June Books 9) The Mabinogion

9) The Mabinogion

The collection of Welsh classic legends. The stories are not gems of perfection – internal inconsistencies and unresolved plot elements abound – but I found myself nonetheless carried along by most of them. Oddly enough the one that grabbed me most was Peredur, the story that later became that of Perceval or Parsifal, with his peculiar series of deeply symbolic adventures.

The Penguin explanatory apparatus was a bit annoying. A page at the start of each story, explaining what happened, and a long introduction (24 pages of a 300 page book) which all combined to present the Mabinogion as an object to study rather than literature to be enjoyed.

With all that editorial effort, I would also have liked some unpacking of the basic concepts of the Welsh society portrayed. There is a little of this – the translator explains the shifting meanings of arvei meaning first “weapons” but later “armour”, and marchawg which shifted from being a mere “horseman” to a full “knight”. But there were other concepts which the translator puts directly into English expecting that we will automatically understand what was meant in the original medieval Welsh: “king”, “court”, “girl”, “to sleep with”.

I’m very surprised that there is so little extant Welsh literature of that era; the Irish somehow must have preserved their manuscripts better? Or wrote things down sooner?

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella.

(Having just popped over to the LibraryThing page for the book, I am somewhat shocked by the racist comments: “Full of Welsh people with silly names.” “Too many y’s and l’s in general.” Appalling.)

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