Book Review: Carmilla

1024px-Carmilla

At the sound of certain words and phrases, most of us are quick to make associations and respond in a certain way. When we speak of supernatural creatures of the fantastic, especially vampires, it’s Dracula, the patriarch of this blood-drinking species who immediately springs to mind, called to life by the imagination of Bram Stoker.

However, the Irish writer wasn’t the first to succumb to the fascination of these dark creatures going bump in the night. Published in 1897, Stoker’s magnus opus owes its existence to another literary ancestor, that of Carmilla Carnstein, conceived by another Irish pen, that of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

Predating Dracula by 26 years, Carmilla first appeared as a serial in the Dark Blue in 1871-1872, a London-based literary magazine published monthly from 1871 to 1873 and sold for one shilling per issue.

Blending authentic Middle- and Eastern European folklore and Gothic literature, the novella takes place in the forests of Styria. In an isolated schloss, a widowed father has assigned the care of his daughter, Laura, to a handful of trusted servants. Motherless and secluded, Laura is suffering deeply from loneliness, though the family’s quiet is soon disturbed by the unexpected arrival of a guest, Carmilla.

The two young women become swiftly attached to each other as Laura finds in Carmilla the valued friend she had been missing her whole life. However, Carmilla, is far from ordinary and Laura often wonders at her companion’s bizarre habits and her unorthodox behaviour as well as her insistence to not disclose her idenity.

As the days go by, a curious disease sweeps the countryside, claiming the lives of many women. Laura, too, falls ill but is eventually saved due to the interference of a family friend who rushes in just in the nick of time to solve the horrifying mystery and reveal the cause behind all these weird occurences.

A millestone in vampire fiction, Carmilla features many of the themes, concepts and tropes we have come to associate with the genre: the haunted, isolated castle, the Überwald, the twin pinpricks on the victim’s skin, the beauty and irresistable charm of the vampire, animal shapesifting and the erotic implications that underlie the vampiric condition.

A modern reader,  familiar with the long literary tradition of the genre, most definitely won’t experience any surprise plotwise and most probably will figure out the tale’s direction from the early chapters. However, the true strength of the novella, that powerful asset which has made it stand the test of time and which still hasn’t faded, is the complexity of the titular character as well as the element of ambiguity which permeates the text, hindering the reader from reaching any definite conclusions.

Vampires have long been presented as savage, single-minded, bloodthirsty fiends only concerned with sating their dark appetite and devoid of profound emotion and morality. Carmilla, though, paints a different picture. Far from being a brainless, brutish monster, she possesses an intricate personality that both fascinates and repulses.

Polite, intelligent and educated, Carmilla tends to favour scientific explanations over superstious beliefs. She often appeals to nature and  attempts to justify her actions, even her own vampirism, by the claim that all things form part of the natural order. We read that, ””Creator! Nature!” said the young lady in answer to my gentle father. “And this disease that invades the country is natural. Nature. All things proceed from Nature—don’t they? All things in the heaven, in the earth, and under the earth, act and live as Nature ordains? I think so.””

Not strange to moral reflection, Carmilla forms a deep bond with her victims, feeling much affection for them. In fact, a large part of her sugar and ice personality and her mood swings can be viewed as her guilt manifesting due to the young women she has murdered. That sense of remorse, which is never directly stated or discussed in the novella but traced between the lines nonetheless, is essentially what sets Carmilla apart from others of her kind like Dracula.

Seductive, cunning and self-critical, Carmilla responds intesnsely, either in anger or passion. As she explains herself,  ”“You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.””

However, Carmilla owes its popularity to the ambiguity running through its pages and the cloaked connotations that abound. Being the trope maker for the lesbian vampire, Carmilla’s vampirism functions as a metaphor for female homosexuality. A taboo issue that couldn’t be openly discussed in Victorian society, forbidden desire could only be touched upon through a subtext that could explore such a topic without the fear of naming it so.

Laura’s orgasmic description of her own blood-draining experience is highly indicative of what lies in the heart of the novella. We read that, ”After all these dreams there remained on waking a remembrance of having been in a place very nearly dark, and of having spoken to people whom I could not see; and especially of one clear voice, of a female’s, very deep, that spoke as if at a distance, slowly, and producing always the same sensation of indescribable solemnity and fear. Sometimes there came a sensation as if a hand was drawn softly along my cheek and neck. Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself. My heart be at faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and full drawn; a sobbing, that rose into a sense of strangulation, supervened, and turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me and I became unconscious.”

Many of Carmilla’s statements to Laura far surpass the way a friend would speak to another. Instead, they express the fiery emotions lovers harbour. We read,

“You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.”

“But to die as lovers may – to die together, so that they may live together.”

