Cerys on the Mabinogion

Cerys was wonderful last night. BBC at its best. In fact the whole series has been a breath of fresh air.

I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Weren’t you a little worried that a general audience wouldn’t have been drawn in by this brief look? Every time it was about to get interesting, we skipped onto another broad brush snippet. There is such depth in the stories that it was a shame to see characters cut and pasted like pantomime figures - and not just because there was no mention of the horrible Arianrhod!

I’ve always thought of Arianrhod as wild, exotic and untameable! I agree that it was a bit of a taster session but thought it did an extremely good job at exciting people to delve further. Cerys is obviously a big fan herself and the enthusiasm comes flooding out. A programme on each wouldn’t be enough, and we’re unlikely to get that I suppose. Unless we started a campaign…

Well, someone must have done more on the Mabinogion on S4C at some time, I suppose? My favourite is Rhiannon on her white horse/ Rhiannon the animist white horse goddess. I could, of course, be getting horribly mixed up between the English version of the stories published in my younger days (maybe Oxford Uni Press?) and books ‘about’ the stories, and new works of fiction based on the stories.
There’s a recent series of novellas taking themes from the Mabinogion. Then there’s the Saunders Lewis play (staged last year) about Blodeuwedd. Gwydion and his brother were changed into the pairs of animals mentioned by Cerys Matthews, but the point in the play was that they were given alternate male/female attributes so presumably each would understand more fully the impact of rape and childbirth. And a hidden/lost element seems to me that it was Arianrhod, not Goewin, who was raped, giving her a reason for rejecting her son.

These oral traditions seem to me the way a society passed its wisdoms and warnings down, gradually getting their messages degraded over time, especially after the assimilation of new ideas. Then they seem, as Cerys Matthews stated, just one event after another.

Yes that’s what I thought. And that it was her brother Gwydion that raped her which is part of the reason he choses to raise Lleu himself.

I know the version I first read put the stories in an order starting with Pwyll and Rhiannon, and ending with the ones with Arthur in them. Has anyone done any serious work on dating them? Does the one with Rhiannon really go back as far as an animist religion and if so, how far back would that be, I wonder? I’m thinking here of the African religions, some of the dances are still being enacted today - and not just for the tourists. In Britain, the roots could possibly go back to the mesolithic?

Half an hour was a bit short, but it has inspired me to start reading through them a second time - I have the Sioned Davies translation (she was interviewed in the programme). Cerys mentioned their influence on the Lord of the Rings, I know the language was an influence but does anyone know if there are specific aspects of the stories he used, I noticed in the second Branch someone uses a cloak that makes them invisible which also appears in Lord of the Rings or could he have got that from another source?

A ring that makes someone invisible appears in “Iarlles y Ffynnon”, one of the mediaeval stories associated with the Mabinogion.

Such rings do occur elsewhere, but in (surprisingly?) few places. Given Tolkien’s knowledge of Welsh stories, this may well have influenced his writing.

I’d heard that the Elvish language ‘invented’ by Tolkien was a mixture of Welsh and Icelandic. I could have been imagining that though.

“Sindarin”, the usual form of Elvish in the books is based on Welsh in sound of the words. The patterns of consonants and vowels are based on Welsh, producing words which -well, sound like Welsh! Quite purposefully by Tolkien, who was struck by the beauty of Welsh words.

To some extent the grammar of the language is also influenced by Welsh, and to a lesser extent the actual vocabulary. For example, the writing on the doors of Moria is-

“Ennyn Durin Aran Moria. Pedo Mellon a Minno. Im Narvi hain echant. Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin.”

“Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria.” The Welsh way of forming a genetic construction, a Welsh way of pluralising “annon”, door.
“Speak friend, and enter”. “A” for and, but similarish to Welsh in the rest of it.
“Celebrimbor of Eregion made these things”- the other form of the Welsh genetic construction, an existing Welsh verbal ending (if not first person singular), a Welsh way of bracketing a word with “y…hyn” to mean “these”.

You even get trilingual puns which cross the fantasy and real world- “iar” in Sindarin means “old”.
Because, of course, “iâr” in Welsh means “hen”, and the Welsh word “hen” means “old”. Geddit? I assure you it is very, very funny.

“Quenya”, a form of Elvish which appears less in the books, was apparently based (to some degree, I know not how much!) on Finnish.

Just to say my initial misgivings may have been unwarranted. In Suffolk one of my neighbours asked my husband if he’d seen the programme - which he’d watched with interest, not having heard of the Mabinogion before.

This lovely neighbour (always liked him) has a known interest in ‘The Celts’ (who they?), and did qualify his observations by commenting there was nothing else on telly at the time!

You even get trilingual puns which cross the fantasy and real world- “iar” in Sindarin means “old”.
Because, of course, “iâr” in Welsh means “hen”, and the Welsh word “hen” means “old”. Geddit? I >assure you it is very, very funny.

That is much, much funnier than the maths jokes in The Simpsons - which I can’t understand anyway. Any more examples, Owain?

I’m glad someone finds them amusing! Other stuff less intricate than that.

Amon/Emyn - Hill/hills (another Welsh type plural!) in middle earth had names related to Welsh ones.
One hill had only deep red flowers growing on top, giving it the appearance of being covered in blood. It was called “Amon Rudh”. Aha, red hill, from rhudd? A common element in Welsh place names? No! For “Rudh” in Sindarin means “bald”. Ho ho! Fooled you there!
Now, the Welsh for “bald”, “moel” is often used to describe hills.
And we have in middle earth the “emyn muil”. The “bald hills?”
No, simply the dreary hills! Ha ha! Fooled you again!

The cold winter nights in cold Oxford studies must have just flown by in the sound of laughter.

Less neat than the iar/hen/old thing, but stuff like that runs through the books.

Phew! And to think I found Dostoyevsky hard going! I think maybe I’ll stick with the Simpsons after all. (At least I can spell that one.)

Cerys is a brilliant advert for our culture, hope she is touring again this autumn/winter…and, do you know what, the fetching trilby she sports a dead ringer for the one worn by Bob Dylan in ‘The Last Waltz’ (great film if you are keen on The Band, Muddy Waters etc.)

It was a lovely programme - must find my copy. I did start reading it earlier in the summer but then it seems to have disappeared.