The next two installments in Seren Books' series New Stories From The Mabinogion are released this month. Authors Gwyneth Lewis and Niall Griffiths have penned modern day versions of the mystical Welsh tales.
The novels join those in the series already released by Owen Sheers (White Ravens) and Russell Celyn Jones (The Ninth Wave) in 2009.
The four titles in Seren's New Stories From The Mabinogion series. Images courtesy Seren Books.
The Mabinogion came to general literary prominence in the 19th century, when Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation of the medieval Welsh folk tales. They are preserved in written form in the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425). Portions of the stories were written as early as the second half of the 11th century, and some stories are much older still.
The Mabinogion consists of four branches: Pwyll Prince of Dyfed, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, Manawydan Son of Llŷr, and Math son of Mathonwy; plus four individual tales: The Dream of Macsen Wledig, Llud and Llefelys, Culhwch and Olwen, and The Dream of Rhonabwy. Three Arthurian romances complete the Mabinogion: Owain, or The Lady of the Fountain, Peredur, son of Efrawg, and Geraint, son of Erbin, which is also known as Geraint and Enid.
Gwyneth Lewis. Photo: Tim Brett
Lewis' The Meat Tree is the retelling of the fourth branch, the final and most complex of the branches - Math son of Mathonwy.
Set in the future, the tale is told by the Inspector of Wrecks who has been called in to examine a deserted spaceship. The inspector, on the verge on retirement, brings all his experience into investigating the physical and virtual reality fields of the ship, as well as the three bodies found floating in the hull.
What he finds shakes him to the core and makes him question his beliefs about how the imagination creates how we live and the disasters that kill us.
Meanwhile, Niall Griffiths - known for his gritty novels such as Stump and Sheepshagger - tackles the retelling of the tale of The Dream of Rhonabwy in The Dreams of Max and Ronnie.
Iraq-bound squaddie Ronnie and his mates are the unlikely heroes in the book. Ronnie takes a drug and falls asleep for three nights in a hovel, where he dreams of watching an oddly familiar grinning man playing war games.
Niall Griffiths. Photo: Getty images
Griffiths complements the story with another Mabinogion tale, The Dream of Macsen Wledig. The eponymous emperor of Rome in the medieval text is translated by Griffiths into a modern day Max - a seedy south Walian owner of a nightclub called Rome who is intent on revenge attacks on a rival north Wales gang.
The series has already been lauded in the Guardian by critic Alfred Hickling: "Seren's series of new stories inspired by the Mabinogion may be the greatest service to the Welsh national epic since Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation of the medieval folk tales in the mid-19th century."
Praise indeed. You can read the rest of his review on the Guardian website, and learn more about Lady Charlotte Guest on the BBC Wales History website.
Gwyneth Lewis' The Meat Tree is released on 1 October, while Niall Griffiths' The Dreams of Max and Ronnie is released on 15 October.
Seren, in conjunction with Academi and as part of the 2010 Bay Lit Shock Of The New festival, will be holding a Mabinogion Series Launch at St David's Hotel in Cardiff on Thursday 28 October. Find out more about the event, in which all four authors will discuss their works, on the Seren Books website.