19. A book older than 200 years: The Mabinogion
List Progress: 27/30
Mythology is always absurd, and if one branch of mythology seems less absurd, it is because a person has grown up with it and grown numb to the realities. Exploring mythology and legend from a different culture than one’s own is always going to be a somewhat baffling experience, but illustrates what stories are important and what values are prized in that culture. The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven classic Welsh stories, gathered from oral legends and compiled at some point in the eleventh or twelfth century. Some of the tales skew more magical and mythological, some read more like embellished historical sagas, and they are clearly a sampling from a huge range of times, styles and traditions.
There is a great deal of scholarship on the original providence of these stories, how they came to be collected as one unit, and how they have been filtered through various translations over the ages. That scholarship feels like the main reason for a modern reader to explore The Mabinogion. The stories themselves are fairly thin, stringing together courtly manners and knight’s journeys into long streams of consciousness that probably originated in oral tradition. The more mythical of the stories hold some entertainment value, for seeing how magic and fate are treated in medieval Welsh culture, but the straight sagas and Arthurian adventures are more than a little dry. For a reader who wants to dive into the history, to pick through the historical clues and contexts to determine what real events colored what stories, it is a treasure trove. But for a casual reader looking for a story, narrative art has come a long, long way since 1050.
Would I Recommend It: Not for a lay person, no.