Wales’ Shining Example of Modernism
A Toy Epic Emyr Humphreys
Emyr Humphreys’s seventh published novel, originally completed in 1942, was (in its first draft) his earliest novelistic writing. Revised and rewritten in Welsh, it was broadcast as a radio play by the BBC in Wales in 1958. Immediately thereafter Humphreys prepared it for publication as a novel that appeared almost simultaneously in English and Welsh. Although supplied with a different title, Y Tri Llais, the latter version is virtually identical with the former.
A kind of three-part plainsong of the sublimated stream of consciousness
Between the wars, three boys from very different home backgrounds are thrown together by the educational system. Michael, the country churchman’s son, chapel-going farmboy Iorwerth, and Albie, the bus-conductor’s son from a working-class street in the nearby seaside town, play, quarrel, and compete with each other. As they react against their parents’ values whilst nonetheless being formed by them, the boys find their relationships subtly evolving as each gradually grows up and tries to define and eventually find himself.
Far more than a coming-of-age novel, A Toy Epic explores universal themes of religious and political belief, social class, and the tension between free will and historical forces, all of which Humphreys would continue to develop in his later work. Above all he considers what it can mean to be Welsh, the diversity of possible Welsh identities, and the role of the language in the sense and idea of nationhood. Informed by his own boyhood experiences, here transmuted into a deeply intelligent and perceptive study of a significant period in the history of Wales, A Toy Epic is a perfect distillation of Humphreys’s outstanding gift as the most notable Welsh novelist writing in English.
Contact translation rights: