Owen Glendower

Written by John Cowper Powys
Review by Claire Morris


Originally published in 1940, this grandly written epic recounts the adventures of Rhisiart, a 15th century Oxford student who returns to the land of his fathers (Wales) only weeks before revolt engulfs it. A prophecy has urged Owen Glendower to take up arms against his people’s English oppressors, and fight for freedom and glory. As Owen’s cousin, Rhisiart becomes immersed in the events that tear Wales asunder between 1400 and 1415. He falls in love, and learns about battle and treachery and Welsh myths. It is principally his story the reader follows, though the author does use other viewpoints when it suits him.

Those seeking a full-fledged account of the Glyn Dŵr Rebellion will not find it here. John Cowper Powys may have called his novel “Owen Glendower,” but he produced instead a story of Glendower’s time. It is a tale of romance, war, fantastical events and extreme characters, fashioned in the style of Walter Scott. It is extremely complex and requires perseverance. But the way the author weaves his storylines together draws the reader in, and he faithfully adheres to the few facts known about Glendower and his rising. His characters are very human, even when they are behaving like figures out of the Mabinogion. And his language is rich and evocative, demonstrating his love for Glyn Dŵr Country. Most interestingly, he captures the spirit of the Welsh, a vanquished people who refused to relinquish their culture.