Friday, January 19, 2007
Jan 1 2007 Sally Williams, Western Mail
A WELSH academic has just completed the first new English translation of The Mabinogion for 30 years.
Sioned Davies, chair of Welsh at Cardiff University, has recreated the medieval stories of Wales.
And Welsh academics believe the work could attract the attention of movie makers looking to make a Lord of the Rings-style adaptation of Wales' seminal Celtic myths.
The stories have seen many different interpretations over the years including several translations and cartoon adaptations.
The name Mabinogion was given by William Pughe, an 18th century antiquarian, to a selection of narrative works found in two great ancient books of Wales.
They are the Red Book of Hergest, now kept in Oxford's Bodleian library, and the White Book of Rhydderch, held in the National Library of Wales, both of which feature the relationship between the mundane and the magical.
Ms Davies has reinvented the tales, while taking care to keep the rhythm and tempo of the originals.
In her work, she examines the stories' themes and explains aspects of medieval Welsh society.
She said, "They feature 11 very different stories, some of them are about King Arthur and his knights fighting giants and witches, others are to do with Celtic mythology, where people get transformed into animals.
"There is also a tale of a red dragon fighting a white one - the red dragon symbolising Wales.
"This is the first major translation I have worked on. I received the contract eight years ago and it took me three years to complete, working on and off, juggling lots of things.
"I did my PhD on The Mabinogion, on its narrative and style. I'm very interested in the storytelling techniques so I tried to make the translation one that can be read out loud."
She read an extract of her version of the story at the Hay Festival of Literature to an audience of around 100, in the style it would have been performed in the distant days when it was first told.
S4C made an animated film about the tales in 2002 and Dr Ian Hughes, a lecturer on The Mabinogion, at the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, believes the ancient stories would be ideal material for a new fantasy blockbuster.
"Throughout the centuries, everyone has realised the importance of this work," he said.
"Five of the stories are Arthurian in nature and he has played a major part in our imaginations here in Wales and that of the literati of many countries in Europe.
"But we in Wales feel even closer to these tales because we can plot the destinations mentioned in the stories on the map.
"Arthur hunts a wild boar from Ireland, that swims across to Pembrokeshire and ravages parts of South Wales.
"The Lln Peninsula and Arfon in North Wales are mentioned.
"And Mochdre and Mochnant -'pig stream' in Powys - are referred to, although the Arthurian-like waterfall at Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant is not mentioned.
"We can hear about these myths that occurred in the places where we live and they appear to be more real to us."
But Dr Hughes believes that while movies like The Sword in the Stone and Excalibur have been made based on Arthur's journeys in England and on the Continent, Wales has been neglected.
"Wales does not seem to have a fair airing in the tales - we don't seem to be as good at the Irish at getting funding and pushing ourselves," he said.
"But there is plenty of scope for a blockbuster adaptation of these tales.
"One of the great things about Sioned's book is that it may well lead to a renewed interest in The Mabinogion."
The Four branches of the Mabinogion
The First Branch is set in Dyfed, an area connected to the magical underworld known as Annwfn.
Here Rhiannon The Great Queen is a goddess of horses, birds and the Island Otherworld.
Pwyll Pendevic Dyfed, the hero, undergoes magical trials before emerging as the Head of Annwfn and consort of the Great Queen, before she gives birth to the hero Pryderi.
The Second Branch sees the great king Bran, or Bendigeidfran lead an ill-fated expedition to Ireland to avenge his sister, Branwen.
He returns bearing the living head of their leader and the seven survivors undertake a mysterious odyssey.
In the Third Branch the fallout from these events involves Manawydan son of Llyr, Pryderi son of Pwyll, his mother Rhiannon and his wife Cigfa living in a land magically emptied of human habitation.
The Fourth Branch concerns the family of the goddess Don.
Celtic hero-god Lleu is forced to overcome a triple curse from his mother, who says he should receive neither a name, a weapon, or a wife.
Gwydion and Math the wizard-king of Gwynedd magically create a woman for Lleu, conjuring her out of wild flowers.
But she betrays the man she was created to love.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Merlin adds his magic to Saturday night TV
Dec 8 2006 Western Mail
THE Arthurian wizard Merlin will make his debut in a new BBC1 prime time drama announced yesterday.
The Saturday night drama will focus on the mighty wizard, traditionally seen as a Welsh or Celtic legend, as a young man.
It will follow in the tradition of BBC shows, like BBC Wales' Doctor Who and Robin Hood which have sparked a resurgence in family viewing.
But the new drama will concentrate on magic.
The adaptation is in its 'very, very, very early stages of development' and will not hit the small screen for at least another 12 months. But it is scheduled to go out at the prime time BBC1 7pm slot.
BBC1 controller Peter Fincham said he hoped Merlin would encourage even more family viewing.
He said, 'Three generational television - television you can watch with your parent and with your children - there's not enough of that about.
'I think it is very important on BBC1 that we include more and more of that world of family viewing.
'We've only just scratched the surface of modern family viewing. So our appetite is not exhausted by Robin Hood and Doctor Who.'
The new drama should air in the part of the year when Robin Hood is not occupying the Saturday night slot.
Merlin is said to have engineered the birth of King Arthur through magic and served as his adviser.
But the BBC said the story would focus less on the Legend of the Round Table and more on magic.