The first sign of my neurosis happened at my friend Chavie’s house. We were having lunch with her sister’s British in-laws, and enjoying each other’s company. I was helping to pass out food and after I asked them if they would like some potatoes, I realized too late that I had asked them this in a pseudo-British accent. I simply could not help mimicking their accents. This set up a chain of events where exposure to certain appealing stimuli (as in True Blood/Lost marathons) would provoke me to absorb the character’s accents. My friends should be grateful that Lost is almost over and I will stop talking like Claire soon. However, I have now moved on to the next big thing: Wales. Ever since high school, I have had an intense fascination with Welsh culture and history. The Grey King by Susan Cooper, winner of the 1976 Newbery Medal, and A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, a Newbery Honor book for 1977, both rekindled my love for this wild, magical land, and yes, added a Welsh lilt to my voice.
The Grey King is the fourth of the five books in the Dark is Rising series. (The Dark is Rising, the second book in the series, was a Newbery Honor book in 1974.) Inspired by Welsh and Arthurian legends, the series depicts the epic struggle of good versus evil, championed by an ordinary boy named Will Stanton. Will is sent to Wales to recover from hepatitis and has lost all memory of his true destiny and identity. In Wales he meets Bran, an albino boy with a mysterious past and knowledge of the Light, the powers of good. Despite his instructions to rest and gather his strength, the forces of Darkness have other plans. Will must use his wits, magical powers, and new allies to overcome the Grey King. Vivid details about Welsh life, geography, and culture are sprinkled throughout the story to make the country come alive. While the story itself is a fantasy, the world of Wales, with its high-peaked mountains, roaming green hills, and flocks of sheep feel incredibly real and alluring.
Unlike my romantic notions of Wales, Wales represents endless freezing rain, sinking bogs, and tiny dreary villages to Peter Morgan in A String in the Harp. Peter resents being dragged away from his friends and home to spend a year in Wales while his father teaches at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. He misses his mother terribly, who passed away suddenly, leaving her bewildered husband to cope with his three distraught children. Ten-year-old Becky, adapts easily to new life, as a natural people-person who is excited about new experiences. Her older sister, Jen, is in 10th grade and stays in America, living with her Aunt Beth, until the semester is over. She, too, is open to the wonders of Wales. It is only when Peter finds a strange harp key by the sea that his attitude begins to change. The key is directly connected to the experiences of Taliesin, the master bard of Wales, who lived during the sixth century. When Peter touches the key, he watches Taliesin’s life unfold before him. Peter becomes obsessed with understanding Taliesin’s history and gradually loses interest in resisting Wales. The modern world and Taliesin’s world begin to blur, and Peter must act to set things right. At the same as Peter tries to fix what has been undone for Taliesin, his family gradually bridges the gaps between them. They learn to communicate and support each other. The most magical part of this story is their journey to become a family again. The process is arduous and complicated, but in the end, Peter realizes “that he was part of other people and they part of him and he was glad”. Like Taliesin, he becomes a string in the harp, part of something more, something beautiful.