The Mabinogion Tetralogy Critical Essays

Evangeline Ensley


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Evangeline Walton’s four novels re-create the four branches of the medieval Welsh Mabinogi, a collection of prose tales incorrectly given the title Mabinogion by its nineteenth century translator, Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest. Walton’s re-creation responds to problems some modern readers find in these strange stories by attempting to give the characters reasons for what seem to be unreasonable actions. Walton finds many of these explanations in Pictish mother-right customs, a system Walton contrasts to the New Tribe patriarchal patterns of marriage and succession. She even suggests that the tribes of Gwynedd and Dyved were of different races. She deliberately removed Christian references and interpolations because the Mabinogi is held to be a story of the ancient tribal gods as actual people.

Walton has insisted that she altered little of the material but expanded on it. Her additions are often from other Celtic sources: Giraldus Cambrensis for the Irish coronation rite in Prince of Annwn, Taliesin in The Song of Rhiannon and The Island of the Mighty, and Breton legends in The Island of the Mighty. Other sources include Heinrich Zimmer, Roger Loomis, Nora Chadwick, W. J. Gruyfydd, Sir John Rhys, F. N. Robinson, and even Tantric Buddhism. Walton uses this mythic material imaginatively but with a notable anti-Christian, anticlerical bias. She has reproduced the aura and mythic grandeur of Celtic materials without pretension or the mist and mess of the Celtic Twilight in four serious, artful novels that provide effective popular entertainment.