Book Review: The Mabinogion

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Fascinated with all things related to the Celtic tradition, I sought for any written sources associated with mythology and literature that would shed light on the wisdom and worldview of this culture. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the Mabinogion in an online research.

The Mabinogion are the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain, namely Wales. The book is a collection comprised of twelve stories compiled in Middle Welsh during the 12th and 13th centuries from earlier oral traditions.

The stories are highly entertaining, providing a wide panorama of fantasy, romance, drama, philosophy, tragedy and humour. Beasts and giants, magic and illusions, kings and noble ladies, knights and fair maidens, quests and lasting friendships, battles and deceptions, mercy and valour are only a small sample of what one will encounter in the pages of this book.

Set in the dual worlds between the valleys and forests of Wales and the mysterious, shadowy realms of the Otherworld, many of the tales move within a dreamlike atmosphere that weaves a web of seduction all over the reader.

In The Lady of the Fountain, Owain, a knight from king Arthur’s court, goes on a quest and slays the black night that guards the magical fountain. He falls in love and marries the lady of the fountain, but loses her when he neglects her for more knightly exploits. With the help of a lion that he saves from a serpent, he manages to find a balance between his marital and social duties and reconciles with his wife.

In Peredur the Son of Evrawc, the titular character loses his father when young and his mother raises him in isolation in the woods. After meeting a group of knights, he travels to king Arthur’s court to become like them. There, ridiculed by Kai, he sets out on further adventures, promising to avenge Kai’s insults to himself and those who defended him. While travelling he meets two of his uncles, and proceeds to further adventures, an encounter with the nine witches of Gloucester and his lady love.

In Geraint the Son of Erbin, we’re exposed to the romance between the titular character and the beautiful Enid. After the marriage, rumours circulate that Geraint has grown soft, something which causes a grave misunderstanding between the spouses. They embark on a long and dangerous trip full of adventures where Enid’s love is proven as well as Geraint’s fighting skills. The couple reconciles and Geraint inherits his father’s kingdom.

In Kilhwch and Olwen, we’re told of the curse the titular character’s stepmother places upon him to fall in love with the daughter of the giant Yspaddaden, Olwen. As cousin of king Arthur, Kilhwch travels to the king’s court to ask for his help. Arthur agrees and offers him six of his best warriors. Though Olwen responds positively, her father demands the completion of forty difficult tasks. The king and his badass crew complete the tasks; the giant is killed and Kilhwch and Olwen are free to marry.

In The Dream of Rhonabwy, the frame story narrates that Madog sends Rhonabwy and two other companions to find the prince’s rebellious brother, Iorwerth. During the pursuit they seek shelter with Heilyn the Red, but his longhouse is filthy and his beds full of fleas. There, Rhonabwy experiences a dream of Arthur and his time that involves a parody of both the Arthurian and Rhonabwy’s era where an encounter with the Saxons and a game of chess feature.

In Pwyll Prince of Dyved we read about the dual alliance with the Otherworld that the titular character forms: the lasting friendship with Arawn, lord of Annwn, and his courting and marriage to the beautiful Rhiannon as well as the birth, disappearance and final recovery of their son, Pryderi.

In Branwen the Daughter of Llyr we’re exposed to the drama of the children of Llyr: Bendigeidfran (literally Bran the Blessed) and his siblings, Efnisien, Manawyddan and Branwen.  The story deals with Branwen’s marriage to Matholwch, king of Ireland. Matholwch’s violent and unjust treatment of the British princess leads to a mutually destructive war between the two islands, the deaths of most of the principal characters, and the ascension of Caswallon fab Beli to the British throne.

Manawyddan the Son of Llyr is a direct sequel to the second branch, Branwen the daughter of Llyr, and deals with the aftermath of Bran’s invasion of Ireland, the horrific enchantment that turns Dyved into a wasteland and the final lift of the foul magic. The chief characters are Manawyddan, Pryderi, and their respective wives Rhiannon and Kicva.

