Thursday, July 14, 2011

Classic Lit: The Mabinogion

Publisher: Penguin
Translator: Jeffrey Gantz
Date: medieval (1984)
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased from Wall Street Book Exchange
Read: for the Once Upon a Read-a-Thon
Pages: 297
Reading time: three days

The Mabinogion is a group of eleven Welsh stories dating from medieval times and recorded during the thirteenth century. Drawing on Celtic mythology, folklore, and pseudo-history, the stories tell of past magical times, including the reign of King Arthur, and have been one of the influences of the fantasy genre. I found that I enjoyed reading the first five or six stories more than the others. These are the most enchanting, telling the tales of Wales and Ireland that existed before Arthur. After these, the stories become Arthurian, and the many short tales contained in each larger story and the profusion of Welsh names odd to modern readers can become confusing at times. The importance of some events and phrases are baffling without an understanding of medieval Welsh culture and manners. By the conclusion of the book, however, the stories have re-assumed their coherence and enjoyability. Many can also be read with a bit of humor, though I couldn't tell whether that was the intention of the original writers or the effect of a modern-day reader's interpretation.

Some notes:
"Pwyll Lord of Dyved" - This, the first story of the book, bears resemblance to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in its plot.
"Manawydan Son of Llyr" - Part of the plot of this one reminded me of Abraham and Isaac's issues with wells in hostile foreign nations in the Old Testament. It's kind of fun to draw comparisons between various world beliefs and stories.
"How Culhwch Won Olwen" - Most of the time, Gantz prevents the translated stories from getting too tedious for modern readers. There's not much you can do for eight pages of Welsh names and a seven-page list of quests, though.
"Peredur Son of Evrawg" - Peredur is also known as Percival, and knowing the backstory to Percival's Angel really did increase my understanding of the latter's plot.
"Gereint and Enid" - This is the final story of The Mabinogion, and the best written of the Arthurian tales. If I ever wrote a retelling of a Mabinogion story, I'd choose this. There's a lot that you can do with the character of Enid.

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  1. Hi, Susie!

    Thanks for commenting on my post, "Edith Hamilton's 'Mythology'"! I sure hope you enjoy reading it! I'll be starting on mine when I've finished the books I'm currently reading, as well as another one I recently won in a giveaway.

    BTW, I LOVE this review! It can't have been easy, going through all those Welsh names, but you stuck with it. Good for you! This is another one I've been meaning to read.

    I've just become a follower, too. You have a GREAT blog! : )

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the review! Thanks for following!