The Four Branches of the Mabinogi
Mabinogion, The Four Branches of The Mabinogi.
Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest.
Narrated, and with an introduction by Colin Jones.
Cover art by Howard David Johnson.
Now a major audiobook on Audible Amazon and iTunes and audiobook stores worldwide.
Also available in paperback and Kindle ebook.
After reading, recording, and listening to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, I'm amazed that the world isn't full of manga comics, Hollywood blockbusters, best-selling novels, sticker collections, trading cards, and fantasy role-playing games based on this quite astonishing collection of Welsh tales.
The breadth and imagination of these stories is really quite amazing - How many other stories can boast such a heady collection of wizards, body-swapping, bitter curses, deep revenge lasting for generations, a giant, a cauldron of immortality, murder plots, princes, kings and even pig-embezzlement?
Not to mention a woman made from flowers by two wizards as a wife for a man cursed by his mother from ever marrying another human being. A man who can only be killed by a spear which has been crafted for one year and this while he stands with one leg on a bath and the other on the back of a young goat?
The Mabinogion is a collection of tales, told over generations, recorded in two manuscripts; Llyfr Coch Hergest (The Red Book of Hergest) and Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (The White Book of Rhydderch). Translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest, they contain a large number of tales from the Welsh storytelling tradition.
Strictly speaking, however, the term Mabinogi (Mabinogion was mistakenly taken as the plural of Mabinogi by Lady Charlotte Guest) refers to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi recorded here.
The Mabinogi begins with the tale of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed. Pwyll changes places with a King of Annwfn, the Otherworld. He also meets Rhiannon for the first time, who appears on a charmed horse which cannot be caught by even the fastest rider.
The Second Branch concerns Branwen, her brother Bendigeidfran (a giant) and the terrible fate which follows her marriage to the King of Ireland.
In The Third Branch a castle appears where none has ever been seen before, charms are cast and deep
revenge is played out.
The fourth branch concerns Blodeuwedd, the Woman of Flowers;
'So they took the the blossoms of the oak, and the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of the meadow-sweet, and produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most graceful that man ever saw. And they baptized her, and gave her the name of Blodeuwedd.'
Long before the stories were ever written down, Welsh storytellers would enthrall audiences with tales of Pwyll, Rhiannon, Bendigeidfran, Branwen, and their adventures.
The Oral Storytelling Tradition
The Mabinogi is the product of the Welsh storytelling tradition, whereby a series of storytellers reforged the tales over the years, editing and improving as they went along, embroidering, seeing what worked, seeing what didn't work, what captured the interest of an audience and what sent them to sleep. Perhaps even forgetting some of the less interesting sections along the way, until someone somewhere finally recorded the tales that we know as the Mabinogi today, as a written manuscript. And there it remained.
Cyfarwydd was the title given to the story-teller in old Welsh society, who had a fairly high status. Cyfarwydd also has connections in Welsh with ‘familiar’ and ‘magic’. I imagine the Cyfarwydd travelling from area to area, entertaining different audiences as they went. And with a series of stories like the Mabinogi, it's not hard to imagine the Cyfarwydd entertaining an audience for a series of nights in one location. So the Mabinogi was a series of tales experienced through the storytelling tradition, where the stories would be heard, not read as a novel. This modern-day audiobook version is probably the closest we can get to this experience today.
Complete with an introduction by Welsh author, tutor and audiobook narrator Colin Jones.
Available now on amazon.co.uk
Available on amazon.com
Also available from iTunes and Audible
Mabinogion, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Copyright Colin Jones MCMXVII. All rights reserved worldwide.