THE MORAL EPISTLES
By Charlotte Guest • Read by Richard Mitchley
“Get to the end and heaven reward thee!”
Those who are familiar with the Welsh stories of the Mabinogian will relish this excellent narration of the tales with Richard Mitchley’s subtle Welsh lilt and his skill at rolling off his tongue the multitude of mellifluous Welsh names. For those like me for whom The Mabinogian is merely a never-read name, as well as enjoying the narration, listening to the stories will be an absolute joy-fest.
The stories date from the 11th century, but the oral tradition on which most are based go back much further into a timeless Welsh Middle Ages where enchantment, myth, dream, quests, history – and hideous cruelty – meet. (Think vaguely King Arthur and the chivalric Romance of the Rose). The translations used here published in 1840 are by a most remarkable woman, Lady Charlotte Guest, the daughter of Earl Lindsey who, amongst her considerable other achievements, learned many languages including Persian and Welsh. The archaic language structure with its ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ballad-like repetitions recall both Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and the Bible. In the stories themselves are universal themes such as redemption, punishment, loyalty and desire. Over-riding these is the code of honour and the severe punishment of what is perceived as dishonour – there are a great many heads severed and silver lances steeped in the blood of revenge – even the poor horses of the guilty have their eye-lids cut to the bone.
I loved the colour in all these tales – reds, golds, speckled yellow, azure; flame-coloured leopards, white-breasted greyhounds with collars of rubies and all the brilliance of robes and jewels. The stories teem with week-long feasts, gruelling quests on horseback into strange forests and mountains, and ladies of enchanting beauty who may be married to one not of her choosing, or be imprisoned, turned into a mouse or a boar or forbidden to speak. A magic wand will turn a man into a deer or a hog, or turn his green crops to dust. The punishments and violence are relentless: a severed head is carried around for 40 years, the heads of 200 men are squeezed until they are dead (quite a feat!); blood-laced lances are forever cleaving in twain some malefactor who has broken the social code. I liked the story of Branwen who saved his sister imprisoned in Ireland by teaching a starling to speak (and presumably to navigate!), and tucking a message into its feathers thereby arranging her rescue.
Download The Mabinogian and be transported into another world!
Rachel – 06/05/17 – Audible Review