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The Mabinogion [Paperback]

Lady Charlotte E. Guest
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 24 1997 0486295419 978-0486295411 1
Collection of 12 medieval Welsh stories considered a masterpiece of European literature. Includes Kilhwch and Olwen, one of the earliest Arthurian tales in Welsh; The Dream of Rhonabwy; 3 Arthurian romances: The Lady of the Fountain, Peredur the Son of Evrawc and Geraint the Son of Erbin, and more.

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About the Author

Alan Lee was born in Middlesex in 1947. His illustrated books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Castles and Merlin Dreams, and has worked on such prestigious films as Erik the Viking (Terry Gilliam), Legend (Ridley Scott), and the acclaimed NBC miniseries Merlin. He is best known however for his work on the book and film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
King Arthur was at Caerlleon upon Usk; and one day he sat in his chamber; and with him were Owain the son of Urien, and Kynon the son of Clydno, and Kai the son of Kyner; and Gwenhwyvar and her handmaidens at needlework by the window. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good source of info April 27 2002
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
A competant enough translation, not the best or the worst that is out there. I can't say yea or nay about how Lady Charlotte Guest did with the source materials of the book, but I have to say that it's pretty entertaining.
It chronicles various tales from Wales, going back to ancient legends about heroes and gods, and then forward in time to recognizable elements such as King Arthur. Since this is a Dover thrift book (one of the pricier ones, since it's longer) the quality is so-so; the cover artwork is better than most of the thrift books, and the paper is only a little better than newpaper-quality.
In terms of readability, however, Guest's Mabinogion does not win any prizes. The translated sentences really could use a little tweaking, and often dialogue between several people is crammed together into one long paragraph. This is not only distracting, but hard to read.
Overall, it is fairly nice but needs an editor to tweak it in places. Fans of fantasy as well as mythology may want to check this out, especially if they are fans of the Prydain or Lost Years of Merlin series. For more readable Celtic myths, try Ella Young's "Celtic Wonder Tales."
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Piece Of Art June 20 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Lady Charlotte Guest was one of the first to transcribe The Mabingion in 1838. I would suggest reading a more up to date version if you are a beginner to Welsh myth. If you love the stories in the Mabingion this is a great addition to your collection. The illustrations by Alan Lee are just breathtaking and fit the stories perfectly. Get the hardback edition because it does come with Lady Guest's detailed notes. I would say it was well worth the money and will be a well loved book in my collection.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Read Feb. 5 2003
Format:Paperback
This review is 100% opinion. While the mythology and legends inside are interesting, full of great characters and contain wisdom and understanding of the Celtic mindset, I felt that the storytelling itself was very poorly done. This may be a result of the translation, I haven't read another version yet to compare, or it may be a result of the writing itself. In either case, I couldn't immerse myself fully into the stories. They didn't "carry me away" as it were.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Celtic Classic Dec 26 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Gathered from three medieval Welsh texts, these translations by Lady Charlotte Guest of the ancient myths of Wales come alive with stories of Arthur and his knights, the Grail, Taliesin (not included in other translations), and the 4 Branches of the Mabinogi--the life of Pryderi ap Pwyll, a counterpart to the god Mabon ap Modron, and his encounters with the Children of Llyr, god of the sea, and the Children of Don, goddess of earth. The only problem with this edition is that it doesn't include Guest's endnotes, which contain even more Welsh lore and mythology. (I had to borrow an older edition from the library in Philadelphia).
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: More Victorian than Medieval? Jan. 22 2005
By Ian M. Slater - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Lady Charlotte Guest was a daughter of the ninth Earl of Lindsey, and so a member of the English upper class. Born in 1812, she came to Wales as the wife of John Guest, an ironmaster and member of parliament, and while residing there began to work on translating a number of stories from medieval and early modern Welsh manuscripts, eventually published in seven volumes, 1838-1845, as "The Mabinogion." (The title is itself a mistake, but now so embedded in usage that it may never be eradicated.) It was very aristocratic way of involving herself in Welsh culture, and certainly avoided many of the grubby realities, although that may not have been what she intended.

She was not the first translator of some of the stories, and she had assistance, but, considering that she was starting from learning Welsh to begin with, her industry is impressive, and the literary success of her project well deserved -- Tennyson was only one of her admirers. The stories she translated have, with minor variations, become a canonical set: she used pretty much every example of early secular Welsh narrative that wasn't either plainly historical or clearly a straightforward translation from another language. Her version was, and is, widely read, and has helped form a vision of Welsh (and generally Celtic) literature of considerable influence -- not all of it good.

Her husband's death, and her involvement in managing his business, another extraordinary effort for a proper early-Victorian Lady, took Charlotte Guest away from medieval Welsh studies; from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. After her remarriage to Charles Schreiber (her son's tutor, another interesting story), she turned her energies in a third direction, the collection of ceramics. (To my considerable annoyance, the modern editor of her journals considered this of far, far more importance than either the iron industry or that Welsh literature stuff, and omitted much of both to make room for descriptions of buying fine porcelain ... .) She then went on to become on expert on fans, as well. Much more ladylike, I'm sure; except that she also became an authority on their construction. A really remarkable person, deserving of respect.

