It’s Alive!

Well, a quick review of my page shows me that it’s been – horrifyingly – over a year since I updated it. In my defence, I can claim a number of things – there’s been a degree of personal turmoil, redundancy, bereavement and a change of job. I also embarked on a long-anticipated Masters degree, and quickly discovered (well hello) it cut significantly into my time. In fact, it’s safe to say that I severely underestimated the time I needed to devote to it, even though it’s designed to fit in around full-time work. I’d always intended to use the degree as a basis to write non-fiction as well as fiction, but the former has certainly dominated. I’d also hoped to use it as a springboard to feed interesting articles into this site, but I’ve been so stretched (and mentally exhausted) after getting my first year assignments done, that this hasn’t materialised either. But I passed the first year, on a wing and a prayer, and with everything else going on in my life I can feel pretty satisfied with that, even if it’s meant the site has seemingly languished poor and unloved.

So, here we are. A new job and the second year of my degree, and I can’t help feeling that I need to be a lot more disciplined that hitherto if I’m going juggle everything successfully. But it’s been an interesting time, and I’ve finally been getting to grips with things that have fascinated me for not just years, but decades, and which I’m hoping will subsequently inform my writing. The focus of my study is the world of the Celts – linguistically, archaeologically, culturally. The field of Celtic studies is in a huge state of flux, perhaps more exciting than it’s been for decades as scholars seek to untangle myth, history, Romanticism and the layering of the topic by those for and against all ideas of cultural unity. Colliding with this is the question of ‘where and when’ the Celts came from, east or west, Bronze Age or Iron Age or earlier. Throw into that the study of an endlessly rich body of myth and literature and it all adds up to a multidisciplinary field with many, many aspects, which can take in everything from Bronze Age burials in Spain to medieval Welsh politics. My first year was spent on looking at current debates in the field of definitions – mostly the archaeology of culture and the question ‘who were the Celts?’ The second will be focused on the body of myth and legend contained within the Mabinogion, the ancient Welsh collection of stories that survives within two (and a bit) medieval manuscripts. I may well do a post about the Mabinogion at some point, because it is, doubtless, one of our national treasures and one which deserves to be far more widely known. Currently I’m buried deep within articles, books and lectures on the subject. What is particularly fascinating about the topic is how much our present folklore and literature owes to the stories contained within, and how much of my personal interests inter-cut and intersect with them. Not only in modern works that are directly drawn from its pages, like Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, but also the sheer number of concepts that have influenced my mindset throughout my life – gods, goddesses, landscape and magical places, the Otherworld and Otherworldly beings, heroic deeds, castles and sorcery. For me, it stands at the last visible point of the ancient, pre-Norman, pre-Saxon world. The old world, caught in the amber of medieval literature just as it was about to be lost for ever. It extends back and forth from that point. Written at the beginning of the fourteenth century, and possibly constructed back into the eleventh, we have no real idea how long the oral narratives it was based upon were told before finding their final, literary form. To say that there is a huge debate over the extent to which it captures genuine, pre-Christian beliefs, is an understatement. Academics disagree with other academics, who disagree with popular historians, who disagree with occultists. The wildest speculation sits side by side with the most conservative estimates of longevity. In many ways, that’s what makes it endlessly fascinating, even before we get to its importance for Arthurian studies, and its influence on the developing body of Arthurian literature in Europe. Even though we know it fed directly from French romances to fashion its own Arthurian narratives, it is by no means certain which – if any – elements moved the other way, and were taken up by the growing ‘Matter of Britain’. Certainly ideas such as the Wasteland, the wounded King, and the ‘Cauldron of Rebirth’ are present in the original, earlier material and may have influenced the Holy Grail and other quest narratives.

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