Ok. I’m a Mabinogion groupie. Pretty much any book that has been written about The Four Branches is either sitting on my shelf, or is on a wish list. The journey I’m currently going through, recording the Four Branches in story and song has only made my love of these tales even deeper. Imagine my delight when this book falls into my hands asking if I would review it. I’ve loved Hugh’s work for many years, not least of which are the folk-song collaborations with the wonderful Chris Wood.
Have a listen below.
The Assembly of the Severed Head is set in the 1200s in a monastery beside a lake. One morning severed heads begin to wash up onto the shore, and the monks fear for the Bardic School that lay across the water. So a party is sent there to find out what has happened. The story is framed within Llewelyn’s against the Normans, and thus it is discovered that the Bardic School has been massacred by mercenaries. But there, among the death and destruction they find one sole survivor, Cian Brydydd Mawr, the greatest Bard of his age. He beckons them close. He is dying. He tells them he has some stories he must tell before he dies, and they must do battle with their own Christian conscience to write these tales down, for the first time.
And thus he begins to tell the Four Branches…
An amazing setting, told with such poetic language that even by page 50 I had to grab some tissues to soak the tears that were falling from my eyes. This is not a simple retelling of the Mabinogion, it is much more than that. The way Cian tells the tales draws you in, and there are other tales included too. The surrounding story of strife, love, and self-questioning only adds to the overall drama and feel of the book. I literally did not put it down and read it cover to cover in one sitting.
Some might call this a novel. Fiction. But once more I find myself questioning our western view of the way we decide what is truth or fiction, for there are Truths within these tales, and wisdom from an age long passed, but the message is still, maybe even more, relevant for us today.
If you have any love of the Mabinogion, any love of ‘Celtic’ myth, then buy this book and read it. You’ll love it. If you have tried to read the Mabinogi in the past and have found it dull or uninspiring, buy this book and read it (along with my Four Branches CDs of course ! 😁) and it will, without doubt help you to understand what all the fuss is about.
This book is a wonderful addition to The Matter of Britain. Long may these tales be retold, long may they live in our hearts, and in the land of Albion.
I almost heard Land of Hope and Glory start there…
I think I need a cuppa.