How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn, narrated by Huw Morgan, the main character, about his Welsh family and the mining community in which they live. The author had claimed that he based the book on his own personal experiences but this was found to be untrue after his death; Llewellyn was English-born and spent little time in Wales, though he was of Welsh descent. Llewellyn gathered material for the novel from conversations with local mining families in Gilfach Goch.
The title of the novel appears in two sentences. It is first used in Chapter Thirty, after the narrator has had his first sexual experience. He sits up to "... look down in the valley." He then reflects: "How green was my Valley that day, too, green and bright in the sun." The phrase is used again in the novel's last sentence: "How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone."
The novel is set in South Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria. It tells the story of the Morgans, a respectable mining family of the South Wales Valleys, through the eyes of one of the sons, Huw Morgan.
Huw's academic ability sets him apart from his elder brothers and enables him to consider a future away from the dangerous coal mines. His five brothers and his father are miners. After his eldest brother, Ivor, is killed in a mining accident, Huw moves in with his sister-in-law, Bronwen, with whom he has always been in love.
One of Huw's three sisters, Angharad, marries the wealthy mine owner's son – whom she does not love – and the marriage is an unhappy one. She never overcomes her clandestine relationship with the local minister.
Huw's father is later killed in a mine explosion. After everyone Huw has known either dies or moves away, and the town is reduced to a contaminated shell, he decides to leave, and tells the story of his life just before going away.
The Older Morgans:
The Middle Brothers: These are Huw's young adult brothers. Ianto goes to London to find work early in the book, but returns unhappily; Owen and Gwilym do the same later.
The Younger Morgans:
The first edition was published in 1939 by Michael Joseph Ltd, London, set and printed in Great Britain by William Brendon & Son, Ltd., at the Mayflower Press, Plymouth, in Walbaum type, twelve point, leaded, on a toned opaque-wove paper made by John Dickinson, and bound by James Burn. It was published in 8vo size. The first printing included a limited edition run of 200, numbered and signed by Richard Llewellyn. The original print run also included a glossary covering Welsh words and terms at the end of the book.
The author continued the story of Huw Morgan's life in three sequels:
The 1941 Hollywood film adaptation, which was highly successful, had a cast that included Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Roddy McDowall (as Huw), Donald Crisp, and Barry Fitzgerald. None of the leading players was Welsh (though Welsh actor Rhys Williams made his screen debut in the film in a minor role). Directed by John Ford, How Green Was My Valley was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. How Green Was My Valley is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox as part of their 20th Century Fox Studio Classics collection.
The novel was adapted as a Broadway musical, called A Time for Singing, which opened at the Broadway Theatre, New York, on 21 May 1966. The music was by John Morris; book and lyrics were by Gerald Freedman and John Morris. The production was directed by Mr. Freedman, and it starred Ivor Emmanuel, Tessie O'Shea, Shani Wallis, and Laurence Naismith.
A stage version, adapted by Shaun McKenna was performed at the Theatre Royal in Northampton in 1990. It marked the stage debut of Aled Jones as the teenage Huw. It was directed by Michael Napier Brown and designed by Ray Lett.
In 2017, the book was also adapted as a short film for the use in the music video for the song Pleader by the band alt-J. The music video adaptation takes some liberties in retelling the story, with the catastrophic family deaths being caused by a landslide, which was caused by a German V2 rocket during WWII rather than a mine explosion.