Caitlin Matthews,
Mabon & the Guardians of Celtic Britain:
Hero Myths in the Mabinogion

(Inner Traditions, 2002)

British and Welsh mythology can be quite impenetrable to the casual observer. There's the Arthurian cycle, the Mabinogion, the various gods and goddesses running around having battles with giants and whatnot, and none of it is properly explained in Bullfinch or neatly summed up in little tales about the constellations. Those students devoted enough to work through the Mabinogion are likely to end even more confused , gaining only a distaste for British mythology. That's why a law should be passed that the Mabinogion only be presented alongside Caitlin Matthews' Mabon & the Guardians of Celtic Britain: Hero Myths in the Mabinogion.

Mabon & the Guardians is best read alongside its companion volume, but a set of neat synopses serve as reminders of the basic tales for anyone who may have misplaced their Mabinogion, or even never read it. But the real purpose of the synopses is to provide quick links for the very insightful notes and entertaining speculations that make up the weight of the book. Matthews not only links the myths in the cycle to each other through similarities that are easily overlooked, she examines the place of the stories in the wider world at the time of their creation. Her knowledge of the history of the Mabinogion is impressive, and clearly informs not just her knowledge of the use of the myths, but her understanding of the stories. She finds parallels not just between obvious tradition like Welsh and Scottish, but also among the Roman myths and even some Egyptian tales. Also welcome are her views on character motivation and story drive. Anyone familiar with folklore has noticed the lack of reasons for much of the characters' behavior. With historical reference and solid cultural knowledge, Matthews goes a long way to explaining why much of the most baffling behavior of heroes like Bran is not only acceptable, but socially inevitable. Those who don't accept that a story may happen just to fulfill part of a myth cycle will find this humanizing of the legends especially valuable.

Mabon & the Guardians of Celtic Britain isn't meant to stand alone. Much of the detail of the original stories is missing from the synopses, and a read of the guidebook will make a mythology hound eager to go back to the source and apply what they've learned. No guidebook is ever as rich as the actual journey, and Matthews' book won't satisfy an urge to wander back through the sourcebooks of mythology. But I don't recommend starting the trip without her.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 2 August 2003

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