The Mabinogion is compilation of medieval British (specifically Welsh) stories of love, war, and magic. Although there are many references to Arthurian legends, this compilation includes a variety of other tales as well. Although probably not as well-known as Mallory’s Le Morte D’arthur, The Mabinogion nevertheless has had a lasting impact on literature. To reference some past blog posts where I discussed this influence, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is one example, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain another.
To the contemporary audiences of the 12-13th centuries or even before, this was their form of entertainment. Like television today, these oral recitations (or, once the stories were finally written down, read-alouds) had to serve in many roles: Romance, action, mystery, fantasy, philosophy, history, and perhaps even a little theology.
It takes a shift in values to understand how original audiences received these stories. To the modern reader, many of these heroes come across as meatheads and braggarts. Take Sir Kynon:
“I was the only son of my mother and father, and I was exceedingly aspiring and my daring was very great. I thought there was no enterprise in the world too mighty for me…”
Wow. Humble much?