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The Mabinogion
      The Mabinogion Tetraology
Lady Charlotte Guest, translator
      Evangeline Walton
Voyager (Harper Collins UK), 355 pages
      Overlook Press, 980 pages

Lady Charlotte Guest
Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest (née Bertie), daughter of Albemarle Bertie, 9th Earl of Lindsey, was born at Uffington House, Lincolnshire, on the 19th of May 1812. As a young woman she was not expected to be educated, but taught herself French and Italian, and studied with her brothers' tutors to learn Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Persian. Additionally, Guest studied archeology and became well-read in medieval history and legends, which fascinated her. In 1833 she married Sir Josiah John Guest, a mere "tradesman" and moved to rural Wales, creating quite a scandal at the time. Sir Guest managed and later owned the Dowlais Ironworks near Merthyr Tydvil (at one time the largest ironworks in the world). Lady Guest studied the Welsh language and literature, and published (3 vols., 1838-1849) The Mabinogion, from the Llyfr Coch o Hergest, and other ancient Welsh Manuscripts, with an English translation and notes, with some help from the Welsh bard, John Jones Tegid. A second edition without the Welsh text appeared in 1877, and in 1881 The Boy's Mabinogion; being the earliest Welsh tales of King Arthur in the famous Red Book of Hergest.

She had 10 children, was involved in educational reform, the founding of schools for the working class, workers' rights and strike negotiations, and later the setting up of shelters for London cab drivers, and other philanthropic works. She served as an accountant for the ironworks, and upon the death of her husband in 1852, she singlehandedly and profitably ran the ironworks until 1855 when she married Charles Schreiber, M.P. for Cheltenham and Poole and an academic at Cambridge who had tutored her eldest son Ivor. Travelling the world with her new husband, she accumulated a valuable collection of porcelain and china, now in the South Kensington Museum, another of fans and fan leaves (the first such collection in the world), presented to the British Museum, and one of playing cards, part of which is in the British Museum. On all three subjects, she left elaborate treatises. She also amassed a large collection of Assyrian artifacts through her close association with the discoverer of Nineveh, Austen Layard, which later ended up in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She died, after a short illness, on the 15th of January 1895 at Canford Manor, Dorset, at the house of her eldest son Ivor Guest, Baron Wimborne.

BIOGRAPHY: 1, 2, 3, 4
E-TEXT: Guest's translation of The Mabinogion: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Comparison of Guest's version
Guest's Assyrian interests
Origins of Mabinogion
Discussion of "Taliesin"
Publisher's page

Evangeline Walton
Born November 24th 1907, Evangeline Walton Ensley published her first book based on the Mabinogion, The Virgin and the Swine in 1936. In 1945 she published a dark brooding Gothic novel Witch House. The Cross and the Sword (1956) told of the early days of Christianity among the Vikings, while The Sword is Forged told of the trials of an Amazon queen captured by Theseus. On the prompting of Lin Carter, she wrote three new Mabinogion-based novels: The Children of Llyr (1971), The Song of Rhiannon (1972; winner of the Mythopoeic Award for 1973), and The Prince of Annwn (1974) for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. Her earlier The Virgin and the Swine was reprinted as The Island of the Mighty (1970). She was honoured by the World Fantasy Convention with a Convention Award in 1984 and a Life Achievement Award in 1989. She died March 11, 1996.

David Lenander's Reminiscences of E. Walton
BOOK REVIEWS: The Mabinogion-based series: 1, 2
Publisher's page
Covers of Ballantine editions
Evangeline Walton's signature
Photo of E. Walton, age 82

A review by Georges T. Dodds

The Mabinogion Wow! The people at Harper Collins/Voyager really put together a beaut' in The Mabinogion, something reminiscent of the lovely illustrated editions of late Victorian and Edwardian times. A lovely, evocative and eminently readable, if bowlderized, translation of the 14th century Red Book of Hergest and the late 16th century "Peniardd M.S." with fifty (50!) gorgeous colour plates by Alan Lee, who recently illustrated The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, make this edition of the Mabinogion a joy to behold, to read, and the quality of its production make it an edition worthy of a prominent place on anyone's bookshelves.

