Sullivan anthology reprint

Charles Sullivan has told me that Routledge Revivals List has agreed to reprint his key 1997 anthology. It is currently ONLY available from academic libraries, unless you’re lucky to have bought one years ago.

Sullivan, Charles William III, ed. 1996. The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays. NY: Garland Publications.

This is great news as this anthology collects together the array of work of the previous two decades, when Mabinogi perspectives changed radically from the past.
Charles said ” I published the book because I was tired of having to sort through pages of articles I had copied from various journals.”

Sullivan’s own particular field is modern interpretations on which he is insightful and incisive. Here is an accessible example of his thinking.

Disability Difficulties

The disability issues are the pits. Big runaround only to be told they will do nothing to help.  I just can’t walk the route from the ordinary car park. It’s much too far for me. If this cannot be sorted I shall have to give it all up, for the sake of a half day of parking permission a month. Madness.

They say just pop in X office and Y office. If I could stride along corridors to “pop in” anywhere, I wouldn’t be struggling to get a parking permit!

I  felt so bullied and desperate I thought I must just try to cope. John can’t keep taking a day off to chauffeur me. So  I tried to go there alone, and park in the main car park. This meant by the time I’d walked to the centre of campus one way, I was exhausted. Then after very slowly plodding to see someone, I had to walk all the way back. It was raining slightly, so the handrail on wet stone steps was scarily slippery, and I fell.  Nasty wrenched leg.  Crumpled on the ground, wet, cold, utterly drained and very frightened, I wondered if I could get up as there was no one anywhere near. I breathed a bit and little by little got back to the vertical. Walking was another ordeal.

Worse was to come. By now I was so dazed I should not really have driven back, 1.5 hours mostly motorway. Nor was I in a mental condition to make important decisions. But all I could think of was getting home, being safe. A red light on the dashboard looked worrying but the car seemed to go so I drove carefully away.

20 miles down the motorway I was stranded on the hard shoulder clinging to a fence for support, unable to stand. It was a fast patch and colossal lorries were passing me within a couple of feet of my body at high speeds. It was still raining.  A very nice motorway police officer rescued me, phoned John, and got me to a services where I could SIT until my patient and loyal John arrived.  My poor car was ruined because I should never have tried to drive it.

Eventually I did get the precious permit. Too late for my wrecked car, and the effect on my self confidence of so many barriers was large. I just didn’t expect that being a limited walker was going to be such a huge obstacle. Plus having a fall and being so stupidly exhausted I wrecked my car.  I reacted with a lot of nervousness about going out, when I’d been making good progress on that. Still, nothing will stop me doing this work.





I duly worked on the list of primary Sources as instructed, which was useful.

I thought it would help Christine to get to grips with me if she saw a paper or two, so I analysed the first lines when Rhiannon appears “The Advent of Rhiannon.” Then I examined the gold silk she and others close to her wear, and its economics. “Rhiannon in Silk.”

Adjusted the project to fit the two required stages MA Res. then full PhD. Made a Research Plan to cover the next few months.

None of this was amazingly impressive but I was still taken aback when Christine dubbed my progress “Acceptable” on the record she has to make. Shocked, as I am accustomed to achieve well, I said dryly that I would really have to pull my socks up for her. It was her turn to be surprised. She said this was actually quite an approving term. I grumped it wasn’t to me. She kindly edited it to “very acceptable.”

A historic joke methinks.

Meeting Bramble

It seemed wrong that my chief heroine is a mighty horsewoman and I had never so much as touched a horse. I decided to meet one and arranged an appointment with Bramble the Welsh cob in Somerset.

She was almost exclusively interested in eating grass, but graciously allowed me close. Unfortunately I wasn’t told she doesn’t like her neck patted but she didn’t punish me, just ambled off.  Here we are, two tubby females in a field.

Bramble the Welsh Cob, and Shan. May 3 2014.

Bramble the Welsh Cob, and Shan. May 3 2014.

Christine tutorial 1

Only a little less terrified than my very first meeting back in January.

Christine is consistently gentle, but she holds so much power: to open the gates, or cast me out.  She is surprised I am so nervous, but it is not primarily about she herself as she is very kind to me. It is who she is.

She asks me to prepare a thorough list of sources and goes over the bureaucratic requirements. She misses nothing, which is very reassuring.

I also met Liz who had helped me connect with Christine, and who was now elected as my second supervisor, and very welcome to me. She will at intervals coordinate the gender research. We had quite an electric meeting.

Tree of Leaf and Flame

This is a major Mabinogi storytelling with a long term tour across Wales and southern England.

VIDEO link
or it’s on youtube.

Daniel Morden is the storyteller, His book Tree of Leaf and Flame won the Wales Books Council Tir Na Nog Prize in 2013.

Oliver Wilson-Dickson – violin and Dylan Fowler – guitar, are nationally renowned for their passionate, powerful music. They have toured the UK with groups such as Jamie Smith’s Mabon and the Ian Macmillan Orchestra.


REVIEW It’s always great to see the Mabinogi brought to life and especially welcome as a storytelling because that comes close to the original mediaeval tradition. To have live evocative music is also well within the tradition of mediaeval performance, and a truly delightful enrichment. Daniel Morden presents the Mabinogi in a simple, personal manner, appearing on stage in casual style in very ordinary shirt and trousers as if just back from the office. This is a surprise alert in its lack of historical context; its ‘street’ image is borne out by a simplified performance.

As a storytelling its interpretation raises major issues about canon and creativity. To take one small detail, Daniel Morden as storyteller has Rhiannon arriving riding a white horse “dressed all in white.”  Now in the Mabinogi Rhiannon is richly arrayed in gold silk, specifically gold brocade silk.  A small detail, but such details in the Mabinogi often have complex and extensive implications, as this one does. Gold brocade silk is an important linking motif in the Mabinogi. Rhiannon, her consort Pwyll, her rejected lover Gwawl, her baby son Gwri/ Pryderi, the hero child Lleu, all wear it.  Their gold silk gives a thread of continuity between these people of wealth and enchantment, whose connections forms the essential structure of the saga.

Silk was the most exotic fabric of all, traded from far Byzantium or Venice. It was so expensive it could only ever be worn by the top elite. Its shining appearance gave its wearers a magical, gleaming image, setting them apart from the ordinary, making them look more than human. The shining of silk is part of the superior perfection of Annwfn, and its ambiguous but undoubtedly intense effect on the Dyfed dynasty of the Mabinogi.
Omitting this key detail is therefore an important decision. Rhiannon dressed in white becomes not so much a Mabinogi heroine marked out by affinity with other Mabinogi protagonists, as a classic romantic heroine, an Arthurian maiden in the Victorian style. Rhiannon was not a gentle maid in virginal white, so this could be a fascinating, radical innovation, a newly interpreted Rhiannon. Or it could be seen as an abuse of the original Mabinogi Rhiannon. No doubt this will strike readers and observers differently.

That is just a small detail and perhaps I fuss too much about it because I am a Mabinogi scholar. The Tree of Leaf and Flame presentation of the Mabinogi also made much larger changes to the tales.  Manawydan is completely deleted, and the Third Branch is led instead by Pwyll, who therefore does not die, and Rhiannon has only one marriage.
This has the advantage of a major simplification of the story for a modern audience. It allows for a much more basic stripped version for those unfamiliar with the Mabinogi. But certainly in Wales, and to some extent in England, a tour is speaking to an audience who very largely come because they already know and love these traditional tales. Major simplification here loses characteristic Mabinogi subtlety in mirroring Manawydan and Pwyll, two consorts of the same woman, as very different and polarised characters.  Pwyll is a successful warlord prince, while Manawydan is a failed one, who lives on the bounty of his friend, Pwyll’s son. Manawydan becomes a man of peace after surviving a genocidal war and losing his throne. He is a famous person in Welsh tradition, one of the Three Humble Chieftains of the Triads.  Pwyll and his son are by contrast exemplars of the heroic nobility, arrogant and formidable fighters. Manawydan is a social outsider, able to adapt to changed circumstances by taking up trade, and then farming.  The Mabinogi explores this major contrast with a sophisticated eye for social values. 

Is it worth losing the depth of this characteristic Mabinogi comparison technique,  in order to boil the tales down to a simplified  shortie? The loss of understanding by it of the Mabinogi is considerable, especially in terms of its tradition over the last four decades which emphasises its sophisticated use of parallels and polarities such as the Pwyll – Manawydan opposition detailed above. On the other hand perhaps we need to have versions of the Mabinogi which cater to audiences who have suffered from a recently depleted education system, and whose span of attention is often said to be reduced by the soundbites of modern media. Are people really unable to handle complex thinking these days? Should we adapt to this limited ability if it is so?

It is interesting to see a new storyteller challenge the Mabinogi tradition. I look forward to seeing this issue opened up for discussion.


2015 plans, papers, conferences

My conference diary 2015 until the summer, updated. Abstracts will be uploaded both here and on
I’m aiming to complete my general review of Mabinogi scholarship summer 2015 which will generate lots for the site. In the autumn I will move to more focus on my own theories. However these are already leaking into my presentations.

Thurs 19 FEB. 3pm. SWANSEA MEMO (Centre for Mediaeval and Early Modern Research) Director: Prof. Daniel Power. Reading group for mediaevalists.
A triadic prompt for discussion. 1) The Mabinogi. 2) Rhiannon as ‘Tour Guide’ to my research. 3) This website as a research tool, why and how. More info.