“I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered, “unless it should be with you.”
How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!
Shy and strange was the look with which she quickly hid her face in my neck and hair, with tumultuous sighs, that seemed almost to sob, and pressed in mine a hand that trembled.
Her soft cheek was glowing against mine. “Darling, darling,” she murmured, “I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so.”
I started from her.
She was gazing on me with eyes from which all fire, all meaning had flown, and a face colorless and apathetic.
“Is there a chill in the air, dear?” she said drowsily. “I almost shiver; have I been dreaming? Let us come in. Come; come; come in.”

However, Le Fanu’s true mastery becomes evident when the reader cannot come up with a swift and easy answer when asked whether the relationship between Carmilla and Laura is that of profound love or whether Carmilla is merely a predator offering an illusion to her victim to lure her into a trap in order to satisfy her own unholy thirst.

Naive of the the ways of the world and lacking in experience, Laura is quick to embrace Carmilla as a friend. But when Carmilla is ushered into the schloss, it is a turning point for Laura. Is it friendship she’s looking after or this a moment of sexual awakening that takes place as soon as the right chance appears?

From a purely queer gender literary perspective, Carmilla is the conduit for a slew of  homoerotic anxieties. The deviant desire of Laura incorporates strong contradictory elements whose source is a supernatural creature that equally attracts and repulses her, a theme holding much significance in many tales of the fantastic and specifically the gothic genre.

This desire, which Laura cannot account for, blooms to the surface in a mixture of  arousal and terror as we read in this passage, ”From these foolish embraces, which were not of very frequent occurrence, I must allow, I used to wish to extricate myself; but my energies seemed to fail me. Her murmured words sounded like a lullaby in my ear, and
soothed my resistance into a trance, from which I only seemed to recover myself when she withdrew her arms. In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling.”

In this tale of marginalization and otherness, are we to believe Carmilla a conniving beast or a misunderstood woman whose goal is to ensure companionship and a meaningful bond with another person? Is it the nature of such a relationship to invite death and be so destructive or does society condemn it to such a pitiful end?

Whatever the case, Carmilla is not one to fall into oblivion, for Le Fanu astutely ensured her immortality. And if the way the novella wraps up is any indication, our vampiress keeps haunting our memory just as succesfully as she keeps haunting Laura’s, as is the case with all humans coming in contact with the supernatural, ”It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations —sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door.”

Book Review: The Child that Went with the Fairies

Lilaia Moreli - Words Are Sacred

518G4wvSZFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story The Child that Went with the Fairies narrates the tale of a poor widow and her four children living in a sublime Irish landscape. While the three youngest are outside playing and the sister and mother are busy doing their tasks, the youngest of all the siblings, Billy, is taken away by the ”Good People” as the fair folk are called in the story. Little Billy returns to his family from time to time until one day he vanishes altogether, never to reappear, and is considered dead.

On the surface, The Child that Went with the Fairies, resembles a typical, supernatural tale where a child is kidnapped by some otherwordly folks under mysterious circumstances and is forever torn apart from his loved ones. But Le Fanu is an astute writer who knows how to add layers upon layers of meaning, rendering his work…

View original post 1,829 more words

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Metaphysical Journey

deadbutdreaming

This is another slight diversion from the realm of faerie, but the subject matter is intimately connected to our understanding of metaphysical realities through texts from our past. The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is important, loaded as it is with symbology and deep insights into the human condition, that speak to us from over half a millennium ago. The characters, their motivations and their inner-lives, as expressed by the poet, remain recognisable to us in the 21st century. And at the centre of the story (even though she doesn’t utter a word) is a faerie, perhaps the most prominent faerie in English literature: Morgan le Fay. A version of this article was originally published on the Ancient Origins Premium website.

‘The paths he would take were strange,
With little cheer to glean,
And his hopes would often change
Till that chapel could be seen.’

Sir Gawain and…

View original post 2,502 more words

William Butler Yeats: The Stolen Child


Glencar Waterfall, County Leitrim 

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

Book Review: The Child that Went with the Fairies

518G4wvSZFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story The Child that Went with the Fairies narrates the tale of a poor widow and her four children living in a sublime Irish landscape. While the three youngest are outside playing and the sister and mother are busy doing their tasks, the youngest of all the siblings, Billy, is taken away by the ”Good People” as the fair folk are called in the story. Little Billy returns to his family from time to time until one day he vanishes altogether, never to reappear, and is considered dead.

On the surface, The Child that Went with the Fairies, resembles a typical, supernatural tale where a child is kidnapped by some otherwordly folks under mysterious circumstances and is forever torn apart from his loved ones. But Le Fanu is an astute writer who knows how to add layers upon layers of meaning, rendering his work ripe for various interpretations.

