Enter Here for Otherworld: No, Seriously. (This is Why I Love The Mabinogi.)

For the next couple of weeks, I am simultaneously researching for a major essay on Echtra Nera (a super weird, super awesome Irish tale that involves talking corpses, fairy mounds, weird time shifts, and other such delights) and preparing for my twenty minute presentation on Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet and narrative structure for a postgraduate conference here at Edinburgh Uni.

On the road in Northern Ireland, an old shell of a house caught my eye. I love these ghosts of the past. There are stories here.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying myself immensely.  A bit of Irish and a bit of Welsh and my day is set.

Today, I am focusing mainly on Pwyll and my presentation for the coming week.  Pwyll is the first of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a group of Welsh tales written in the Middle Ages with roots from a bit earlier, though we aren’t quite sure how early (lots of debate going into that particular subject, but I try to stay out of it).  My favorite thing about the stories are the stories themselves.  Yes, I appreciate the history and the language and everything that influenced the creation of these tales, but I enjoy diving into a good narrative more than I like chopping it up and investigating it in little pieces to prove things about early Welsh myths and culture and such.  I don’t think that literary analysis should be so clinical, I suppose, until you’ve learned to love the story itself.

The other day, my Welsh prof lent me a translation of the Four Branches that I’d never seen before and it took my breath away.  Because this wasn’t just any translation; it was also a picture book!  And who doesn’t like a good picture book?

I haven't yet been to Wales, but the hills in Scotland are certainly inspiring in their own right.

You see, one thing that the Welsh (and the Irish) enjoy doing in their old tales is including place-names.  They put incredible events, epic battles, magical beings right in their own remarkable countryside, very specifically named.  No surprises there.  One look at an Irish landscape and you can almost see Nera joining the band of mysterious warriors as they enter a fairy mound on Samain night…

In Bollard’s translation of the Four Branches, he has pictures by photographer Anthony Griffiths of all the various place-names mentioned in the tales.  Hills and rivers and ancient ruins color the pages.  Instead of a remote story from a distant land, you are transported to somewhere very real.  Pwyll didn’t happen upon Rhiannon on some nonexistent, nondescript hill; it happened on a real hilltop called Arberth and you can go to it today.  Will you see a wonder when you sit atop it?  Only one way to find out!

Not a Welsh Otherworld waterfall, but certainly magical.

Pictures of waterfalls that are said to lead to the Otherworld…. of the castle where Bran watched the incoming Irish fleet whose king would ask for his sister’s hand and thereby begin a series of epic and tragic conflicts… of a sunset at the spot where the seven survivors of Wales would have feasted in timeless merriment for 80 years…

How wonderful to read a story and not just imagine how it would have been, but see where the writers envisioned the tales unfolding!  How fabulous to imagine finding that waterfall that they practically signposted for us and taking a look behind it!

And this is what I am being ‘forced’ to study?  I accept!

I just need to get to the summer so I can take a trip to Wales…

Arawn, king of an Otherworld palace, guided Pwyll through the woods to his court. Pwyll spent a year there, ruling in Arawn's stead, before his battle with Arawn's greatest enemy...


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on March 20, 2012, in Art, Book Review, Books, Faerie, Ireland, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Myth, Photography, Scotland, Story, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’m still not totally in love with the Welsh tales — I enjoy them, but the Mabinogi didn’t pull me in quite as deeply as the Irish cycles did (and they’re pretty weird themselves, and need a reread by me). But a book that includes photos of the places in the tales? Yes, please! That would really help bring them alive, to see the places the original tellers had in mind. They should do that with the Irish cycles. And the Scandinavian sagas and eddas. And heck, you could do it with some medieval romances too.

    • I think that the advantage of having a leading academic in Welsh studies waxing eloquent in her amazing Welsh accent on the beauties of the tales has helped me love them just a little bit more… but I do understand why they would not really appeal to a lot of people. I have had the chance to spend a lot of time with them and see them from a lot of different angles and I think they are something special.

      But I freely admit to bias.

      In other news: Bollard has done two other volumes, including the Arthurian Welsh tales, but my prof said it wasn’t quite as good simply because there are fewer actual place-names in the Arthurian ones.

  2. I first have to say that I love all of your posts! I always make time to read it and it never fails to delight me. I have studied a lot of folktales, legends and medieval literature-mostly Scandinavian, Finnish and American (or rather the cultures that produced American culture). I definitely understand the joy of reading these stories as they are all rooted in truth, wherever and whenever that may be. It is interesting to read about stories that place themselves so immediately in the “real” world while describing very otherworldly things. Thanks again for the great post!

    • So glad you are enjoying the posts! I do love sharing a bit of my enthusiasm for these tales and meeting others who have discovered the same joy of fairytale, folktale, and myth. It’s a great place to get lost for a bit…

  3. Hello Melissa, so good to find someone so well-versed in Welsh Tradition. I did my postgraduate Myth and Legend studies at Bangor University in North Wales, so I was constantly surrounded by inspiration. Snowdonia is a marvellous place and i do hope you get there!
    There is a fantastic film part live-action/part animated based on the Mabinogi (you’ve probably seen it) worth a google if you haven’t xx

    • What a fabulous postgrad degree in a fabulous location. Wales is on my list, but I have about five countries to tour in the next two months and then an essay and a dissertation to grapple with. I will save it as a well earned long weekend somewhere in the middle of the summer, I think. Every time my Welsh prof talks about Wales, I am inspired to drop everything and book a train ticket immediately!

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