Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Are Evangeline Walton and the "Mabinogion" So Important to Me?

       First I want to say, I now have successfully gained permission to publish the epigraph quotations from Dylan Thomas!  And I want to give credit to the two publishers who hold the copyright on his works: New Directions (my contact was Kelsey Ford) and the British firm of David Higham (contact was Marigold Atkey).  Both Permissions Departments responded promptly and were extremely courteous and helpful.  If the Publications area of those firms are anywhere near as efficient and easy to deal with as Permissions, I would definitely choose either of them to publish my books (assuming they would be interested!)
       I also think I've finished sending out requests.  Now a waiting game is on -- it takes anywhere from four to ten weeks for most publishers to respond.  In the meantime, I'm looking for replacement epigraphs for the copyrighted poets that I've given up on.  I found a great replacement for the Ezra Pound, better than the one I had originally picked.  And I've selected Alexander Pope's translation of the "Iliad" for my one reference -- it's a lot less concise than the modern version, but it has certain features that make it quite appropriate.
       And then just this morning I sent the last (and ironically the most important) permissions request of all -- for the use of quotations from Evangeline Walton's "Island of the Mighty."  If you haven't heard of this book, you will soon know a lot about it.  It's my favorite fantasy novel of all time and it plays a big part in "The Termite Queen."  Kaitrin's contract-father (30th-century term for step-father) is a folklorist and an archivologist (he helps excavate Underground Archivist caches) and he rediscovered this book and helped to republicize it.  It plays a larger role than that, actually, but to write about that would play the spoiler.  To learn more about Evangeline Walton, the author of the book, go to a new website,, which will tell you everything you need to know.
       The novel is a retelling, first published in the 1930's, of the Fourth Branch of the "Mabinogion."  In case there is somebody out there who is saying, "The what?" you're going to get a lesson in Welsh mythology right now.  In the mid-19th century, Lady Charlotte Guest translated and published a collection of medieval Welsh  manuscripts under that name.  (I was fortunate to be introduced to this compilation in a college senior seminar on Medieval Lit. in Translation.)  The collection included very primitive Arthurian literature like "Culhwch and Olwen" and "The Dream of Rhonabwy," but it also included the "Four Branches of the Mabinogi," which contain absolutely wondrous Welsh legends.  Evangeline Walton retold all four branches in her "Mabinogion Tetralogy," all of which are terrific.  However, the first one she published was the Fourth Branch, dealing with the ancient King Mâth ap Mathonwy and his son Gwydion ap Dôn, both of whom are a combination of mythic heroes, magicians, and gods.  Walton entitled this book "The Virgin and the Swine," which was perfectly apt given the content of the story, but which unfortunately makes the book sound like some kind of erotica.  Her later publishers made her retitle it "The Island of the Mighty." 
       The book begins with the stealing of the pigs of Pryderi and Math's subsequent punishment of his son, but the main part deals with Gwydion's love for his sister Arianrhod, the trickery he used (really strange!) to get her with child, the rearing and naming of that child (Llew), and Arianrhod's revenge, when she curses her son to never lie with a woman of a race that now dwells upon this earth.  In response, Gwydion creates a woman out of flowers, whose name is Blodeuwedd (pronounced roughly [I'm no Welsh scholar] "Bloh-DAI-weth," with the "th" voiced as in "bathe.")  However, this construct proved to have no substance and she betrays Llew with another man.  By means of Arianrhod's curse, her lover is able to kill Llew, but Gwydion finds a way to bring him back to life and then sets out (and I must quote this, because it's one of my favorite lines in all of literature!) "going forth, after the fashion of all orthodox gods, to damn the creature he had fashioned ill ... "  He turns her into an owl -- the owl woman of Alan Garner's "The Owl Service," which is also based on this myth. 
       Anyway, it's a terrific story even in the skeletal form of the original myth, but when it's fleshed out by Evangeline Walton, it's both realistic and absolutely magical and strange!  A new edition of the Four Branches ("Mabinogion Tetralogy") in one volume is in the process of being published by Overlook Press, which holds the copyright and to which I have made my plea for permissions.  You might  want to check out their website --  Since the book hasn't been published yet, it's not on Amazon at the present time.

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