Monday, June 14, 2010

White Ravens by Owen Sheers

A friend's bad news last night meant I couldn't sleep. In the end I gave up trying and finished Owen Sheers's White Ravens. As in Russell Celyn Jones's book, the Ninth Wave, I admire the way the Mabinogion has inspired this story. There is no dogged following of the plot, but something more subtle - a kind of nod to both the elements and the message of the story. A girl, called Rhian, has two brothers, just as Bronwen has two brothers. The brothers go bad, after they have endured much suffering (another resonance with the original tales) and there is a connection between Wales and London, once again like the medieval version.

Rhian then encounters an old man on a bench. There is something magical about the way he talks, and the way he seems to have an affinity to her. He tells her a tale that is, in some way, her tale too. He tells of ravens, a giant man, a girl called Bronwen and a man from Ireland who falls in love with her. The pivotal scene is the one that most resembles the original Maginogion: the maiming of the horses by Branwen's brother - and it is after this that things unravel. The storyteller draws back and the lovers withdraw too. We follow not the specific but the general. We learn they change. We learn how it all comes apart. The giant crosses the north sea, but instead of allowing himself to be a physical bridge across a river for his army, the giant in this modern story needs to build more metaphorical bridges. When he fails to do so disaster follows. It is a satisfying and poetic interpretation of a myth.

I've enjoyed each of these retellings of the Mabingion. I think they way they have been re-interpreted has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the myths themselves. There are two more 'branches' and I'm really looking forward to reading these too.


Blogger Anne S said...

Reading your reviews of the interpretations of the Mabinogian, I'm tempted to drag out my old Ballantine Fantasy books, written by Evangeline Walton who also wrote a series of books taken from the Mabinogian.

Wed Jun 16, 05:00:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Now this sounds very interesting. I can imagine the Mabinogion lending itself to modern fantasy very well.

Wed Jun 16, 07:17:00 am  

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to moderation.

<< Home