Morgan Llywelyn,
Bard
(Houghton Mifflin, 1984; Tor, 1987)

Morgan Llywelyn combines elements of Celtic mythology and history into her interpretation of the migration of a tribe of Celts to Ireland in her novel Bard, subtitled "The Odyssey of the Irish."

Amergin, one of the six sons of the chieftain Milesios, has never been like his four warrior brothers; like his brother Colptha, he has become a druid. But where Colptha's role is that of sacrificer, Amergin is a bard, his music and his memory serving to pass on the history of his people. He is also responsible for recording the new deeds and accomplishments of his tribe in words and music.

They are the Gaelicians, living on the northern coast of Iberia -- today, Spain -- and it has been many years since they were visited by the Sea People, the traders of Tyre and Carthage. The sighting of a Phoenician's merchant ship is cause for great initial excitement and anticipation which is shattered when one of Amergin's brothers breaks the rules of hospitality. Furthermore, the Gaelicians have little of value with which to trade, and the Phoenician's storm-battered wares are less than admirable.

These conditions are a sign of the times. The clan has grown in times of prosperity, and food and resources are becoming scarcer. The situation is compounded further in that there is little room to expand. But both Age-Nor, the trader, and an elderly Gaelician share with Amergin tales and visions of a green and welcoming land called Ierne, and Amergin knows that his destiny is to travel there with his people. His vision is that of a bard's land, but his brothers Eremon and Eber Finn have other ideas, warrior ideas.

The narrative is a tapestry made up of the threads of its characters; the plot is detailed with the various facets of their lives. The focus shifts occasionally to Ierne, where the race called the Tuatha de Danann, the Children of Light, the Children of the Goddess Danu anticipate change and disruption. Held to be legendary, magical figures, they are presented as an evolved pre-Gaelic Celtic tribe, which they well might have been. As is the case with many of Llywelyn's novels, while a knowledge of Celtic mythology is not necessary to enjoy the novel, familiarity with the old stories will enhance it.

Some of the characters are based on historical characters: the "Song of Amergin" is one of the earliest works of western European poetry. Others are fictional, but all are memorable and the reader cares about them all. Llywelyn has gathered together the little that is actually known about the ancient Celts and woven it into a lush, engrossing saga which will stay with the reader for a long time.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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