Review: The Mabinogion

The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love to read history and while these tales are not histories, they do give a perspective of what was of on the minds of early medieval readers. These are traditional Welch tales, some pre-Christian era, some related to the myths of Arthur. I found Davies translations very readable and the extensive notes were for the most part helpful in providing background and context.

The 11 stories in this collection are likely more than 1000 years old (perhaps some are much older but the written versions are in that range), and yet they are both similar to and different from modern stories. Similar in that sex and violence are common themes. Many of the fantastical elements form the basis for modern fantasy stories. Different in the way the stories are told and the expectation of what the reader will understand / accept as part of a good story. A couple of examples of that:

1. The mix of pagan, pre-Christian notions with references to the Christian God. God, for instance, in one story curses a king and his men by turning them into pigs.

2. In the "romances" in this collection, knights are constantly running about and killing people to win the hand of the "woman they love best", even to the point of killing other men to take their wives for themselves, and those wives scheming with them to do so. Perhaps an early form of "a code of chivalry" (and the medieval notion of love at first sight) when these tales were told, but certainly not a modern understanding of appropriate behavior between the sexes.

3. The understanding that children of the noble class were commonly given away to be reared by "foster parents".

I have not read the other translations that people mention in other reviews, but I enjoyed reading this enough to (at some point) seek out some of those translations.

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