Jones’s book allows the young adult reader to understand the Welsh people through their legends and tales. People of all cultures have a body of knowledge and wisdom that they transmit through their stories—through myths, legends, and folktales—and the Welsh are no different. Such stories help to define the culture out of which they arise, explaining to the reader or listener (for such stories in most cultures were first transmitted orally) what values and mores that culture cherishes. In essence, myths, legends, and folktales help both to preserve a people’s past heritage and to create a people’s future heritage.
Readers can easily detect within the stories of Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales those things that the Welsh hold most dear. Marriage and family are important aspects of traditional Welsh life. Pwyll’s quest for a suitable wife is a concern not only for him but also for his friends and advisers. The expectation of an heir coming from his marriage to Rhiannon is a source of anxiety for all of Pwyll’s subjects until their son Pryderi eventually is born. Gwydion’s efforts for a proper name for his son, Culhwch’s quest for Olwen, and Macsen Wledig’s curious way of finding a wife because of a dream all emphasize the place that familial relations occupy in Welsh life.
Personal honor as well is privileged in traditional Welsh society. The insults that Efnisien heaps on his brother-in-law Matholwch not only anger...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
As an accomplished writer and scholar, Gwyn Jones was well suited to present the best of Welsh legends and folklore to young adult readers. Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales is only one book in an entire corpus of Jones’s works dealing with the legends and folklore of Northern cultures, works such as Scandinavian Legends and Folk-Tales (1956), The Norse Atlantic Saga (1964), A History of the Vikings (1968), and Kings, Beasts, and Heroes (1972). It is clear, however, that the most important influence on Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales was The Mabinogion, a work that Jones translated from the Welsh with Thomas Jones and published in 1949.
Popular interest in mythology and folklore grew steadily throughout the twentieth century, and the elements of Welsh legends and folklore presented in Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales began to arise even in mainstream young adult fiction. One need only go to Lloyd Alexander’s highly successful Chronicles of Prydain series to witness the appeal of Welsh tales. Alexander openly acknowledges a great debt to the traditional Welsh tales that inspired the Prydain series. In fact, much of the fantasy fiction of the latter half of the twentieth century incorporates the same elements that make the traditional Welsh tales so enticing: heroic quests, magical trinkets, glorious battles, fairies, and antagonistic giants. The influence of collections of traditional folklore such as Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales is widespread, profoundly affecting readers and writers alike.