There is currently a household dispute about how I acquired my beautiful, illustrated and slip-cased, Folio Society copy of Under Milk Wood. I seem to remember having bought it second hand around 3 years ago in Voltaire and Rosseau. In P’s opinions, while it was acquired second hand in Voltaire and Rosseau around 3 years ago, it was he that bought it and as a gift for me. Perhaps he’s right. He always was good at choosing gifts.
My failure to properly express gratitude aside (I also maintain that it’s possible to be grateful for a book whilst leaving it unread on a shelf for three years but let’s not go down that road) this really is a beautiful book. It’s been a long time since I was a member of the Folio Society but their books are always perfect and given the quality of the items I really don’t think that they’re over-priced. Sadly, that doesn’t actually mean I can afford them at the moment so second hand will have to do. For now.
Enough about all that, what of the book? Well, it’s charming. A funny and poignant story of one day in a little Welsh village, the character’s all brought to life enough to feel like you really do understand the village life. Having grown up in a small village, much of it is almost too familiar to me.
What I think is clear though, is that the description of Under Milk Wood as a “play for voices” is perfect. Much is lost when you’re reading it alone. It’s to be read aloud, ideally with a group of people to take the different roles. There’s clearly an almost musical aspect to much of it that, while the text on the page can hint at, won’t be properly experienced unless it’s spoken.
I’m aware that Richard Burton was involved in at least one recording of it. In fact, that was my introduction to the book. Strangely enough, many years ago, through an advertisement for a car which is still one of the best advertisements I’ve seen. Not because it made me want to buy a car but because it was used to perfectly capture the feeling of being alone but free and safe at night. Let’s not pretend that Volkswagon deserve the credit for that – it’s Dylan Thomas who captured it and Richard Burton who brought it to life. Here it is: