Enter Here for Otherworld: No, Seriously. (This is Why I Love The Mabinogi.)
Posted by Melissa
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.
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?
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!
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…
About Melissagenerally 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 bollard, ireland, landscape, mabinogi, mabinogion, medieval literature, myth, otherworld, photography, wales, welsh. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.