Book By My Bedside: The Mabinogion

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Title: The Mabinogion

Author: Anonymous

What I think so far: I had seen a documentary on this book which inspired me to read it (it has been hailed as the basis for the majority of UK fantasy literature post-thirteenth-century) and picked it up for €2 in a second-hand Spanish market. It’s a collection of eleven ancient Welsh folk tales which were composed orally and eventually compiled into the present collection, and the best word I can use to describe it is ‘baffling’.

Amid spontaneously combusting vegetation, unpronounceable Welsh names and bemusing paradoxes we see various kings, lords and knights fight battles and unite kingdoms with a little intervention from ancient magic. Once described as ‘more fictional than fiction’, the stories contain vivid imagery and startling plot twists which contribute overall to metaphoric and moral conclusions.

The majestic images of great kings riding into battle to rescue maidens in distress, or young protagonists overcoming the odds to win the hand of a ravishing princess, are romantic if somewhat clichéd. Yet it is interesting to note that sources like this are the origins of such stock characters and plots, and the tales including Arthurian legend are particularly memorable.

Would I recommend?: Overall, yes, if simply because of the parallels which can be drawn between the tales here and much of modern fantasy literature (for instance, Caswallawn’s mantle of invisibility from the second branch of the Mabinogi bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak). However, readers should be aware that the obvious and occasionally awkward translation style of writing can take some getting used to. I would classify it as the human version of Aesop’s Fables.

Rating: 6/10

Words by Annabelle Fuller

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