Monday, April 11, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: The Mabinogion

Week 15: A book with magic

The Mabinogion

translated by Lady Charlotte Guest

So Different than What I Expected

The Mabinogion contains Welsh legends/folklore that were passed down for centuries from bard to bard. Being Welsh lore they combine magic with reality in a way that is not common elsewhere in the world. It is in this book where Arthur first appears in history.

As you work your way through this collection of tales, they become progressively easier to read. The earlier ones I found particularly cumbersome because of the Welsh names (so many!) throughout the text. I can only keep track of so many names with weird (to me) spellings that I don't know how to pronounce before I start getting lost. The names become more familiar, and shorter, the longer you read the different tales.

I picked this book particularly because if its historic importance because of the prominence Arthur plays. I thought it was a crying shame to consider myself a pseudo-Arthur buff, or at least lover of all things Arthur & super interested in the historical side of things, yet I had never read these first accounts of his existence!

It was in these accounts where I found myself quite surprised upon the reading thereof. Arthur is certainly mentioned, but he is not the central character in any of the tales in which he appears. His wife is mentioned, as is Kai and a couple others, but even they have less prominence than I suspected they would.

But the Sword in the Stone? Nada. Morgana? Not there. Even Avalon isn't mentioned! Or Camelot! Or his famous double crossed death! So much of the elementary Arthurian legend wasn't there in this, the earliest records we have of him. This surprised, but it also excites me. I have a strong urge to rabbit trail into why exactly this excites me, but the short version is that the way Arthur is presented in this work is absolutely as a historical figure. The embellishments of myth don't touch him which makes his actual existence more likely.

The last story in the Mabinogion relates to the famous bard, Taliesin. I was disappointed in the brevity of this piece. Or, I should say, the brevity of what survived of this piece, as it is obviously fragmented.

This is an important work because of Arthur, but unless you are a student or super into Arthur (like me) I doubt you'll make it through the read because it's just cumbersome at times... even though this translation is probably the best you'll find for a casual reader.

3.5 stars.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see all book in the challenge, click here.

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