I had read the entire Mabinogion in the Penguin classics edition some 20 years ago, after having been introduced to it by Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion books issued in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. The Gantz translation in the Penguin edition, more accurate than Guest's by the mere fact that it includes "the naughty bits" left out by Guest, doesn't capture for me the mood and in particular the diction of great fantasy (nor was it likely to be the intent). Now admittedly, most modern translations of Welsh or Irish mythological texts are done by academics for academics, with the accuracy of translation being of primary importance, not its readability for the mere fantasy aficionado. To me good fantasy prose is that of Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, William Morris, or James Branch Cabell, authors largely ignored today. Similarly, for all its inaccuracies by current standards, the King James version of the Bible has the right "feel." For me, Guest's translation, which is only really flawed by its omissions, captures the mood of fantasy inherent in the source material, and the slightly antiquated diction enhances rather than detracts from the atmosphere. Somewhere I cannot recall, I saw Guest's translation compared with Edward William Lane contemporaneous (1838-1840) translation of the 1001 Nights, both were bowdlerized, but both fully captured the mood or aura of the original. A comparison of the four main translations of the Mabinogion currently available, including Guest's is presented below.

A glance at the links to the many electronic copies of Guest's translation online might suggest that you can do without this particular edition, but unlike those, this one has several bonuses going for it: (1) it contains all of Lady Charlotte Guest's original introduction and endnotes (some 120 pages of them) including what appear to be the original accompanying illustrations, (2) it is lavishly illustrated in a style that combines the Pre-Raphaelite style current in Guest's day, and Celtic symbolism and artistry: the gorgeous (yes I know I've said this before) paintings of Alan Lee, (3) you get some of the earliest Arthurian material with a minimum of Christian reinterpretation, and (4) you get a bonus tale, "Taliesin," not now considered part of the Mabinogion proper, but of ancient Welsh provenance nonetheless.

Saying that the Mabinogion has influenced or served as material for a number of fantasy authors is perhaps a bit overly obvious (see here for a fuller discussion). A concise summary of the nature of the texts making up the Mabinogion and their sources is presented here. Certainly fantasy works like Kenneth Morris's (a Welshman himself) The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914) and Book of the Three Dragons (1930), Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, and Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetraology are the more direct and obvious offspring of the original Mabinogion. The former, is actually not a tetraology but a single book followed some 35 years later by a trilogy.

The Mabinogion Tetraology Walton's Mabinogion Tetraology, reprinted by Overlook Press, retells the four branches of the Mabinogion, the oldest and most strictly Welsh texts of the Mabinogion: "Pwyll Prince of Dyfed," "Branwen Daughter of Llyr," "Manawyddan Son of Llyr," and "Math Son of Mathonwy." as Prince of Annwn, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and The Island of the Mighty, respectively. Walton fleshes out the characters, history and landscapes of the Mabinogion, gives the characters motivations and personalities, and writes what is certainly among the top 5 fantasy series of the 20th century -- it's not for nothing that, on the basis of only 6 genre books, she received both a lifetime achievement award from the World Fantasy Convention and the Mythopoeic Award. While the writing is more in the genre of earlier fantasists, the quality of the storytelling will make you forget any difficulties you might have with the prose. It is remarkable that, with a bit of psychoanalysis and the couching of a portion of the narratives in the context of the evolution of a matriarchical society into a patriarchical one, Walton updates these ancient texts in a very 20th century manner, without losing their sense of magic and otherworldliness. Whether you choose Lady Charlotte Guest's or Evangeline Walton's version of these ancient Welsh tales, or both, you'll have made an investment in some of the most distinctive and original mythology or fantasy in existence.

Copyright © 2002 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

Translations of the Mabinogion: Pwyll Prince of Dyved
Lady Charlotte Guest
this edition
Gwyn and Thomas Jones
Everyman Classics
Jeffrey Gantz
Penguin Classics
Patrick K. Ford
Univ. California Press
Pwyll Prince of Dyved was lord of the seven Cantrevs of Dyved; and once upon a time he was at Narberth his chief palace, and he was minded to go and hunt, and the part of his dominions in which it pleased him to hunt was Glyn Cuch. So he set forth from Narberth that night, and went as far as Llwyn Diarwyd. And that night he tarried there, and early on the morrow he rose and came to Glyn Cuch, when he let loose the dogs in the wood, and sounded the horn, and began the chase. And as he followed the dogs, he lost his companions; and whilst he listened to the hounds, he heard the cry of other hounds, a cry different from his own, and coming in the opposite direction.

