- Mapping the Mabinogion:A Guide to Prydain
Michael Tunnell has put together a reference guide to The Chronicles of Prydain that will be appreciated by scholars and teachers because of the readability of the text as well as the systematic classification of places, events, and characters that appear throughout the five volume series. Tunnell's straightforward style makes this work accessible to anyone wanting information and background on Alexander's work which is based on the Welsh Mabinogion.
The Mabinogion is the primary body of Welsh folktale and legend; it is composed of eleven stories that are known to date from at least as far back as the middle ages in the Welsh language. Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, in their translation of the Mabinogion (1949), consider them among the finest outpourings of Celtic genius, which- taken together- are a masterpiece of medieval European literature. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, which are part of the larger body, are probably the best known of these stories.
It is Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion (1877) to which Alexander is most indebted; indeed, we all recognize her service to scholars in making the first English translation. Alexander borrows widely from the tales she included; he does not restrict himself to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. But he uses his own creative ideas to establish Prydain, and while readers familiar with the Mabinogion will discover character, place, and event that appear in Prydain as well, they do not need a knowledge of the old legends to understand the stories. However, readers looking for intensive background on the old legends which Alexander used would be wise to consult C.W. Sullivan's Welsh Celtic Myth in Modern Fantasy (Greenwood, 1989) as well as the Guest and/ or the Jones and Jones translations. Alexander made particular use of Lady Guest's end notes which he read repeatedly as he was preparing for his own writing.
Tunnell makes no attempt, except in a cursory way, to refer back to original source material. What Tunnell does, and does well, is provide a thorough guide to the Chronicles themselves. Entries are indexed and cross-referenced so that using the guide is easy, and Tunnell is thorough in his treatment. For example, Taran, the major figure in the series, is given almost seventeen pages of text as Tunnell takes him from The Book of Three progressively through the series ending with The High King. In this way, Alexander's meticulous work is evident; we see in a concise way the development of Taran from his beginnings as a bumbling, stammering boy through his growing self-esteem, his discovery of self, his consideration of others, and his rightful place as high king.
Tunnell also includes other of Alexander's books which are spin-offs from Alexander's Chronicles; for example, Coll and His White Pig (1965), a picture book which followed The Book of Three (1964). Eight of Lloyd Alexander's texts plus two others, Lady Charlotte Guest's Madbinogion and Robert Graves' The White Goddess (1948), are primary sources for Tunnell, and he is scrupulous in citing quoted or paraphrased material to its source.
Tunnell selects thirty terms, which are also listed as entries in this text, which are mentioned frequently in the Prydain series or are basic to the story. When they are included within an entry, they are starred for easy reference. The brief chapter on "How to Use the Companion" is thorough without being unduly long; it explains how to find an entry and how to read one, and points out major terms and sources. A pronounciation guide is included-a necessity in working with Welsh names. However, as Lloyd Alexander points out, they are not necessarily true to the Welsh tongue.
An appendix includes further categories of entry headings, so that the heading, "common folk," lists Gowein, Hevydd, and others who share similar characteristics. A list of references follows the category section to guide readers to further material about Lloyd Alexander and his works.
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