Lorna Mills and Sally McKay
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stolen from bill
Lately I've been dipping in and out of The Mabinogion. It's a potent mishmash of very old Welsh myths and tales, and the stories are really funny. I'm starting a super-informal series of posts, in which I will undertake to summarize, to the best of my off-the-cuff ability, some of the nuttier storylines. The version I'm reading was translated by Gwyn and Thomas Jones in 1949, and according to Mary Jones is more accurate (being word for word) than Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of 1849 which is available all over the place online. I've already found that some juicey stuff* in the Jones's version is not included in Lady Charlotte's version, which is apparently considered a dubious translation (too prudish?).
Okay here goes...
Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed (part one)
A chieftan, Pwyll (Prince of Dyfed), goes out with his dogs hunting stag. In the woods, he comes across a totally foreign pack of dogs, of a colour he's never seen. These dogs have a stag cornered so he sets his dogs on it and they take it town. Then the owner of the foreign looking dogs arrives and he's really pissed. He says that he won't give Pwyll the time of day, since he's been so rude as to hijack his hunt. Pwyll apologises and asks how he can make it up to the guy. Turns out this guy is also a chieftan, Arawn, a King of Annwvyn. He explains that he has a problem and Pwyll can help him out. A neighbour chieftan to Arawn has been bugging him, honing in on his territory and trying to take over. He wants Pwyll to get rid of the guy (another King of Annwvyn named Havgan).
Pwyll is into this, "Sure, what do I do?" Arawn's explains, "Okay, here's the deal. You and me switch places for a year. You come and rule my land and hang out with my posse and as a bonus you'll get a great looking woman to sleep with every night."
"Sounds okay," says Pwyll, "but what about my kingdom?"
"Oh no worries, I'll take your place. And I'll fix it so no one can tell we've switched. I've got a tryst arranged with Havgan, in a ford in the river here, one year from today. You show up instead of me, and strike him one blow. Don't hit him anymore than once, even if he begs you. That'll do the trick and then we can trade back."
Pwyll agrees, and so off they go. He goes to Arawn's kingdom and everyone accepts him as Arawn without batting an eyelash. He hangs out and parties, chats with the guy's gorgeous wife, hunts, carouses, and generally enjoys himself. But at night in bed he does nothing, just turns his back on the woman and goes to sleep. This goes on for a year. At the end of that time he goes to the ford and Havgan shows up. Pwyll clocks him one and strikes a mortal blow, though Havgan is not killed instantly. The wounded chieftan is irritated, to say the least, "Why did you strike me, asshole, and furthermore since you did, would you please finish me off?" Pwyll refuses to hit him again, and says that now his men must put him out of his misery. Also, he's taking over Havgan's kingdom. Havgan's men swear allegiance to Pwyll (still in the guise of Arawn, of course) and by noon he's pretty much got control of Havgan's territory. Then he hooks up with Arawn again and they trade back.
Arawn goes back home and he's thrilled to see everyone again, but of course they don't notice any difference. He parties with his friends and at night he gets affectionate and makes love with his wife. Afterwards she's kind of quiet, and he says "What's up? You're quiet tonight." She bursts out, "I tell thee, for a year I have not spoken even so much in such a place as this."
"Why now," says Arawn, "we have talked closely together." She says, "Shame on me, if ever since a year from yesternight, from the time we were enfolded in the bedclothes, there has been either delight or converse between us, or thou hast turned thy face towards me, let alone anything that would be more than that between us." Arawn is stunned. This guy Pwyll never even tried anything with his wife! So he tells her the whole story. And she says, "Dude, you are lucky to have a friend like that. Go say thanks."
Meanwhile, Pwyll has gone back to his kingdom and he's asking around, "How have things been going this past year?" And it turns out people are thrilled. They say "Lord, never wast thy discernment so marked; never was thou so lovable a man thyself; never was thou so free in spending thy goods; never wast thy rule better than during this year." And so Pwyll is thinking that Arawn is a pretty good guy too. So the two chieftans become bonded together as fast frieinds, and they send each other all kinds of presents like hawks and dogs and horses. And Pwyll gets a promotion from Prince of Dyfed [which I don't understand cause I don't have the faintest clue how chieftan heirarchy works] and becomes known as Pwyll Head of Annwn from then on.
*In Lady Charlotte Guest's version the whole piece of plot that involves Pwyll not taking advantage of Arawn's wife is left out, leaving the reader to assume that he slept with her as part of the bargain. Weird. It's the best part of the story.