Tales of Arthur
Earlier this evening John K Bollard read from his translation of the Arthurian tales contained in the collection of medieval Welsh tales known as 'The Mabinogion'. This took place in the campus bookshop at the University in Aberystwyth. He was joined by his wife Margaret Lloyd who read from her own collection of poems based on Arthurian themes and also by Anthony Griffiths whose photographs accompany the translations and who has also published a book of photographs capturing the wildness of Elenydd, the mountain fastness at the centre of Wales. Anthony Griffiths, an accomplished musician, entertained those who attended by playing his guitar. It was, then, a multi-valent event.
John Bollard, in breaking up the 'Mabinogion' tales into three volumes, also breaks the corporate identity bestowed upon them by Lady Charlotte Guest when she published the first translation in the Nineteenth Century. The eleven tales that make up the corpus are only really a corpus at all in that they were discovered bound together in manuscript collections known as The Red Book of Hergest and The White Book of Rhydderch. The 'Four Branches' of Y Mabinogi certainly form a group and may be by the same author. These formed the first of the volumes translated by Bollard together with Griffiths' photographs which themselves underline how deeply rooted in the landscape of Wales these tales are. By the second volume Companion Tales to Y Mabinogi, a series 'Landscape and Legend of Wales' had been established. Anthony Griffiths' photographs again researched the places in 'How Culhwch Got Olwen' and the 'native tales' and it was clear that a mythic presentation of landscape was emerging from the interaction of text and photographs.
In the latest volume Tales of Arthur this interaction is more problematic. In these tales we are very much in the medieval 'present' rather than a mythic past. Arthur is a king or emperor and his men are knights. Like the French romances with which these three tales can be compared the knights ride off from Caer Llion on Usk into enchanted landscapes with little specific correlation with the actual geography of the land. Photographs here were clearly a problem and many of the pictures have no specific links with the text or illustrate Arthurian place names, making the point that these show how much Arthur is part of the geography of Wales even if that geography cannot be specifically linked to the tales. This, in itself, underlines the justification for breaking up 'The Mabinogion'. These tales, certainly, are different from the other tales in the collection and deserve to be presented in their own right.