The Mabinogion Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein The collection known as The Mabinogion is a set of Welsh tales; the original tales in Medieval Welsh are to be found in a manuscript known as The Red Book of Hergest, which is housed at Jesus College, Oxford. The tales were translated by Lady Charlotte E. Guest (1812-1895) and first appeared in print in English between 1841 and 1850. Although not all the tales feature King Arthur and his knights, Guest’s scholarship surrounding the tales suggests that some of them may be the original stories from which many of the Arthurian legends derived. The early tales, as indicated by some of the place names and time frames, may have existed as part of a Celtic oral tradition and might be from a pre-Christian period prior to Rome’s occupation of Britain. And there is one scholarly tradition that dates the king who became the source for the Arthurian legends as a Roman-Briton. As is suggested in the editor’s notes, the first four tales, “Pwyll Prince of Dyved,” “Branwen the Daughter of Llyr,” Manawyddan the Son of Llyr,” and “Math the Son of Mathonwy,” are all probably based on pre-Christian Celtic myths and are hence the oldest of the collected stories. They are particularly of interest in their explanations of customs. The two tales that likely date from the Roman period are “The Dream of Maxen Wledig” and “Lludd and Llevelys.” The story of Maxen Wledig’s dream offers a romantic explanation for why the Roman’s came to Britain, for the emperor was in search of a maiden he had seen in a dream. The tale of Lludd and Levelys explains the building of the city of London and the magical experiences by which Lludd removed an evil plague from the island and hence ruled it in peace and prosperity for his term as king. The five tales of “Kilhwch and Olwen,” “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” “The Lady of the Fountain,” “Peredur the Son of Evrawc,” and “Geraint the Son of Erbin” are probably early medieval prototypes for some of the tales of the Arthurian cycle that became popular both in Britain and on the European continent in the twelfth century. “The Dream of Rhonabwy” is remarkable for its description of early heraldic colors and designs; the other tales are expressions of the days when knighthood was in flower and Arthur’s court was in session. The story of “Taliesin,” the bard and prophet, combines prose and poetry, and derives from a separate manuscript. One episode from it found in later versions of the Arthurian tales involves Gwion Bach’s running from the witch Caridwen and changing himself into various animals or objects so as better to escape her wrath, while she in turn transforms herself into animals more likely to catch him. (This was a scene used by Disney Studios in their version of The Sword in the Stone.) Then she catches him and gobbles him up, and gives birth to him as Taliesin, whose name means “radiant brow.” The poetry of Taliesin is especially remarkable for its expression of Christian faith. All the tales contain a mixture of history and magic, real places side by side with fairy domains, a mixture is what gives Celtic myth and legend its special vibrancy and appeal even today. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily