The Mabinogion

  • by Charlotte Guest
  • Narrated by Richard Mitchley
  • 10 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Mabinogion, the earliest literary jewel of Wales, is a collection of ancient tales and legends compiled around the 12th and 13th century deriving from storytelling and the songs of bards handed down over the ages. It is a remarkable document in many ways. From an historical perspective, it is the earliest prose literature of Britain. But it is in its drama that many surprises await, not least the central role of King Arthur, his wife, Gwenhwyvar, and his court at Caerlleon upon Usk.
There are tales of jousting, of quests, of damsels in distress, of abandoned wives, of monsters and dragons, of loyalty, deception and honour. Heroes and villains abound; there is courage and suffering in abundance. This is why The Mabinogion has a rightfully important position within the early literature of Europe.
There are 12 stories of varying lengths in the collection. Some, such as 'The Lady of the Fountain' and 'Geraint, the Son of Erbin', are centred on the Arthurian legend, and they display all the chivalric elements we expect from greater familiarity with later texts such as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. However, here, in The Mabinogion, we inhabit an earthier world, before the Round Table and the Grail Legend, though hints of these exist.
Emotions, intentions and actions are real and direct! Nevertheless, The Mabinogion was drawn from a variety of sources, and there are tales of very different character, such as 'The Dream of Maxen Wledig', which harks back to the period of the Roman Empire, and 'The Story of Llud and Llevelys', which involves the Island of Britain and the Kingdom of France.
This recording presents the classic, groundbreaking translation by Charlotte Guest. It brought The Mabinogion to a wider audience for the first time, and we can enjoy the grandeur of her literary style - one that particularly suits the audiobook medium. This is especially so in this skillful performance by Richard Mitchley. Welsh was his first language, though he has for decades divided his time between English and Welsh audiobooks and radio plays; furthermore, he guides walking holidays in Wales and is thus personally familiar with areas mentioned in The Mabinogion.

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A Wonder Whose Origin is Unknown

When we listen to a Bach violin concerto, we’re hearing the actual music people heard almost 300 years ago. If you’re one of those strange people (like me) who wonder “what was it like back then?” that idea can be thrilling. Things like a Bach concerto or, say, the Mabinogion, aren’t so much windows offering glimpses into the past as they are doors through which we can step and, for as long as the music or the story lasts, inhabit that country.

Granted, you don’t need to translate music, nor do you need to bridge centuries of archaic customs. But for me, at least, it’s a kick to experience, even at a distant second-hand, the tales our ancestors heard. No, I don’t understand it all; sometimes the action gets so fantastical that I need to Google synopses just to make sure I’m hearing what I’m hearing. But even if you and I don’t happen to be doctoral candidates in early Medieval studies, there’s plenty here for us to enjoy.

Things like bottomless bags. Shape shifting. Women made out of flowers. Men so large no house can contain them. And the all-important ill-considered boon. Guest’s 1877 translation orders the stories differently from my Everyman edition and includes one, Taliesen, that more recent scholarship has excluded. (I’m glad she retained it; a marvelous tale from which my title—Taliesen’s description of himself—is derived).

Guest puts the Arthurian Romances first, and it was a delight to hear the near-echoes of Chretien de Troye’s tales of Yvian, Percival, and Eric and Enid. Scholars are still arguing whether Chretien borrowed from the Welsh or the Welsh borrowed from him. No matter. They’re a delight in both versions.

The rest of the stories have the same immediacy and forward narrative momentum of the Norse sagas. As another reviewer has mentioned, just letting the personal and place names flow over you is a delight. Because they describe or sum up the person or place that bears them, those names are key. I found a printed version of the book, with every name translated in the footnotes, very helpful.

Like Bill Wallis (Gawain and the Green Knight, The Death of Arthur) Richard Mitchley brings the perfect tone and cadence to these stories. Also, like Wallis, he has a knack for sounding old and wise and, what’s even better, he can pronounce all those Welsh names effortlessly.
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- John

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-07-2017
  • Publisher: Ukemi Audiobooks