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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Great Celtic Tales

As I’ve pointed out in this blog time after time, I love Celtic myths and legends.  I remember as a kid a TV programme called ‘Jackanory’, which had a simple format of different actors reading different stories every night.  One week really made an impression on me – they were stories of war, magic, power and lovely princesses.  These particular stories also had an added depth, subtlety and beauty that even at a tender age I knew set them far above any other tale I’d ever come across.

Too many years later I picked up a book of Welsh tales, and refound the wonderful stories that had me spellbound as a child of six or seven.

Since then, I’ve read every traditional Celtic story I can get my hands on.  it’s been really hard to narrow the list down and I’ve had to miss out a few favourites, but here are my top five.

5.  Voritgern’s tower.  According to local legend, King Vortigern had a tower in north Wales that kept collapsing.  The young Merlin told him why, and went on to mutter prophesies.  The story is set in the Gwynant Valley on Snowdon’s southern flank.  It’s a stunning place I know and love.   I hinted at this story in ‘The Doe and The Dragon’.

4.  Irish Invasion Myths.  Stories of the five migratory invasions of Ireland by peoples as varied as the hideous Fomorians, the mortal Milesians, the fairy-like Duatha De Dannan (Dana’s Tribe).  Dana’s people play a key role in my forthcoming Wild Child Publishing novella, ‘Dana’s Children’.

3.  The Ulster Cycle.  Stories set around the court of King Conchobar mac Nessa, although the ‘star’ is the Irish hero Cu Chulainn (the ‘Hound of Ulster’).  Cu’s adventures are a great read, and make him rounded by dealing with aspects such as his birth and love life as well as his prowess in war.  My favourite modern retelling is Morgan Llywelyn’s ‘On Raven’s Wing’.

2.  King Arthur needs no introduction.  I love the time and pace (post-Roman Britain) as much as the specifically Arthurian stories.  Much has, of course, been made of Arthur by medieval and later romantics, but I much prefer the earlier history and stories which retain their Dark Age feel, even if Arthur plays more of a shadowy background role.

1.  Math, Son of Mathonwy.  This stunning story is from a collection of Welsh stories known as the Mabinogion.  The unpromising premise is of a king who will die unless his foot is placed in the lap of a maiden.  Beneath that lies a story with many layers; war, power, love, rivalry, and betrayal to name just a few.  This tale has it all, and is not only my favourite Celtic story, it’s my favourite story of all time.

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