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The Mabinogion -- Welsh myth and legend

Discussion in 'Literary Fiction' started by Extollager, Apr 20, 2015.

  1.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Ray suggested a separate discussion on this classic. Go here

    https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/552324/#post-1905728

    and to some following posts, then continue here!

    My understanding is that "the Mabinogion" is sort of like the Kalevala in being a modern construction that draws together medieval materials, although I suspect Lönnrot was more creatively involved with the Finnish construction than anyone was with the Welsh.
    [​IMG]
    Both works were in the old Everyman's Library series, by the way.
     
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  2.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun

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    Here's a pic of my edition (not my actual book, but the same Dorset hardcover).

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, I can't say much more about it. It's been eons since I read it and, despite the intro and other casual research, I remained confused by it, both internally and externally, more than anything else, though I did keep it in case another try would clarify things. Apparently there's a "White Book of Unspellable" and "Red Book of Unpronounceable" and some other odds and ends that were taken from various places in Europe including Wales itself by various people at various times and partly cobbled together as "The Mabinogion" (a word, itself, fraught with confusion and doubtful etymology). So much for the externals. And the internals aren't much clearer as it deals with odd people (some of whom may be Arthurian at times, in ways, or even Arthur) doing odd things (a different time and place and mentality and as hard to understand without context as our landing on the moon and posting on the internet would be to them) in "stories" that do not obey anything close to modern (c.1500-2000) storytelling principles. Still, there's something kind of mysterious and attractive about it. I look forward to reading the discussion.
     
  3.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Back when I was writing Celtic-style fantasy, I read several different translations, figuring they would (between them) perhaps bring me closer to the intent of the originals than any single translation would do.

    The White Book of Rhydderch was compiled sometime around the early 1300s, and the Red Book of Hergest perhaps a hundred years later. (Whoever it was who first put Culhwch and Olwen in writing seems to have had a really good time coming up with names for Arthur's men and a handful of ladies. It's a long list, and was a very handy source of names for fantasy writers back in my day.) So I suppose it depends on what you call modern. Parts of some of the stories were written down a century or so before the White Book, and I do not think anyone really knows how far back the oral tradition goes.

    That lovely book you have up there, Extollager, is of course the translation by Lady Charlotte Guest. "The Mabinogion" is the title she gave her translations from the Book of Hergest. She was a proper Victorian lady who, while she tried to catch something of the medieval flavor in the language of her translation, could not overcome her proper Victorian horror of some of the improprieties (nothing we would consider in the least improper) and so did "clean up" the stories so as not to shock the sensibilities of her contemporaries.

    The translation by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones is, by all accounts, much more accurate, and is (I believe -- although the opinions of scholars may have changed) considered the best. I like it the best, anyway. Jeffrey Gantz I like also, though. Patrick Ford's translation makes all the dialogue sound so terse (which perhaps it is meant to be) that I could never read it without hearing John Wayne speaking all the lines.

    The stories are rather startling on a first reading. The morality is so utterly different from our own. But the more you read of related mythologies (especially the Irish and the Arthurian cycle) the more sense they make. At least that is how it (eventually) was for me.
     
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  4.  
    Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    I've touched on it in relation to how it impacts on thr Arthurian cycle, and in its links to
    Irish mythology and, many, many years ago, read a translation of it (much simplified, too, I think.) it's impact is wide and, really, without reference to it Arthurian legends lose much of their richness.
     
  5.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    The Jones is the one I have; the Guest title page was an internet grab.
     
  6.  
    Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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  7.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I have a Penguin edition which is the Jeffrey Gantz edition. I'm glad to hear this translation is also good. I've done a little bit of research on the Maginobion so I'll need to get out my notes this coming weekend and post something.

    @Teresa: I did not see you mention Evangeline Walton's 'version' available as part of the Fantasy Masterwork series. I know you had something to say about this a few years back. Care to elaborate for us here?

    If you like Extollager you may want to also set up a thread for the Kalvela? I have the Oxford world Classic edition. Keith Rosely is the translator. I have no idea which is the better translation for this?
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  8.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Gollum, Evangeline Walton's novels retelling the four branches of the Mabinogi are excellent. Published in 1970 as part of Ballentine's Adult Fantasy imprint, her books were widely read by SFF fans at the time, and had an incalculable influence on American fantasy writers in the decades to come. (I have no idea how much influence she had or didn't have in the rest of the English speaking world.) The stories are told without flowery language with the occasional "modern" asides (I remember a reference to Gwydion inventing the first incubator when he picked up the mysterious little "something" dropped from his sister's womb, and stored it in a wooden chest until it developed into baby Llew). Her style, I believe, helped to make the stories—so very unlike anything that most of us had read before—accessible.

    In the recent thread on SFF conventions, I described meeting Evangeline Walton (a little name-dropping there, but it was pertinent to the discussion). She was a delight and it is a treasured memory.

    _____

    But to return to different translations: as well as a battered mass market paperback of the Jones and Jones translation, I also have a (much) larger sized edition with illustrations by Alan Lee.

    That Everyman edition in your picture, Extollager, looks lovely.
     
  9.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Big Rabbit of Chrons Staff Member

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    Yes, I have that one (Jones + Jones + Lee). The watercolour illustrations are gorgeous. Was yours published by Dragon's Dream?

    (Lee's pictures -- I assume the exact same set -- have also been used in a large-format hardback of the Guest translation, I've now discovered.)
     
  10.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Yes, Dragon's Dream. I did have a large-format illustrated Lady Charlotte Guest translation but I don't remember the illustrator. It was in a box of books that was either lost or buried deep in our backyard storage unit when family members took it on themselves to move most of my books from our house to a rented storage unit and then back home. It makes me sick when I think about losing those books.
     
  11.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes I recall you mentioning that meeting at the time. It has stuck in my mind ever since. Thanks for elaborating.
     
  12.  
    BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Kenneth Morris's 1913 novel Book of the Three Dragons does a retelling go the Mabinogion.
     
  13.  
    svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    John James's Not For All The Gold In Ireland reimagines some events from The Mabignion. Well worth a read and available in the Fantasy Masterworks series in the compilation Votan.

    I have a version of The Mabignion by Guest.
     
  14.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I believe that Alan Garner specifies that it's the Jones translation, an Everyman edition, that appears in Garner's Owl Service, by the way.
     
  15.  
    The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    I think my copy is somewhere in the room with the covers disintegrated. Probably means its time for a new one.
     
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