As indicated in the previous post, Seren Books have commissioned a series of short novels based on approaches to Y Mabinogi and two have so far been published.

The adaptation of the First Branch by Russell Celyn Jones as The Ninth Wave suffers, I think, from some of the problems identified in his approach to the material. It rather schematically transfers story lines and characters to a setting in the near future, strips out almost everything that is magical and locates the action in and around the city of Swansea. The writing is sparse with short sentences predominating and it wears its literary techniques on its sleeve (the author teaches creative writing).

The adaptation of the Second Branch by Owen Sheers as White Ravens is much more successful. The narrative from the original is nested into a frame story by an Ancient Mariner like figure and itself ingeniously adapts motifs from the medieval narrative. Moving between the present and the 1940s it sustains a realistic story in a modern setting while at the same time retaining the mythological aura of the original. The writing is skilfully executed and the whole thing hangs together as a story in its own right as well as an adaptation of the earlier material. Its use of that material is both free and fluent but also firmly rooted in the original.

Although Owen Sheers has a better sense of mythological themes, neither adaptation really captures the numinousness and the magical aura of the original: Rhiannon riding past and moving out of range of her pursuers without appearing to speed up, the strangeness of her penance at the horse block, the sojourn with the head of Bran on Gwales ….  This would be a difficult thing to do in a modern narrative that sought to avoid the fantasy genre of other recent adaptations.

Two more titles are on the way from Seren, one by Niall Griffiths and one by Gwyneth Lewis, presumably based on the two remaining branches of Y Mabinogi. The series editor, however, speaks of “the eleven stories in The Mabinogion” so it might be that adaptations of the other tales will also eventually appear. It will be interesting to see what can be done with Culhwch and Olwen. The prospect of adapting some of the other tales is, to say the least, intriguing.

No comments: