes, he was - and I'll not hear a word of argument about it from the Cornish contingent, thank you very much. With a name like Myrddin Emrys? C'mon now.) Most American children have never seen the Welsh flag, so my hope is that once they read the story, they'll go looking it up just to see if it really does feature a dragon. And maybe keep looking up other things about a country with a flag that features a mythical beast.
AmeriCymru: What governed your selection process? Of the many folk tales from Wales, why these 9?
Jude: I wanted to attract American kids and their parents. Most of them know about dragons, Ariel the Mermaid, and Tinkerbell. Though I make it plain on the back cover and in the book description that these are not Disney creatures. They bite. They are tricksy. They might even be real if you know where to look and how to treat them with respect. So it was a choice of ready-made familiarity with fantastic creatures.
I also wanted to choose stories that weren't as well known to the majority of Americans. Some might have heard something about dragons and the Saxons but they probably couldn't tell you the particulars. Most people only know one mermaid story, and most of them don't know how it actually ended before Disney got hold of it. And generally, American children think fairies are happy and harmless.
So my selection process was it couldn't be so gory or heavy that I couldn't tell it differently. For instance, kidnapping a female to make her your wife is ever so 5th century, you know? But I stayed true to the gist and morals of the tales.
I didn't want to redo the most familiar tales in The Mabinogion, though I love them. There is a plethora to choose from there, and again, I was aiming for instant familiarity with the creatures I chose. The hope is that people will go looking for more. The folklore of Wales is rich and fascinating and has an undertone of great tragedy about it. Then again, reading the original Grimms' tales or knowing what is coming at the end of Camelot is a rather dark ride as well. But that's reality, isn't it? That's what these stories were told for from the start: how to deal with life, its twists, and the inevitable end.
AmeriCymru: What inspired this collection?
Jude: Despair. Seriously, I despair talking to people who seem so very proud of NOT READING. If I can get a few children and/or parents, aunts, uncles, etc. interested in these stories, maybe they will search for more. Maybe a spark will be struck and a fire of wanting to read more will catch.
It doesn't have to be paperback. Ebooks are fine, too. Whatever captures your fancy and takes you into another experience for a few moments or hours is what the joy of reading is all about.
These tales have been told and retold for centuries now, maybe even a millennium. But they are new to someone in every generation, and if that encourages some to keep reading keep going, keep learning, and keep retelling how a dragon still sleeps beneath Dinas Emrys, or mermaids warn of storms, or ticked off faeries can make your life miserable, then that's a golden ticket.
Plus to be honest, I hadn't felt the muse urging me to write since my last publication in 2016. I had just finished re-reading a collection of legends of North Wales and the idea clicked that I maybe could retell some of the lesser known tales in my own voice, and if I limited the number of stories and didn't get too carried away, I might be able to cobble a little book together that I could have ready in a month or two for the Tucson Celtic Festival and Scottish Highland Games [http://tucsoncelticfestival.org]. Then I learned the Welsh League of Arizona was not planning to be there; our ranks have been decimated over the past two years and no one seemed to have the opportunity to man the booth outdoors. Myn bran i, I couldn't let that happen. You can't have a gathering of Celts without Cymry! So long story short, it may just be me and one or two more, but we'll be there with Y Ddraig Goch flying high. And my books, wrth gwrs.
AmeriCymru: Where can readers buy this book online?
Jude: Right now, it is available online through Amazon - .com, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, CA, and AU - in both paperback and ebook. You can find all of my books (fiction and nonfiction) on my Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jude-Johnson which should also be available on the other country sites listed.
Wrth gwrs, if you're in Tucson, Arizona November 6 & 7, I'll be at the Celtic Festival with paperbacks ready to autograph.
Jude: I should be able to mail signed/personalized copies in the continental US for the holidays; sorry I can't do overseas at this time, the postage is ridiculous. You can find me on Facebook and message me here: https://www.facebook.com/JudeJohnsonAZ Or contact me through my website: http://jude-johnson.com
I'll check with the USPS on what postage and time allotments we'll be dealing with and have that information ready by November 10th for special orders; probably want to order to ship before December 5, I'm thinking. Everything is moving more slowly these days...
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Jude: Diolch yn fawr iawn for keeping a warm welcome in the community for me. And for all the wonderful stories and legends you all have shared with me through the years. I hope I did you proud with "Nine Tales From Wales".