Sat 28 FEB Sun 1st MARCH: BRISTOL Conference ‘Rule and Recreation.’
Presenting Sat. 10.45 ‘Exemplars and Shadowplay’ Mabinogi as exemplar of lordly rule; polarity of ideals and cautionary models.

Sat and Sun 20-22 MARCH: FALMOUTH. Conference, ACSIB (Association of Celtic Students of Ireland and Britain). Celtic Studies. Presenting ‘The Mystery of the Three Matriarchs of Britain.’ (Day/ time TBC)

Fri MARCH 27-29: GREGYNOG Conference, AWWE (Assoc. Welsh Writing in English) ‘The Country and the City.’ Presenting ‘Mabinogi Man: Pwyll and Manawydan.’ (Day/ time TBC)

Sat Sun APRIL 11/12 LONDON UCL Conference, EMICS (Early Medieval Interdisciplinary Conference Series). ‘Stories and Storytelling in the Medieval World.’ Presenting Sat PM ‘The oldest prose stories of Britain: the Mabinogi as political project.’

Fri/Sat 17/18 APRIL OXFORD, St. Edmund’s hall. Conference, Medium Aevum. ‘Colour.’ Presenting Sat. 10:45 ‘The Golden Thread: an example of Mabinogi subtlety.’

Fri – Mon 1-4 MAY LONDON Conference. ‘Medieval London and the World.’ Presenting ‘In Defence of the London Ravens’ Defense: deconstructing a deconstruction.'(Day/ time TBC)

Tues JULY 7 LEEDS IMC (International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds) “The Use and Abuse of the Middle Ages in Modern Society.” Presenting Tues 7th panel 4.30-6.00 “The Once and Future Mabinogi”

Christine James – ryuedawt

I had corresponded with four universities during the autumn 2014 to find a home to study Rhiannon.  One disqualified itself after initially looking good.  Another was friendly and seemed to understand my project, but could only offer a fairly rigid scheme of study. The other two never answered my emails.

The fifth, Swansea, didn’t look like it did medieval studies. Most of what I saw on the site was 1500 or later. But I sent an enquiry just in case. Then, as I was looking at the prospect of a very long tiring commute, and a less than ideal structure, Liz McAvoy wrote from Swansea Dec. 9th 2014 to say Christine James would be very interested to discuss my project.  I emailed her but Christine was much too busy to see me immediately but we arranged to meet Jan 10 2015.

I looked her up of course and was stunned to discover this was the Archdruid of Wales.  As a long term guest resident of Wales I knew just enough to know how august this made her, but nothing of what I could expect. Shiver.

A momentous meeting, and I knew it. It was like being a teenager again, a teenager of 64? Interesting. John helped me get up and get ready. I dressed with great care, and needed every second of John’s warm reassurance as we drove the motorway.  Acid panic. John carefully deposited me at Christine’s office with my laptop. Her welcoming smile was gentle but I could not  know then that this was perfectly sincere, and reflected a person of gentleness. Also I had already learned that academics are deceptive, especially how women can be so sweet surfaced.

How to describe two magnificent, formidable women, yet both shy, and with issues of uncertainty to cover about the work to do, meeting for the first time? The air was solid around us. The rest of the world did not exist. I was utterly terrified, as if I had been transported to the top of the highest mountain, all alone, to meet my destiny.

John walked past the door at intervals, doing his wolf guardian. He said the two voices quickly went into a happy rise and fall so he went off satisfied all was well. I babbled away no doubt sounding quite silly but it must have shown Christine a little something. She is as I was to learn astute at seeing it further than most.

I walked away in a boneless dream. I had found my mentor, and for the first time ever since I was young, someone I could deeply admire.


The Mabinogi Bibliography

Sept. and Oct. 2013 I had collected a lot of the Mabinogi Bibliography in document form.  Did a triage on the main softwares available. Decided to use Zotero for the online bibliog. It has a neat double software which synchronises entries made on their site, and on my laptop.

I can categorise it using tags. It creates searchable, sortable bibliographies. I or any visitor can construct a selected bibliog list, and one or more items can be copied to clipboard in formatted style.

Rapidly grew it to 750 listings then settled down to steady slog to collect the rest.  Can’t insert it on my own site though.

Edit. Reached 1,000 listings by Spring 2014. I doubt it will go over 1,300. We’ll see. It has proven its weight in gold as they say.

Four Books (Exhibition NLW)

EXHIBITION The first time all the original Mabinogi  manuscripts have been in one place.

Now on display at the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.

(Normally the Llyfr Coch is kept in Oxford but it has been lent for this exhibition. The Llyfr Gwyn is not in this special exhibition, but is close by in the same area.)

Outline info about the Manuscripts (PDF):…eld_a_ni/arddangosfeydd/ardd_pan_4llyfr_s.pdf


With thanks to Hilaire for circulating this information.