Back at the beginning of May, I started doing a feature called Tales of the Mabinogi where I told you about one part of Welsh mythology every week. Since then, I’ve managed one post (which was Culhwch and Olwen), but hopefully I’ll be much more consistent now.
This week, I’m looking at the first branch of the Mabinogi, which is the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed. His story is split into three parts:- going to Annwn, meeting Rhiannon, and the birth of his son.
So, the first part of Pwyll’s story is about when he went Annwn, which is the Welsh underworld. He ends up there because he decides to go hunting and sees some mysterious hounds. They’ve killed a stag and are eating it, so Pwyll chases the hounds away and sets his own hounds to eat it. However, this angers Arawn, king of the underworld, and so Pwyll agrees to take Arawn’s place for a year. While ruling Annwn, Pwyll succeeds in defeating Arawn’s enemy Hafgan and unites both parts of Annwn. Because of this, Pwyll and Arawn become good friends and everyone lives happily ever after. Or at least those two do. For a bit.
The second part of Pwyll’s story involves meeting and falling in love with the beautiful Rhiannon. To be honest, their meeting is a bit strange because it starts out with Pwyll’s men chasing after Rhiannon and failing to catch her because she’s got a magical horse.
Pwyll gets her to stop by politely asking (because manners clearly do get you everywhere), and Rhiannon instantly falls in love with him. Unluckily, she’s already engaged to a guy called Gwawl but they come up with a plan so that she can marry Pwyll instead. Basically what they do is trap Gwawl in a sack that can never be filled, and then Pwyll gets his men to beat up Gwawl, which leaves Pwyll and Rhiannon free to get married.
The final part of Pwyll’s story begins with the birth of his son. Everything’s fine until the baby mysteriously disappears. Think Tangled (as in the Disney film). There were six women looking after the baby at the time who decide to blame Rhiannon for the disappearance. They do this by smearing the blood of puppies over her and make look like she killed their son (and possibly ate him). Maybe not so much like Tangled. Her punishment is to sit outside the castle, tell her story to passers-by, and offer to carry visitors and pilgrims on her back.
Meanwhile, Teyrnon Twryf Liant finds a baby on his doorstep, raise him as his own and names his Gwri Golden-hair. Eventually his resemblance to Pwyll becomes obvious and Gwri is returned to the castle. Rhiannon’s punishment is ended and she renames her son Pryderi (which is Welsh for worry). And that’s the end of the story of Pwyll.
I don’t know if anyone’s heard this story before (I’m guessing that’s kind of unlikely) so what do you think of it?