Le Fanu begins with lush, orgiastic descriptions of the Irish nature with bogs and hills and range of mountains. This is the very landscape where Le Fanu himself grew up and lived, thus the tale is presented as a true account.

In the tale, superstitions abound. They are not to be ridiculed. Instead, they are taken seriously and even the priest employs natural means to repel the fairies. The mother, who espouses all this legacy of supernatural tradition, passes it onto her oldest daughter, Nelly. This is a rich cultural identity that has to be transmitted to the younger generations. The local inhabitants possess a strong culture with long-standing traditions that give them a distinct national identity.

As we read the story, we come to realize that one of the themes permeating the narrative is that of haunting. The hill in which the fairies reside casts a shadow that looms over the landscape, frightening the people of the village. But it’s not only their physical presence that terrifies the people but, also, the traditions and strange tales of fear that accompany them. These creatures have the ability to cross the threshold between the world of substance and the world of illusions, between life and death, between form and spirit. The natural laws that govern humans do not touch them. Therefore, they are the ”Other”.

But the field of haunting doesn’t pertain to the fairies alone. The dead can haunt as well. Death, either literal or figurative, is a spectre that torments the family. Billy is considered dead by his mother and siblings. When he comes back to his family’s cabin, only his two young siblings can see him due to the fact that they, too, have come in contact with the fairy realm. The mother and eldest sister, due to being devout guardians of the traditions and cultural legacy, cannot. Later, Billy’s brother will keep on seeing him sporadically and being haunted by his memory. In this way, fairies become a symbol of death.

Another very important theme in the story is that of appearance and illusion. The fairy lady’s beauty and charm are repeatedly stressed. She tosses apples at the children and uses glamour so as to distract them and entices Billy with kisses and caresses. The siblings, despite sensing the malice of the fairies, cannot resist and ”take a bite”. They cannot realize the danger the fairies represent as they are too young to pay heed to their mother’s teachings and warnings. They are too stunned by the lady’s allure. While they’re chasing the apples, they are literally chasing after illusions that will never be materialized or fulfilled, but will only make them stray from the path of safety.

Woven into the narrative is the polarity between the ”we” and the ”other”, or  between the nation and the imperialistic power to be more precise. If we substitute the word ”fairy” with ”English”, the tale is viewed under a different light. Le Fanu, conscious of his identity as Irish, makes a merciless critique against the imperial dominance of the English. All the riches and the glorious display of formality of the fairy ceremony hint at the presumed superiority and authority of the English dominance. By virtue of its own long-standing tradition and aristocratic birth, it converts into a predator preying on the one it considers weak and easy to possess.

It is at this point that Le Fanu bares his writerly teeth most aggressively. By striking a comparison between the imperialistic power and the fairies,  it becomes evident that since the fairies can rule only through the means of illusion, therefore the imperialistic power lacks substance. Thus, it is unnatural and rotten.

But the fairy lady is not the sole representation of the idea of ”Otherness”. Le Fanu takes care to describe the lady’s companion inside the carriage: a black woman. The black woman is an inherent part of the imperialistic power and its bitter fruit, namely slavery. One could say that her role in the story is, at best, nebulous. It never becomes completely evident what her function is and what her relationship to the fairy lady is.

Le Fanu, once again, returns to his favourite theme, that of the contrast between essence and perception, truth and illusion. The exotic, dark sight of the black woman strikes the children with terror while they are enthralled by the fairy lady, for they perceive malignity in the first who is laughing with some kind of inside joke and beauty in the second.

But appearances can be mortally deceptive. Is the black woman shaking with amusement or fear because she knows what dreadful fate awaits the children at the hands of the fairy lady? Is she stuffing her mouth with a handkerchief so as not to let her amusement be heard or does she force herself to be quiet out of fear of the fairy lady and therefore doesn’t cry out a warning to the children to save them? Is she truly mad at the children or terrified at the thought of what is about to happen to them?

In this case, the black woman doesn’t represent a powerful, aggressive other, but a repressed figure living in perpetual terror under the iron force of imperialism. Her regal, colourful garments suggest that she comes from a rich cultural background. But her position now perhaps indicates that she’s not part of an independent nation anymore but a slave with a strangled voice not allowed to speak. Having that in mind, perhaps the black woman functions as a warning as to what happens when nations or cultures are dominated by others. Le Fanu remarks that her face is a ”death’s head”. In that manner, she maintains a connection with the dead or perhaps one could even point out that her role in the story is to function as a death knell for poor Billy.

