June 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the series that was to change the landscape of children’s literature publishing worldwide. To celebrate this anniversary, the final BookTalk of the session is inviting three literature scholars to explore the phenomenal growth and global impact of the series in the years since the release of The Philosopher’s Stone.
“Sioned Davies, professor of Welsh at Cardiff University, has written about the stories in The Mabinogion as performances. They fit the speaking voice perfectly and are full of the repetitions and devices that make oral feats of memory possible. We get the onomatopoeia of Peredur hitting a knight “a blow that was brutal and bitter, painful and bold”. The excitement of the action is further intensified by mid-sentence switching into the present tense, as when Geraint, son of Erbin, “struck the knight on the top of his head so that all the armour on his head shatters and all the flesh splits, and the skin, and it pierces the bone and the knight falls on his knees”.
Davies’s arrangement of the tales shows what happens when an oral tradition begins to be committed to the page. The rhetorically simpler “Four Branches” precede “How Culhwch Won Olwen”, a far more “literary” production. Interestingly, Culhwch wins his bride not by his own feats but by invoking 200 of Arthur’s warriors, who do the dirty work for him. This virtuoso recitation is one of the jewels of The Mabinogion, and Davies’s decision not to translate the names conveys the stirring original rhythm of this astonishing heroic catalogue.
The stories are also released from the faux-Victorian romanticism that has dogged the text, even as late as Jeffrey Gantz’s Penguin Classics translation of the late 1970s. So, the “Countess of the Fountain” is now the “Lady of the Well” and “buskins” are “boots”. This fresh, energetic translation is a revelation and, for the first time, shows off The Mabinogion tales as what they were originally: splendid entertainment.”
The review in full can be accessed here.
(Illustration by Margaret Jones. Source.)
Reading from Prof. Sioned Davies’ 2007 translation of The Mabinogion, Cerys Matthews brings to life the moment when Pwyll meets Rhiannon for the first time.
Our May 2017 BookTalk event celebrates the 2017 Year of Legends initiative by bringing together four Cardiff University scholars who will discuss the Welsh legends and tales gathered together as Y Mabinogi/The Mabinogion.
A report by Catherine Paula Han on the fourth BookTalk of the 2015/16 season, which took place on 7 March 2016: Meet the Authors—Gaynor Arnold and John Harding.
A report by Catherine Han on the third BookTalk of the 2015/16 season, which took place on 11 Feb 2016: a discussion of Julian Barnes’s Booker prize-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011).
I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However … who said that thing about ‘the littleness of life that art exaggerates’? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamed about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.
But time … how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.—Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape, 2011), p. 93