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The Mab

The Mab book cover

The Mabinogion is a collection of ancient Welsh stories of myths, legends and adventures.

In 2020 a crowdfunding project was launched to create a new book retelling the eleven stories, in both Welsh and English, with beautiful illustrations and a foreword by Michael Sheen. It was published in June 2022.

Buy the book at Unbound.

Here is Michael’s foreword:

 ‘I am not a person any more.’ This is what our daughter, moving closer to the doorway of her second birthday, informed us, rather darkly, one afternoon. ‘I am not a boy. I am not a girl. I am not a person any more.’

Had she become a puddle-splashing pig like one of her favourite story characters? Or a rabbit, like her beloved cuddly toy? Or a starling, perhaps? Taking flight with her sisters and whispering advice into the ears of those willing to hear. Or perhaps she was now made entirely of flowers? We shall never know. She kept her mystery close. But who knows what lands she travelled in whatever form she took that day. What adventures she had. What characters she encountered.

The walls between worlds are thin for her, if they exist at all. Like the summit of Gorsedd Arberth, the doorway to an Other world is always close. At any moment, inanimate objects can find their voice. What looks, at first glance, like a discarded sock can suddenly strike up a conversation with her; a colouring-pen top can reveal itself as a cunning adversary or a trusted fellow traveller depending on the air in the room.

Like Gwrhyr of the Amazing Eight she speaks with all animals in their own language and they speak back to her as the starlings do to Branwen. She lives in a world of shapeshifters, where what happens in imagination and dream can be more real than anything else; where stones can sing and mountains open and where every day can bring with it a series of intricate tasks to be fulfilled, like Culhwch, or an ever knottier string of quests to be completed, like Peredur.

The inner landscape she crosses on her giant rocking caterpillar and the one Culhwch and his fellow knights travel on the shoulders of a Gigantic Salmon may not be so very different. I suspect the maps of their terrain, could such magical artefacts ever exist, would contain many shared features. The joys and fears and triumphs and griefs experienced in both would be just as world-shaking, the laughter taste just as sweet and the tears flow from sources as painfully deep.

It is a world of story she lives in; and, as the bandit Iorwerth discovered too late, there is great power in the telling of a story. Too much power sometimes, perhaps. They can’t always be trusted. They too can shift their shapes, as easily and quickly as Gwydion himself.

As the Black Witch, who dwells in the Valley of Grief, says to Arthur, ‘Don’t you know that words have their own power?’

These stories are older than we can imagine and yet, in watching my daughter each day move through unknowable terrors and unfathomable beauty with the grace and abandon of Arwen the Fearless, I see them remade and reborn before me every second. As Rhiannon warns Cigfa, ‘This enchantment reaches out for us.’ Indeed it does, carried along on the tongues of centuries. These stories make the wall between worlds thrillingly thin. Their enchantment calls to us ever from the other side of the door. 

And, as I watch my little shapeshifter busying herself across the room, silently illuminated by a pure, already fading sunlight, I am certain at the same time I can hear her far-off laughter as, thundering through some darkening forest or past some deep pool holding tight to Moonstride, the most beautiful horse in all of wild Wales, she feels the familiar quickening of feathers as once more she begins to turn into an eagle.