Y Mabinogi – Staying Faithful to the Tales

Y Mabinogi – Staying Faithful to the Tales

I remember being very excited when the first Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings film was announced. The only film experience of Lord of the Rings I’d had up until that point was the strange animated version from some years past. December came and I sat spellbound in the cinema. It was captivating, compelling, magical, epic, everything I thought a Lord of the Rings film should be. I left the cinema impatient for the next instalment.

Now, I hadn’t read the books. I know. Crazy right? But it’s true. When I spoke to Cerri, and others who had read them an entirely different experience of the films began to emerge. I obviously didn’t know the literary background of Faramir, for instance (I have since read the books so now understand some more). The way his character was treated in the films was vastly different than in the books. Of course, no Tom Bombadil. I get that in a way. That section of the book doesn’t progress the main plot in any particular way, but for those who love the books it’s an incredibly important and powerful piece.

Stories are important to people.

I have yet to see the latest King Arthur film. The one directed by Guy Ritchie. I have really enjoyed his films over the years, and the trailers for the film were quite encouraging, but film-makers seem to miss the point with Arthurian movies. The Lore is important, the magic is important. Merlin, is important! Excalibur, to this day, remains my goto Arthurian film. Now Arthur, to me, is like the Lord of the Rings to Cerri. Every year, at least once, I watch Excalibur, and also listen to the audio versions of the Warlord Chronicles (The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur) written by Bernard Cornwell, and read beautifully by Tim Piggott-Smith. They are, to me, the best retellings of the Arthurian story since Le Morte d’Arthur by Malory. Cornwell may have changed many things, but the bones of the magical Lore remain. Films? The more recent King Arthur with Clive Owen left me cold. I realise they were trying to approach the story from a more historical angle, but come on, take the magic from the Lore of Arthur and you remove its teeth. The magic, the Sword in the Stone, the Quest for the Grail, the magic of Merlin and Morgan le Fey, these are so important. Don’t even get me started on First Knight

But they are just stories right?

No, they really aren’t.

Like a song that reminds us of a moment in our lives, stories too can become myths to live by. The Lord of the Rings is of huge importance to many people, as are the Arthurian tales, as is The Mabinogion.

Which brings us to the point of this article. I remember reading the Mabinogion for the first time. It was the Jeffrey Gantz version published by Penguin. Not the ultra-heavy Lady Charlotte Guest translation, but still pretty hard going to be honest. But I was drawn in. It was love at first sight. The Gods, Goddesses and Heroes of the Four Branches in particular came to life for me, and it was as if they were whispering their words straight into my ears. The Mabinogion is as important to me as Lord of the Rings, the Icelandic Eddas, and the Arthurian Sagas are to others.

And I know I’m not alone.

A couple of days ago I uploaded the finished audio files to my distributor. That’s it. They are finished and done. Cerri is working on the artwork as I type this. The first part of the project that has been in my mind since 1995 is done, and the Journey has well and truly begun. I’ve listened to it time and time again, changing a little bit of bass volume here, a little bit of presence on the narration mix there, in truth you can probably do that forever, but sometimes you just have to walk away and let it be. I’m very, very happy with it. I played it, in its entirety, to my Druid Grove last week, and there were tears at the end. Good tears. Tears are good. As a Druid group we spent a year exploring these myths in great depth, so I knew they were as important to these listeners, as they are to me.

Have I changed the stories? No. If you listen to my album, then read the translations, you will definitely see the same tale told in both. Mine, by the very identity of the narrator, comes from a different angle, but the tale is the same. My language is also modern – no thys or thees. However, before these tales were committed to parchment, they were told verbally for years. Every Bard would have added little details and decorations to draw the listeners in, and I have also done that. These are not spoken word versions of translations, they are Bardic retellings for our current age.

In the notes for the CD I say this:

This is a retelling of the First Branch of Y Mabinogi, the first of four albums that will tell The Four Branches.

Written down in the Middle Ages by Christian Monks, and first translated into the English language by Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid 1800s,  these tales are a part of the Matter of Britain itself. Although I have added dramatic decoration to the translation, these additions are based on current academic research, and I have remained faithful to the original tale throughout. When you listen for the first time, try to find some time for yourself and listen to the double album in its entirety. Let me take you on a journey, a magical journey of the Otherworld, of ancient Gods, of demon claws, of the Fearie Folk, and Pagan Lore.

If the Mabinogi is important to you, I hope you will hear in these recordings how important these stories are to me. They fill me up. Take me to Other worlds, help me to address aspects of life, and of death. In my opinion they should be up there with the Lord of the Rings, with the tales of King Arthur, with the Eddas, as the epics they are.

Would I want to see them made into films?

