A Brief Review of
A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Illustrated by Ellen Raskin.
Paperback: New Directions, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
New Directions Press has just released a lovely new edition of Dylan Thomas’s classic Christmas piece, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The book, a square paperback of 5-1/4 inches is the perfect size to fit in a coat pocket (or a stocking!). Thomas’s poetic telling of his childhood memories of Christmas in early twentieth-century Wales are punctuated with elegant and simple woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. Raskin is a renowned illustrator who has worked on a number of significant books over the last five decades, but my favorite is her work on the first edition dustjacket of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time. Thomas’s writing, here, though not really a poem in form, is infused with the same vivid, sensory imagery that makes him one of my favorite poets. For instance, near the beginning of the book, he captures a quintessential boyhood experience:
It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December in my memory is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeer. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes.
Thomas leaves no sense unfurled here, and while some might dismiss his work as nostalgic sentimentality, the beauty and wonder of his depiction of a Christmas celebration that is not overshadowed by consumerism stirs up a storm of possibilities in the imagination. May all of our Christmas celebrations this year be full of the frivolity and child-like joy that Thomas poignantly recalls here.