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Medievally Speaking reviews: Pumed Gainc y Maginogi

Simon Rodway writes about Peredur Glyn, Pumed Gainc y Mabinogi (Talybont, Y Lolfa: 2022), at Medievally Speaking. The review was curated by Michael Evans:

"The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a collection of four medieval Welsh tales set in an imagined pre-Roman British past, have been a fruitful source of material for modern writers, both in Welsh and in English. They have inspired High Fantasy romps such as

American author Lloyd Alexander’s children’s classic Chronicles of Prydain from the 1960s or the recent highly enjoyable Welsh-language Manawydan Jones by Alun Davies, also aimed at children. Other authors have transposed the characters and plot-lines to the modern world, notably Seren Press’s series New Stories from the Mabinogion, or the wonderful recent collection in Welsh Hen Chwedlau Newydd (‘New Old Tales’) which gives us powerful new perspectives on the stories of women from the Four Branches and other medieval texts by some of the best modern Welsh writers, including Angharad Tomos, Bethan Gwanas, Lleucu Roberts and Manon Steffan Ros. Similarly, the authors who contributed to The Mab, reimaginings of the stories for children, recently reviewed by Donna R. White for Medievally Speaking, update the texts for a modern audience, with mixed results.

A recurring approach is to treat the stories as garbled myths whose protagonists are, in origin, pre-Christian gods. This has its genesis in scholarship from the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, influenced by comparative mythologists such as Max Müller, and taking its cue from the infamous pronouncement by Matthew Arnold in 1865:

The very first thing that strikes one, in reading the Mabinogion, is how evidently the mediæval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret; he is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he builds is full of materials of which he does not know the history, or knows by a glimmering tradition merely; ‑ stones ‘not of this building’, but of an older architecture, greater, cunninger, more majestical.

Celtic scholars including John Rhys, Edward Anwyl, J. A. McCulloch and W. J. Gruffydd exercised both their formidable erudition and their lively imagination in rebuilding a Celtic Halicarnassus from the peasants’ rubble and in reinstating the characters in their rightful place in a putative pan-Celtic pantheon." ... READ FULL REVIEW HERE



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