Literature: How Green Was My Valley

Memory... Strange that the mind will forget so much of what only this moment has passed, and yet hold clear and bright the memory of what happened years ago; of men and women long since dead.
Huw Morgan

How green was my valley then, and the valley of them that have gone.
Last line of the novel.

A 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley was adapted into a 1941 20th Century Fox film directed by John Ford and starring Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Maureen O'Hara, and Roddy McDowell, with a score by Alfred Newman. It tells the story of Huw Morgan, the youngest son of a mining family in the Welsh village of Cwm Rhondda. Through his eyes, we see such events as his brother Ivor's wedding, the consequences of his sister Angharad's chaste romance with preacher Mr. Gruffydd (as well as her loveless and failed marriage into the mine owner's family), and a miner's strike in his town.

The film was a great financial success and later won five Oscars, including a now-controversial win as Best Picture of 1941, over a little picture by a novice director called Citizen Kane, and another little ditty by name of The Maltese Falcon. Some only talk about it as the film that shouldn't have won those Oscars, which is somewhat unfair, since it is an excellent movie in its own right. In 1990, it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library Of Congress.

This novel and film provides examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: And that's an understatement. One could make a case that it's actually a Downer Ending.
  • Book Ends: The scenes in the film both following mine accidents, where Gwillym cradles his son Ivor's dead body on the elevator, and where Huw similarly cradles his father's dead body on the same elevator.
  • Boxing Lesson: To deal with the bullying Huw is getting - he's the poor kid at an upper-class school - his father gets boxing champion Dai Bando to teach Huw how to box. Huw's father also promises to pay Huw a certain amount for each bruise and black eye he comes home with.
  • California Doubling: The film was originally intended to be made in the UK, but World War II made that idea all but impossible. So, it was filmed on the 20th Century Fox backlot.
    • According to movie lore, the move to California meant that the movie would have to be filmed in black and white, rather than color as originally intended, because the colors of the flowers and other vegetation in California would not match the colors in Wales.
  • Coming of Age
  • Cut Himself Shaving: After Huw comes back home with a bloody face from being beaten at school he claims he "fell down on the mountain." Nobody believes it.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Once Huw proves himself to be a decent fighter against one of the boys who picked on him before, he earns his classmates’ deep respect.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: when the rescuers bring up Huw's father on the shaft elevator. Maybe a Pietà Plagiarism.
  • Growing Up Sucks
  • Handicapped Badass: Dai Bando the blind ex-boxer. He teaches Huw to box, delivers a well-deserved beating to Mr. Jonas, and is the first to volunteer for a dangerous mine rescue.
  • Hot for Preacher: Angharad and Mr. Grufydd.
  • Innocence Lost: Huw's growing up includes half his family driven away for their pro-union activities, his sister marrying a man she doesn't love, being forced by circumstances to take a job with coal mine, his town elders driving away the good priest who mentored Huw, and the death of his father in a mining accident. By the end of the movie and novel, his green valley is no more. All that remains are the memories of his loved ones.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: The Sadist Teacher reacts to Huw's arrival by not addressing him and telling the rest of the class "what a dirty little sweep it is" and then "they expect me to make a scholar of it" when Huw says he's from the miner's town.
  • Mama Bear: Beth Morgan. When striking miners threaten Gwillym for his opposition to the strike, she crashes a strikers' meeting and threatens to kill anyone who harms her husband, with her bare hands. And it's very clear she's not bluffing.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: While the characters in the film are Welsh, cast members who were from John Ford's stock company use their native Irish accents. And Walter Pidgeon, a Canadian native, uses his own natural accent.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: After a mining accident, when any of the elevator cars are empty...
  • Parental Abandonment: Mr. Morgan dies at the end in a mining explosion.
  • Precision F-Strike: Beth Morgan has a couple of 1941-style moments. First, she begins her "Reason You Suck" Speech to the striking miners with, "I am Beth Morgan, as you damn well know!" Later, after Ivor is killed just before his child's birth she questions God's will. When Gwillym warns her about incurring God's wrath, she answers, "To Hell with the wrath!"
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Mr. Gruffydd's last sermon to his congregation, who are driving him out due to groundless rumors. He strongly criticizes them for hypocritically calling down God's vengeance, while forgetting God's love. Sadly, it seems like his words don't take.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Jonas
  • Scenery Porn: It *is* a John Ford movie, after all. And the film did win the Oscar for Best Cinematography (Black and White).
  • Servile Snarker: The Evans’ housekeeper, who doesn’t even try to conceal her contempt for her employers.
  • Slice of Life
  • Tempting Fate: Gwillym declares that if the congregation goes ahead with their condemnation of Angharad and Mr. Gruffydd, he'd never set foot in the church again. They do, and he doesn't. He's mortally injured in a mine explosion that night.
  • Title Drop: Huw's last line of narration.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Huw's sentimental narration contrasts pretty strongly with what the film actually depicts: The disintegration of the family unit, and the end of the way of life that had sustained the town for years.