Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Song of Rhiannon: The Third Branch of the Mabinogion

Book Review: The Song of Rhiannon: The Third Branch of the Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton (Ballantine 1972)

Awesome book – a fantasy novel version of the classic Welsh Myths that come from the Celtic bardic oral tradition and were written down by monks in the Middle Ages (1200’s). This is the story of Manawyddan the son of Llyr (equivalent to the Irish sea god Mannanan mac Lyr) and of Rhiannon of the Bright World who chose earth life to be the wife of Pwyll – the king of Dyved. This part takes place after Pwyll’s death but is also about his heir Pryderi who grows to be king who takes care of his people.

By the Mothers, the Mound at Arberth was an entrance to Other Worlds. Far greater was the power of those there than the mere Druid’s enchantments on the earth plane. It was said that a few days in the Bright World was several years time on earth – so the magic ones can seem very patient. But the Druids can be said to be “among the followers of Keridwen, the Dark Queen of the Lake, the Goddess that is older than any God. As indeed is only fitting, since She-That-Brings-Forth is the first symbol of creation known to man.” Apparently the Bright World is considered different from the world called Annwn: “In Anwnn, the first world above yours, there is still violence; ..... But in the Bright World we have outgrown violence. We still war, but with magic and trickery, we who have far more brain than you to trick with – and other powers that you cannot dream of.” The one who comes from the Bright World to the Mound at Arberth is called - The Gray Man, Son of Him that Hides in the Wood. Once he appeared as a high Druid wearing: “That ring that was of the holy mystic stone called Glain Neidr; that stone is made by serpents, and both its making and its using are among the Mysteries.”

The author says that her original rule was never to alter anything she found in The Four Branches of the Mabinogi – though she says she bent it considerably in this book. Her Mound of Arberth is given in the original as a disappearing magic castle but she notes that castles were not around before the Norman Conquest of Britain and that she thinks it is an addition by the monks. The mounds were pre-Celtic burial chambers. She suggests that the Gray Man equates to Gawain’s Green Knight. She quotes from Celtic Folklorist Sir John Rhys that: “ ... the kings are mostly the greatest magicians of their time ... the ruling class in these stories ... had their magic handed down from generation to generation.”

I look forward to seeking out the other three paperbacks in this series – Prince of Annwn – The Children of Llyr – and The Island of the Mighty – each a branch of the Mabinogion. Having read various excerpts from the Mabinogion I can say that this novelized version is much more pleasant and exciting to read. Enjoy!

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