Monday, November 3, 2008

Tipyn o Saesneg heddiw / a little English today

Today I'm taking a break from my bilingual blogging to post another excerpt from Storyteller - this time from the afterword, in response to a question about sources. Fear not (or fear?), my bilingual approach will be back later in the week...
The 6th century in Britain is in some ways the darkest part of the European Dark Ages. As direct evidence of people and events in this period, we have a handful of poems, a few historical references in accounts written 200 years or more later, and a set of genealogies of doubtful value. In addition, there is a growing body of archaeological material, some of which contradicts (or at least fails to support) the above sources. In attempting to write a series of somewhat historical stories based in this period, the prospective author must leap from rock to rock, occasionally walking on water in between. Inevitably there will be some splashes.

For those who care about such details, then, the following summary is provided. Actual physical locations (i.e., towns, forts, roads, etc.) are based on archaeological reports where available, but details (buildings, general appearance) of these places at the time of the story are speculative or wholly invented. Territorial units such as kingdoms fall in this category as well; there are no maps of Wales or of the lands of the Men of the North from the 6th century. Most of the kings or princes are at best names in a poem, history, or genealogy, and their characters (to say nothing of their appearances) are largely inferred from their reported actions. Five of the more important bards are listed (as names only) in Historia Britannica; from two of them — Taliesin and Neirin (later called Aneirin)—we have poetry as well, although the degree to which these poems may have mutated during oral transmission is debatable. This poetry, incidentally, provides a large amount of the detail for material and social culture in the courts of the time.

Finally, a word on the magical or supernatural element in some of these stories. Many of the "supernatural" characters encountered by Gwernin, especially in the first part of this book, derive from the collection of Welsh medieval tales called the Mabinogion, and especially the section called the Four Branches. In a time and place where there was no clearly perceived distinction between spirit world and "real" world, I submit that these characters would have seemed, to a person in touch with their stories, to have as much "reality" as many of the "historical" ones. Indeed, so I have found it myself on some of my own journeys through Britain, over 1400 years later.


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