Math the Son of Mathonwy tells the story of  Math, a magician-king who needed to rest his legs upon the lap of a virgin maiden unless he went to war. The tale narrates the trickery of his two nephews, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, so that the last could rape his uncle’s footholder, their subsequent punishment by the king,  the deceptive plan the first one of the brothers devised in order to trick the king into accepting his sister, Arianhod, as his new footholder, the raising by Gwydion of Arianhod’s son, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the three curses Arianhod placed on her son, the woman Gwydion created from flowers to give to his nephew and her subsequent transformation into an owl by Gwydion’s hand.

The Dream of Maxen Wledig narrates the story of the titular character who’s Rome’s emperor. One night, he dreams of a lovely maiden in a wonderful, far-off land. Awakening, he sends his men all over the earth in search of her. They find her in a rich castle in Wales, and lead the emperor to her. Reality corresponds absolutely with his dream. The maiden, Helen, loves him and accepts his proposal. In Maxen’s absence, a new emperor seizes his power. With the help of Helen’s brothers, Maxen marches across Gaul and Italy and recaptures Rome. In gratitude to his British allies, Maxen rewards them with a portion of Gaul that later becomes known as Brittany.

In the story of Lludd and Llevelys we’re told of two beloved brothers and the advice the first receives from the second regarding his leadership. Lludd inherits the kingship of Britain from his father, Beli. Soon after, he helps his brother Llevelys marry the princess of France and become king of that country. Lludd’s reign starts off  well but soon three plagues disrupt the peace. The first plague are the Coraniaid, the second a horrid scream and the third disappearing provisions. Lludd sets out to France and, with his brother’s help, destroys the plagues.

In Taliesin we’re told of the birth of the titular prophet and bard. Ceridwen’s son, Morfran was hideously ugly, so Ceridwen, an enchantress, sought to give him wisdom. She made a potion in her magical cauldron to grant the gift of wisdom and poetic inspiration called Awen. By accident, the young boy, Gwion Bach, who stirred the concoction in the cauldron tasted three drops from it.  Realising that Ceridwen would be angry, Gwion fled, transforming himself into different animals. Ceridwen chased him, ultimately turning herself into a hen and swallowing Gwion who had turned himself into a grain. Thus, she bore him for nine months and gave birth to him. Moved by his beauty, she resolved not to kill him, but threw him in the ocean instead, sewing him inside a leather-skin bag. The child was rescued on a Welsh shore by a prince named Elffin ap Gwyddo who raised him. The reborn child became the legendary bard Taliesin, seeing into the future and foretelling of things to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Selfishness the Key to Happiness?

The Bookshelf of Emily J.

I’m sure most of us would immediately answer “no” to the question the title poses. I do. I think self-care and self-love are important in order to be able to share love and affection with others, but I don’t think selfishness leads to happiness.

However, one of the characters of Anita Brookner’s Hotel Du Lac (1984) thinks that selfishness is just what everybody needs in order to be fulfilled. Mr. Phillip Neville preaches this doctrine to the protagonist, Edith Hope, an apt name for a woman who in the end decides to ignore his advice.

Here’s what Mr. Neville believes.

The secret to contentment “is simply this. Without a huge emotional investment, one can do whatever one pleases. One can take decisions, change one’s mind, alter one’s plans. There is none of the anxiety of waiting to see if that one other person has everything she desires, if she is…

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The Ear I Want

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It must be the favourite mantra gracing the lips of those involved in the writing world: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Indeed, how many times has the need to pin down our audience been stressed? Not nearly enough, for sure. And it will be stressed over and over again to infinity.

But is this need an illusion, an obsession like so many others or are we talking about an issue of paramount importance that, if ignored, can lead the writer to failure and disappointment?

When I first started jotting down my stories on paper I hadn’t given a thought to it. I created to please myself, to express my own thoughts, to give voice to my concerns and obsessions. I was floating within a romantic bubble where everything revolved around me. I was lost to the outside world the way the outside world was lost to me.

And that was a process that satisfied me for the time being. I had no other concerns but to give vent to my own emotions and fascinations.

However, the situation changed dramatically when I realized I was in for the long haul and that writing was my vocation and not merely a pleasant hobby to kill time.

I joined a writing site and asked for serious critiques on my works, exposing my writing to fresh pairs of eyes. I got exactly what I asked for but, also, so much more.

One of the issues that kept popping up in discussion fora and, also, a question directed at every single writer (myself included) was this: who is our target audience, who will be interested in reading our stories, for whom we’re writing.

At first glance, that kind of question, at best, frustrated me and, at worst, hung over me like a black cloud ready to release upon me a furious downpour. It was a matter that provoked in me both bewilderment and anxiety.

My critique buddies had often commented on my authentic and singular voice, something in which I took and still take great pride. But that was the root of the problem as well, because it became an obstacle in deciding as to my readership.

Although influenced greatly by other writers, I had trouble comparing myself to them. Doesn’t everybody have their own style and voice, after all, that is unique and can’t be reproduced? So, I couldn’t be helped in that aspect. Just like I couldn’t help myself in terms of genre since I frequently cross genres and openly defy established conventions.

What was I do to?

I thought I’d never reach a conclusion, that despite all my efforts at becoming a better writer than the one I was yesterday, everything was doomed to fail because I couldn’t come up with a solution to a writer’s most burning issue.

In spite of all the difficulties though, the answer manifested itself slowly when my writing vision started crystallizing and when I gained stable critique partners who offered me insightful commentary  by going through most of my works.

So, now, after a long time, I finally know who is included in my target audience and who is excluded. Now, I know who I am writing for and whose ear I need to listen to me.

I’m not writing for a few select neither for the masses. I’m writing for every thinking individual out there who wants to be entertained, moved and challenged.

I’m not writing for children or adolescents. I’m writing for adults.

I’m not writing for those who enjoy a dry, staccato prose. I’m writing for those going after a lush, poetic prose.

I’m not writing for those gravitating towards straightforward imagery. I’m writing for those gravitating towards evocative imagery.

I’m not writing for those seeking mindless entertainment from a book they can easily put aside and forget after reading it. I’m writing for those who are after stories of gravitas.

I’m not writing for those who want to sink their teeth into a book with a rapid succession of events and guns blazing. I’m writing for those who enjoy in their books some philosophical edge.

I’m not writing for those who prefer a plot-driven story where the characters are not in the limelight. I’m writing for those who prefer characters who drive the plot forward through their own passions, virtues and weaknesses.

I’m not writing for those who only seek a means of escapism. I’m writing for those who want to equally evade and interpret reality.

I’m not writing for those who prefer conventionl, formulaic stories. I’m writing for those eager to read stories diverging from the beaten track where a rich worldbuilding abounds and the themes are thoroughly reflected upon, resulting in multiple layers of meaning.

I’m not writing for those who prefer a simplistic or translucent message or those want to be spoonfed. I’m writing for those who want a book to induce them to think, form their own conclusions and view reality under a different light.

More often than not, there are writers claiming that they’re writing for everybody. And while they might believe that, that’s a far cry from the truth. People have different tastes and preferences. Not everybody will love a book just like not everybody will hate a book. There are all sorts of books out there accomodating the needs of various readers.

But if we as writers are not able to spot our own readers, then how do we expect them to spot us? If we want our readers to reach out to us, we have to reach out to them first.

So, have you figured who’s your intended audience? Did you find the process a difficult or an easy one?

 

 

Gaieties and Festivities

IDLE MUSER (aka Aditi)

t1

He looked at the sky
The beaming stars
The shining moon
Yet, he knew the night missed something

Diyas lit around
Lights glowing and lightening up the surroundings
Sweets loaded in big boxes hallmarked the ongoing festivity
But he knew none of it was his

He called her up
Nobody picked up that call
‘Must be busy with the preparations’
he thought

He rang him up
But the number was out of reach
‘Must be driving around with Diwali gifts’
he thought

Crashing on his bed
He wondered of hundreds of miles that set his room apart from his home
And of the excitement he had felt of being on his own
And of the relief of owning his own place, finally

But with passage of those brief moments of euphoria
All he is now left with are
Pangs of pain of being alone
Cringing moments of not being with…

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