Book of the Week – The Dark Philosophers by Gwyn Thomas

Bleak yet bursting with wit, this trilogy of novellas explores the dark underbelly of a Welsh mining community but don’t let the dark subject matter deter you! These three stories are fine examples of the dark humour that Gwyn Thomas weaves through the lives of his characters.

The Dark Philosophers, Gwyn Thomas, Parthian.

The Dark Philosophers, Gwyn Thomas, Parthian.

Bordering on Magic Realism, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Just as Carter explores the sinister side to well-known fairy-tales, Thomas depicts a mining community tarnished and exploited by the industry that has overwhelmed the less-than-green valleys. In the first novella the eponymous ‘Oscar’ takes on an allegorical role, an exploitative ‘hog’ who owns a mountain with a colliery tip. Thomas describes him as having a voice that has a ‘slow greasy feel’ and a ‘mind like another man’s rear’. The stories consider violence, death and revenge in an austere landscape, yet the characterisation of the inhabitants of these villages provides the humour.

As Elaine Morgan notes in her introduction to the Library of Wales edition of the book it is surprising that Gwyn Thomas ‘found anything to laugh about’ at all. He was born the last of twelve children in 1913 in the Rhondda Valley and lost his mother at a young age. Yet emerging from a childhood plagued by illness his work is brilliant at defining the absurdity felt by those living in a vibrant community disturbed by industrialisation. In his autobiography Thomas describes the Rhondda where ‘streets shoot upwards at angles that suggest a neurotic impulse to be getting away from something.’  Despite the cramped conditions the community was full of song, laughter and gossip – drama that the community thrived on.

As a local Gwyn Thomas shows the world the paradoxical experience of living in the twisted, neurotic and absurd environment that was the valleys in the 1940s. Thomas’ love affair with his stomping ground continued throughout his life – only happy when he was back in the Welsh valleys. The Dark Philosophers demonstrates the prowess of a true wordsmith. Verbal wit abounds in these richly idiomatic and colourful short stories.

Check out YouTube to witness first hand a witty writer who has quite a way with words.