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While the Arthurian romances still inspire an endless stream of books and movies, this medieval Welsh classic is relatively unknown. Perhaps, as John Updike indicates in his preface, this is because reading the book feels "as if we are dancing with a partner who hears a distinctly different music." The work is divided into 11 disparate tales. Only the four of the first section are explicitly "branches of the Mabinogi," or stories of a youth. The youth in question, according to a tradition followed by Gwyn Jones in her introduction, is Pryderi, the son of a Welsh King, Pwyll. However, the cyfarwyddi, or Welsh bards who told the tales, added so many digressions to them that Pryderi became a secondary character in a sea of folktales. Particularly interesting is the motif of the chastised wife. Pryderi's mother, Rhiannon, is punished twice. In the first tale, she is falsely accused of eating her son (who has been spirited away) and must offer herself to be ridden like a horse at the court of Arbeth. In the third tale, she and Pryderi are both put under enchantment by Llwyd, a king of the Otherworld, and are only rescued by a ruse of Manawydan, the Briton who married Rhiannon after Pwyll died. Manawydan threatens to hang a mouse who has been eating his wheat, when Llwyd appears to him and confesses that the mouse is his wife. The other tales and romances allude both to the world of the Mabinogi and Arthur's Britain. Among the best is "Culhwch and Olwen," which contains a genealogical catalogue trumping anything in Genesis. With renewed interest in Celtic culture, there might be a popular audience for this new translation, but the book will sell best in academic communities.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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