The Ninth Wave

Russell Celyn Jones
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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Pwyll, a young Welsh ruler in a post-oil world, finds his inherited status and military obligations hard to take. Not only this but he’s never quite sure how he’s drawn into murdering his future wife’s fiancé, losing his only son and switching beds with the king of the underworld… In this bizarrely upside-down, medieval world of the near future, life is cheap and the surf is amazing; but you need a horse to get home again down the M4.

The Ninth Wave is an arresting, contemporary retelling of a centuries-old Welsh myth. Russell Celyn Jones swaps the magical for the psychological, the courtly for the post-feminist and goes back to Swansea Bay to complete some unfinished business.

The eleven stories in the Mabinogion come from two medieval Welsh manuscripts, with roots dating back many centuries earlier. They bring us Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance, and their own view of the Island of Britain. There is enchantment and shapeshifting, conflict, peacemaking, love and betrayal.

In this series commissioned by Seren, the old tales are at the heart of the new. Each author reinvents a story in their own way: creating fresh, contemporary tales that speak to us as much of our own world as of events long gone. Based on ‘Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed’, The Ninth Wave is an eerie and compelling mix of past, present and future.


REVIEW by Jill Murphy, The Bookbag

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pwyll rules a medieval-style fiefdom in a post-climate change Wales. Life is different in many ways - there's a new-but-old social order built on feudalism and horsepower is the main means of transport. But in many ways it's much the same - people still fight one another, towns still have sink estates, rich boys still have too much time on their hands and precious little meaning in their lives.

Pwyll - who, as the author intends, bears more than a passing resemblance to Prince Harry - returns from a stint with the army and finds it difficult to fit in with his new role as lord. Neither a firm authorititave air nor a sense of noblesse oblige come easily to him. He feels rootless, shifty even. But then a dispute with a neighbouring lord requires him to trade places for a while and he meets a girl who is promised to someone else, and Pwyll suddenly finds some purpose - and, in time, a son. But then the son goes missing and his wife is blamed and everything starts to fall apart.

Russell Celyn Jones's reworking of Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed from the Mabinogion has the original's wonderful quality of being both timely and ageless. In our faithless world, the magical has become the psychological and the courtly the political and his story reflects this. But it also feels out of time, eternal even, and the story seeps in as you read with the understanding that this is a tradition, a reframing, intact and implicit.

It's sparse and elegant prose with huge but understated tension and it examines family tensions at a sometimes uncomfortably large magnification. Everything about it is evocative - of its own plot and conflicts, of past stories and traditions, of our own lives and the lives of those about us. And yet, there's not a word wasted.

REVIEW by Adam Thorpe, The Guardian

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Celyn Jones's sardonic update of "Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed", climate change has brought back the bronze age, without the idealised setting of the medieval version: Starbucks and class-A drugs are still with us, but tribalism and the mounted aristocracy are back, as well as renewable energy. Despite the latter, the lurid urban squalor is amusingly indistinguishable from any present-day British town on a Saturday night.

"Since oil ran out, war had become medieval again." Pwyll may shoot the stag with a Finnish bolt-action rifle, but the result is identical: he upsets Arawn, king of the underworld, and has to swap kingdoms for a year, then kill Arawn's rival Havgan (here, a gangster with a toxic dog-food factory).

The deal also involves sleeping next to Arawn's beautiful wife; in the original, Pwyll refrains from going any further and, thanks to magic, she thinks Pwyll is Arawn, which leads to a delicious moment when the real Arawn finally returns from Dyfed. Celyn Jones retains Pwyll's innocent clumsiness but Pwyll does get the woman. He also gets her "wild sister", Rhiannon, who appears in several tales and is the most affecting character in The Mabinogion: she has her small son stolen from her and has to suffer dreadful punishments, but never loses her dignity and intelligence. The lack of oil means Celyn Jones can retain her mystical association with horses, and he signals her brightness with typical humour: "Rhiannon studied literature and Pwyll was a geography graduate."

When her son Pryderi goes missing, however, she loses "half of her original weight". The Mabinogion never explains who stole him; Celyn Jones blames the Croatian nannies. On his return as a grumpy teenager, the future hero bonds with his father in an exuberantly dangerous bout of surfing. A fitting close, perhaps, when we recall what another Welsh genius, David Jones, said about the ancient tales: "For the Poet or the Artist, 'the past' is much what 'nature' is for him: it is the raw stuff which he uses."

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