And he beheld a glade in the wood forming a level plain, and as his dogs came to the edge of the glade, he saw a stag before the other dogs. And lo, as it reached the middle of the glade, the dogs that followed the stag overtook it and brought it down. Then looked he at the colour of the dogs, staying not to look at the stag, and of all of the hounds he had seen in the world, he had never seen any that were like unto these. For their hair was of a brilliant shining white, and their ears were red; and as the whiteness of their bodies shone, so did the redness of their ears glisten. And he came towards the dogs, and drove away those that had brought down the stag, and set his own dogs upon it.

Pwyll prince of Dyfed was lord over the seven cantrefs of Dyfed; and once upon a time he was at Arberth, a chief court of his, and it came into his head and heart to go a-hunting. The part of his domain which it pleased him to hunt was Glyn Cuch. And he set out that night from Arberth, and came as far as Pen Llwyn Diarwya, and there he was that night. And on the morrow in the young of the day he arose and came to Glyn Cuch to loose his dogs into the wood. And he sounded his horn and beganm to muster the hunt, and followed after the dogs and lost his companions; and whilst he was listening to the cry of the pack, he could hear the cry of another pack but they had not the same cry, and were coming to meet his own pack.

And he could see a clearing in the wood as of a level field, and as his pack reached the edge of the clearing, he could see a stag in front of the other pack. And towards the middle of the clearing, lo, the pack that was pursuing it overtaking it and bringing it to the ground. And then he looked at the colour of the pack, without troubling to look at the stag; and of all the hounds he had seen in the world, he had seen no dogs the same colour as these. The colour that was on them was a brilliant shining white, and their ears red; and as the exceeding whiteness of the gods glittered, so glittered the exceeding redness of their ears. And with that he came to the dogs, and drove away the pack that had killed the stag, and baited his own pack upon the stag.

Pwyll Lord of Dyved ruled over the seven cantrevs of that land. One day, when he was in his chief court at Arberth, his thoughts and desires turned to hunting. Gyynn Cuch was the part of his realm he wanted to hunt, so he set out that evening from Arberth and went as far as Penn Llwyn on Bwya, where he spent the night. At dawn the next day he rose and made for Glynn Cuch, in order to turn his hounds loose in the firest; he blew his horn and began to muster the hunt, but in riding after the hounds he became separated from his companions. As he listened to the baying of his pack he perceived the cry of another pack, a differnt cry which was advancing towards him. He spied a clearing in the forest, a level field, and as his pack reached the edge of the field he saw the other pack with the stag running before it, and near the centre of the clearing this other pack overtook the stag and brought it down. Pwyll at once remarked the pack's colour, without bothering to look at the stag, for no hound he had ever seen was the colour of these: a dazzling shining white with red ears, and as the whiteness of the dogs shone so did the redness of their ears. Even so he approached and drove off the strange hounds and baited his own upon the stag.

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, was lord over the seven cantrefs of Dyfed. One time he was in Arberth, his principal court, and it came into his head and mind to go hunting. The part of his realm he wished to hunt was called Glyn Cuch. He set out that night from Arberth, and came as far as Pen Llwyn Diarwys; there he stayed that night. The following day at dawn he rose, and came to Glyn Cuch to let his hounds loose in the woods. He sounded his horn, began to muster the hunt, and set off behind his dogs -- but he got separated from his companions. As he was listening to the cry of his hunting-pack, he heard the cry of another, and they were not the same; the other was coming towards his own. He could see a clearing in the woods, a kind of level field, and as his own pack reached the edge of the clearing, he could see a stag in front of the other. Toward the middle of the clearing, the pack chasing the stag overtook it and bore it to the ground.

He looked at the color of the hounds, not bothering to look at the stag, and of all the hunting dogs he had seen in the world, he had never seen dogs the color of them. Glittering bright white was their color, and their ears red: the redness of the ears glittered as brightly as the whiteness of their bodies. Thereupon, he came to the dogs and drove off the pack that had killed the stag, feeding his own pack on it.

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