Crikey, that’s a tough one to answer…

12 responses to “Y Mabinogi – Staying Faithful to the Tales”

  1. currently working my way through reading the Mabinogion. it IS a toughie! but i am intent on getting through it before i buy your new album! 🙂 my prize for finishing the book! haha…. dry as hell! i am sure your retelling of it will be much more interesting! 🙂 i think the purity of any retelling is very important when it comes to tales like these, no matter what medium they are retold with. some probably just would be much more of a challenge to do in movie form…it would take great imagination to draw in an audience but keep it pure, i imagine. i did see the latest Arthur movie and it kind of left me feeling that it had no real point….just a whole lot of violence and special effects. and i realize those were probably very violent times. very much enjoyed the lord of the rings series but having read the books so long ago, i wasnt really aware of what might have been left out and how accurate they were in comparison to the books.i just loved the depiction of Gollum!! at any rate, i am so looking forward to this latest album of yours! i just know it is going to be amazing!! peace be with you and yours!

  2. I am struggling through the translation by Lady Charlotte Guest to be honest so am looking forward so much to hearing your new album. You have a gift of bringing things to life in your songs so this is going to be a real treat.

  3. I think I read the most recent version of the Mabinogion, and my experience was being swept up in the magic of it all! Wonderful stories that I got through in a surprisingly short time, although keeping everything straight in my head was a challenge. I’m really looking forward to the release.

  4. Ah some very good points here. Now my son would so totally agree with Cerri, and the others you mentioned on LOTR films. He knows all the background stories of each character, and has a map of Middle Earth burned in his mind. He too wanted Tom Bombadil, and grieved he was not there. Me, being so easily sucked in on the wonder of the films, enjoyed them. But I had read the books and appreciated the Tolkien fans who were disappointed in some ways.

    Excaliber has got to be my all time favourite depiction of Merlin. He is witty, humorous, with feeling of Power. And Helen Mirrren THE most fabulous Morgana. But Arthur did little for me I am afraid I winced a bit when he came on. I still love to watch it every now and then, it is a good film, and I love the music, Wagner being so powerful.

    The BBC 2008 Merlin was magical despite it not keeping to the Arthurian Legend. The fresh young cast was a treat, with a few old faces thrown in. I liked it. But then I am a Romantic and loved all the swashbuckling Romance, I can always be drawn in on that if you throw Magic in as well. I just love the Arthurian Current.

    My first introduction to the Mabinogion was reading Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. I felt that something had stirred deep in my soul, and decided to explore the manuscripts. I was not disappointed. What a wonderful world of Magic and Myth!

    I so look forwards to the new albums, and send a big thank-you for bringing more Magic to us all.

  5. If you’ve not seen the new Arthur film – don’t. Having grown up with the legends of Arthur I have actually no idea what the film was based on.Looking forward to the release of the CD. Having seen the trailer I’m sure it will be great.

  6. Congratulations! I’m looking forward to your album release. These stories are largely unknown to me and I cannot imagine a better introduction! Thank you for all the care you have taken in their telling!

    Bright Blessings,
    Grey Dove

  7. I may have mentioned this before, it’s certainly in my mind every time I read one of your progress updates, but when you’ve finished all four branches I can imagine not a film but a live touring production. If you’ve ever seen one of Mick Ryan’s productions (A Day’s Work – set in WWI – or Pauper’s Path for example), or The Transports, currently touring, then I’m picturing that sort of thing. (The closest in more commercial performance would perhaps be Warhorse.) The problem with putting something you know as a book into a film is that a lot of your own imagination is bypassed because all the imagery is ready-made for you. Although I did like the LOTR films, even though the book was already a favourite, there were bits I’d rather imagine for myself based on the text. (I’ve always thought of Mordor as the Penrhyn slate quarries, for example, from my time in Bethesda!)

    I’m looking forward to your albums because the imagery will be left for me to fill in, guided by the audio and leaving me enough work to really engage. I think a “stage” performance of music and narrative would work brilliantly as a live experience and I could see it touring folk and music festivals and theatres with a small “cast” and a small band of musicians: minimal stage sets to let the narrative and music carry the tales.

    By the way, for those struggling with the Charlotte Guest translations, I can recommend Sioned Davies’s version.

  8. Greetings,

    Yeay! So looking forward to your Bardic retellings of our Ancient Magickal Journeys/Sacred Tales…

    Brightest of Blessings,


  9. My son and I were having the same conversation a few days ago, about how it feels when favourite stories are made into movies, and how protective one tends to get. We’re so looking forward to the release of your new album, and plan to carve out time to make an event of listening.

    Also, just wanted to thank you for recommending Cornwell’s trilogy. I read it over the course of the summer, and it was excellent. Lancelot has always kind of pissed me off anyways, so I found his treatment of the character refreshing.

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