This is relevant because, although she lived until 1895, her work on medieval Welsh effectively came to an end a half-century before, and was that of a devoted amateur even then. The translation was not only based on poorly-edited texts, imperfectly understood: in accordance with the practice of the time, she omitted, or at least veiled in obscure phrasing, whatever she found morally offensive, and cut or expanded descriptions, and, generally produced a work that, except on the level of graceful writing, has not stood up well.

Add that early nineteenth-century Welsh studies were plagued by the hand of Iolo Morganwg, who combined real learning with a taste for fraud, and you will realize that what she says may be not only obsolete, but a good-faith repetition of falsified texts, or complete fabrications. (For example, Iolo wrote two sets of Welsh Triads to go along with the real ones; his versions are still being quoted by the unaware, the careless, and those who can't bear to give up a convenient lie.)

However, Charlotte Guest's "Mabinogion" is long out of copyright, which seems to guarantee it a place in some publishers' lists.

Editions which include at least some of the notes she provided still have some value as representing early nineteenth-century knowledge of Welsh literature in the English-speaking world. The 1906 Everyman's Library edition is an example of this approach; a small (mass-market paperback size) hardcover, based on a one-volume edition of 1877, it was almost 450 pages long. In fact, a full, critical edition of her work would probably be of great importance to Victorian studies.

The edition illustrated by Alan Lee reportedly includes Guest's notes; if so, it must be a striking combination of modern fantasy art and useful resource. Stories-only editions of the Guest translation, however inexpensive, are of much less, even dubious, value. The reader may think, "so this is what it is like," when it isn't.

Still, a searchable digital text is an enormous convenience, so long as it isn't mistaken for something definitive, or even very reliable. And a convenient paperback, like the Dover Thrift Edition, is probably a great convenience for readers of Tennyson, and a lot of early twentieth-century Celtic and Arthurian fiction (although even for this, her notes are sometimes of equal or greater importance).

For those with any real interest in the subject, three other translations are available. Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones translated "The Mabinogion" in the 1940s, and their version replaced Guest's in the Everyman's Library series in 1949. After several revisions, it remains in print, in hardcover (Knopf) and paperback (Everyman Paperback Classics). I have reviewed the paperback edition of this at some length.

More recent is Jeffrey Gantz's "The Mabinogion" for Penguin Classics (1976), which is more modern in language. Like Jones and Jones (and a now-unavailable 1929 translation), Gantz omits one of Guest's selections, "The Tale of Taliesin." He also departs from the usual spelling of some characters' names, for reasons which do not seem entirely clear. As prose, it doesn't seem to me close to Jones and Jones, and well behind Guest, but some people seem to prefer it.

Finally, we come to "The Mabinogi, and Other Medieval Welsh Tales," edited and translated by Patrick K. Ford (1977), which drops the common title, and with it three heavily French-influenced tales, and two other stories with debatable features, but restores "Taliesin," re-edited from manuscripts not subjected to Iolo Morganwg's meddling; in his version, it appears in two parts, "The Tale of Gwion Bach" and "The Tale of Taliesin." He also includes a translation of "Cad Goddeu," or "The Battle of the Trees," an unsatisfactory version of which Charlotte Guest had used in her notes. Ford's introductions are clear and informative; and he was acutely aware of the modern literary uses of the stories. (I know this last because I was taking a course from him while the translation was in draft.) The translation doesn't try to make a medieval text sound more modern than it is, but it doesn't try to make it quaint or archaic, either.

With any of these available to you, Charlotte Guest's translation will make an interesting supplement. One thing it doesn't lack is charm.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Piece Of Art June 20 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Lady Charlotte Guest was one of the first to transcribe The Mabingion in 1838. I would suggest reading a more up to date version if you are a beginner to Welsh myth. If you love the stories in the Mabingion this is a great addition to your collection. The illustrations by Alan Lee are just breathtaking and fit the stories perfectly. Get the hardback edition because it does come with Lady Guest's detailed notes. I would say it was well worth the money and will be a well loved book in my collection.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Inaccurate Sanitized Version April 7 2002
By T. F. Morgan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Mabinogion is a marvelous collection of early Welsh legends and Arthurian tales. However, if you want an accurate translation of the original work, this is not the edition you want. Lady Guest has "cleaned-up" certain parts of the tales because she considered them offensive. The only reason you might want this version is if you are overly concerned about giving an accurate version to a young child. Or if you have a specific interest in the history of scholarship of the Mabinogion. Otherwise, I would recommend getting one of the more recent, more accurate translations of the Mabinogion.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good source of info April 27 2002
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A competant enough translation, not the best or the worst that is out there. I can't say yea or nay about how Lady Charlotte Guest did with the source materials of the book, but I have to say that it's pretty entertaining.
It chronicles various tales from Wales, going back to ancient legends about heroes and gods, and then forward in time to recognizable elements such as King Arthur. Since this is a Dover thrift book (one of the pricier ones, since it's longer) the quality is so-so; the cover artwork is better than most of the thrift books, and the paper is only a little better than newpaper-quality.
In terms of readability, however, Guest's Mabinogion does not win any prizes. The translated sentences really could use a little tweaking, and often dialogue between several people is crammed together into one long paragraph. This is not only distracting, but hard to read.
Overall, it is fairly nice but needs an editor to tweak it in places. Fans of fantasy as well as mythology may want to check this out, especially if they are fans of the Prydain or Lost Years of Merlin series. For more readable Celtic myths, try Ella Young's "Celtic Wonder Tales."
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