Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Mabinogion Tetralogy

Two of my books arrived early this week and I promptly picked them up. I was briefly intimidated by the size of the Mabinogion Tetralogy, a mid-sized hardcover book of over seven hundred pages - but it being four books, this seemed not unreasonable, and I decided that I would feel free to stop if I didn't connect with the first book.

I was intrigued by the archaic style and the formalized, sweeping grandeur of the dialogue - and yet not entirely sure, to what percentage, the tone could be put to the subject matter, the period in which it was written, or the author's individual tastes. Certainly the feel of the original work is much present, though with other legends woven into it such that an entire universe stands behind the book.

One tendency I noticed seems to be a product of the times - I also spotted it in Jirel of Joiry and to some extent in the Harold Shea stories. Fantastic elements (particularly those of the otherworld, in this case) are presented vividly, almost surreally, with little attempt to explain their presence. Not that they seem off-kilter or out of place, but a modern fantasist would have to give some nod to how the monster subsists when there aren't mortals wandering through to eat, etc. There's an attitude of it, "This works. Just have faith in it," and ... to flout all the advice given to worldbuilders nowadays, it does.

An element that disappointed me, though again I can't tell to which of the three aforesaid influences to attribute it, is how "distant" the POV is. I didn't feel very engaged with Pwyll as a character; the (first) novel keeps you a good distance outside of his head.

I don't entirely know what to make of the heavy elements of goddess worship. That they may be suited to the historical period is outside my expertise to argue; they certainly don't feel inauthentic in that regard. I am less sure whether they are valid in view of the Mabinogion, or if they are not, if the stories can / should be interpreted as such. It doesn't seem an unreasonable projection into the storyline, but I'm not sold on it.

All that notwithstanding, however, I think I am going to press on and read the books that follow. I'm intrigued to see what Evangeline Walton does with the rest of the Mabinogion.

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