by Allen Raine - £10.99 Honno Ltd (2013)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781906784652 | ISBN 10: 1906784655
They say she's a real witch,' says Goronwy Hughes' grandmother, warning him of Catrin Rees, the heroine of A Welsh Witch: 'Don't speak to her or let her eyes fall upon thee.'
The sea-side village of Treswnd has elected Catrin as its scapegoat, shunning and stoning her as a witch. In bitter isolation Catrin internalises the idea of herself as damned and outcast, but her loneliness is eased by a growing friendship with Goronwy, to whom she starts to reveal the hidden wonders of the natural world with which she has become familiar. In particular she is well-acquainted with the underground waterways of the 'Deep Stream' lying beneath Treswnd, a zone of darkness bestrewn with wrecks and human skeletons.
Goronwy does not fully appreciate her strength until later, when he has become a collier in the south Wales mining belt and a pit disaster leaves him trapped for days underground. 'Alone with the dead, the dying, and the frenzied around him,' Goronwy was then 'brought face to face with the deep mysteries of life.'
But Catrin had from childhood known of that darkness at the core of life. The underground water channels of the 'Deep Stream' and the deep tunnels of the coal mines function in A Welsh Witch as tropes of the unconscious, with its characteristic preoccupation with death and mutability. If that darkness can courageously be faced, however, it strengthens the human character rather than destroys it.
First published in 1902, A Welsh Witch, in its paralleling of rural communities with their lingering superstitions and early industrial communities with their harsh working conditions, explores the ways in which human resilience and empathy can make 'a romance of rough places'.
(Price & availability last checked: September 2019)