Ianto's world is the Aberystwyth hinterland. This area ranges from Bala Lake in the north to the Elan Valley in the south. Literary Atlas spoke to Niall Griffiths here. Although to many this area may seem like a barren 'green desert', to Ianto this is far from being a nondescript wilderness. This mountainous hinterland is his home in which he knows the bogs, the hills, and the forests 'like the contours of his own body' (see below). Through the novel Sheepshagger, Griffiths is interested in exploring what it is like when we lose ourselves in these spaces. He is experimenting with the 'other' forms of our selves which may be discovered as we become disoriented and lost in this 'other' world.
-Where was it he was born, Ianto? Llanidloes, was it?
-Well that area anyway. Inland, like. Farms and mountains, fuck all else. That's all there is yer, just farms and mountains. 2002:7
The reader is never told precisely where Ianto's and his Mamcu lived; he was simply raised somewhere in the rugged hinterland of Aberystwyth. However, this lack of specificity – the somewhere, anywhere (perhaps even nowhere and everywhere) – of this green desert is key to understanding his origins and identity. Although to many the hinterland of Aberystwyth may be a vast expanse of not very much at all, where the Llanidloeses and the Llangurigs become essentially indistinguishable, this way of thinking and seeing a landscape is not shared by Ianto. Like other indigenous people native to an area, Ianto belongs in this hinterland. He may not know a specific area's cartographic names, or be familiar with the local farmers' vernacular for a particular field or hillside, but he knows the landscape through a language of contact and practice. Like Griffiths comments in relation to his own understanding of the local area, Ianto knows "these hills like I know the contours of my own body" 2008:29.
Ianto knows this place intimately, in a way that moves beyond Modern epistemologies of representation or understanding. He knows this landscape in the same way an animal might, through surviving in it, understanding its signs, and its cycles. Ianto is therefore somewhat akin to a 'green man' in this 'green desert'. Understanding the landscape and his place in it as an equal to other species; rather than being separate and distinct, he feels that he is a spiritually and actually a part of it, intrinsic to a web of existence that produced him, and everything else. It was this co-ingredience with the wild landscape that Griffiths was attempting to articulate through Ianto.
In the spirit of beginning a plotline in a specific location, it would be ideal to exactly locate the bog Griffiths is referring to in the above passage. It would be ideal but also anathema to the outlook of Ianto. Although Griffiths is invoking a (deep) green narrative through the character of Ianto, he is also seeking to counterpoint this understanding to the logics of modern knowledge. Where modern knowledge seeks linear relations between cause and effect, and in cartographic terms precise and fixed co-ordinates, Ianto's outlooks is different. Ianto's home cannot be precisely reduced to his Mamcu's cottage: his hireath is the expanse of hills beyond Aberystwyth, the land, air, storm, bog, rock are his backyard.
In Ianto he wanted to explore of way of presenting this pre-modern, non-human relationship with the world, and in so doing challenge the "quasi imperialist attitude of contemplating nature" Griffiths, in interview. Listen to Niall Griffiths talk about contemplating nature.
In challenging dominant ways of engaging with nature Griffiths is seeking to overturn the sanitised idylls of nature and landscape that to some extent characterise and caricature ideas of rural Wales:
Well really I'm saying this is a place of rot and shit and bone and faeces and all this kind of stuff and we have to accept it. Like buzzards, the buzzard's quite beautiful, a magnificent bird, kites are a magnificent bird, but their driving force is to eat, avoid being eaten, and to have sex, and that's basically it. They are beautiful as they are but you have to accept that the driving force behind them is to kill and eat you know? ... I read Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey and what are the words he uses? 'It is ruthless and utterly without mercy but it's completely clean and beautiful' and he's entirely right. It becomes no less than a bloody model for living really and the development of your soul and I think that's how important it is and it's all linked in, the whole things linked in Griffiths, in interview.
In extolling the mercilessness of wild nature and accepting its raw drive as a 'model for living', Griffiths' wild is not a pastoral idyll, but an awful sublime. As he notes:
it's kind of like finding a God - it's got everything to do with calm, and nothing to do with comfort. Rural Wales is a place of mud and death and shit and bone but it's also a place where connectedness is freely available and notions of re-birth declare themselves openly, and in that way, I find it immeasurably hopeful in Brockway, 2004.
"IANTO IS FIVE.
…The little person playing under the swell of the mountain 's foot hills is but a speck against the giant rise, engrossed in the repetition of crash and apart, crash and apart, some rock-grit on his fingertips and hand backs and small shock lightly throbbing in the sinews of his hands" 2002:5.
Ianto grew up with his Mamcu in these hills. As Literary Atlas walks with Griffiths past a ruined farmhouse we discuss whether Ianto's house was inspired by a particular building in the hills.
No, there is a [house I remember] on one of the other lakes. [Noone lives in it now,] it's like a Forestry Commission house. But I think people did live in it, but I guess, yeah [it could be this one] as he does mention ruins doesn't he? He hides in one of the ruins doesn't he?
[What inspired me was] if you've ever climbed to the top of Cadair Idris, if you go up the steps from Minffordd, at the top there's like a little old village, a little old settlement there, with a few houses, so I suppose that was in my mind - even though [Ianto] doesn't go up there, he doesn't even go up Cadair Idris! So, it's like a combination of various places... in the same way that you get your characters are composites from people that you meet. The landscapes are composites from the areas that you walk around …and that you live amongst Griffiths, in interview.
Griffiths employs a degree of poetic licence to compose Ianto's places, they are wild places drawn from different real locations that he knows, and through the creative process he scrumples and folds these different locations together to create the world that Ianto inhabits.
Some of the descriptions of the landscape in Sheepshagger, not very many of them, but some of them, are actually from The Devil's Chair in Shropshire. The big, the big saw, the big thing of rock and all that kind of thing in the air, the scutellated ground, that's actually, that's actually from the Devil's Chair in Shropshire Griffiths, in interview.
RIFLE HELD IN the crook of his overcoated arm Llyr leads Ianto into shelter away from the relentless sizzling drizzle, up against a huge fin of grey rock which erupts from the hilltop like the back of a giant shark, sudden and full of threat. Delicately they walk, soft steps and whispering, as if this huge granite sail is some slumbering beast they are at pains not to arouse. 2002:34
Griffiths is creating a geography very different to the fixed, accurate mapping of the Ianto's urban experiences of Aberystwyth. This wild geography is folded, scrumpled and creative, the immeasurable landscape beyond the reason and rule of Modern knowledge and mapping. This is a mythic world that Ianto as the 'green man', with more in common with the hawk and kite, can brestride, almost as if he was a giant of legend traversing vast distances in a single step. In this way, the real maps of the modern are rendered redundant and we are bewildered into a more than human cartography.
Upland-scrambler, mountain-leaper, treader of heather and stone-strider. Shadowflit half-glimpsed searcher of forest and of cave. 2002:44-5
In Ianto's young life he experiences a variety of threats to him and his world. These include an encounter with an abusive hiker in the hills, the repossession of his Mamcu's cottage, and the presence of English visitors claiming and consuming his world for their weekend entertainment. In this context, his elemental connection to the wild is not an identity position without consequence. It prompts in him a visceral, emotional response to the disruption of this connection, a feeling that in turn generates the impulse for physical revenge on any that replicate that threat in even a small way.
[Ianto feels like he is] plung[ing] through space into water aflame, a fail which will never end: in his head he will be forever plummeting through that sunset between mountains, over water. Of these things and of others he will tell nothing because there is no need. He never much liked talking anyway, Ianto didn't. Not really … And he will wait like the spider for whatever the wind will bring. For however long it takes. He will wait like the spider unaccompanied except by an urge for murder for whatever the wind will bring to him, and for however long it takes 2002:236-7.
Despite the violent urges present within Ianto, Griffiths is not personally advocating violence to people or property – in fact through conversation he makes it clear his own position as a pacifist – "I've got to be quite careful, because I'm not extolling [violence], you know, I'm not a violent man by any means!"; nevertheless, like Edward Abbey in The Monkey Wrench Gang 1975, he fictionalises a response that is in keeping with the outlook of his main protagonist.
Kept going on about that fuckin house, tho, dinny? Always goin on about that fuckin house he was, d'yew remember? On an on an on.
Yeh. As if it was some kind of fuckin homeland or something like, some fuckin promised land he'd been exiled from.
Well it was, if yew think about it. I mean -
-Shite. Homeland be buggered.
-Got on my fuckin tits, he did, to tell yew-a trewth, going on an on like that.
-Went up yer with im once, I did. Just to look at-a house like. Don't know why really, he just said he wanted-a see it again an I just tagged along like. Bored I suppose. It was a fuckin disaster, I'm tellin yew. Wish I'd never fuckin gone, altho if I hadn't've Ianto probably would've ended up dead or in prison that night.
Shouldn't've bloody gone then, should yew? Would've saved a shit load of fuckin trouble if yew hadn't've gone up yer, Llyr boy. Would've saved every fuckin one of us a whole lot of bastard bother.
-Not to fuckin mention a certain pair of hillwalkers like.
-An a certain schoolboy 2002:12.
We will return to Ianto exploits in the wild in this plotline. However, next we turn to the time he spent in the geographies of Aberystwyth itself.
Fuckin Aberystwyth, mun, mouth uv-a fuckin river like, seaside town by-a sea, come an visit an see a biggest fuckin concentreytion-a junkies an baddies an nutters at yew've ever fuckin seen, mun 2000:59.
Ianto spends half his time in the hinterland of Aberystwyth, and the other half in town, …"accepting whatever drink or drug is offered by his circle of half-teasing, half-accepting friends" Jordan, 2001, no page. In contrast to the wild world view of the hinterland, Ianto's urban world of 'junkies an baddies an nutters' is not folded or poetic; the places he frequents are real and locatable, providing necessary functions to his existence (e.g. the Job Centre for Giro Day), or recreational activities to pass the time (e.g. Pub Crawl). The following two plotlines usefully encompass his geographies and practices when he spends time away from the wild.
In the context of the book, Ianto would come in from the hills for this regular visit to the Job Centre to pick up his benefits (in line with their availability in the time Griffiths was writing).
Griffiths describes Ianto's experience in the Job Centre as follows:
She studies the computer screen.
-How's the job search going? Anything we can help you with? . .
Ianto's lips hang open as he thinks, the tip of his tongue making some small tapping sounds on the backs of his bottom teeth.
-What kind of work do you usually do? Tap tap.
-I see here that you last worked two years ago. Erm, potato picking was it? That was for two months on a Mr Evans's farm in Llangurig.
-Yeh, in-a fields I was like. It was just with-a seasons, see. He only needed me for ... erm ...
-Seasonal employment, yes.
-An I saw im last week like an he said that he might need me again this yur. Maybe. The crop last yur was bad cos of-a weather an-a blight like so he dint get much out of-a ground, but cos of-a mild weather this yur yer's no blight.
-So he may need you to work for him again, then?
-Well, fingers crossed.
She fetches lanto's file and pushes it across the desk to him and he takes up the pen and makes his mark on the relevant line, which is all he ca n do.
-Come back any time after three and we'll have your cheque for you.
Ianto glances up at the clock: just past one.
-Ta. p. 47.
In this encounter we infer that Ianto is not completely at home in the world of employment or bureaucratic machination; he says very little, letting the reader and the assistant know that he rarely works, and when he does it is seasonal and manual in nature. It is clear he is not an expert at writing, indeed, may be semi- or il-literate. Following this encounter Ianto begins a walking journey around Aberystwyth as he seeks to kill time before he can pick up his benefit cheque. From the following excerpt from the novel, it is possible to broadly locate Ianto's route:
He leaves and walks the busy dinnertime streets of the small town stopping to talk to one of the Big Issue vendors he is acquainted with and past the pubs, many of them now closed for refurbishment in anticipation of the student custom at the end of the summer. Rubble-filled skips outside and Radio 1 in the dark and dusty interiors. Smell of meat and onions from the kebab shops and vinegar from the chippers setting his belly arumble again, strong and unusual spring sun and exhaust fumes baking him in his unwashed clothes stiff and sour and the caked muck begins to liquefy and pool in his insteps and armpits and perineum and run down his back and itch on his head and he scratches at his scalp then studies his fingernails now rimed with a scurf of yellowish scales. On to the promenade, where the sea glitters like an open drawer of polished cutlery and where student stragglers delaying their trips homeward mill and eat ice-creams and talk too loudly and hold discussions above their rucksacks clustered on the flagstones between them. The sun comes back in a large silver star off the window of the funicular house atop ConstitutionHill. Ianto cadges a cigarette off a workman relaying the flagstones anterior to the bandstand then walks out on to the jetty to smoke it, watching two girls in shorts and T-shirts too young to be students maybe fifteen, sixteen, playing in the breaking waves, their school uniforms in twin humps on the shingle. They come out of the water thin material clinging sweeping their wet hair back over their heads and they catch Ianto staring and one of them sticks a pink tongue out at him and the other holds out the middle finger of her right hand erect. Ianto grins and wants to say something to them, anything, some small contact but can think of nothing so he takes a last drag on the cigarette, which now smoulders on to the filter, and flicks the end out on to the sea p. 47-8.
To some extent Ianto can easily exist in the urban, but he still appears to be somewhat 'out of place' here. Although he has some homeless individuals he is acquainted with and can easily ask for a smoke from a workman, he cannot find the words to engage in lengthy conversation, or any spontaneous conversation with the teenagers he sees on the front. In this place, Ianto is not a mythic strider, he is not in his element. It is clear to the reader, and to Ianto himself, that in town is he reduced to a mortal, and more importantly, a mortal of the underclass. Ianto no place to call his own here. Perhaps to emphasise this point, Griffiths take Ianto onwards to South Beach, where he takes temporary refuge in the water:
… he walks the long walk hands-in-pockets to Tan-y-Bwlch, the south beach, across the jagged volcanic landscape until all town sounds have died away and there are no signs of human commerce except for a clear plastic barrel wedged between rocks. He strips to his scrawny white nakedness, a greasy black band belting his waist and he soaks all his clothes bar trainers in the sea then lays them fiat across a large fiat rock to steam and dry in the sun. Then he wades out stiff-nipple deep into the cold ocean and rubs all his body vigoro usly with his hands under the water… p. 47-8.
From here, Ianto,
walks away not thinking anything and goes back to the Job Centre and picks up his cheque and cashes it in the Post Office and loves the moneybulge in his hip pocket which he hopes is completely dry now and will not wet the notes. He buys fish and chips from the Dolphin takeaway and shares them with the pigeons on the benches in the square by the nightclub , then leaves the ketchup-streaked tray for the town birds to peck at and walks down Great Darkgate Street and meets nobody he knows and up Terrace Road and meets nobody he knows… and into the Cambrian Arms, where there are many drinking people none of whom he knows not even to say hello to. He buys a pint of lager at the bar and takes it over to the corner table with a window looking out on to the busy main road and the train station and he stares out at the passing people, sipping the pint, taking it slow, savouring it, cold and sharp and lovely, much needed. The first of many p. 50.
In the pub, drinking alone, Ianto watches the rest of the urban world go by. Detached and aloof from it, Ianto loses/finds himself in drink, a key pastime which adds liquid refreshment and alcoholic alteration to his urban experience.
Although not at home in the urban, especially when on his own, it nevertheless remains possible to map Ianto's Aberystwyth in a conventional sense. As we have seen in the Giro Day plotline, the locations of Griffith's plot coincide accurately with real locations within the town. This is also clear in the case of the Pub Crawl plotline: in Ianto's urban it is possible to locate specific streets, particular bars, and directly experience for yourself the pub crawl that Ianto, with in this case Roger, did themselves; as Griffiths acknowledges.
This plotline begins at a pub across the Trefechan Bridge in the south of Aberystwyth. This is likely to be The Fountain Inn. Starting here we explore Griffiths' own re-invention of the town that does not shine a light on a clean cut, middle class, and university-oriented settlement; rather he looks beyond and focuses on the shadows this version casts. His is a town of drugs and desolation, a place of splendour with hard edges, a place ringed by the hope of the sea and gothic wilds of the mountains beyond. As Griffiths recounted in conversation, his version of Aberystwyth is not the one everyone from this middle class incarnation of the town recognises: "people would say 'this isn't the Wales I know' you know that kind of thing… [but I say] 'No, but it's the Aberystwyth I know', there's many different towns in there" Griffiths, in interview.
[Ianto and Roger had] arranged to meet in the pub over the Trefechan bridge at midday so Ianto slept in the squat in order to be on time, in the hall in a sleeping bag shiny with dirt, and was fact an hour early and Roger was corner by the fish tank, angel fish and guppies flowing from his ears like his dreams made visible. Six empty bottles on the table ears like his dreams made visible. Six empty bottles on the table before him and an ashtray choked with the wet and pointed stubs of handrolled cigarettes and beer mats torn into several small mounds. Roger buys drinks at the bar, a pint of Wrexham lager for himself and a bottle of Brains Dark for Ianto and takes them over to the table and Ianto looks up at him, his pasty face breaking into a wide and damp grin although he is mildly disturbed at Roger's curly hair, the customary crop grown out, and the marasmus declared in Roger's tight skin and prominent cheekbones and wristbones probably chemical-generated p. 161.
As the cocktail of drink and drugs take their effect, Ianto and Roger leave the pub and head north into town:
they head off across the Trefechan bridge stopping halfway across to lean over the old stone balustrades and look down on the river below and its waterfowl, a few ducks and seagulls drifting with the current slowly towards the open sea. Roger pushes thick and white cottony saliva out through his pursed lips to hang and sway and then break and fall splat on to the sluggish wa ter, where a drake stabs at it once and then again then swallows and mutters to itself. A seagull hops up out of the water to perch on the moss-soft and slimy sewer pipe and preen, Ianto admiring the cruel hook of its yellow beak and the reptilian torpor of its dark eyes. Roger points a pistol at it made out of his thumb and forefinger and cocks his thumb and shoots with a noise which reminds Ianto of playing Cowboys and Indians in the hills as a boy. They head on p. 168.
They turn down on to Alexander Road, past the tall grey tabernacle open for today to host a jumble sale and they talk about going in there but decide against it because of the gaggle of old ladies filing through the heavy oaken doors and walk further on instead for a drink in The Mill. They play more pool, two games, and win one each and stand by the jukebox drinking, both of them shifting from foot to foot and takin g small swift sips at their pints and scratching and twitching their faces, gurning under the mixture of ephedrine and caffeine and MDEA and amphetamine and unk nown substances which was sold to Roger as Ecstasy but is still far stronger and of far more appreciable effect tha n nearly all stimulants ped dled under that name, although without the general empathic consequence of a dose of straight MDMA their sight is necessarily turned inwards and their sensual riot ends at the tingling tips of the ir tongues and fingers and is played out only on the backs of their own flickering eyelids p. 168.
They finish their drinks and go back outside again into the falling light and walk past the twenty-four-hour garage, where a van honks its horn at them and a figure inside it waves and they wave back even though they do not recognise their hailer and walk on level with the Lord Beechings, where the smell of beer and smoke and the thump of music is too much to resist so they order vodka and Cokes in there and drink them quickly standing at the bar then leave and pass the Cambrian Arms twenty yards further on and stop and raise their heads to sniff the air like predators scenting prey and grin at each other and walk back and into that pub and order more vodkas, this time neat with lots of ice, and stand against the bar sipping, looking. A man approaches them, an acquainted face seen amongst the local crusties and rough sleepers, even though his dress is conservative, jacket and jeans and white trainers and he wears his greying hair short.
They nod noncommittally. lanto has seen this man performing unbalanced tai-chi on the beach of a morning and badly singing blues on the promenade of a summer's day; Roger has on sufferance and in the past endured his self-obsessed ramblings and has vowed never to do so again and now neither he nor lanto are in the mood for this man's overbearing attention-seeking nor even for the way his top lip disappears when he smiles.
Ianto giggles louder and they leave the pub and laughing wa it with the crowd at the zebra crossing until they can cross between the parted cars. They move around the beige bulk of B-Wise and on to the thin strip of waste ground between the walls of that and the railway yard and there amongst the broken glass and dock leaves and nettles and empty wrappers rustling in the breeze… Ianto peers over the wall alongside Roger, a pair of Kilroys, and sees people milling, tensed pensioners and impatient parents and their restless children and two emotional couples hugging. He watches as Roger tosses [a porn] magazine among them, sees it smack and slide off a blue rinse and flop to the floor and land open… He hears a shriek and pale faces swing his way and then he is laughing and runnin g after Roger… 2002:171-172/3
…they move on down Thespian Street, passing an Indian woman in full shalwar-kameez with several children in tow similarly dressed . Ianto gawps and Roger sneers and they both watch the family pass. One small child glances up at their faces and then looks away aga in very quickly. Ianto tries to nudge Roger into the Weston Vaults, but Roger shakes his head.
Can't mun. Barred. Yew knows that, don't yew? Or av yew forgotten what happened in yer last time, like?
Through a thick fog Ianto recalls Roger arguing with the barman two weeks or so ago over something, a refusal to serve perhaps, recalls then Roger chewing up a pint glass and spitting shards and spittle and blood over the bar right into the barman's face. Remembers also sitting bored in the hospital while Roger had his lips and tongue and cheeks stitched back together again. He grins up at Roger and gets a smile back.
-Remember now, aye?
They turn on to the main road pa st the Weston Vaults and almost literally bump into a tall blond man, who stands above them with the twitchy hands and sweaty forehead and frantic chewing of amphetamine ingestion. Roger appears to know him:
-Malcolm, yew twat! What's-a fuckin news en, boy?" 2002:173-4.
On this pub crawl, Griffiths gives the reader insight in to how Ianto's actions are directed in town. As we have seen, on his own in the urban, Ianto often seems out of place. Without his wild home defining him, when he is with his groups of friends he becomes part of that crowd, his agency owned by whomever the dominant personality is in that group, as Griffiths describes:
Led by Roger as he has been led by the movements and imperatives of others seen or unseen touched or untouchable since he was born he will move when Roger moves and stop when Roger stops and make some noise in his throat when addressed. In streets and within buildings he can do only this: it is when he is apart from the noisy human traffic that he can feel other whisperings in and from his heart, hear other murmurings from souls both carbonaceous and siliceous and at those times when he feels he'll die if he doesn't do their hidden biddings 2002:174.
Their crawl around town goes on; They enter Mad Cyril's shop, enter an unnamed pub opposite the shop in which they accost two female customers, and then consider going to new bar up by the Market Hall 'Looks dead fuckin posh it does' (2002: 183). They decide on The Angel, via the Spar, where they buy some whiskey to go. They walk past The Glengower Hotel:
the sun is beginning to sink now and a cold wind is blowing in off the bay, and down on to the pebbly beach and they find a small sheltered recess in the tall wall of ConstitutionHill and sit in it out of the breeze's bite and the encroaching shadows although they will be on them soon… 2002:185.
The scene ends when Roger and Ianto leave the beach, to 'the nearest lights and music and people and booze on tap' (2002: 188). For Ianto, away from the wild and solitary if not alone, he is leaving, as Griffiths describes, to 'something that is not his' (ibid.).
Well, the mountains… they've never been bastard safe Danny, in Griffiths, p. 239.
Traditionally, wilderness has to be located in a place distant and remote from human habitation – in the mountains for example. According to Ianto's friends in Sheepshagger, such mountainous wilds are rarely ever safe. Despite its proximity to human habitation, for Griffiths the hinterland of Aberystwyth is a true wilderness.
This plotline takes Ianto from his urban crawls into his wild country. We start in the rain in Aberystwyth, where he waits for a bus inland, ominously only buying a single fare.
he …leaves the house and walks through the falling grey rain to the bus stop opposite the goods entrance to Somerfield, where trucks fart and grumble as they unload like great and patient beasts.
He waits a while watching at his feet a sopping pancake of dog shit with a frill of sucking slugs for the next bus to arrive and when it does he is like something dredged from the harbour long sodden in silt and brine, a being discarnate of mud and stagnant water waiting whitely in the wet. His skin appears so waterlogged it seems that a poking finger would sink in knuckle-deep. The bus hisses to a halt by him and the doors sigh open.
-Duw, get on quick, boy, before yew catch pneumonia. Yewer wet bloody through.
Ianto steps on.
-Corris p. 194.
The Journey to Corris
Corris is a town approximately 25 miles to the north of Aberystwyth, on the A487. Griffiths takes us on the route that bus would have taken:
Through the Penparcau estate the bus moves and out again of this warren, passing the huge billboards there from the large banks designed to attract the potential student custom arriving from southern England; the boons on offer, a huge £20 note bigger than some of the rooms Ianto has slept in, bigger than the living rooms of the houses on this estate. Out on to the mountain road and lanto sees the small huddled villages and seeping sheep and the grey-bellied sky over it all and the meandering river the colour of strong coffee and the vast expanse of Borth bog, steam rising, it stretching to the blurred horizon over the far estuary, where the mountains swell above the broken white line of Aberdyfi, a weak shaft of sunlight spilling across their grey and distant crests. Machynlleth is a small flurry of opening shops and busy workers and wet traffic seen through rain-slick glass; headlights burning through the drizzle and the streetlights still bowed and blushing, somehow dreamlike and unreal as if it is the hours of night yet, but the sky has not darkened nor will it. Ianto is carried over the swollen river straining its banks and he sees mountains rising rising, small whitewashed cottages chimney-smoking and mist and more green mountains rising, these parts of his own small country ancient and arcane this hard demanding land he was born on and into its small roads and sheeptracks leading maybe to marvel and secrecies revealed. Umbilicus unseen never to be snapped the brutal beauty of this place has battered itself into his blood, his brains. He alights at Corris and crosses the road to look down at and on to the valley-bottom village, wet roofs, puffin chimneys penetrating the low mist like the backs of breaching sea-creatures p. 195.
Once Ianto has left the bus, the shift into a 'green' amodern cartography is clear. In the hinterland of Ceredigion we begin to lose the exactitude of location that defined the modern mapping of the town, and move again into the more poetic, folded, and scrumpled mapping of Ianto's wild. This shift in mapping Ianto's surroundings is mirrored in the mapping of his self. It is as if, from the stranger in the strange urban land, Ianto becomes be-wildered as he steps into the hinterland. With each step into what one feels may be his last foray into the mountains, he becomes fully transformed into his natural state of half-pilgrim, half-animal; a spiritualised centaur of the wild:
He leaves the road and takes a path which leads up into the mountains, going deeper. Going further. Higher into these lumps of rock like separate planets in themselves. He keeps to the path little more than a sheeptrack turning to midden now for a mile or two climbing climbing skywards and then he leaves that too and clambers up mud and grass and scree, bedraggled mountain man dragging himself up towards the heavens on fingers ripped and bleeding soaked to the cold bone and caked from the knees down in mud like some peculiar centaur, some horrid hybrid of flesh and filth. Panting he reaches the mountain top, the bare branches of two trees over a nearby crest as if some giant stag lurks there for him, and fully exposed to the wind which slaps his lank hair against his face he pull s the hood of his blue anorak up over his head and walks like that, like some oblate, some monk, across the scraped and skytorn mountains opening up into a waun over the thin and desiccated grass and hard spurs of rock and through the infrequent ruins of farmsteads and cottages their tenants long fled leaving the rooves to rot and crumble and the walls to fall and these leavings dot this ravaged place, a settlement, a civilisation entire decimated not by bomb from air or land nor by any flame from man's hand but by the immeasurable barrage of time itself, its patient picking and pulling, and the slow drift and shift of the mountains and the artillery wet and electric from the never-brightening sky.
Cresting one wind-razored rise another rise, rise upon rise, this place taking him forever upwards, the world opens out below him in a colossal spread and he can see the distant dull nickel of Bala lake to the north between two cloud-capped humps and to the south Tal-y-llyn is another grey escarpment in the rain under the faded sky, the towns Bala and Abergynolwyn respectively clustered at their furthest shores like sedge or bulrush on smaller waters and closer to him at dizzying depth he can see the grey stone and mist of Dolgellau, its tight and twisted streets looking huddled, embattled and besieged, the characteristic air of mountain towns. He stands and surveys this immense space and feels inside him in his lungs in his blood that it is his. That it is one vastness before which his mind will not shrink or recoil; that this unknown will not affright him as it might others. That it is possessed of a voice and a codicil and that he is its only knower p. 196-8.
Into the mountains, Ianto surveys a landscape that he is now fully part of. This is not a landscape for contemplation or leisure, but one to be in awe of, and perhaps frightened by. In this scape Ianto becomes Griffiths' version of wilderness personified – he is the 'wildeor', the wild beast. He is from this land and has developed a primal sense of place, he is not the conqueror of the land but a person fully in tune with his geological and ecological rhythms. And unlike a nature that is convivial and co-operative, Ianto is ready to resist and violently oppose any colonisations. Ianto's actions could be understood as simply a form of anti-colonial, and anti-English, resistance. However, in line with Griffiths' Mabinogion critique of narrow-minded nationalism in his The Dreams of Max and Ronnie 2010, his retelling of two stories from the Mabinogion, and his sympathy with more eco-logics, it is better read as a challenge to a cultural trait that ignores the value of nature. As Griffiths states, the challenge Ianto offers is:
[The challenge Ianto offers is] more class-based than nation-based, I feel, and I don't want to augment anyone's sense of indignant victimology (nor, indeed, dissolve it; we all need crutches, don't we?), but I do despair at the Playground Wales mentality that a lot of wealthy English people have. I despair at the smug and soul-less attitude that assumes that everything can be bought, that everyone has a price in Brockway, 2004:no page.
Although in many writings, Griffiths has railed against English incursions through forestry on the wild land, turbines in its air, dams to its water, as well as explicitly referencing a monument to fabled Welsh resistance fighter Owain Glwyndwr within the text, he argues that Ianto's response to his cultural and geographical dispossession cannot be easily pinned down by a nationalist or even Marxist logic. Perhaps only an eco- or even geo-logic and help fully explain Ianto's moves to preserve the sanctity of his wild space. As the blurb to Sheepshagger states, Ianto, "pledges revenge not only on the English yuppies who have turned his grandmother's cottage into a weekenders' barbecue party but on all those who have violated him and the land that is his. This latest act of colonial oppression and desecration triggers his lurid and strange imagination into unspeakable savagery - embodying our most primal fears of physical threat, a world beyond our control". Griffiths describes Ianto's state of mind.
Location, Language and Legend
As we have seen in the Origins plotline, when Ianto is in the wild all conventional cartography is suspended. In the real world, it is impossible to see all the landmarks outlined by Griffiths at the summit of Ianto's climb, but the fact that Ianto can – or imagines he can – conveys the impression that Ianto has become part of this new scape; if not a ruler of it, than a centaur evolved to protect it. Over its vast expanse from Ynys Mon to the north, to the southern tip of the Pulmunon Valley, Ianto surveys it all.
This evolution of Ianto adds a quasi-mythological element to the final sections of Sheepshagger. It is as if its cartography and the world Griffiths is mapping have gone beyond the real into something truer – where geological time becomes the focus of our attention, and values beyond the present hold greater weight. The world of near-legend status is matched by the prose delivered by Griffiths throughout. This is a very different language choice to the sparse, pared back vocabulary used in his novel Runt 2007, and chosen to suggest the wild, brutal, otherness of Sheepshagger.
The following excerpt usefully illustrates the ability of Griffith's language to confer an alliterative, consonant-hard edge to the narrative, helping to add a quasi-mythical quality to the story, especially here, when the spent-Ianto notices a (real or imagined?) cottage in the wringing wet woods:
To his left over the hill and across the field past the lightning- blasted tree lies the house in which he spent his childhood, but he will not move towards the shame that awaits him there and instead he walks in the opposite direction, hunched, soused shape trudging through the grey rain. Mucoid being wringing wet. Wraith born in swamp of deluge and of drench. He follows a sheeptrack around a mountain, Dolgellau sprawling out beneath him, and he crests that mountain and enters for shelter a small copse of pine trees. He squats beneath the lowest branches of a fir, the rain hissing in his ears, and stays like that until he notices smoke rising through the trees some small distance away, little clouds of it puffing up out of a hollow. Leaving his poor shelter he walks squelching towards that signal and down into the hollow and sees a small whitewashed cottage there like an illustration for a fairy tale, orange firelight flickering in its quartered windows, a satellite dish bolted to the gable end like some giant fungus. He approaches it through the tall thin trees, his clothes hanging soaked off his skinny frame, stinking with spilled blood and bad water and piss and vomit splashed up on to his chest, and his hair clotted and reeking and his eyes hot and hollow with the horror he has seen, has caused, a thick scab of blood not his cracking on his lips and chin like a phantom from delirium he is hobgobli n from hallucination risen thus adorned from the very forest floor and he drifts, the wet ruin of him through the trees and up to the cottage and knocks with a split knuckle on the heavy riveted oaken door. There is no answer so he knocks again louder and shuffles his feet on the slate slabs he stands on and the door slowly opens and a small wrinkled old lady blinks up at him through the thick lenses of her spectacles a small gummy smile on her pale lips and if she is startled or perturbed in any way by her strange and dishevelled visitor she gives no sign. She has pale blue eyes and a small croak of a voice as of a warm wind rustling rushes:
-Ia? Ca'i eich helpu chi, machgan i?
Ianto blinks down at her and does not know what to say standing uninvited on her doorstep bedecked in blood and ordure in a sour puddle of his own and others' sloughed filth and so she repeats her question:
-Ca'i eich helpu chi? Chi'n edrych ar goll.
He swallows and finds his voice and it carries no more weight than hers:
-I'm, erm, I'm sorry to bother yew. I'm lost. I'm cold and I'm lost and I've, erm, I've had, like, an accident.
She smiles up at him looking only at his face and then she stands aside.
-Dewch i mewn.
He steps into the warmth of the small house... p. 212.
Before we reach the end of the novel, in a house located somewhere in the wilds, Ianto finds (or simply imagines) a home. A caring woman, reminiscent of his Mamcu, offers solace to him, speaking to him from the past and in the indigenous tongue. This figure, not completely alien to Celtic fable and myth, serves to create a place for Ianto which not only feeds his body, but also nourishes his soul, appearing perhaps to reassure him that although his exploits have broken the laws of the land, they have not transgressed the lores of this wild landscape.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: THIS LOCALITY INFORMATION IS FOR REFERENCE PURPOSES ONLY. UNLESS THERE IS A PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAY, YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO VISIT ANY SITES LISTED WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE LAND HOLDERS.