While in many fictional works youth and innocence are praised, in this tale they become the very qualities that condemn the children. The siblings cannot perceive the threat coming their way.  Troubled by the fearsome aspect of the black woman, they are unable to read ”the writing on the wall”. The person who could be their saving grace is viewed as a malevolent figure while the person who wishes them harm is seen as the angel.

Nowhere in the story is the notion of illusion highlighted more than in the figure of Billy. When the child is last seen inside the cabin he is haggard and his clothes are in tatters. The great splendour of the fairy realm is nothing but a sham. Billy has found no nourishment, no warmth and no affection. He is a tragic figure because while he straddles two worlds he doesn’t belong to either.  He is a double ”Other” both in the world of the mortals and in the fairy dimension, stuck in the threshold of two cultures, condemned to wander between these two but never living fully in either anymore.

For all intents and purposes, Billy becomes a figure without identity, without roots. He is dead or perhaps a ghost. In essence, he is wiped out of existence. The fact that he doesn’t have a headstone where he can be properly buried by his family and mourned speaks volumes. There’s no place for him in his family anymore because his identity is non-existent. In fact, Billy is not unlike the black woman. In losing his cultural identity, he becomes an immaterial shadow.

We cannot delve into the mind of Le Fanu so as to claim with certainty what the intended message of the story is. Is the Irish writer providing the reader with a cautionary tale about the danger of what happens when one becomes estranged from their own cultural background and national legacy? Is the focus of the story the evils that befall one from the loss of cultural identity?

As is the case with Carmilla, Le Fanu relishes the game between reliability and unreliability. Credibility and perception are challenged. Are we as readers to believe the children’s tale? Or are we to believe that the villagers and their ways are sound? Are the fairies the wicked ones or are they pitiable figures suffering from malicious and ignorant superstitions? Most importantly, are the children the only ones who misjudge the idea of ”Otherness” or do the adults have to plead guilty as well?

The figure of Billy certainly raises some intriguing questions. We’re often reminded of his beauty. Blonde, blue-eyed and the youngest of the siblings. Is his attractiveness something that sets him apart from the other members of his family? It certainly is. If we take this fact into consideration, can we say that he was naturally destined to be alienated and marginalized by virtue of his physical aspect? Was he doomed from the start?

When reading the story, one notices there’s a common link that connects Billy and the fairy lady. They are both pleasing to the eye, and that’s why they are attracted to each other. Once again, the notion of perception takes the central stage. Both cultures judge based on appearances and surfaces, unable to view the ”Other” as the ”Other” truly is. In a society where illusions and senses reign supreme, what hope remains for unclouded and unbiased judgment?

How is the ”Other” perceived? Is the ”Other” the surface we regard or is there some kind of deeper essence? Are we to project onto the ”Other” our fancies and preconceived ideas or are we to peel away the blindfold and peer into the objective reality?

Is Billy dead or is he forgotten because he embraced another culture? Is he marginalized and estranged by virtue of his association with the fairies or is he an outcast by his family due to his natural ”Otherness”? Is he forced into another culture because his own repels him? But if Billy is a pariah in the mortal world, he doesn’t seem to fare much better in the fairy realm either.

The existence of the black woman adds another layer to the story, highlighting the fact that it’s not a simple matter of ”us” versus ”them” mentality. There are various types of ”Other” and various reasons for the base of ”Otherness”.

Le Fanu has given us a story where the English and Irish cultures violently clash. The issue of identity is an extremely complex one, thus making it difficult to define it and come to a resolution. What is an identity and which are its proper characteristics? Who is the one to give us an identity? Are we born with one or is it forced upon us by our environment? If we happen to differ, can this identity be revoked despite not this being our fault? And if we lack an identity, are we practically non-existent or can we choose an identity ourselves and belong within a culture without fear of rejection due to our ”Otherness”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supernatural Animal Helpers, the Grateful Dead and the Quest for the Bird “Grip”

Under the influence!

Preparacion_De_Wampole_(Wampole's_Preparation)_(3093618924)Bird in Cage By Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThemes and motifs in folk and fairy tales are devices that help to enrich the story.  They are not the story-line but are woven into the narrative to enhance and highlight certain parts, or points the narrator wishes to make, or to provide an overall meaning, which is sometimes deliberately hidden.  Presented here is a retelling of a Swedish fairy tale called The Bird “Grip” whose song was said to cure blindness of kings.  This tale is classified as  Aarne-Thompson folktale type 550, “The Golden Bird”, a Supernatural Helper in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system and it also involves the Grateful Dead (type 505). This is followed by a brief discussion about some of the motifs and themes that appear in the story and what they may mean.

The Quest for the…

View original post 5,896 more words

Book Review: The Mabinogion

455219._UY630_SR1200,630_

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.